To you be all glory and honor, because you created us, provisioned, and protected us in spite of our many transgressions.
If that were not enough, from the beginning you planned for our salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our great role model and redeemer.
Forgive us for focusing mostly on ourselves when so many of the blessings in this life are provided for us by our families, friends, and even complete strangers, who value our presence, our life, and our health through no merit of our own.
Thank you for the invisible people in our lives who grow our food, build our homes, and take care of us quietly doing jobs that we cannot do for ourselves.
Bless their lives, their families, and all that they hold dear. You alone know their names, their dreams, and they abilities. Let them never feel taken for granted. Send your Holy Spirit into their lives and bless them. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.
Sermon given in Spanish the July 28, 2019 at El Shadai DC, Manassas, Virginia.
Welcome to El Shadai DC. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a Christian author and volunteer pastor.
This afternoon we continue our study of the assurance of salvation in Christ. In our first week, we talked about John 10 and the nature of eternal life. The following week we looked at Daniel 3 and the salvation of God provided to Sadrac, Mesac y Abednego from the burning furnace. This last week we learned that we are clay in the hands of the potter as described by the Prophet Jeremias in chapter 18.
Today we consider the question: what indicates that our relationship with God is secure? Who has been elected for salvation by God and how do we know? We learn that we are blessed to be a blessing to others.
All praise and honor be to you because you have loved us sufficiently to send your son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and offer us eternal life.
We confess that your standard for love is too high for us because we are by nature sinners.
Draw us to yourself. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts, illumine our minds, and strengthen our hands in your service. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.
The text for today comes from Genesis 12:1-3. Listen for the word of God:
“Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3 ESV)
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
What does a good relationship look like? (2X)
Normally human life presents challenges small and great. There are quiet days and days with a lot of background noise. There is always something to do for someone. The idea that a relationship exists only when the sun shines, as many people believe, is childish.
In my case, early in my marriage, we had challenges in work and medical challenges. My wife was an immigrant educated as an engineer and for many years she could not work in her field because of her immigration status. She came from Iran and during the 1980s, as now, there were many political problems between the Iran and the U.S. As a consequence, Maryam worked for many years in a woman’s shop and later began teaching in the public schools because they were desperate for math and chemistry teachers. After our three children were born, she had breast cancer twice.
In the middle of all this and my own challenges at work, our relationship was tested and proven. Poverty and health problems were sufficient to destroy the marriages of people we knew. The ups and downs of life require a relationship that is both strong and flexible. One needs to share common goals and have patience to achieve them. It is the same with our faith. (2X). For this reason, we often describe faith as a journey, one that lasts a lifetime. (2X)
In our text of the day, God talks with Abram. He asks Abram to make a trip leaving his country, tribe, and family. In other words, leaving every source of security in the ancient world. The situation for Abram is analogous to that of Hispanics today here in the U.S.
Interestingly, the Lord does not immediate say where to go, but we know from the previous chapter that his father, Terah, was traveling with the family to Canaan. Terah died in Haran halfway to Canaan. Genesis does not say a single word about Terah’s relationship with God, but we know that Abram continued with the same objective traveling to Canaan.
In general, we know also that frequently God speaks to us through other people, including those that do not know him. (2X) When was the last time that God spoke to you? Were other people directly or indirectly a part of this conversation?
Our text of the day is known as the first covenant between God and Abram. In a covenant, both parties want something. God commanded Abram to travel to Canaan. For his part, God offered Abram a blessing:
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse,”
Who wouldn’t want this blessing?
The last part of this blessing is important:”and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (2X) Here is our key to election. Our salvation becomes obvious when we bless others. There is no such thing as a Holy huddle far removed from the world. The church is blessed when it blesses the world in the name of Christ. We are blessed to be a blessing to others.
This is much like Pastor Julio has reminded us many times. Here at El Shadai DC we love God and other people. (2X) This is the sign of our own salvation when we do it.
It is like the Apostle John wrote:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Because we are created in the image of God, whatever we see God doing, we should do too.
Thank you for you blessing, especially the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Walk with us today and everyday as we share your blessings with others that we meet daily in our families, work, and neighborhoods.
In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us words of grace and hands for service for the people who do not know you.
Sermon dado el 28 de Julio 2019 en El Shadai DC, Manassas, Virginia.
Vamos a empezar. Buenos tarde. Bienvenido a la iglesia El Shadai DC. Para aquellos de ustedes que no me conocen, me llama Stephen W. Hiemstra. Soy un autor cristiano y pastor voluntario.
