A MORNING PRAYER

Father, in the morning of this new day, I joyfully and gratefully submit every fiber of my being to you and your will. I surrender every corner of my life, every ounce of personal ambition, striving, and longing to you and your kingdom. By your grace, I ask for that purity of heart that wills only one thing—your will and glory.

Lord Jesus, in the morning of this new day, I ask for the grace to make every decision and perform every single act according to the values of your kingdom, according to the model you lived and taught.

And, blessed Holy Spirit, in the morning of this new day, I implore you to shower upon me the fullness of your fruits, gifts, and power. Please intercede for me with groans too deep for human utterance so that all this day I may live and act for the honor and glory of the God whom I love and adore, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I often fail to come even close to the submission and faithfulness prayed for here, but it represents my desire. I am fairly certain I wrote this prayer decades ago, although I do not know when. And if I actually found it and forgot the author, I apologize.

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DID JESUS MEAN THAT SOMETIMES HIS DISCIPLES SHOULD KILL THEIR ENEMIES?

We can only understand Jesus’ teaching in the context of his gospel of the kingdom. Jesus taught that the long-expected messianic kingdom was actually breaking into history in a powerful way in his actions and disciples. And Jesus’ teaching explained how Jesus expected his followers to live in that new kingdom.

            It is clear that Jesus intended his ethical teaching to be for everyone, not only some little group. At the end of his gospel, Matthew reports that Jesus sent his disciples into the whole world not only to baptize those who believe but to teach them “everything I have commanded you” (28:20).

            The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 is the largest block of Jesus’ teaching in all the four Gospels. So we must start there to look for an answer to the question:: Does Jesus ever wants his disciples to kill their enemies?

            Matthew 5:21-48 contains a set of sayings where Jesus says something like this: “You have heard that it was said, . . . but I say to you.” In at least some cases, Jesus seems to refer to an Old Testament teaching that he then sets aside.

            We must carefully examine the antitheses (“You have heard that it was said, . . . but I say to you”) in Matthew 5:21-48 to explore carefully the question: Does Jesus’ teaching never set aside Old Testament teaching, or does Jesus sometimes fulfill the Old Testament by teaching that his kingdom ethic sometimes goes beyond and is different from the Old Testament?

It appears that Jesus claimed the authority to challenge widely understood demands of the law. And the early Christians clearly taught that central demands of the Old Testament law—circumcision, food laws, sacrifices in the temple for forgiveness of sins, the Sabbath—were no longer binding under the new covenant. Paul taught that although the law was a divinely given custodian applicable until the coming of Christ, now “we are no longer under a guardian” (Galatians 3:25).

In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus condemns all use of oaths: “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath,’ . . . But I tell you, do not swear . . . at all. . . . All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

The Old Testament not only forbids breaking one’s oath (see Leviticus 19:12); it also explicitly commands taking oaths.  Deuteronomy 6:13 declares: “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” See also Exodus 22:10-11.

Here in Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus clearly forbids what the Old Testament commands. And James 5:12 shows that the early church remembered and sought to live by Jesus’ prohibition of oaths: “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise, you will be condemned.”

Matthew 5:38-42 is a very important text.

“You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right check, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”

This eye-for-an-eye retaliation had been a central principle of Near Eastern law since the famous Code of Hammurabi (eighteenth century BC). And it was certainly the keynote of the Old Testament teaching on criminal justice. Exodus 21:23 is clear: “If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Leviticus states the same standard: “Anyone who injures [a] neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (24:19-20;  also Deuteronomy 19:19-21).

Jesus’ response to this fundamental Old Testament principle is pointed: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39). To try to argue, as some do, that here Jesus is not setting aside an Old Testament teaching seems to ignore the clear meaning of the text.

Central to an understanding of this passage is the proper translation of the key verb antistēnai. The NIV translates it “do not resist.” And a number of people have concluded that Jesus advocates pure passivity, total nonresistance in the face of evil.

