Monday, November 13, 2017

All In (Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve)

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, November 12, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church in Sterling, KS.  Listen to the audio here.

Read Joshua 24 and 2Cor8 here.


What kind of toes can’t be tickled? 

That’s a joke that was in a book that Amy Brownlee set out for me to read to the first graders at Sterling Grade School last week.  I love spending time with them.  It’s fun to see them get excited about stuff.

I’m excited. I’m excited because today I get to talk to you about Jesus.  Ok, so I do that every week.  And I’m excited about that every week.

I’m excited because today I get to talk to you about Clemson football.  Yes, I know that’s probably not your favorite, but it’s going to be ok, I promise.  I’ve got to talk about Clemson football because that’s where I first heard the phrase “All In.” (Today’s sermon title.)  I know it’s not unique to them, but that’s the first place I heard it.  When Dabo Swinney first took over as Clemson’s coach, he used it to explain how they were going to turn things around and become a team that could win football games.  Last year we got to see the how his plan worked.  Clemson won the national championship.

When Dabo first became head coach, he was just the interim head coach.  He could have said, “I’m just keeping things going while we figure things out.”  But he didn’t.  He said, “I’m all in. And if you’re going to be all in with me, because that’s what it’s going to take for this to work – for us to turn this season around – then show up to practice at 6:00 tonight. Otherwise, no hard feelings.”[1]

Total commitment.  All in.

I borrowed the title for this sermon from Dabo Swinney because the Bible passage we read today sounds to me a lot like Dabo’s speech to the team.  Joshua is asking the people to be “all in.”

“Choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15)

So I’m asking you, “Are you All In?”  I’m committing to you that I am ALL IN. It’s an all or nothing kind of commitment. It’s the commitment we all are called to make.

Jesus puts it this way:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.” (Matt 22:37, Luke 10:27)

All.  What does all mean?  All means…well…all.
Why does “all” matter?

Because there will be tough times, and if we aren’t all in, we won’t do so well in the tough times.  It’s much easier to be sort of in.

In football, one way we see this is players holding back.  Football is rough.  Players get injured.  Around the time Dabo first took over at Clemson, the quarterback had been doing pretty well, but then his performance dropped off because he started being careful.  He wasn’t all in.  He had one foot on the football field, and one on the baseball diamond.  He was soon going to have to choose which way to go in professional sports.  Baseball was starting to look more promising, so he was being careful on the football field so he didn’t get injured and mess up his baseball prospects.  He stopped taking chances and stopped making plays that needed to be made. He let down the team because he was no longer fully committed to them.

Being all in means being committed enough to do whatever it takes.

Often in the Bible our relationship with God is compared to marriage.  I understand that analogy because I have learned over the years how I need to be fully committed to my husband Rob.  Even though we made the formal commitment the day we got married, as with any marriage there have been other deciding points along the way, and there is one in particular that changed the course of our marriage.  We were having an argument, as all couples do, and this particular day we were arguing about money, as all couples do, and I realized in the midst of the argument that this issue we were having was not something we were going to solve, at least not easily, and certainly not in this argument.  If we weren’t going to solve it, that meant I had to be willing to accept things as they were in that moment, and accept that they might never be exactly the way I wanted, or I had to get out.  I asked myself, “Self, if this never changes, can you live with that?”  My answer to myself was yes, because I realized I loved Rob more than I loved having perfectly settled issues, and that even if we never solved this, I couldn’t imagine life without Rob.

This is the level of commitment Joshua is asking for in his call to Israel to “choose this day whom you will serve.”  Joshua knows there are going to be challenges and issues.  They are going to continue to be confronted with other gods, because the people around them are worshipping those other gods.

The people say, “We will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:16-18) And in response Joshua gets prophetic about what will happen.  He says, “You’re not going to be able to do it.” (Joshua 24:19) And he’s right.  As we read on through the Bible in the books of Judges and Kings and Chronicles and the prophets, we see that Israel was continually turning away from God to worship other gods.  Even when they did worship Yahweh, they did it half heartedly, going through the rituals and sacrifices that were required in that time, but then going on doing the things God had told them not to do – treating people badly, lying and cheating and stealing from one another.

They weren’t all in.  They worshipped with their lips, but their hearts were far from God. (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13)

So today, on the day we’re making our pledge commitments, I’m challenging us to commit, or to recommit, to be all in with our hearts, to be committed to loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, and souls, and minds and strength.

If we say we are committed to God but we aren’t willing to do and be what God calls us to do and be, then we aren’t really all in.

