An Opportune Time

Written by Bryan Niebanck

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Luke 4:13

Do you have a most cherished memory?  What are the memories that you take with you through a life time?  We all have many memories, but there are some that we will never forget.  One of mine is talking with my friend, Serena, on her front porch four months before she died.  It was the last time I spoke with her; I was not sure whether to try to bring her hope or to try to understand the inevitable, which was her terminal diagnosis from brain cancer.  She died much too young, at age 23.  I remember and cherish this conversation not only because it was the last that I had with a friend who I had had since grade school, but because it was a moment in time where we were just there for each other.  Nothing else mattered but the moment that we were spending together.  In that moment, she inspired to me to write more in the form of letters, and I have been doing that much more now with friends and family.  I think of this moment almost every time I sit down to write.

Thinking about our cherished memories help us to refocus on the things that really matter.  We know that we always have things to get done, and the pressure builds, but sometimes it is alright to tell yourself that it will be okay.  What really matters?  We could spend our entire lives rushing through it, and we will barely remember a day of it, or we can make the effort to spend time with friends and family, to make these special moments with one another.  Take that trip together that you both have been dreaming of.  Call up that friend whose number you have taped to your refrigerator but that you haven’t used since 2015.  Make those plans to go out to eat with that Spanish teacher you have somehow kept in touch with who always talks about getting together in her Christmas cards.  Make cherished memories.  You do not know which ones will become cherished when you are making them, but if you don’t make any, you won’t have any.

Jesus made cherished memories with his disciples.  One of the big ones that his disciples remembered for their lifetimes was the big meal that he had with them the day before he died.  He told them at the meal, as he passed the bread and shared the cup, to continue to do those things in remembrance of him.  It is akin to writing letters in remembrance of Serena.  I am sure that you do certain things in remembrance of a family member or friend that you have lost too.

We have lost a lot of our friends and family over the years, and when we look around the church, those who have been here awhile might be able to see Hank in his usual pew, or Ed standing out front shaking hands.  “Spend time as a congregation in active remembrance.  Remember those who have passed and the gifts that they brought.  Remember the ones you could not visit and their seat in the sanctuary.  Remember your family members, neighbors, and loved ones who have died because of Covid or other causes.  Acknowledge human loss, offer thanksgiving for their legacy, and joy that death is not the end of life.  Celebrate Holy Communion as a congregational act of remembering, that at this sacred table we gather together with those on the journey of life and with those who are in our great cloud of witnesses” (Ministry Matters, Path of Healing).  We all partake of the bread and wine together.  We build on the legacy that others have built and sustained.

In Deuteronomy, we also read about remembrance.  As the Israelites come into the promised land, they are told to remember what God has done for them by giving part of the fruit of the land back to God.  God was the one who provided this land, who delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians: “The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:8-9).  These instructions prompt us to worship God with remembrance.  By remembering what God has done for us, we are worshipping God and giving glory to God’s name.  When you tell the story of your life, and how God has come to meet you in it, you are worshipping God through remembrance.  You are worshipping God when you build on the legacy of others who have gone before you.  You are worshipping when you sit in this moment, tired and hungry for spiritual fulfillment, because you are now reminding yourselves of that cherished moment where God met you, of that memory with a friend, or that wedding day, or when your first child was born, or the day you gave your life to Christ.  First, we need to take every opportune time that we are given to spread our story of God.  We celebrate this in worship, in communion with one another, and by remembering those moments when God picked us up and carried us across the sand.

Second, do remember your temptations as Jesus remembered his.  In order for Luke or whoever it was to write down this story, Jesus must have found meaning in the moment of his temptation to share it with others.  Otherwise, we would not have known this story.  It can actually be a blessing to someone else if you share how you have been tempted, and tell about how God led you not to give into that temptation.  Or, if you were dragged in, you can tell about how God went searching for the lost sheep and dragged you out.  This is how we inspire others with our faith and lead others to Christ, sometimes without even realizing it.  Though in addition to being a blessing to someone else, it can also be a blessing to ourselves.  To remind ourselves how God led us from a moment of despair can lead us out of the current moment of despair.  There is always hope.  Even in Nazareth.

