All glory and honor are yours for you protect me from hidden dangers and from temptations that would destroy me.
Forgive me for harboring so many weaknesses and yielding so quickly to every snare and pit that Satan lays in my path–the hidden pride, the sin I ignore, and my impatience with life.
Thank you for your hedge of protection that guards my heart and mind, keeping me focused on you, and sparing me the pain and death of those around me.
In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant me the strength and desire to honor your healthy boundaries and to live within your will for my life. Remind me daily of my baptism and to keep my heart pure, ever prepared for communion with you and the church.
An important struggle for Christians in this postmodern society is striking a balance between structure and change. Structure can mean worshipping with our preferred music, theology,or ethnic group while change can mean mixing any of these things up. This tension between structure and change exists in all aspects of life today—family, community, church, and work—which exhausts us constantly. Finding peace in the midst of this chaos is a theme in the postmodern church.
Reverting to Default Settings
In the midst of chaos and the absence of reflection, many people and churches naturally revert to their default settings, which reflect a happy period in their past. In the political realm, we see ethnically-based groups forming that resist compromise and shamelessly promote their own narrow interests at the expense of others. In the church, we see spirited food-fights—worship wars—over small changes in musical genre. These default settings are deeply ingrained aspects of our identity that, as Christians, are supposed to be in Christ, not other things. At least, three explanations can be offered for these reversions:
In a period of fundamental change in life in society, we may look for structure in our Christian lives that previously may have vested elsewhere.
If our faith is not centered on Christ but on other things, then the superficiality of our faith has been unmasked for all to see.
It is amazing how often default settings come into play when people act out of fear or anger.
In all likelihood, all of these explanations work together to intensify the emotions driving these reversions.
The Role of Presuppositions
Default settings often operate at a subconscious or presuppositional level. In its simplest form, a presupposition is an implicit, unstated assumption about how things work.
Think about the colors, white and black. We normally associate white with day—safe time when you can see everything— and black with night—a fearful time when crooks and evil spirits are at work. White is often thought to good, as in the good cowboys wear white hats while the bad ones wear black hats. Old movies may have even reinforced these cowboy stereotypes, which may seem harmless until we start talking about race relations.
Because presuppositions operate subconsciously, they can affect our behavior without us even being conscious of it. In my own case, I volunteer working in Hispanic ministry and often practice my Spanish by listening to Spanish Christian music. One summer day several years ago when I was out driving I caught myself becoming anxious having the windows down as I played my music sitting at a traffic light. Why was I anxious? Subconsciously I was afraid that complete strangers would assume that I was Hispanic. Ouch! I instantly became ashamed of myself.
The way to overcome such presuppositions is to examine our own behaviors and ask: why am I doing this? Presuppositions stop influencing our behavior when we take the time to reflect on why we impulsively do things.
One area where reflection is likely to be fruitful in understanding our own presuppositions arises when we get emotional. What makes you mad? What touches your heart inducing sadness?
Lester (2007, 14) observes that we get angry when we feel threatened. While we could be angry because of a physical threat, most often we get angry because of psychological threats: threats to our values, our beliefs about right and wrong, our expectations about the way good people should act. When threatened: The intensity of our response depends on the amount of personal investment we have in the values, beliefs, and means that are being threatened. Following this “threat model” of anger, our first responsibility when we get angry is to recognize that we feel threatened and to identify the nature of the threat (Lester 2007, 28-29). Anger always has an object.
What can be mystifying is when you find yourself intensely angry or hurt without knowing exactly why, a phenomena known as an emotional hijacking. On reflection, an emotional hijacking may reveal a repressed grief or presupposition that offers rare insight into your emotional history.
During my internship at Providence Hospital, the head nurse in the emergency department asked me to speak with a young woman who miscarried that morning. I ministered to her for about ten minutes before she began ministering to me, as I recalled a un-grieved miscarriage that my wife and I experienced twenty years prior. The feelings were so intense that I broke off my meeting with the woman and spent the next half hour in tears in the chapel.
What Can Christian Leaders Do?
The more we center our lives on Christ, the less likely we are to revert impulsively to default settings. With Christ as our number one priority and consulting God in prayer when questions arise, we are more likely to reflect on our actions and less likely to act impulsively.
Centering our lives on Christ does not mean suddenly giving up our favorite music, revising our theology, or hanging out with people that make us uncomfortable. What it does mean is that we will not act impulsively when reflection is warranted. It is amazing how quickly secondary things become secondary when we take such things to God in prayer.
Lester,Andrew D. 2007. Anger: Discovering Your Spiritual Ally. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Jerry Bridges.1996. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.
As an author, I sometimes find reading good books difficult because I catch myself comparing my own writing to that of the author. Some authors recall details of every book they ever read; others write with such flair that every sentence reads like poetry; still others peer into the soul and catch points so profound that nothing appears unexplored. In a world of such genius, I think to myself, why do I even continue to write? The answer is that the call of the Christian writer is specific to our own talents and audiences, much like our call as Christians more generally is to glorify God with the gifts and calling that he has given us.
In his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges writes about a similar dilemma when it comes to holiness:
“We Christian greatly enjoy talking about the provision of God, how Christ defeated sin on the cross and gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to victory over sin. But we do not as readily talk about our own our own responsibility to walk in holiness.”(10)
Pursuing holiness is a lifelong task for which diligence and effort are required (Heb 12:14), much like the effort required to a develop a talent like writing. Bridges writes: “…the holiness of Jesus was more than simply the absence of actual sin. It was also a perfect conformity to the will of the father.”(43) He refers to holiness as the throwing off of sin, while the putting on of Christ he calls godliness.
Background and Organization
Jerry Bridges (1929 – 2016) studied at the University of Oklahoma, served in the U.S. Navy, and worked on the staff of The Navigators, an evangelistic Christian group headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He authored numerous books on the Christian life.
Bridges writes in eighteen chapters, each centered on a particular passage of scripture. These chapters are preceded by a foreword and preface, and followed by a postscript.
Why Worry About Sin?
Bridges poses an important question:
“If holiness, then, is so basic to the Christian life, why do we not experience it more in daily living? Why do so many Christians feel constantly defeated in their struggle with sin?”(16)
He cites three reasons.
First, “our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.”(16) Obedience, not victory, is God’s will (17).
“Our second problem is that we have misunderstood ‘living by faith’ (Gal 2:20) to mean that no effort at holiness is required on our part.”(17)
“Our third problem is that we do not take some sin seriously.”(18)
All sin is rebellion against God’s will for lives, which is why it is somethings compared to yeast that acts like an infection that spreads fast with devastating consequences.
Bridges makes an important point: “God does not require a perfect, sinless life to have fellowship with Him, but He does require that we be serious about holiness, that we grieve over sin in our lives instead of justifying it, and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life.”(36) We need to cling to Christ’s mantle, like the woman who suffered from bleeding (Matt 9:20-22)
This is a book that I read in 2002, almost a decade before I attended seminary. As I reviewed my notes for this review, I was struck by how many insights that I have found myself repeating since then. One that my wife and kids even remember is this: “How do we view those who do not show love for us? Do we see them as persons for whom Christ died for or as persons who make our lives difficult?”(46) I cited this idea in a sermon only two weeks ago (link), not remembering where I got it.
Jerry Bridges’s book, The Pursuit of Holiness, is destined to be a Christian classic. The wisdom found in this book has informed my walk with the Lord for almost twenty years. It is easy to read and well worth the effort.
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.