Esta tarde continuamos nuestro estudio sobre la seguridad de salvación en Cristo. En nuestra primara semana hablamos sobre Juan 10 y la naturaleza de la vida eterna. Esta semana prójima mirábamos a la historia de Daniel 3 y la salvación de Dios para Sadrac, Mesac y Abednego del horno en llamas. Esta semana ultima aprendimos que somos barros en los manos del alfarero como describe el profeta Jeremías en capitulo 18.
Hoy días consideramos la pregunta: ¿Que indica que nuestra relación con Dios es seguro? ¿Quien tiene la elección para salvación de Dios y como lo sabemos? Descubarémos que somos bendecido cuando bendecimos los demás.
Vamos a orar.
Toda alabanza y el honor son tuyos, porque tu nos amas suficiente a mandar su hijo Jesucristo a morir en la cruz y ofrecer nos la vida eterna.
Confesamos que tu estándar de amor es demasiado alto para nosotros porque por naturaleza somos pecadores.
Dibújanos ahora a ti mismo. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, abres nuestros corazones, iluminas nuestras mentes y fortaleces nuestras manos en tu servicio. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amén.
El texto de hoy viene del libro de Génesis 12:1-3. Escuchan a la palabra de Dios:
El SEÑOR le dijo a Abram: «Deja tu tierra, tus parientes y la casa de tu padre, y vete a la tierra que te mostraré. Haré de ti una nación grande, y te bendeciré; haré famoso tu nombre, y serás una bendición. Bendeciré a los que te bendigan y maldeciré a los que te maldigan; ¡por medio de ti serán bendecidas todas las familias de la tierra!»(Gen 12:1-3 NVI)
La palabra del señor. Gracias a Dios.
¿Que parece una relación buena? (2X)
Normalmente la vida humana presenta retos pequeño y grande. Hay días tranquilo y días con mucho ruido. Siempre hay alguna cosa a hacer para alguien. La idea que una relación existe solamente cuando el sol brilla—como muchas gente creen—es infantil.
En mi caso, temprano en mi matrimonio tuvimos retos de trabajo y retos médicos. Mi esposa fue inmigrante educado como ingeniera y por muchos años no pudó encontrar trabajo en su campo por falta de documentación. Ella vino de Irán y durante los ochentas años como hoy día hubo problemas políticos entre Irán y Estados Unidos. Entonces, Maryam trabajaba por muchos años en tiendas para mujeres y más tarde empezó a ensenar en las escuelas publicas donde no se encontraban suficientes maestras en matemática y química. Después nuestros tres hijos fueron nacidos, ella tuvó cáncer de mama dos veces. En medio de todo esto y mi propia retos de trabajo, nuestra relación fue pruebada y probada. Pobreza y problemas de salud fueron suficiente a destruir las matrimonias de personas que conocíamos. Los subidos y bajados de la vida requiere una relación dura y flexible. Se necesita a tener objetivos en común y paciencia en ganarlos.
Es lo mismo en nuestra fe. (2X) Por esta rasión, describimos la fe como un camino, un viaje de toda la vida. (2X)
En nuestro texto de hoy, Dios habla a Abram. Él mandó que Abram hace un viaje dejando su país, su tribu, y su familia. En otras palabras, dejando cada fuente de seguridad en el mundo anciano. La situación de Abram es analógico a la de hispanos hoy día aquí en Estados Unidos.
Interesante, el Señor no lo dijó inmediatamente donde se ir, pero sabemos de la capitulo antes que su padre, Téraj, fue viajando con la familia a Canaán. Téraj morió en Jarán en medio de este viaje. Génesis no dijóninguna palabra sobre la relación entre Téraj y Dios, pero sabemos que Abram continuaba el mismo objetivo viajando a Canaán. En general, sabemos también que muchas veces Dios háblanos por medio de otras personas, incluso personas quienes no le conozcan a él. (2X)
¿Cuándo fue la ultima vez que Dios háblate a ti? ¿Fueron otras personas directamente o indirectamente parte de esta conversación?
Nuestro texto de hoy es conocido como el pacto primero entre Dios y Abram. En un pacto ambos partes quieren algo. Dios mandó que Abram viajar a Canaán. Por su parte, Dios daría Abram una bendición:
“Haré de ti una nación grande, y te bendeciré; haré famoso tu nombre, y serás una bendición. Bendeciré a los que te bendigan y maldeciré a los que te maldigan.”
Quien no quiere esta bendición?