A careful study of the verb used in this text, however,  shows clearly that Jesus is not recommending passivity. The Greek term for “resist” used in Matthew 5:39 appears in the Greek Old Testament primarily as a military term. N. T. Wright summarizes the meaning of the term this way: “The word ‘resist’ is antistēnai, almost a technical term for revolutionary resistance of a specifically military variety.”

After prohibiting a violent response to evil, the text describes a proper response in four concrete situations. In each case, the commanded response is neither violent nor passive. Jesus calls his disciples not to turn aside passively or hit back, but rather to confront the evil nonviolently.

The second mile. “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41). The context for this saying clearly is Roman imperialism. The word translated “mile” is a Roman word, not a Jewish word. And the word translated “forces you” is the technical term (verb, angareuō; noun, angareia), widely known in Roman law to refer to the legal right of Roman soldiers to compel subject people to carry their packs for one mile. The violent Jewish revolutionaries certainly urged fellow Jews to refuse to carry the baggage of oppressive Roman soldiers. Jesus recommends the precise opposite!

But is he recommending passivity? The soldier knows the colonized person has a legal obligation to carry his pack one mile. But he also knows the law forbids the Roman soldier to force the person to carry it more than one mile. And he knows his commander may punish him severely for breaking this law. So when they reach the end of the first mile, the soldier asks for the return of his pack. But the person offers to carry it another mile. Now the soldier is in trouble. He may be disciplined by his superior. So he begs to be given back his pack. “Imagine the situation of a Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack!” writes biblical scholar Walter Wink. “The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it would scarcely have been lost on Jesus’ hearers, who must have been regaled at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors.” With this action, the oppressed Jew seizes the initiative and asserts his dignity—but all in a nonviolent way, fully compatible with loving the oppressor without endorsing the oppression.

       It is hard to exaggerate either the originality or the importance of Jesus’ direct command to love our enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

New Testament scholar Richard Hays points out that the term echthroi (“enemies”) is generic. It “is often used in biblical Greek of national or military enemies.” For example, in Deuteronomy 20:1, the text says: “When you go to war against your enemies [echthroi] and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them.” This verse follows immediately after Deuteronomy 19:21, which commands an eye for an eye—the principle that Jesus specifically rejects. After a major review of recent scholarly literature on the topic, the German scholar Heinz-Wolfgang Kuhn concludes that the enemies Jesus calls his disciples to love include everyone. “The directive is without boundaries. The religious, the political, and the personal are all meant. Every enemy is meant.”

Martin Hengel, one of the leading scholars on the nationalist, revolutionary Jewish movements of Jesus’ time, thinks that Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies “was formulated with direct reference to the theocratic and nationalistic liberation movement in which hatred toward an enemy was regarded as a good work.” There is no way to prove that decisively. But in the immediately preceding section, Jesus has urged his followers to carry the packs of Roman soldiers not just the legally mandated one mile but also a second mile. Thus Jesus is thinking about the situation that the violent Jewish revolutionaries hated. If in verse 41 Jesus is talking about how to respond to Roman imperialists, it is very likely that his command to love enemies includes the people whom the revolutionaries sought to kill.

Jesus’ stated reason for loving one’s enemies is important. His disciples should act that way so “that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (v. 45).

Jesus’ command to love our enemies contradicts the practice of every society known to historians. No precise parallel to Jesus’ words has been found.  There is no other ethical issue about which the New Testament says Jesus’ disciples are like the heavenly Father when they act a certain way.

Also striking is the fact that Matthew 5:38-48 is probably the most frequently cited biblical text when one collects all the statements about killing from the early Christian writers before the time of Constantine. Ten different writers in at least twenty-eight different places cite or refer to this passage and note that Christians love their enemies and turn the other cheek. In nine instances, they link this passage from Jesus with a statement that Christians are peaceable, ignorant of war, or opposed to attacking others. Sometimes they explicitly link Jesus’ saying to a rejection of killing and war. In every single instance in which pre-Constantinian Christian writers mention the topic of killing, they say that Christians do not do that whether in abortion, capital punishment, or war. And Jesus’ statement about loving enemies is one of the major reasons cited.

