This is the first week of the sermon series, “Three Simple Truths- Experiencing Them in Our Lives,” based on the book of the same title by Rev. Adolf Hansen. If you would like to read the book, it is available for purchase on amazon.com- click HERE.
1Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
3Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
A good friend and mentor of mine shares his heartbreaking story of his daughter being killed when she was struck by a city bus in Indianapolis at age 31. He received a call from his wife while at work in Chicago and heard the news that she had been hit while crossing the street on her way home from work, and she was being kept alive by the medical teams and machines until they could come and say goodbye to her. The trip from Chicago to Indianapolis on a Friday evening took over 5 excruciating hours. The family gathered by her bedside on my friend’s birthday and the eve of Mother’s Day and said goodbye to their beloved daughter as they prayed and cared for one another through tears and extreme sadness. Today, she would have been 50 years old.
My friend and colleague of whom I speak is Rev. Adolf Hansen, who wrote the book that we will be exploring together over the next few weeks: Three Simple Truths- Experiencing Them in Our Lives. Adolf shares these simple truths with us because he has experienced each one deeply throughout his life, especially through times of doubt, heartbreak, and even anger towards God. Losing his beloved daughter, Bonnie, among other life experiences, has helped Adolf grow and articulate his faith and how God works in our lives to reveal these three simple truths. When Adolf returned to Chicago and his work at Garrett Evangelical seminary after Bonnie’s funeral, he was asked to share the opening words of Psalm 23in a chapel service. With tears in his eyes, he said, “The Lord is still my shepherd,” and those were the only words he could get out before he had to sit down (Hansen, 3).
Out of times such as this and each difficult or trying season in life, we are able to discern these Three Simple Truths: God is good, all the time, God works for good, in everything, and Trust God, no matter what. My hope for the next three weeks is that we discover (or re-discover) these three simple truths that are essential for understanding the character of God, how God acts, and what God offers to each of us. My hope is also that we will seek and find that we will experience these truths in our lives as an ongoing relationship with God and one another.
“Stuff” happens every day. We see it on the news, in pictures, social media, hear about it through spoken words from a friend or neighbor. Often, this “stuff” happens to other people, but sometimes it happens in our own lives. It can happen gradually or suddenly, but either way, “stuff” happens to each of us. What do we think when it does happen to us? What do we say or do? How does it make us feel? Do we feel called to celebrate, or cry, or get angry? Or something in-between? When the stuff makes us feel a variety of emotions such as joy or sadness or both, we seem to have little difficulty dealing with it. However, when the stuff is full of sadness, pain, or anguish, we suffer on many levels, and it’s hard to know what to think, how to act, or what to feel. And as people of faith, we often times do not know where God is in the midst of this pain and heartache (Hansen, 1). So these three simple truths give us something to hold onto in all seasons of life, but especially when life is difficult and we feel we do not have an anchor in the storm. We find these truths evident in scripture, our own experiences, and the stories of others who have found comfort in them. These are truths we take with us throughout our lives as we grow and evolve as persons of faith.
The first truth to consider is this: God is good, all the time. What do we think about when we think about God? Is it a religious thought? Or is God just another word in our vocabulary like the popular “OMG”? Or something that someone shouts when they are angry? (9). Is God a being who is far away and distant from us? Is God a personal being who knows our every thought? Is God a cruel judge who punishes the people? Is God Father or Mother? Or simply Creator? Does God have a gender? As people of faith, I hope we would think of God in a religious way as the being that we worship each Sunday and to whom we devote our lives through love and service, along with a variety of other thoughts and explorations. As people of faith, we strive to have a relationship with God, and we go about this through many different ways, just as we all have different understandings of God.
But of course, defining God is not possible because God is infinite, without limits or boundaries (Hansen, 10), and we, as humans are finite, with limits and boundaries. Therefore, we cannot define an infinite being such as God. But there is an amazing thing about God, which is that we can experience God as a personal being even though God is infinite. We can experience God as close to us as our breathing, but also as a distant mystery that we do not fully understand. And in the Christian faith, we experience God as a personal being through Jesus Christ, the one who makes God known to us. The good news is that because of Jesus, we enter into that profoundly personal relationship with God where we “experience God as a personal being, even when we understand that God, by definition, is far more than a personal being” (Hansen, 11). We also understand God in the three persons of the Trinity: Father (or Creator), Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. We experience God in these ways as God moves and works within our world today.
When we say that God is something, we acknowledge the ongoing character of God the present tense, and the good news that God has “remained constant in character in the past and has continued to remain constant in character up to the present moment” (15). We can find many passages in scripture that declare who God is. One key text is what we read this morning, Psalm 100, which declares that “God is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” So when we say that God is good, we are praising God for his constant goodness- the goodness that has been in the past, is present now, and will be in the future.