La ultima parte de esta bendición es muy importante: ¡por medio de ti serán bendecidas todas las familias de la tierra! (2X)
Aquí es nuestra llave de elección. Nuestra salvación es obvia cuando bendecimos los demás. No hay un grupo santo fuera del mundo. La iglesia es bendecida cuando se bendecir el mundo en el nombre de Cristo. Somos bendecido cuando bendecimos los demás.
Es como las muchas veces que Pastor Julio esta estado recordándonos: aquí a El Shadai DC amamos Dios y otras personas. (2X) Eso es el signo de nuestra propia salvación cuando lo hacemos.
Es como el apóstol Juan escribe:
“Porque tanto amó Dios al mundo, que dio a su Hijo unigénito, para que todo el que cree en él no se pierda, sino que tenga vida eterna.”(Juan 3:16)
Debido a que somos creados a imagen de Dios, lo que sea que veamos hacer a Dios, también deberíamos hacerlo.
Oración de Clausura
Vamos a orar.
Gracias por tus bendiciones, especialmente la vida, muerte, y resurrección de Jesucristo.
Camina con nosotros hoy día y cada día cuando compartirnos tus bendiciones con los demás que encontramos diariamente en nuestras familias, trabajos, y barios.
En el poder de tu espíritu santo, danos palabras de gracias y manos para servicio por las personas quienes no te conocen. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo. Amén.
Frederick Buechner. 2014. The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story.Brewster: Paraclete Press.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.
At one point several years back, I received a mailing from an offset printer in Michigan, Thomson-Shore. Traditionally, publishers ordered a batch of several thousand books where type was set and each page printed a set number of times. Then, another page had the type set and was similarly printed. This is a cheapest way to print books when you know how many books are needed and you need thousands of books. In this mailing, Thomson-Shore included a sample of their work, a short book by Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus.
Buechner invites us to reflect on the face of Jesus. He writes:
“See it for what it is and, to see it whole, see it too for what it is just possible that it will become: the face of Jesus as the face of our own secret and innermost destiny: The face of Jesus as our face.”(xv)
For those theologically inclined, Buechner is using the imago dei(the image of God) as a mirror into our souls. He does this by paraphrasing the life of Jesus as revealed in scripture and other writings.
Background and Organization
Frederick Buechner is a graduate of Princeton University, an ordained Presbyterian pastor, and a prolific author. He writes in six chapters:
Annunciation (3-12 pp)
Last Supper (85-108)
Resurrection (137-161; v-vi)
The longest chapter is on Jesus’ ministry. These chapters are preceded by an introduction. The book is 4 by 6 inches, double-spaced, and making liberal use of white space, which publishers will recognize as a format typical of poetry and devotionals because it is easy on the eyes.
Buechner’s voice is important in interpreting Jesus and the reading experience, something not typically commented on in reviews.
Consider the opening paragraph in the chapter on the annunciation:
“Before Abraham was, Jesus said, I am. [John 8:58] Who can say what he meant? Perhaps that just as his death was not the end of him, so his birth was not the beginning of him.”(3)
We do not expect this cite to begin a discussion of Mary’s encounter with an angel informing her of Jesus’ coming. Yet, Buechner speaks here with a deeply theological interpretation of divine sovereignty: as creator, God stand’s outside of created time and space speaking in a divine present encompassing our past, present, and future (4). This cite arises late in Jesus’ ministry and presents a divinity claim—I amis the name of God revealed to Moses in the burning bush—for which Jesus was almost stoned.
A more typical paraphrase of the life of Jesus might be found in the Apostle’s Creed:
“I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.”
In the Creed, we are given basic facts of Jesus as revealed in scripture; in Buechner, we are introduced to deeper reading and interpretation of the scripture itself.
Frederick Buechner’s The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story is simply written, but is far from simple minded. Paraphrasing the life of Jesus, Buechner reveals a complex Jesus not well understood by his peers and even less well understood by ours.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Buechner. Today, most books are printed individually in a machine resembling a huge photocopy machine, a process known as print on demand. Print on demand is more expensive, but allows books to be published in relatively small numbers. Offset printing normally presumes that you are willing to print large numbers of books and maintain an inventory.
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God.
You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
In recent years the list of church leaders and high government officials who careers have tanked due to moral failure seems endless. Factors contributing to these moral failuresinclude changing mores, increasing social conflict, and the ability of social media to document our private lives from birth to death. Nothing today is off the record.
The Role of the Church
The church bears responsibility for the moral failures of its leaders. Contributing factors include:
1. The focus on the individual has relegated responsibility to families and individuals to teach and practices holiness that is the proper role of the church.
2. In some denominations, theology has divided law from Gospel suggesting that the holiness code in the Leviticus no longer applies to the Christian.