This is the challenge that Paul is making to the Corinthians in our New Testament reading for today.  Paul knows that we grow in our relationship with God and in our commitment to him when we trust him and step out in faith.  If we trust that God is our provider, then we will trust him enough to share what we have been given.  If we trust that God is helping us to be more and more like Jesus, than we will see the world more and more through God’s eyes and have compassion for the needs of the people around us, and we will share what God has given us to help them.

If we are all in, that means with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, with all our lives loving and serving God, trusting that God keeps his promises, that God demonstrated the depth of his love for us in sending his only son to die for us.  Jesus gave his all for us, and asks nothing less of each one of us. (Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Eph 5:25)

That’s why I’m so often saying that everything we have and everything we are is from God.

2 Peter 1:3[2] His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

God has already given us everything.  We’ve been working on practicing gratitude for the past six weeks to help us see how much God has given us.  We have so much to be thankful for.  As a church we have so much to be thankful for.  God has already done so much among you here at UPC, and I’m excited to see what God’s going to do next!  We’ve only just begun!

I’m so thankful for all the ways that you have already been following God to get to where we are today.  God was at work in my life bringing me here, and he’s been at work in your lives bringing you here as well.

As I was thinking about this message this week, I got to thinking about a phrase that you may have heard me say:  “We’ll get there.”  We already know we have some things to work on, and we’ve already done quite a bit, and we have lots of ideas brewing and we really are just getting started together.  And I realized that “We’ll get there” isn’t just something to say, but something I really believe.

Together we’ll get there.  Wherever “there” is.  “There” is where God is leading us.  And here’s what I know for sure about that:
Isaiah 41:13 God is with us, always leading us and guiding us.  We just have to keep on holding on to his hand and following – keep on praying.
Matthew 28:20 Jesus has given us our marching orders – to go and make disciples, and baptize and teach them.  We come to church to reorient and refocus and be renewed and then we go out.
Acts 1:8 We go wherever God is leading us – Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  That means we’re sent out to do ministry here in Sterling, among our neighbors and friends, and at the college and surrounding areas, and out beyond.  Next week we’ll get a chance to hear about some of the “beyond” as we’ll hear about some of the missions that we help support.

I want to be clear – our primary commitment is to Jesus, to letting Jesus be Lord of all of our hearts and all of our lives.  The vehicle that Jesus has given us to help us with that is the church, the gathering of believers to encourage one another and to hold each other accountable in our commitment to Jesus.  That’s what we see Joshua and Paul doing in our scripture readings today. Encouraging the people and challenging them to accountability.

Joshua says, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” He’s asking, “Who or what is Lord of your life?  Who or what is behind the decisions and choices we make?”  Paul says, “Let your commitment show in your giving” (2 Cor 8:11).

Our commitment as a church is to helping one another follow Christ with all our hearts and all our lives, and to obeying Christ’s charge to us go out and help others know his love.

It’s a commitment we have to keep making and renewing, because we get off track, and sometimes we don’t realize when we have let other gods, other idols, rule over our choices and decisions.

One of the ways we get off track in church is that we get focused on doing the things we’ve always done – our traditions.  I was reminded of this while watching the musical at Sterling High School Friday night – Fiddler on the Roof.  Tevye, the main character, explains at the beginning how tradition defines their lives and helps them to know who they are.  But we see as the story unfolds how the traditions that hold them together also become something that breaks them apart, and eventually Tevye and Golde have to let go of tradition.  Tradition is a wonderful guide for us in the church, and our traditions can be beautiful touchstones, markers that remind us of God’s love and grace.  But when tradition becomes our god, then we have forsaken God to follow other gods.

That’s why I want us to be clear that our commitment is to Jesus and to following him.  That’s especially important because sometimes the way won’t be perfectly clear.  God will lead us to do new things in new ways that we have yet to discover.

A missionary society once wrote to David Livingstone, the famous missionary to Africa, and asked, "Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you." Livingstone wrote back, "If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all."[3]

This church has already demonstrated that it can make new roads.  The daycare center is a shining example of your willingness to follow Christ in new ways.

I can’t promise that it will be easy, but I can promise that being totally committed to God is way more fulfilling than following God halfway.

Choose this day whom you will serve.

If it is God, then let us commit today to loving God with all our hearts, minds, soul and strength, and let that be reflected in our pledges and in our lives.

Let us be all in.

[2] Message version: Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received!
[3] Good News Broadcaster, April, 1985,  p. 12.