Jesus called his followers to love their enemies, not kill them.  One may conclude, with people like Reinhold Niebuhr, that  that is what Jesus taught, but it does not work in the real world. Therefore we must ignore what Jesus taught. But that approach is simply not available to anyone with an orthodox understanding of who Jesus is.

If Jesus is God incarnate; if Jesus truly was the expected Messiah, the Christ; if Jesus told his followers to love, not kill their enemies; if Jesus’ messianic kingdom has begun in his life, death and resurrection; and if the crucified and risen Jesus is now Lord of all earthly kingdoms, then Christians today must refuse to kill their enemies.

For a much longer treatment of this topic, see my book SPEAK YOUR PEACE; WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT LOVING OUR ENEMIES (Herald Press, used with permission). And invite your friends to join my free blog: ronsiderblog.substack.com..


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BIBLICAL BALANCE, BIBLICAL BALANCE

Biblical balance is important in every area of our lives. It  is important in our personal lives as we seek to combine prayer and action. It is central to the life of the local congregation as it combines the inward journey of worship, fellowship, and nurture with the outward journey of mission to the world. It is crucial as we seek a proper balance of evangelism and social concern in our practice of mission. And it is essential as we seek to shape political life in a way that is faithful to Christ.

Each of those points briefly.

First prayer and action. I am an activist by natural instinct.  I don’t think that strategizing and acting are bad. God gave us brains to use. But surely our first move, when we sense a problem, should be to pray and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Just as surely, all our strategizing and acting should be immersed in prayer. If Jesus needed to stop preaching and healing, in order to spend time in prayer, then surely we need to do the same.

Second we need biblical balance in the local congregation. By all means, we need vibrant worship, warm fellowship and challenging nurture of each other within the local congregation. But so many of our congregations are largely self-centered. They spend almost all their money and time on the inner life of the congregation. But mission to the world is also central to biblical faith.  Would it not be more faithful to Jesus if the typical congregation spent fifty percent of its budget on the internal life of the congregation and fifty percent on mission outside the congregation? 

Third we need biblical balance in the way we embrace both evangelism and social action. For a great part of the 20th century, some churches majored almost exclusively on evangelism and other churches almost entirely on social action. Fortunately, the evangelical world has made major progress in the last forty years in embracing both. In 1973, the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern called evangelicals to greater engagement with societal issues such as racism, economic justice, oppression of women and violent nationalism. In 1974, the Lausanne Covenant declared boldly that evangelism and social responsibility are both part of our Christian duty. And in the following years, more and more evangelical leaders and congregations began to combine evangelistic outreach with programs that ministered to the social needs of people. Evangelical relief and development agencies flourished. 

But it is very easy to lose the balance. Again and again, Christian ministries like the YMCA started out with a great combination of evangelism and social action. And then they slowly lost the evangelism. In my lifetime, I have known younger evangelical social activists who became so upset by the failure of evangelical leaders to deal with things like racism and economic injustice that they abandoned any concern for evangelism. I sometimes worry about younger evangelicals today. They say they just assume that faithful Christians embrace both word and deed. But in practice, they actually spend most of their time and money on social action. 

Jesus is our only perfect model. Jesus preached and healed. Jesus did not think he should spend all his time preaching. The Gospels show that Jesus spent a lot of potential preaching time ministering to the physical needs of people. But just as certainly, Jesus did not spend all his time caring for people’s physical needs. We must strive to live like Jesus in mission. 