3. In some churches, the emphasis on love is so pervasive that other parts of the Bible are simply neglected.
4. Preaching in many churches offers nice to know guidance and simple eschews hard teaching on morality especially because of permissive attitudes on issues related to marriage and sexuality in society more generally.
While the traditional teaching of the church is clear on the question of holiness, many churches no longer accept this teaching. The watchword for this new teaching comes directly from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matt 7:15-16) False prophets need not be ravenous wolves, but weak teaching can lead to bad fruit resulting in unnecessary brokenness and departures from faith. Clearly, God can use broken pastors and broken churches to advance his kingdom, but we should cling to Christ’s mantel as closely as we can and avoid grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).
During an evangelistic campaign in Modesto, California in 1948 Billy Graham asked his team to list the reasons that evangelists had failed in previous campaigns. Four items topped everyone’s list:
1. Excessive interest in money and weak accounting of it.
2. Sexual immorality, especially while on the road.
3. Failing to work closely with and respect local churches.
Among these temptations, sexual immorality stood out as a threat and Graham committed himself to never being alone with any woman other than his wife, Ruth. These rules, together known as the Modesto Manifesto, have been picked up by other Christian leaders, including most recently Vice President Mike Pence.1 While not all temptations can be cited as holiness concerns, moral failures figure prominently.
The Role of Christian Leaders
The Beatitudes have a general audience, but they also appear as a kind of commissioning service for disciples, which today would be of special interest to Christian leaders. The Sixth Beatitude focuses on a clean heart—“Honored are the pure in heart”—but, how can I remove the impurities? This is a call for holiness. Jesus provides two methods that stand out: pruning and intensifying.
Jesus gives us two metaphors of pruning—cutting away unnecessary or unwanted growth to make a plant stronger and more fruitful (John 15:2). The first metaphor involves eyes: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29) The second metaphor involves hands: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt 5:30) In both metaphors, we remove sin from our lives by pruning.2 Jesus’ pruning metaphors imply that sanctification—casting off sin and taking on godliness—is serious business: eyes and hands are parts of the body—parts of us—that are not easily discarded. If the threat of sin were trivial, then a better analogy might have been to trim your nails or cut your hair. But if sin threatens both our physical and spiritual lives, then amputation is an acceptable option and the analogy is not hyperbolic.
Jesus widens the scope of commandments under the law by drilling into the motivation for breaking them, intensifying the scrutiny given to sin. For example, when Jesus talks about adultery, he focuses on the lustful look that corrupts the heart, not the sinful act that follows. If sin begins in the heart, then sanctification must strive for purity of heart, and not only avoiding sin, but pursuing godliness, as the Apostle Paul writes:
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:20-24)
The likeness of God, of course, refers to the divine image in creation, as implied in the word, godliness, used by Paul in admonishing Timothy: “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). Taking Jesus Christ as our example, we should strive to be a good example to others.
Graham, Billy. 1997. Just As I Am: An Autobiography of Billy Graham. New York: Zondervan.
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Graham_rule#%22Mike_Pence_rule%22. 2 The eye gouging and hand chopping metaphors could also have been heard by Jesus’ audience as a messianic call to arms. When the Prophet Samuel anointed Saul messianic king of Israel, he said to him: “And you shall reign over the people of the LORD and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.” (1 Sam 10:1) Notice the hand metaphor in this charge. Saul’s first act as king was to save the besieged city of Jabesh-gilead from an Amorite king whose condition for surrender was: “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.” (1 Sam 11:2) Understanding the story of Saul, Jesus’ metaphors might be interpreted as saying: stand on your own two feet.
Ed Melick is the co-producer and co-host of the Grace in 30 radio program on WERA-LP, 96.7 FM transmitting out of Arlington, VA. He has recently written two books that are scheduled for release at the end of summer 2019. The first book, Monumental Hug—Divorce, Cancer, Healing & Grace, is the story of how God’s grace healed his relationship with his ex-wife, and how they walked together through her battle with pancreatic cancer. The second book, Healing Plunge—An in-depth look at healing in the Bible, is a summary of his recent plunge into the topic of healing in the scriptures.
Strands of Grace
What does God’s grace mean to you?
For me, a deep understanding of grace began with a painful divorce.
In April 2008, my wife of over twenty-two years informed me that she wanted to end our marriage. I was devastated. Two days after receiving the news, though, I felt led by God to lay down my life for her no matter what she or her attorney did to me—and He began giving me compelling glimpses of the realness, power, and beauty of His grace. Over the ten years that followed, I experienced the astonishing power of loving my enemy and committed my life to sharing the Good News of God’s grace with everyone I could.