Monday, November 6, 2017

I'm Feeling A Little Grateful-ish - Joshua 3-4

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, November 5, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling Ks.  Listen to the audio here.

Read Joshua 3-4 here.


“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
~ Attributed to Charles E. “Chuck” Dederich, Sr., (1913–1997) ~[2]

Say this with me: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
 . . .Unless you live on the other side of the international date line, in which case yesterday was the first day of the rest of your life.[3]
No, just kidding.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  You really can’t argue with that.

You might prefer the Bible version of this – Psalm 118:
“This is the day that the Lord has made
We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
~ Psalm 118:24, The Holy Bible ~

Very similar.  Both true. But let’s go back to the other one:
“Today is the first day
of the rest of your life.”
…because today we’re talking about Joshua and the major transition happening for the people of Israel in our scripture readings, and this statement is so fitting for their situation.  God had sent Moses to rescue them from slavery in Egypt.  They spent 40 years in the desert headed for the land that God had promised to their ancestors, and now all that separates them from that land is the Jordan River.  As they cross the Jordan, they are leaving wilderness wandering behind, and they are beginning a new season in their lives, a new chapter in their history, with a new leader, Joshua, the man that Moses anointed for leadership before he died.

There is so much going on here – so many parallels to other parts of the Bible* and so much symbolism that has become so engrained in our culture that we may hardly even notice it.  But God wanted to make sure they always remember what’s happening here, so he gives Joshua some very specific instructions, and that’s what we’re going to focus on this morning.

First he tells them to prepare themselves.  He says:
“Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” --Joshua 3:5
Joshua was reminding them that this is not just a sight-seeing excursion.  They are following God.  They need to be prepared to experience what God is going to do.
The Holy Spirit is at work in us, preparing us, and we tap into that preparation, we participate with prayer, praise, confession.  We demonstrate that together in worship:
  • By asking God to prepare our hearts as we come to church and into the sanctuary
  • We begin with praise to renew our focus and get our hearts and minds turned toward God
  • We confess our sins, getting rid of the things that would get in the way of hearing and seeing God.
  • We come expecting to see and hear God, as Joshua has told Israel to be – expectant that God will do wonders among us.

The Israelites had been camped there by the Jordan for weeks.  Now they were finally moving forward and they needed to be ready.

Today, on this first day of the rest of your life, what will you do to prepare?  How will you make sure you are ready to see and hear God at work in your life and in the lives of those around you?

2. Then Joshua tells them how to know that God is there. Joshua says…
“By this you shall know that among you is the living God . . .  the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. . .  When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.” –Joshua 3:10-13
The Ark of the Covenant was the sacred box that was the sign of God’s presence with them.  When they were camped, it was kept in the tabernacle behind a special curtain.  When they were travelling, only certain priests were allowed to carry it, and they never touched it.  They carried it on long poles.

When the toes of those priests carrying the ark got to the edge of the river, the water stopped flowing, so that Israel could cross the river on dry land.  This might sound familiar.  This is just like what happened back at the beginning of their journey, when they first left Egypt and were standing on the edge of the Red Sea.  Then Moses raised his staff and God made a strong wind blow the waters back so they could cross. 

It happens a little differently here – the Ark instead of the staff – but still the waters part and make it clear that God is there working, just as he was at the beginning.

3. And then Joshua tells them to mark this for the future.

A common way in the Bible to mark when God does something is with stones.   Joshua tells the people to choose a man from each tribe – 12 men to each pick up a stone from the riverbed.  These weren’t small stones – they had to carry them on their shoulders.  They carried them to their new camp and used them to build a monument, so they would always remember what had happened that day and how God had worked a miracle in bringing them into their new home, in bringing them across the river on dry land, in giving them a new start.

We are also in transition and making a new start, and today we will also mark the day with stones.  We are:
o   finishing a series on growing in gratitude
o   getting used to a new pastor
o   preparing for the coming year by getting ready to make our pledges next week
o   just getting started on the new work God for us as a church
No matter what is going on in our lives, every day is an opportunity to start fresh with God.

Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

We too need to prepare for the transition, recognize God’s presence in the midst of it, and mark the transition to remember what God is doing among us.

Our series on growing in gratitude has been an important part of our preparation.  As we practice gratitude, we are also practicing seeing what God is doing, and hearing what God is teaching us.  By practicing gratitude daily, we are preparing ourselves each day to see and hear and follow God.

