Church Write-Up: Baggage and Comfort

I went to the “Word of Faith” church and the Missouri Synod Lutheran church last Sunday.  Here are some items.

A.  At the “Word of Faith” church, we had a guest speaker.  I call this church the “Word of Faith” church, but, as I have said before, this is not always an accurate label.  The guest speaker was talking about when his daughter was in a tragic accident, he and others prayed for her healing, and yet she still died.

B.  The guest speaker still believes that God was present through the ordeal.  He feels that God anointed him and his family during that time—-and he believes it was God’s anointing because it had an ending point.  That reminded me of a book that I read years ago: Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Revival, which was a collection of sermons that Jones delivered about the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905.  There was a time when the revival was clearly going on: numerous people were getting saved, and the ordinarily meek and mild preacher was preaching like a lion.  But there came a point in time when the revival came to an end.

C.  The guest speaker told a story about his daughter.  She was in junior high school, and she ate lunch with a boy every day at school.  The boy talked about his desire to do something great for God, and she said to her father that this boy did not know God.  I wonder how she drew that conclusion.

This somewhat relates to (B.): I may think that God is there for me and that God’s Spirit is within me, but is there tangible proof, or is it just my wishful thinking?  The guest speaker believed that there was a tangible indication that God was anointing him during his time of grief, and that this anointing was not simply in his head but had identifiable beginning and ending points.

D.  The guest speaker also talked about his wife’s shingles.  He said that his wife has a low tolerance for pain, and, the night before, she was screaming out in agony.  It is sad that anyone goes through that.  I am upset when I have gas pains, but I cannot imagine feeling so bad that I scream out in pain.

E.  Now for the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  The main text of that service was Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (KJV).   The youth pastor said that many things come and go: this year’s Christmas celebration, for example.  But, while these things come and go, we will always be talking about the word of God, specifically Jesus Christ.  And we should make sure to focus on the one who is eternal, Jesus Christ, during this Christmas season.

F.  The pastor talked about how life is transient and how we carry a lot of baggage and insecurity.  The Book of Ecclesiastes emphasizes and laments that life is ephemeral.  But Isaiah 40:8 affirms that the word of God stands forever.  And what is this word?  The word that life is ephemeral?  For the pastor, the word is that God is eager to comfort.  Isaiah 40:1 affirms, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.”  After thirty-nine chapters of criticizing Israel for her sins, God comforts Israel and assures her of God’s forgiveness of her sins.  The pastor was tying this to the Gospel.

What was this word that lasts forever?  Within the context of Second Isaiah, the answer is probably that Israel would return from exile.  Cyrus would accomplish this.  Why would a word about this historical event need to last forever?  I can understand why some Christians argue that Second Isaiah had to be about much more than Israel’s return from exile in the fifth century B.C.E.  At the same time, within Second Isaiah, we see dramatic expectations about Israel’s return: that it would accompany the Gentiles coming to know God, and Israel bringing justice to the earth.  God’s word that would last forever is not just Israel’s return from exile, but how that fits within God’s larger purposes.

G.  The pastor was talking about how he one time attended his wife’s high school reunion, and the things that he liked to brag about—-his pastoring a 1,600-person congregation (I don’t think that’s us, but a previous church that he pastored), and him having more master’s degrees than he has cars—-did not matter there.  What mattered there was that he was her husband.  That was his identity there.  Similarly, he said, God looks at us in terms of our association with Jesus.

I remembered that I have master’s degrees.  And, yes, that helps my self-esteem, since I often feel like a failure.  But what the pastor said reminded me of Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:8, after Paul listed his credentials: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (KJV).

H.  There was a common theme in both services, but it was used differently.  At the “Word of Faith” church, a lady was talking about how she works in a school cafeteria, and she cleans tables.  And these are dirty tables!  She said that God wants to clean us up—-cleanse us of our shame, our past, our baggage, our sins.

At the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, and pastor talked about how the mother-in-law of his mother liked to visit and clean up the house, implying that the mother’s cleaning was not good enough.  That was an example of the “baggage” that he was mentioning: the things that happen to us that have the potential to define our lives negatively, if we let them.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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