During much of the first three-and-a-half years of my separation and divorce, I shared an office with the Director of Sales at my company, Sal D’Itri. I often tell people that Sal had a front row seat to my divorce and everything that was happening in my life and family. At times I felt like he should have pulled out a soft drink and a giant tub of popcorn while listening to me as I regaled him with stories of grief, struggle, and especially grace.
Toward the end of my tenure at the company, Sal would occasionally say, “We should do a radio show together,” while we were joking around about various topics. My answer was always the same. “No way,” I would say. “I’ll wind up getting on the air and saying something stupid that I’ll regret, or cursing, or whatever.”
Grace in 30
When I was released by the company in the Fall of 2011, we kept in touch, but the topic of a radio show didn’t come up again until the Fall of 2015. Sal called me one day and told me that a local community media organization had just launched a new low-power radio station and that they were looking for content. He wanted to team up and produce and host a program.
My initial reaction was disinterest. Something like a radio program was the furthest thing from my mind. Sal kept pushing, though, and I suggested that we both go off and pray about it for a week, and then come back together and see how we felt.
A week later we were on the phone again and Sal was as pumped as ever. I didn’t really feel any strong urgings one way or another, so I decided to lateral the ball to him. I asked him to take a first cut at the application and then send it to me.
Not long after that I received the completed form from him. It’s at this point that I realized that the radio program could be an excellent channel for sharing what I had learned about the radical power of God’s grace. There seemed to be no doubt that such a message was needed to counter all the negativity, extremism, and un-grace in our culture and media. I decided to dive in and the Grace in 30 radio program was born.
Three Years Later
At the time of this writing, Sal and I have been doing the weekly radio program for over three years and have aired 166 programs. The reason our show exists is to, “See to it that no one misses out on God’s grace” (Hebrews 12:15, CJB). How we do that is by providing compelling examples of grace in action and a spark to get more people expressing it. We host individuals and organizations that are living by grace, so to speak, and we have them issue calls-to-action for listeners to join in and make our families, workplaces, communities, and world better.
We have talked to over one-hundred-and-thirty people. As we hosted more people, we noticed certain themes repeating themselves. I also noticed how these themes overlapped with my experiences expressing grace to my ex-wife. I call these “strands of grace.”
One strand that really resonates with me in our culture of division is closeness. Many of our guests talk of the importance of getting close to people who are different than you—especially your enemies—and building lasting relationships with them.
I can’t think of a better example of this than Daryl Davis, an African American musician and author who is on a mission to tear down some of the most extreme barriers between whites and blacks in our country. Daryl has been befriending KKK members and attending their rallies for nearly forty years. As these Klansmen and Daryl get to know each other, the hatreds and prejudices of the Klansmen melt away to such an extent that many of them have renounced their beliefs, and about forty of them have given Daryl their robes and hoods for display in a museum he’s planning to open. Some of the people who left the Klan were very senior in the organization, including former Grand Dragons and Imperial Wizards.
Daryl challenged our audience to take the time to get to know people who are not only different from us, but radically opposed to us. He challenged everyone to walk across the cafeteria and sit down with them, learn about them, and keep that going.
We have heard many stories like Daryl’s about people crossing the lines that divide them from others, like when a Christian lawyer successfully defended a Somali Muslim accused by the U.S. Government of piracy and when a university president slept in a metro station on a frigid February night in order to get a better understanding of what the homeless experience.
When my wife filed for divorce and moved out, I was offered a lot of mean-spirited advice. People told me I needed to get mean, stop talking to her, and cut off communications between her and my family members. I decided to act counter to that advice and express grace, and I went out of my way to cross, as often as possible, the barrier of separation that my ex-wife had set up between us. I determined that every time I had the opportunity to interact with her I would do so—even when she was only using me to get something done. The results of this were breathtaking and I write about my experiences in my soon-to-be-released book entitled Monumental Hug—Divorce, Cancer, Grace & Healing.
Of course, the greatest example of crossing a boundary occurred when God gave up His divine privileges, took on human form, and eventually died a horrible criminal’s death so that we might receive forgiveness for our sins and eternal life in His coming Kingdom. This should be the gold standard by which we measure our efforts.
I encourage you to consider all of these examples of getting close to those who are different than us, make the effort to get to know your foes (political, professional, etc.), and watch the grace of Jesus Christ dissolve prejudices, build bonds of love, and dramatically heal relationships. Our world desperately needs more people who are doing this.