Together, let’s decide today to make this a forever practice, something we will commit to doing daily from now on. 

I’ll be honest, there are days when I am annoyed with myself for having committed to practicing thankfulness, because I really don’t want to.  I want to stay in my grumpiness a bit, but it’s a commitment God calls us all to make, and so I do it anyway. (Remember our theme verse: 1 Thess 5:18 and today’s Psalm 107)

The Bible tells us to be thankful, so I do it, and so many days this is a game changer for me.  I sometimes don’t even notice until the end of the day that although I started out grumpy,  I did my thankfulness practice, and ended up having a better day.
We are always in transition in some way, and our thankfulness needs to include what Moses and Joshua demonstrate in leading Israel through their transition:
  • Thanks to God for what’s happened in the past – thanks for bringing us to this moment.
  • Thanks to God for right now – thanks for God’s presence
  • Thanks to God for the future – thanks for whatever God has in store for us

We need to remember to be thankful in all our transitions for whatever God is doing. 

Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, "Why is that there?" Alex Haley answered, "Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words & think that they are wonderful, & begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post & remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help." That is the basis of thankfulness - to remember that we got here with the help of God, & that He is the provider of every blessing we have.[4]

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  We’re marking this day with stones as well.  Israel used the stones to remember and to teach their children about what God had done.  They gave thanks for the past and prepared for the future. 

 Throughout the Bible, people use stones to mark for themselves that God has done something significant.  The most significant is Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we refer to him as the rock on which we stand.  Jesus is our rock, and because through our faith in Jesus he lives in us, we too become rocks, living stones.

The Bible says in 1 Peter that we are “like living stones, … being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”   –1 Peter 2:4-5

We are living stones.  And here’s something really cool.  Did you know there are stones that grow?  There’s a plant that looks just like a rock

. . .until it blooms and a flower grows up out of the middle of it
We are just like those plants – living rocks.  Sometimes we might just look like plain old stones, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, God is making us grow and we too bloom – maybe in unexpected ways and at unexpected times and places. 

In just a few minutes, we’re going to celebrate communion, one of the ways we mark and remember what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, and as you come up for communion we’ve got something special for you - a rock to take home with you.  Written on each rock is the word Eucharisteo, the Greek word that means “he gave thanks.” Jesus, on the night he was betrayed and arrested, gave thanks.5  Eucharisteo to help us remember to be practicing thankfulness.  This week as you are considering your pledge commitments that we will bring back next week, use this rock as a way to prepare –
  • To remember and give thanks for all the ways that God has brought us to this day, including thanks for all the people who have been a part of making the church worldwide and this church here in Sterling what it is today, and thanks to God for providing all that we have needed so far.
  • To acknowledge and give thanks to God for his presence with us right now and for all the ways God is working among us today, helping us grow as the living stones that make up his church. 
  • To give thanks to God for all the ways he is leading us into the future, to be living stones who bloom and grow in ways we have yet to discover.

Today is the first day of the rest of our lives. 
How will this be a new start for us all? 
Let us be prepared to follow Jesus wherever he leads us on this great adventure!

. . .

Our playlist for the day this was preached:

[1] By Rev. Melissa Krabbe, preached on Sunday, November 5, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling, KS.
[3] From the Google books version of 2400 Jokes to Brighten Your Speeches By Robert Orben
[*] Joshua is indispensable to the larger biblical account, referred to or quoted in 14 other biblical texts:  1 Kings 16:34, Ps 44, Ps 68:12-14, Ps 78:54-55, Ps 94:4-5, Hab 3:11, Acts 7:45, Heb 4:8, Heb 11:30-31, Jas 2:25 (Jerome Creach, Interpretation, pg 3)
[5] Inspired by Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go – Deuteronomy 34

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, October 29, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church in Sterling, KS.  Listen to the audio here.  

Read Deuteronomy 34 here.


A little girl named Jamie was trying out for a part in the school play.  Her mother knew that she'd set her heart on being in it, but was afraid she would not be chosen.

On the day the parts were awarded, her mom went to pick her up after school. Jamie rushed up to her, eyes shining with pride and excitement, “Guess what, Mom,” she shouted, “I've been chosen to clap and cheer!”[1]

Jamie got a part in the play alright….she’s officially part of the audience.  But instead of being disappointed, she’s excited, and she’s thankful.

Life is full of disappointments. 

What are the only things you can count on?  (Cliché - Death & taxes)  No, your fingers.