Finally we desperately need biblical balance in our political activity as evangelicals. I know this is a complicated, sensitive topic. Here, I will not tell you how to vote. But I would think that one of the first things evangelicals should ask when they think about faithful political engagement is this question: “What does the Bible tells us that God cares about?” When one asks that question, it becomes clear that God cares both about the sanctity of human life and about racial justice; both about marriage and justice for the poor; both about sexual integrity and care for creation. The official public policy document of the National Association of Evangelicals states that “faithful evangelical civic engagement must champion a biblically balanced agenda.” And the document goes on to make strong statements on the sanctity of human life and marriage between a man and a woman. But it also has vigorous sections on the importance of economic justice, care for creation, and opposing racism.

If one is completely pro-life (as I seek to be), then one must defend the sanctity of human life wherever it is threatened. Preventing people from dying of starvation or inadequate healthcare are also pro-life issues.

Faithful Christians will promote a political agenda that reflects biblical balance. When evangelical Christians are supportive of political movements that fail to condemn or even encourage racism, neglect economic justice for all, especially the poor, and fail to care for the environment the Creator has given us, they abandon a biblical balance and discredit Christian faith. Truth telling is as essential to following Jesus as it is to a vibrant democracy. Evangelicals who remember Jesus’ words that the truth will set us free should be the strongest advocates of truth in public life.

It is always difficult to embrace a fully biblical balance in one’s political decisions. Regularly, one politician or party will be closer to a biblically defined agenda on some issues and the other person and party will be closer on other issues. I acknowledge that political choices in this nation at this time are extremely difficult. But biblically committed evangelicals ought to be widely known as the strongest advocates for both the sanctity of human life and economic justice; for both supporting marriage and rejecting racism; for both sexual integrity and care for creation and truth telling. Biblical balance is what evangelical political voices should promote. That is what the public should think of when they think of evangelical political engagement.

So to the  graduates in 2018 and to all church leaders, I say this.

 As pastors and leaders in church and society, please beg the Lord to help you embrace and promote a biblical balance. Embrace both the vertical and horizontal parts of Jesus’ gospel. Everywhere share with broken people the glorious news that no matter how badly they have messed up, God stands with wide open arms eager to forgive their sins. Then with equal vigor, teach all who confess Christ to live like Jesus now so that the church is a little picture of what the completed kingdom will be like when Christ returns.

I urge you to preach, teach, and live the biblical balance of prayer and action. Shape congregations that place equal emphasis on the inner life of the church and outward mission to the world. Nurture congregations that every year lead scores of people to confess Christ for the first time and then throw their arms around the poor, broken people in society and walk with them toward wholeness. And finally, as pastors, do not tell your people how to vote. But dare to help your people embrace a biblically balanced political agenda in their civic engagement so that when the world speaks of evangelical political activity, they say: “Those evangelicals are the leaders in protecting the sanctity of human life and marriage. And they are also the leaders in rejecting racism, empowering the poor, protecting the environment, and telling the truth.

My friends I urge you: Make biblical balance your guiding star.

This is a shortened version of my commencement address at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania on January 9, 2018. You can read the full speech in my new book,  GOD’S INVITATION TO PEACE AND JUSTICE; SERMONS AND ESSAYS ON SHALOM available from www.judsonpress.com and Amazon (after Sept 30).

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EVANGELICALISM'S HERETICAL GOSPEL

As the sexual revolution starting in the 60s swept across the nation, evangelicals divorced at almost the same rate as the rest of America. Rather than living like Jesus, we conformed to surrounding sinful culture. And today American evangelical youth and vast numbers of global evangelicals are dumbfounded as prominent American evangelical leaders and vast numbers of their followers fail to oppose or even justify racism, attacks on immigrants, abuse of women, blatant dishonesty, and idolatrous nationalism. American youth who grew up in evangelical churches are abandoning evangelicalism and sometimes even Christian faith in droves. For someone like myself who has devoted all his life to trying to help evangelicals follow Jesus more faithfully, it is a time to weep.

But I do not despair. I believe the resurrected Jesus is still Lord. I believe the Bible is still God’s unique, authoritative revelation. 