And just what is the goodness of God? Psalm 100 gives us a good idea when we consider the phrase, “steadfast love,” which is the Hebrew word chesed. Chesed appears 247 times in the Old Testament, and means “steadfast love.” Other translations include “mercy,” “loving-kindness,” “compassion.” Chesed also speaks of love as faithful , loyal, or extravagant. Chesed, or steadfast love, is the core of God’s character (17), and the way that we can understand the goodness of God when we say that “God is good.” We also can say, “God is steadfast love,” which offers us a deeper, more powerful understanding of God. Let’s look at some other places where we see God’s “steadfast love” in just the Psalms alone:
• The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 145:8).
• For your steadfast love is higher than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds (Psalm 108:4).
• All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees (Ps. 125:10).
• Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (Ps. 51:1-2).
Sometimes “steadfast love” is a way to praise God, sometimes it’s a confession, and sometimes it is an expression of prayer.
When we say, “God is good,” we acknowledge one such characteristic of God, but then we may add “all the time” to extend that understanding of God even further. Yes, “God is good…ALL the time.” If I were to ask you (pick someone), “Do you always drive the speed limit?” you might answer, “All the time…” and I know that you might not be telling the whole truth! Or if I were to say, “Do you come to church ALL the time?” you might answer yes, but the truth is that not even I am here ALL the time. But in the case of God’s being good ALL the time, the answer is within this simple truth, that YES, God is good, ALL the time. Adolf points out in his book that “when life is going well, we may remember- at least some of the time- that God is good. But when life is not going well, we may not remember that God is still good…however, our forgetting that God is good, or even denying that God is good, doesn’t change the character of God. God remains good- all the time!” (20).
No matter what we are facing or what we are going through, we are called to remember this simple truth: that God is good, ALL the time and also that God is with us- ALL the time, regardless of what we may be going through. We are reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God- that God’s steadfast love is always (not sometimes) with us.
Sometimes it’s so easy to say with sincerity, “God is good all the time!” Sometimes these words are hard to say or believe. Sometimes we might find ourselves saying them through tears, fear, or even anger. I have personally struggled with this particular simple truth at times throughout my faith life, particularly when I strive to understand the broken world in which we live, the violence that we see happen every day, the disease and poverty stricken countries around the globe. However, my struggle with this particular simple truth hit home for me especially hard after I came home from Auschwitz, a year ago last summer. I remember my first Sunday back was youth Sunday. I had literally just gotten off the plane less than 12 hours ago and I was sitting in the pew with Corey, and the youth had selected the hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” I started to sing the beautiful, haunting, familiar words, when all of the sudden, my throat closed up and I got tears in my eyes, and I had to stop singing. Everything I had seen at Auschwitz the week before began to surface and I asked myself, “Is God really good? Is the God we are singing about really great? How can that be so in a world where something like Auschwitz could exist?” These questions haunted me for days, and every now and then, they still do. But after awhile, I realized this sometimes difficult statement to be true, that God is good, and good all the time. I realized this through looking back on the little signs of hope that existed even in Auschwitz, and through the courageous stories of Eva Kor, the survivor who faces the horrors of the camp year after year, just so people understand and learn about the past so that it will never happen again. I see signs of God’s goodness in the little things…the little acts of kindness, the compassionate gestures of people, the excitement and love for God within the church community and beyond… God is good, all the time…even when we might have to look a little harder and dig a little deeper to see and understand this truth.
These simple truths may be simple and easy for us to learn, recite, and live out as we experience and explore how God acts in our lives, but they are not so simple in that they each take a leap of faith, and I would venture to say courageous faith. It is hard to experience or see something difficult and still say, “God is good all the time.” But we can still say these truths while holding back tears or letting them stream down our faces. We find evidence in our world and through scripture and prayer and this thing called life that God is indeed good even when humanity or circumstance is not. God is not the cause of the storm, but does promise to be our anchor in the middle of it- not just sometimes, but all the time. Sometimes we know this truth and believe every word and experience it in full force. Other times we need to repeat it over and over so that we will believe it for ourselves. But make no mistake, God’s character will not fail us, even when the world around us seems to fail. God remains good. God remains good, all the time.
Say it with me: God is good, all the time….(All the time, God is good)
Let us pray (Hansen, 23):
Gracious God, we thank you that you are good, your steadfast love is good, and your steadfast love endures…forever. Loving God, we thank you that you are good all the time, your steadfast love is good all the time, and your steadfast love endures…forever. Help us, O God, to understand this as we think about it, as we talk about it with you and with others, and as we express it in our lives, day by day. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.