Saturday, June 27, 2009

Praise Forward

Mark 5:35-43 While he (Jesus) was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,”* which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
That's part of what we'll read tomorrow in church. Mark chapter 5 is full of wonderful miracles, dreams come true. A man and a woman who had suffered for years are released from their suffering (Mk 5:18-20, 29, 34) and a girl is raised from the dead.

I can't imagine the joy. Jesus told them not to tell anyone because he had a bigger purpose in mind than to just raise one girl, but, if that was your child, it would be the best day of your life.

Sometimes, it's like that. Sometimes we experience amazing gifts--a release from bondage, a miraculous healing, a rescue from certain death. That's wonderful when it happens! Praise God!

But much of the time we are waiting. This morning at men's Bible study we read:
"...with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years are like one day." (2nd Peter 3:8)
It feels like that when we wait. The world and we ourselves are damaged, diseased, headed toward death and grief. That's true at home, across the street and around the world. There are moments of joy. There are wonderful times like this afternoon... the weather was just perfect and Toni and I went to a couple of parties. Then a storm blows up or relationships blow up. Often we don't handle this life very well. We become cynical. We drink. We hide how we really feel.

Many times when we try to do good, or when things go well for a short time, we feel stabbed in the back.

It's hard.

How can we handle that?

Three things.

First, it's not strange.

It's the same world, with the same suffering, and the same imperfect people that Jesus came to save. When Jesus was on earth in the flesh, some people, many people, they experienced wonderful gifts of God's grace. Many people today have those same experiences... people are released from demonic, evil powers that seem to run and ruin their lives. People are miraculously healed. And, as far as being raised from the dead, I've heard stories, reports, that people have actually been revived. But just like in Jesus time, those experiences are temporary, seeming like just moments of light in an otherwise dark world. Some, many, may experience tremendous moments of God's grace, but then, in the end, death takes them all. And the church, which has been given by God to bring the best news of all to the world, the church is infected by sin, selfishness and doubt.

Secondly, this is precisely the situation and the world and the church Jesus came to save.

God knows what he is doing. It was no mistake that got God involved in the lives of people back then, and it's no mistake today when you receive a little blessing, or a BIG MIRACLE, from the Lord. Those blessings--the breaths you take, the food you taste, the friendship and love you experience, the ways that your body works well--some parts do work well or you wouldn't be here today--those gifts of life are not mistakes. And neither are you. It's not a worthless little flash of hope. Instead, these blessings are signs that God does love you, and that God will save you in the end.

That's the third thing that can help us through this inconsistent life. God is going to save us in the end, and these miracles, and every little blessings, they are merely little signs of what will happen then in an amazingly magnificent way.

Those miracles in Mark, chapter 5, they are unbelieveably wonderful. Jesus took a little girl by the hand--not just any girl, but someone's daughter--a 12 year old girl who had died. Nothing more precious. And Jesus said "Talitha cum." "Little girl, get up!" And immediately that girl came back to life. Do you know what that was? It was a sign that Jesus someday is going to defeat death itself.

And when that woman dared to touch Jesus, and she was healed, that's a sign of what happens when we reach out to our Lord with our needs, daring to come out with them, not hiding them away. Healing often comes when we lower our defenses and cry out to God without caring who else hears or sees! But even our own healings, temporary as they are, they are signs of the new bodies God promises for us in the life to come.

Last week's stories too--the calming of the sea and the rescuing of the demon possessed man. The time will come when God will make everything right. We don't know when. And it's very hard to wait. But God IS going to win the battle in the end.

We always have the choice to turn God down, to remain hardened and hidden with our needs, but our Lord wants us to trust him that in the end he will work it out, and, as it says in one of my favorite Bible passages,
Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (2nd Corinthians 4:16-18)
Every blessing we receive in this life: food and clothing, home and family, daily work, all we need from day to day... every consolation we've received in time of sorrow, every mercy, every little or big healing, and every time evil is even temporarily defeated in our lives... when we overcome despair, cynicism, drunkenness or depression EVEN FOR A BRIEF TIME... THOSE MOMENTS are signs of the WONDERFUL FUTURE God has for us when we trust in him.

So, when we praise our Lord, we don't just give thanks for the little blessings or the BIG MIRACLES we experience here and now, we give thanks that they are signs that God will work it all for good in the end (Romans 8:28). And when we have the opportunity to share a blessing or a prayer or even be used by God to bring deliverance or healing, we thank God, but we don't point them out too much... The real treasure is what is still waiting--ahead--tomorrow, or the day after, or in a thousand years, when our Lord comes again.

We praise FORWARD to God's GLORIOUS future, when every barrier between ourselves and the greatest blessings God has for us will be gone, sin totally wiped away, death defeated, and love will last... forever.

Here and now we do all we can to spread that praise around, being generous with God's love, working for justice, protecting the weak, but also not begrudging those times when it doesn't work out as we planned. When things don't work out temporarily, because we know how it will be in the end, because JESUS DEFEATED DEATH when he DIED and ROSE AGAIN, we don't let temporary defeats destroy our hope. In fact, if we read our Bibles, we will anticipate and expect them!

Again, as it says in 2nd Corinthians 4, this time verses 8-11:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.
As Jesus suffered defeat, so will we. It will happen. We will not always be healed in this life. We will suffer pain--sometimes there will be healing, sometimes there will be peace, sometimes love will win out over hate and sin and death in this life... not always, however, and sometime it will seem so rare, so deceptive... But we turn our attention to Jesus Christ. He defeated death! And when we are linked to him in faith and in baptism and at the Lord's Table, even when things are not going well, we look forward to the glorious everlasting life God had in store for Jesus, and, when we trust him, for us.

When things go well, we thank God, but also remember to praise forward. We don't only thank God that this or that person was healed, or this or that disaster averted, but praise God for the perfect future he has planned for us. Like Jesus said to the disciples when they had been out on an incredibly successful mission...
"I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:17-20)
Everything we do in Christ's name, all we do in our families, in our work and in this church in Christ's name, and all the unasked for blessings God sends to us, they are just little signs, little down-payments, on the glorious future he has for us. Every bit of praise, every word of thanks, looks forward to that.

All he asks is that we trust him in return.

*"Talitha cum" is from the language Jesus himself spoke, Aramaic.

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