Close to the heart of our problem, close to the tragic failure of evangelicalism, is a one-sided unbiblical understanding of the gospel. Vast segments of popular evangelicalism and some of our theologians seem to think the gospel is just forgiveness of sins. Jesus just came to die for our sins so we could go to heaven when we die. My friends, if that is all the gospel is, then it is a one-way ticket to heaven and we can live like hell until we get there.

But that is simply not what Jesus said his gospel is. In dozens and dozens of places, Jesus clearly said his gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God. He meant that the long-expected messianic Kingdom was actually arriving in his person and work. He was the Messiah and his messianic Kingdom was now breaking into history.

There were clearly two parts to Jesus’ dawning kingdom. Jesus told parable after parable teaching that God is like the father of the prodigal son. God stands with arms outstretched, eager to forgive prodigal sons and daughters who repent. Jesus died on the cross as our substitute. As a result, we broken sinners can stand before a holy God assured of forgiveness through the cross. That is an absolutely wonderful part of Jesus’ gospel!

But that is only one-half of Jesus’ gospel. The prophets promised that when the Messiah came, there would be not only a new vertical relationship with God, but also renewed horizontal right relationships with neighbors. There would be peace and justice in society. Jesus defined his mission in Luke chapter 4 quoting from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus said he came “to proclaim good news to the poor.” To “proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” And Jesus practiced what he preached. He healed the sick and the blind. When he sent out his disciples, he told them to announce the kingdom and heal the sick. And he warned his followers that if they did not feed the hungry and clothe the naked, they would depart eternally from God.

Jesus’ Gospel clearly produced a new community of disciples who started to live dramatically differently from surrounding society. Jewish men in Jesus’ day often repeated a prayer where they thanked God they were not gentiles, slaves or women. In Jesus’ new community of the early church, Paul could declare confidently that there was neither Jew or Gentile,  slave or free, rich or poor, male or female because they were all one in Christ. Central to their understanding of Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom was the fact that it demanded new socio-economic relationships in the body of Christ. That meant that the worst racial hatred in the ancient world was being overcome as Jews accepted gentiles as brothers and sisters. That meant that the rich shared dramatically with the poor. That meant that men accepted women as equals in Christ’s new kingdom. These new socio-economic relationships in the body of Christ are just as much a part of the gospel as forgiveness of sins.

In both testaments and throughout history, we see God’s people trying to separate their relationship with God from their relationship with people. We would like to be accepted with God without that affecting how we treat our neighbor. If Jesus’ gospel were just forgiveness of sins, that would work. We could get saved and still go on being racist, sexist, and unconcerned about the poor. And that is what so much of evangelicalism has done and still does. The blatant moral failure of so much of American evangelicalism results to a significant degree from this failure to see that Jesus’ gospel includes both forgiveness of sins and the call to be Jesus’ new socio-economic community rejecting racism, sexism, idolatrous nationalism and hatred of enemy.

Our one-sided gospel is actually heresy. Heresy is never a total denial of revealed truth. Rather it is a one-sided embrace of part of the truth in a way that ignores another important part. That is what popular evangelicalism has done by defining the gospel only as forgiveness of sins rather than with Jesus as the gospel of the kingdom. I think that a one-sided, heretical gospel is a central cause of the cheap grace so widespread in the evangelical church. If evangelicals are to follow Jesus rather than the world in the area of divorce; if we are to follow Jesus rather than the world in our racial attitudes, economic practices, attitudes about truth and treatment of women; then we must recover Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom. We must embrace both the vertical and horizontal aspects of Jesus’ gospel. We must recover the biblical balance that emphasizes the fact that Jesus’ gospel includes both the wonderful reality that God forgives sinners and the fact that Jesus’ kingdom community is to be a new visible society now living in faithfulness to all Jesus taught.