Third, just as we tell our stories of temptations to ourselves and to others, we recognize that they will not stop.  Luke 4 tells us of how Jesus heroically fended off the devil.  Have you had that moment when the devil may have reached out to you, just told you that it would be okay to eat those five cookies, or that bag of goldfish, because what’s the worst thing that can happen, and you told him off?  Did that not feel victorious?  And then you turn around the next week and fall to that temptation because you were not prepared for it.  Luke 4:13 tells us, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.”  The devil was not finished with him.  The devil would continue to try to win him over.  The same goes for us.  We all have so much that tempts us to turn away, either to our own personal health, or worse, to our own spiritual health.  He asks you, “If God were with you, wouldn’t your husband still be with you?  If God were with you, wouldn’t you not have suffered that heart attack?  If God were with you, wouldn’t you have more money?”  We need to tell ourselves over and over again that God is with us, regardless of the situation, just as God was with Jesus on the cross.

As we prepare our hearts to grow closer to God in this season, remember God.  Remember the moments where God has met you.  This will give you confidence in the moments to come where you will meet God again.  Look for those opportune times to make memories where God might find you, even if you feel like crawling into your bed and not waking up until June.  Remember the times that God has rescued you from temptations and prepare yourself to pray when you encounter one again.  Victory once does not mean you have defeated the devil’s tricks because he will continue to look for opportune times to win you back up until the day that God takes you home forever.  We need to keep true to our God if we are to see the promises of Psalm 91 fulfilled: “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.  When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them” (Psalm 91:14-15).  Over the coming weeks, we will review other ways to stay true to God.  Your challenge this week is to start with remembrance.  Remember what God has done.  What has God blessed you with?  What has God blessed humanity with?  The short answer, of course, is Jesus.  Jesus is the answer to every Bible question in Sunday School class.  God has blessed us with Jesus, and it is to Jesus who we can turn to escape the powers that try to defeat us.  When you live, remember the life that Christ lived.  Remember the meals that Christ shared.  Remember the people whom Christ conversed with.  Jesus does not make things easy, but he brings hope for everyone, including for communities ravaged by war and those shaking by the existence of it.  That is worth our remembrance.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,
26:2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
26:3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”
26:4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God,
26:5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.
26:6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,
26:7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
26:8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;
26:9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
26:10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.
26:11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
91:2 will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
91:9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
91:10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
91:12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
91:13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Luke 4:1-13
4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
4:2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
4:3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
4:4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
4:5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
4:6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.
4:7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 4:8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
4:9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 4:10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
4:11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”
4:12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

To Be a Disciple

By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

28 March 2021 – Palm Sunday

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” ~Philippians 2:5

When was the last time that someone was coming home to see you, perhaps from a long time away, perhaps from somewhere quite distant?  Perhaps it was a family member coming back home to the States after being abroad, on a mission trip or in the service.  Perhaps it was a college student who you have missed at home.  Perhaps it was a family member or friend who had merely taken a job states away and was coming home for a visit.  How did the thought of them coming home make you feel?  For many, this is an exciting time; it is a time of reunion, to catch up, and to celebrate the time that you are blessed to spend with each other.  It is all that you can focus on.

I have felt something similar for seeing my scout camp again, in addition to seeing my family.  I spent many off-seasons looking forward to when I could be working another summer at camp.  Every Sunday campfire one of the long time staff members sang this song at the beginning of our week, which spoke to how we all felt: “Sequassen I am coming home, I can see your rolling hills of trees and your crystal waters flow; I am reaching out, won’t you take my hand?  I’m coming home Sequassen!”  It truly has been a second home for all of us and somewhere which always holds a special place in our hearts.  It was not just any camp to us; we always formed a special bond and often cried when we left; it is hard to describe to someone who has not experienced it.