We can also count on disappointment.  Dealing with disappointment is part of life, and also part of growing in our faith, and growing in gratitude.  It’s easier to have faith when things are going well, and easier to be grateful, but when we manage to be thankful even when things aren’t going the way we wanted or expected, we grow.

Disappointment is the gap between what we expect from life or from our faith and what we experience.[2] Disappointment can be in people, situations, things or God.  We could all tell about our disappointments.  I’m looking forward to our discussion time this afternoon when we will have the opportunity to encourage one another as we share how we have dealt with our disappointments.

In our reading for today, Moses was surely disappointed.  He had spent 40 years leading Israel out of slavery in Egypt, through the desert, and to the Promised Land. The books of Exodus and Numbers are all about that journey and all the disappointments they faced along the way.  Now, in Deuteronomy, here they sit on the bank of the Jordan River, finally ready after all these years to cross over into the land they’ve been dreaming of and promised for generations . . . but Moses, their faithful leader, won’t be going with them.

Why not?  We find the answer in Numbers 20.  This is one of the times in the wilderness journey when there was no water.  The people complained, Moses went to God, and God told Moses to speak to the rock and water would come out.  Moses gathered the people in front of the rock, and then, instead of speaking to the rock, Moses spoke to the people and chastised them for their faithlessness.  Then, out of anger, Moses struck the rock with his staff.        Water did come out, enough for all the people and all the animals, but because Moses let his pride get in the way of his leadership, God told him:

“Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” (Numbers 20:12)

Because Moses didn’t quite follow directions, and didn’t give God any of the credit for providing water, Moses would not enter the Promised Land.  But God did let Moses see it from up on top of Mount Pisgah.  The first two verses of Deuteronomy 34 remind me a bit of the scene in the movie The Lion King (1994)
when the father lion Mufasa takes his son Simba up on top of pride rock to show Simba what will one day be his kingdom when Mufasa dies, and Mufasa says, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.”  God is saying to Moses, “Everything you can see is the land I promised to your ancestors.”

In Deuteronomy 34, we are reading the last chapter of Moses’ life – his death – and it ends with a wonderful statement to sum up his life:

Since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh, before all his servants, and in all his land, 12 and by all that mighty power and all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

This is the end of the journey, the end of the book, the end of the Torah, and the end of Moses.  Deuteronomy is the book of Moses’ last words.  Its Hebrew name, debarim, means “these are the words.”   Deuteronomy is mainly composed of three speeches Moses gives to the people of Israel as they are camped beside the Jordan, getting ready to enter the Promised Land, preparing them to go on without him.

As part of their preparation, Moses reminds them how they got here.  Almost all of them were born after they left Egypt, so they may not know all that happened on their journey, and all the ways that God took care of them.  Moses also reminds them why he will not be going in with them.  In Duet. 1:37 he says,  Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, ‘You shall not enter it.’”  This isn’t quite accurate.  Moses is in trouble for his own behavior, not the behavior of the people, but it’s likely that Moses’ frustrations with the people contributed to his behavior and so he blames them.

Moses tried again to talk God into letting him lead the people into the Promised Land, and God again said no and don’t bring it up again (Dt 3:26).  Instead, God told him to work on preparing the people and encouraging Joshua, their new leader, who would take them across.

So Moses offers them encouragement.  He says in Deuteronomy 31:6 the words we heard the choir sing today:  "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."

Moses, the greatest prophet, the one who spoke with God face-to-face, was not immune to disappointment, and experienced it in the same ways we do.
Disappointment in ourselves.
When Moses finds God at the burning bush, he responds by listing all the ways he’s not good enough to go lead Israel out of Egypt.  Despite that, Moses does go and the people do indeed get freed from their slavery to Pharaoh. 
Disappointment in people.
Moses was frequently disappointed with the people of Israel.  Early in their journey across the wilderness, Moses went up on Mount Sinai to meet with God for 40 days, and when he came back, the people whom God had just rescued from Egypt had already made new gods for themselves.  Moses was so upset that he smashed the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.
Later, when they first got across the desert to the edge of the Promised Land, Moses sent a team of men to check it out and report back. Of those ten, all of them reported scary stories except Caleb and Joshua.  The people heard the scary stories and refused to go in, so God gave them their wish and they wandered for 40 years.

The Bible is full of stories of disappointment
  • ·      King David wanted to build a temple to honor God but God said no.
  • ·      Paul asked God to remove a thorn that had bothered him all his life, but God said no.
  • ·      Judas wanted Jesus to rise up and rescue the people from their Roman oppressors, but that wasn’t God’s plan.