If the gospel is not just forgiveness of sins, but the good news of the kingdom of God, we cannot separate a reconciled relationship with God and a reconciled relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ’s body. If the gospel is not just forgiveness of sins, but the good news of the kingdom of God, we must understand that reconciled social and economic relationships in the body of Christ are one part of salvation. If the gospel is not just forgiveness of sins, but the good news of the kingdom of God, we understand more clearly that ministry to both the physical and spiritual needs of people is not some optional possibility but essential to the gospel. If the gospel is not just forgiveness of sins, but the good news of the kingdom, we see more vividly that the Christian community, if it is faithful, will always challenge what is wrong in the status quo. If the gospel is not just forgiveness of sins, but the good news of the kingdom of God, then any sharing of the gospel that does not include a significant concern for the poor is unbiblical. If the gospel is not just forgiveness of sins but the good news of the kingdom of God, we see more clearly that there must always be a sharp distinction between the church and the world. And if the gospel is not just forgiveness of sins but the good news of the kingdom of God, we cannot share the gospel adequately just by preaching. We have to live it too. Words and deeds must go together.

I am absolutely convinced that this full biblical gospel is what our broken world needs. It certainly needs the fantastic news of forgiveness. But it also longs to hear and see the amazing truth that right now there is a reconciled and reconciling community that broken people can enter and be loved and nurtured toward wholeness. If even a quarter of the world’s Christians would both preach and live Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom, we would see revival and church growth on a scale never before seen.

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I WILL MEET YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE, DAD

This is a shorter version of the sermon I preached at the funeral of my Dad, Rev. James P. Sider.

Just five days before Dad died, as I was driving from Windsor to Cambridge to see my Dad for the last time, this set of thoughts rippled through my mind. Yes, Dad was a wonderful man and he blessed thousands of people through his ministry. But he was just one of over six billion people living on a tiny fragile planet in a small solar system in one little corner of the Milky Way which is just one vast galaxy with billions of stars in an almost incomprehensibly huge universe. Dad’s ninety years of life was just a momentary flicker of time in this vast system that has been changing and growing for billions of years. And that flicker of time—those ninety years of good life that appeared for an instant and then disappeared again—in that flicker of time, Dad did not significantly change politics, science or even the church. Dad appeared for an instant or two and then was gone again.

So what meaning does his life have now? I know what Dad’s answer would be. And I agree completely. 

Dad knew that this vast, complex universe which scientists are increasingly beginning to understand—this whole vast universe came from the loving hand of an all-wise God. This personal God gently shaped our gorgeous, almost infinitely intricate world, and then made human beings in God’s very own image and called them to be God’s stewards to trace God’s stupendous design in every corner of the world. God even invited them to join the Almighty Creator as little creators developing fruitful farms, nurturing loving families. and shaping complex civilizations. 

Tragically, God’s human stewards messed everything up.

But Dad knew that God refused to abandon the world God loved, even when we stubbornly rejected God and ravaged our neighbors. God began to speak in a special way to an Iraqi named Abram and his children. 

Finally, Dad knew, the Creator of 120 billion spinning galaxies decided to come himself to this little planet to show us the way and offer a path out of our tragedy and brokenness. 

For most of his life, Jesus was an obedient son, learning from Joseph how to be a gifted carpenter. Visibly, this young man cutting and sanding tables and chairs was just another Galilean craftsman. But in truth he was also the Creator of the galaxies, teaching us by his physical labor the goodness and beauty of the material world, of everyday work and ordinary family life. 

At about thirty, this young carpenter became a strange kind of wandering preacher and successful teacher. He healed the sick, cared especially about the poor, and welcomed dispossessed, marginalized folk like women and lepers. And he began to challenge the status quo in all kinds of ways—its attitude toward the poor, the sick, women, war and violence. 

He also claimed to be the long expected Jewish Messiah, even to be the very Son of God. So the Jewish and Roman authorities collaborated to kill him as a dangerous social radical and a heretical blasphemer. They crucified him assuming that would squelch his threatening ideas forever. 

But three days later, Jesus burst from the tomb and appeared to his astonished disciples demonstrating by his bodily resurrection that death had been conquered for all who would believe. And he taught them that his death on the cross offered total, unconditional divine forgiveness for all who would humbly recognize their sin and ask God to wipe it away. And the Risen Lord promised to return some day to complete his victory over every evil, brokenness, sin and injustice, and complete the restoration of the entire creation to wholeness. 

This true, utterly astounding, story—that the Creator of the universe actually lived on this earth once, died for our sins once for all and rose bodily from the dead to offer life forever with God to all who believe and promised to return to earth some day to fully renew the whole creation—this story spread like wildfire. Within three short centuries, it conquered the most powerful pagan empire of human history. Century after century, more and more broken people, no matter how messed up their lives, found liberating forgiveness and new, transformed life in this wondrous story so that by the time Dad ended his ministry as a preacher of this glorious story, over two billion people in every country on earth were followers of this amazing carpenter.

Dad knew that his life had meaning—wonderful, powerful meaning —because he was a part, even though just a small part, of this glorious story. Dad knew that in every act of kindness to friend and neighbor, he was responding obediently to the way the Creator made the world and was joining the Creator’s grand design for the universe. In all Dad’s activity as a faithful farmer—growing good crops of corn, wheat, oats and red clover, developing a great herd of registered Holstein cows—Dad was fulfilling the Creator’s mandate to care for the creation and create new things. In all Dad’s activity as a loving husband—delighting in and ever learning more about serving his darling wife of 59 years—Dad gave his children and the world an attractive picture of the wondrous goodness and joy of faithful marriage. In all Dad’s activity as a wonderful father—loving each child uniquely, setting clear, firm family rules, slowly allowing each maturing child to make their own decisions even when he and Mom disagreed with their decisions, continuing to love and support us even when we stumbled and fell—Dad and Mom offered a tremendous model of excellent parenting. In all Dad’s activity as a church leader—teaching biblical truth, preaching revival services, inviting people to personal faith in the Savior, counselling and encouraging struggling church members—Dad was playing his small part in nurturing that ever growing circle of two billion plus disciples of Christ his Lord. 

In every part of Dad’s life—his farming, his family, his ministry—Dad’s seemingly insignificant daily activities were a part of God’s glorious divine plan of creating a stupendously beautiful, complex world and restoring everything in that world to the wholeness the Creator placed here at the beginning. In joining and playing his part in that grand design, Dad found strong meaning and powerful joy that lasted for a lifetime. 

I know that if Dad were alive and with us this afternoon, there is just one thing he would want to add.  And that is the amazing truth that the loving Creator of the universe continues to gently invite every person here, indeed every person on planet earth, to join God’s grand plan and find meaning, healing and joy in this glorious story. 

We don’t have to be famous to play an important role in God’s grand design. Every single one of us, as we are good children, faithful parents and loving grandparents—as we change diapers, kiss away children’s tears, work faithfully to provide for our family—in those acts, every one of us brings joy to the Creator. 

Every single one of us as we are faithful to our calling—as electricians, secretaries, artists, teachers, scientists, philosophers, plumbers, farmers, pastors, tour guides—in all these acts we serve our neighbors and make our small contribution to the kind of wholesome civilization that the Creator intends. 

Every single one of us as we are active in Christian ministry, whether in the local congregation or beyond – – as faithful church attendee, Sunday school teacher, bookkeeper, usher, pastor, national board member, missionary, evangelist, mentor of youth—in all these activities we play our own crucial part in God’s grand design, helping more and more persons find their place in Jesus’ wondrous story. 

In the last few years. as Dad’s weakness and longing to go home grew ever stronger, I prayed with him many times that God would take him soon. And I promised him as I promised Mother, that I would, by God’s good grace, meet them on the other shore. They stand together now on the other side with arms outstretched, inviting each one of us here today to promise the same: Dad, Grandpa, friend, pastor, I’ll meet you on the other side. 

You can read the full sermon in my new book, PREACHING THE GOSPEL, available at Amazon or www.wipfandstock.com.

Invite your friends to join my free blog: ronsiderblog.substack.com.

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