Continue reading “To Be a Disciple”

The One Served – 21 March 2021

Fifth Sunday of Lent

By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. ~John12:26

Who do you serve?  If you work in a restaurant, you serve the customers who come through the door looking for a meal.  And you remember that the customer is always right.  After working in a restaurant for three years, I heard of plenty of times where this was aggravating.  A server told me, “They definitely asked for no cheese on their bacon cheeseburger.  But then they asked me where the cheese was.  I can’t tell them that they asked for no cheese, but I have to ask them if they want a new one made and make it seem like it was my fault.”  I definitely have a new appreciation for what restaurant workers go through, having worked there myself.  We serve the public, and make their experience as enjoyable as we can even when they are the ones who make a blatant mistake.

Our healthcare workers serve those who need medical care.  They attend to some of the most urgent needs.  They also want to make those who require services to have as comfortable a stay as possible, whether it is extended in a hospital or simply a checkup at a doctor’s office.  Though, they deal with a lot too.  During my time as a chaplain at Marion General Hospital, I remember one nurse talking about the patient I was about to go see.  She warned me that he saw this place as a prison, believed he was perfectly healthy, and was being held here against his will.  He physically fought the nurses every time they tried to administer his medication.  Neither the nurse nor the patient was necessarily in the wrong, since the patient was in an altered mind state, but this goes to show that serving others can be incredibly hard, even when we are called to the job.

Whatever job you have, you are serving somebody.  There will be times where that serving is a joy.  For every frustrating customer or patient, there were three more who thanked us and were very pleasant people to talk to.  There will be difficult moments also, though.  The disciples were seen by some in a negative light because they did not abide by every rule that the Old Testament laid out.   In Matthew 9:14, Jesus was asked of his disciples, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”  Assumptions were made, and they were not always the most fair.  How do you do balance the feedback from the people that you serve?  Do you let it bring you down?  Does it motivate you to do better?  Do you want to scream at them because you are doing the best that you can for them?  Or do you choose to forget about the complaints and focus on the good?  Perhaps you do all of these things.

There are plenty of things that we choose to focus our minds on.  Some of it is the good and some of it is the bad.  We prayed over the past couple weeks for God to help us renew our minds so that we fill it with good things and not the things that bring us down or distract us from our true focus, being servants of God.  You spend so much energy trying to please customers and those you serve in this world.  How much of that energy do you save to try to please God?  Do not misunderstand me, for it is important to try to please those who we serve in this world.  Yet, we should please others with the wider context behind us; while serving others we are working to spread the grace and kindness of God.  We give someone grace when we do not yell back at them even if they deserve it.  Instead, we give them a smile and keep doing the best that we can.  Jesus knew that the world would hate his followers, for as he was preparing to leave the world, he prayed, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world” (John 17:14).  Today, we want to ask ourselves, “Who do we serve, and is this evident by who we follow?”  Do we serve the people who demand too much of us?  Or do we serve God by giving grace to the one who wasn’t so kind, and love to everyone?  I read a conversion story once about a man who had jumped someone and held them at gunpoint asking for their money.  The man with the gun was so surprised that the person responded with a smile and spoke to him that he dropped the gun and asked how the person could have been so calm.  He was baptized later that week.  Do we serve our fear, or do we serve God knowing that whatever happens to us, God will have our back?  Do we serve our worry, or do we trust God to make the most out of every situation, even if it is in our own pain?  Do we serve the need to please others, or do we place priority on serving God?

Continue reading “The One Served – 21 March 2021”

From Transgression to Grace

February 28th 2021 – Second Sunday of Lent

Pastor Bryan Niebanck

Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? ~ Mark 8:37

How are you doing on your Lent challenge so far?  Have you been doing kind things for yourself or for others?  I know that a few have done kind things for others, such as donating to the blanket fund one day, or driving another to our Grief Group on Tuesday, or making a meal for someone else.  Another has done some sewing for a family member.  How about for yourself?  I do not hear about how we serve ourselves as much, and that is just as important.  I spent some time reading.  I ran for some exercise and to help me get ready for my next marathon, now that it is getting warmer.  Yes, for me, running is taking care of myself.  Keep letting us know what you are doing and how you find it is helping you to draw closer to God.  If we serve others but not ourselves, we burn out.  If we serve ourselves but not others, we are not using the gifts that God has given us.

Do you ever feel like you have not done enough for God?  Perhaps you are right, and you should think about what else you are called to do.  If you do not know, try something until you realize that you are not good at it, then try something else.  Perhaps you should ask God.  I tried Ultimate Frisbee in college because I liked the thought of throwing a Frisbee around.  I made it onto the playing field typically when we were scores ahead or scores behind (which means “a lot”).  I was never a starter.  So, I enjoyed it for a time, but I moved on.  Some of you are wonderful listeners and serve other people very well.  Others of you might get impatient and are better at doing things behind the scenes, like organizing the offering.  The church needs you just as much as you need the church. Yet at other times, this question arises when you really have done a lot.  We often feel that we have not done enough even when we have worked hard for hours, weeks, or even years straight.  I can tell you that I do believe that I have done a lot as pastor here so far, but there is always something that I know I could do better, or more of.  I have to settle with the knowledge that I will always leave something undone that I wanted to get to, and there will always be an unhappy customer along the way too.  Some will like traditional hymns while others prefer contemporary.  Some will want to be contacted by the pastor more than they are, and others do not wish to be bothered as much as they are.  It is the world that we live in.  Yet, I always want to get more done.  I want to get my sermon done by Tuesday; if it is not done, I feel inadequate and unprepared for the rush to finish by Wednesday.  There are people I have not called for some time, but the hours in the day tick by too quickly until it is too late, and the time is expired.  Pastor Craig Groeschel is the Senior Pastor of Life Church, and he recently wrote a book called Winning the War in Your Mind: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life.  He noted that he always feels like he is not doing enough.  Where he gives more to the church, he is not giving enough for his wife.  When he gives more to his wife and kids, he feels he is not giving enough to the church.  When he gives more to himself, he feels he is not giving enough to the church or to his family.  There is more to the book than that, but the point that he makes is that we need to be continually focused on God so that our minds do not play the drawback card on us.  We do not need our minds to bring us down more; we need God to lift us up.  That is why we need to ask if we have fallen short in our giving to God.  This does not just mean monetary giving; it means the time and energy that you save for God as well.  Does God get the leftovers of your day?  That can change.  Does your spouse or your family?  Hopefully not.  But that can change too.

Continue reading “From Transgression to Grace”

With God in the Car

February 21st 2021 – First Sunday of Lent

Pastor Bryan Niebanck

“O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.” ~Psalm 25:2

“Are we almost there?  Are we there yet?  How soon until we get there?”  If you have been on a road trip with kids, you may have heard questions like these before.  I have seen a few car commercials with ads picturing this scene, and they now are promoting how comforting the car ride is.  Not only is it comforting for the parents, but for the children as well.  Cars are now installing digital devices in the backs of the front seats to keep children occupied with television, games, and all sorts of things that are meant to keep them occupied, and create a more comforting ride for all, with decreased frequencies of the question, “How much longer until we arrive?”  The distractions take away from the attention given to the journey itself.

Most of the population of the world is asking the same question now:  “Are we there yet?  When can we take off these masks?  How long must we stay away from other people?  When can we feel free again to do whatever we want?  We have got to be almost there…. right?”  And the answer is, we think we are.  We hope we are.  But even as some places start to relax regulations again, because we know what works, we know that we cannot do anything else to make it move faster except ride along in the car.  The truth is, we are all exhausted from the way our lives have been changed and altered in the past year, including at work, in our personal lives, and probably everywhere else too.  I tried to distract myself from the attention to the length of the journey itself for a time.  I told myself repeatedly what positive came from the pandemic, and it helped.  But, even that is not overcoming the desire to just be together again, to see the sanctuary full and the church in action, to be able to finally travel internationally again.  So, we are all drained, and ready to reach this destination.

Continue reading “With God in the Car”