Why, if God is faithful, do we have disappointments?  Disappointment happens when our expectations aren’t met.  The problem is that our expectations aren’t always so good.

Sometimes we have wrong expectations because our expectations are based on what we’ve heard, not what we actually read in the Bible.   Or maybe we read it a long time ago and we’re mis-remembering.  Reading the Bible we may see how God works differently than we’d expected. Having Bibles of our own to read is one of the major outcomes of the Reformation!

We get the expectation from our culture that if we do the right things and work hard enough, that life will go well for us, and then when it doesn’t we are disappointed. 

I am so thankful that in my young adulthood when I was frustrated with the way life was going that our pastor at that time didn’t say, “You just need to have more faith.”  My faith was young, for sure, but the bigger issue was my faulty expectations.  Instead that pastor said, “God didn’t promise it would be easy.”  He’s right, and that’s why I frequently go back to Jesus words to the disciples in his final speeches to them.  He said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

God doesn’t promise us that everything will work out the way we want it to, but God does promise that we won’t have to face any of it alone.  “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I will never fail you.  Knowing that God is with us doesn’t make us immune to disappointment, but it is how God helps us through it.

Disappointment can get in the way of gratitude.  I’ve said almost every week since we started this series that gratitude can sometimes be really hard.  Can we be thankful even in the midst of disappointment?  Yes. Maybe not right away, but we can get there.
Not too long ago I was dealing with some disappointment and anger at God for not healing my stepmom Lydia’s cancer.  I had a friend who started chemo for cancer on the very same day as Lydia.  I prayed diligently for both of them.  My friend continues to struggle with her cancer. I think she even just started a new treatment. But Lydia died . . . almost a year ago.  For awhile I was even resentful of my friend for surviving when Lydia didn’t.  Really, though, I was mad at God for not doing what I wanted him to do.

It’s important that we acknowledge our disappointments.  Otherwise they fester and make us bitter. Acknowledge that doubt and anger are normal outcomes of disappointment.  Moses of all people had a close relationship with God, meeting with God face-to-face – the best of anyone except Jesus! – but still Moses had disappointment, and we see at several points in Moses’ journey with the people through the wilderness that his disappointment led to anger.

We need to acknowledge our disappointments, and we need to talk to God about our disappointment, and keep working on gratitude.  The Psalms are a great example of this.  They express deep feelings of discouragement and frustration, but often in the same Psalm, gratitude to God.  The gratitude we find the most often is for God’s faithfulness.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  His faithful love endures forever. (Psalm 106:1, et al)

God is faithful, and his promises never fail.

Disappointment with God may be the hardest kind of disappointment.

A young woman woke up one morning feeling desperate – desperate to find God, to know God’s love, to feel God’s presence.  She wasn’t a churchgoer, but she dragged herself out of bed, put on nicer-than-usual clothes, and with fear and hope found a seat in a pew in a church.  She was nervous, but her desperation also made her brave.  So she sat and waited and listened….and was let down.  The preacher’s sermon was lifeless.  The people were standoffish. She stumbled back out onto the street feeling worse than she had when she’d started….but getting used to the disappointment.[3]

First, let me say that I pray that we will not be that church.  What that woman learned was that in seeking God she had put too much trust in the institution, too much trust in the people.  Thankfully she learned to find God on her own through the Bible and other books, online discussions, private prayer time, volunteering…all of which are good and important parts of building our lives with God. 

People will fail us.  Institutions will fail us.  Situations will fail us, and our own thoughts and emotions and expectations will fail us, but God will never fail us.
The church can be a great place to find God, and worship and grow and encourage one another, but we will all at times be disappointed with our church because the church is made up of people, and we aren’t perfect people.[4]

Today we commemorate the Protestant Reformation and the lessons we learned from Martin Luther and so many others that our faith is not in church or in its people or even it its work, but in the one who created us, our faithful God who sent his son to die for us. 

By grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing;
it is the gift of God. (Eph. 2:8).

We will struggle with disappointment at times, but God is right here with us in the midst of it.  For some of us, turning to God in the midst of our disappointments is easy.  For others, it’s really hard.  Let’s encourage one another, and maybe most importantly, keep on praying for one another, and for all those who don’t yet know God’s love and grace.
God is so faithful. Thanks be to God!

[2] Phillip Yancey, Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud, Zondervan 2015, Kindle Edition.
[4] Read an essay about what  Dietrich Bonhoeffer says on this topic here: