Posted in calling, God, Judgment, Mercy, Sermons

Shake My Head

You’ve heard the Jonah story so many times, most of you can recite to me.  Let me review where we are in the story because I’m not talking about the storm or the belly of a fish – I’m talking about God’s mercy to Jonah and Nineveh and each of us!

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh but Jonah fled to Tarshish and got on a ship in Joppas.    Lord sent a great wind that created a big storm and the men on their ship were praying to their gods and throwing off anything they could off the ship but Jonah had gone to the bottom of the ship and was fast asleep.  The captain woke him up and said pray to your God, we need all the help we can get.  Well, they cast lots and realized Jonah was the guilty one, the one fleeing from God.  So they threw him overboard and the text says God was merciful.  He calmed the sea and Jonah was swallowed up by a large fish, where he stayed for three days and three nights.  When Jonah was in the belly of the fish, he prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance and then the fish spit him out.

Jonah was given a second chance to answer God’s calling and he went to Nineveh in the beginning of chapter 3.  The text says Nineveh was so giant of a city it would take 3 days to walk the length of the city and after only a day’s walk, he proclaimed, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” In verse 5 it says, “And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.”  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he had the entire country fast, repent and pray to God to have mercy on them.  That brings us to our text this morning.

Jonah 3:10-4:11
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.  But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.  6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

But first, let me say this, Jonah is acting like a dramatic teenager.  3 days to walk in the midst of the city and he walks for only a day, he yells this one sentence.  And lo and behold the whole country fasts, repents, prays.  The text doesn’t tell us any details about Jonah except that he is the son of Amittai, but he immediately wants to run away and the only reason chapter 2 happened, his prayer happened, was the fact that he was in a fish’s belly.  Maybe he’s embarrassed to give this news to Nineveh, maybe he mumbled, “Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  In any case, the people put on sackcloth and repented.  He was obviously not expecting that.

See why I think Jonah’s a moody, melodramatic teenager?  3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 

I was a very dramatic teenager.  I would roll my eyes like a pro and one day I ran up the stairs saying, “I hate this town and everybody in it,” and slammed the door.  So I know melodrama – exaggerated, overdramatic, and sensational – and I know what Jonah was feeling.

He says it here.  “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”  Like, I could have stayed home watching Netflix.

He then made a booth – a walled structure with s’chach (plant material, such as overgrowth or palm leaves) and waited to see what would become of the city.  At this point my parents would have shaken their heads at me.  I had dodged their first instruction and peaced out, only to come back after I was in the stomach of big fish, or like the prodigal “coming to himself” in the pig sty eating pig pods, but my parents, God our Loving Parent, and the Father in the prodigal story gives us second, third, and fourth chances.  God lets us be dramatic because we are God’s children.  God doesn’t release us from the consequences but even when we’re stubborn and obstinate, God is still there, sometimes shaking his head with a smile on his face, sometimes shaking his head with concern on his face.

I imagine God shaking his head with an exasperated look on his face when Jonah made his booth to await Nineveh’s destruction.  God gave his own eye roll because Jonah was pouting.  He didn’t want to give in and say God was right, those people deserved the same chances to make mistakes as he did.  You see when we’re disobedient it comes from us being self-focused.  We are all about us.  Blinded to our own failings.  When we get that self-righteous, woe is me, I’m worse off than you are, we can’t SEE others needs, others stories, anything.  We can’t see clearly those around us.   We make them into caricutures.  When we become so me, me, me, we can’t see.  When we become so me, me, me, we can’t be a we.  

Jonah is not thinking of God’s mercy to him.  He ran in the exact opposite direction God had called him to.  God called him to modern day Iraq and he sailed for Spain.  Only when he was in the belly of a big fish did Jonah actually have a reality check.  Only when he was in the belly did he pray.  Only when he was desperate did he bargain with God. He wanted mercy for himself, he wanted the fish to spit him out on dry land.  Mercy is great as long as it’s not extended to an enemy.  And Jonah doesn’t think Nineveh should get the same mercy he did.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own stuff as we demand all the grace in the world, BUT no matter what we say, we don’t want God to extend grace to “those” people.  We get in our heads that God’s grace is a limited quantity, that it’s the last drop of water on a hot day.  We don’t understand God has unlimited mercy for each of us.  Shake my head again at Jonah and for that matter each of us.  South Carolina fans vs. Clemson fans, Republicans vs. Democrats vs. Green vs. Independent vs. Libertarian, Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter…we are all in need of God’s mercy and grace.  We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.  And we ALL need to repent, fast, pray and put on our sackcloth and ash.  None of us has a leg up on the competition – God’s mercy and grace is the greatest equalizer.

 Jonah needed an object lesson of showing mercy and God gave him one.

“6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”” 

God asks Jonah, “Are you sure it is right to be angry about the bush?”  Jonah has dug in his heels and says, “Yes, angry enough to die!!”  Oh the defiant drama, but God is patient and used it to teach Jonah.  It was an object lesson after all.

“10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?””

He’s calling Jonah out and to account in these two sentences, ending in this question that shows that our God is a God of mercy and cares about all of God’s children.

As an aside, I’ve always used this last part to say, God cares about the animals.  Just sayin’.

God created the bush and God created the people, who was Jonah to question God when the people of Nineveh repented.  God gives third and sixth chances and never WANTS to punish us, as his children, whom God formed in our mother’s womb, but he does give us consequences.  If Nineveh hadn’t repented from their wicked ways, it would be a different story.  God showed mercy to Jonah AND to the people of Nineveh.  Our God is a God of mercy.

A. W. Tozer reminds us “Mercy is not something God has. Mercy is something God is. Mercy is infinite, boundless, and unlimited.”

I used to think that the God of the Old Testament was about only judgment and wrath and the God of the New Testament was the God of mercy and love.  That is far from the truth.  The word “mercy” appears four times more often in the Old Testament than in the New Testament.   If you view God as a Loving Parent it explains a lot.  Some of you may have not had that example, yours may not have been model parents.  But our God is.  Both just and merciful.  And it’s there for each and every one of us.

Cynthia Bourgeault, in Mystical Hope writes, “When we think of mercy, we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together. The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional — always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Just like that little fish swimming desperately in search of water, we, too “swim in mercy as in an endless sea.” Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love.”

Mercy is something God is.  This is the first thing to remember.  The second is God can use us to bring deliverance to God’s people.  Jonah certainly didn’t choose to be a prophet.  He did all that he could not to be.  But God still used him to deliver his message.  Nineveh – 120,000 people who did not know their right from their left – were saved because Jonah delivered God’s message.  God can and will use you to send God’s children a message of God’s love and mercy.  God’s love letter to the world.  Even if we’re kicking and screaming, even when we’re a petulant, dramatic teenager, God will use us.  And that’s the point.

There’s an old story about what happened when Jesus arrived back at the gates of heaven, following his ascension. All the heavenly hosts were gathered to welcome God’s Son, to celebrate his return home. Everybody had questions. They’d heard of his exploits on earth. They wanted to hear it straight from him.

Jesus described his adventures at great length: the preaching, the teaching, the healing. They laughed when he told them how he’d tied the Pharisees’ theological arguments up in knots, and they wept when he described both the agony of the cross and the joy of resurrection.

Someone asked him, “Lord, now that you no longer physically walk the earth, who will share the good news?”

“I’ve got a plan,” said Christ. “I’ve selected 11 followers, my closest friends. To them I’ve given the responsibility of sharing the good news.”

“They must have some incredible talents, those 11,” remarked one angel.

“Well, actually no,” the Lord responded. “These are average people, with ordinary abilities. They’re vain and sometimes foolish. One of them, their leader, denied me three times.”

“But, Lord,” objected another angel, “how can you be sure they’ll get the job done?”

“To be perfectly honest, I can’t be sure.”

“What do you mean, you can’t be sure? What if they fail? What’s your backup plan?”

Quietly Christ answered, “I have no backup plan.”

We, imperfect melodramatic teenagers, are God’s plan to show mercy to God’s children.  We are to be messengers, calling the people to repent and turn from their evil ways.  When they do, we don’t look down our noses at them, we rejoice and welcome them, God’s mercy lived out.  God showed mercy to Jonah, God showed mercy to the people of Nineveh, and God shows mercy to you and me, so that we will show mercy to others and will tell them about God’s mercy, mercy lived out.

Posted in Anne Lamott, Jesus, Mercy, Romans, Sermons

We are the Lord’s

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

    and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

How many of you like red grapes?

How many of you like green grapes?

How many of you do NOT like any grapes?

Red grapes, Green grapes, or no grapes – we are all children of God.  

Vegetarians.

Vegans.

Absolute Carnivores.

We are all children of God.

Virtual.

Hybrid.

Fully home-schooled.

We are all children of God.

Democrat.

Republican.

Independent.

We are ALL children of God.

That last one you had some feelings about, didn’t you?

We live in an extremely divided time right now.  But Paul was facing the same thing in Rome.  He was trying to unite the body of Christ from getting stuck on surface issues, preferences or opinions.  He was trying to unite a divisive Church into getting their priorities straight.  Jesus calls us to welcome not judge.  Jesus calls us to be peacemakers not quarrel over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  We should put our energy in things that are life-giving not life-draining, not in winning a point in an argument that is not essential.  Paul says both in living and dying, we are the Lord’s.

The old-time preacher, Donald Grey Barnhouse, tells the story of three men cast into the ocean by a plane crash. No one knows their plane has gone down. There they are, treading water, hundreds of miles from land.

One of the crash victims is a very poor swimmer. Another is a fairly good swimmer. The third is an Olympic gold-medalist.

The gold-medalist may well judge his two companions to be less-than-perfect swimmers. He may even deign to give them a few pointers on stroke and breathing, before setting off on his impossible journey toward land.

What does it matter? The poor swimmer will drown in 20 minutes; the average swimmer in two hours or so; the Olympian in 15. All of them, left to their own devices in that vast ocean, are bound to die.

No, what these men need — all three of them — is not a swimming coach. They need a savior. They need a helicopter or ship to come by and pluck them from the waves.

If all of us — as the Scriptures affirm — are sinners in need of a savior, then what sense does it make to judge others?

There are several scriptures about judging and in one of them if we judge harshly, we will be judged harshly.  Matthew 7 says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

Syngman Rhee says, “We must stand not on the judgment seat, but in the witness stand, where we witness to the saving love and work of Jesus Christ.”

Through Jesus’ grace and mercy, the only thing that saves us from God’s judgement, we are able to fully focus on the person, not our preconceived notions, assumptions, or judgments.

Did you know in The Book of Discipline, which orders the life of United Methodist Church’s, our Doctrinal History is all about this?

“This perspective is apparent in the Wesleyan understanding of “catholic spirit.” While it is true that United Methodists are fixed upon certain religious affirmations, grounded in the gospel and confirmed in their experience, they also recognize the right of Christians to disagree on matters such as forms of worship, structures of church government, modes of Baptism, or theological explorations. They believe such differences do not break the bond of fellowship that ties Christians together in Jesus Christ. Wesley’s familiar dictum was, “As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.””

We think and let think.  We’re not to judge how “Christian” someone is just like we’re not to see who’s the biggest sinner in our friend group?  That is exhausting.  Wouldn’t it be more fruitful if we nurtured our own walk with God through delving into the Word OR we live like Jesus, showing the world what he’s like, actually being his hands and feet?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

Everyone’s entitled to God’s grace and is not for us to judge.  That’s God’s job.  Our job on Earth is to show people Jesus.

We’re not called to live in Judgment House where doors are locked and bolted; where there’s no handle on the outside of the door and you can only get in if somebody lets you in. We’re called to live in Grace and Mercy House, whose door is always open and a welcoming committee is there to greet you. And if they’re aren’t there when you enter, it’s not because you’re not welcome, it’s because they’ve gone out in search of others like you who need a place to live.

Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  And Jesus gives us a choice of living in the Grace and Mercy House in freedom or in bondage in the Judgment House?  If we’re not judge, jury, and executioner, it gives a lot more time to be real with God’s people.  When Anne Lamott first started going to her church 21 years ago, she was still drinking. So she would often show up with these extreme hangovers. She writes, “But what I would hear is these very, very old people from the South, saying: “Jesus’s only as far away as his name, he’s only as far away, call on the name of the Lord” and “He shall hear you, he shall answer, he’s only as far away as his name.”

So it might be a habit that if I said: “Jesus,” or if I just said, “hi,” there’s only one person I’m reaching to. I got into the habit of calling for, reaching out to, and then experiencing this very, very dear parental response, as a mother or father might speak in the night when the child is afraid. Say, “I’m right here, what’s up?”

We never know what people are hearing or seeing or feeling or what they’ve been through.  “We must stand not on the judgment seat, but in the witness stand, where we witness to the saving love and work of Jesus Christ.”  If we do that we’ll have a much more happy and fulfilled life.  If we do that we’ll work to welcome the weak, welcome the lost, welcome the vulnerable.  If we do that no one is put on the pedestal, except the One who should truly be there…Jesus.  Vegan.  Vegetarian.  Carnivore.  It’s all about Jesus.  

So as James says, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak.”  May we stop and pause before offering words of judgment.  May we hear people’s words, stories, hearts.  May we lay down all of the hatred, bitterness, angst that’s easy to spew about other people and rest in the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus.  That’s one thing we can practically do this week.  And when the enemy weasels its way into our head, may we call on the name of Jesus’ in whom’s grace we stand united.  Amen and amen.

Posted in Darkness, Forgiveness, Light, Love, Needtobreathe, Sermons, Slumber

Love One Another

Romans 13:8-14

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

We are called to love one another and to do that we should wake up from our slumber, lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and then we will be able to “put on” our Lord Jesus.

Wake up from our slumber.

I have always loved the Needtobreathe song Slumber: 

Days they force you

Back under those covers

Lazy mornings they multiply

Glory’s waiting

Outside your window

Wake on up from your slumber

Open up your eyes

We need to wake up and wipe the sleep out of our eyes.  Wake up from complacency.  Wake up from auto-pilot.  “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near.”  We need to open our eyes to the possibilities of spreading the Good News, of spreading light of spreading Jesus to the whole word.  We don’t need to be day dreaming about it, we need to snap out of the day dream, and trust the One, as Ephesians says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  But first we must,

Lay aside the works of the darkness and put on the armor of light.

Notice the sins are the ones we think of us singular, personal sins such as adultery, murder, stealing, coveting, drunkenness, quarrelling, jealousy, debauchery or licientiosness.  But the “you” is plural.  It’s like y’all.  Paul is telling us all to lay aside the darkness inside each of us, not pointing one of us out.  But, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  

We are called to literally lay aside the darkness and choose the better way.  

In the 1986 film, The Mission, Robert De Niro plays Rodrigo Mendoza, a brutal slave trader from the conquistador era who has captured, sold and murdered many native South Americans. Although he scarcely thought twice about killing a native in the past, when Mendoza murders his brother in a fit of anger he is overcome with remorse. A Jesuit priest gives him a penance to atone for his sin: he must accompany an expedition of Jesuits deep into the rain forest, where they plan to teach the natives about Jesus Christ.

On the trek into the forest, Mendoza binds up his armor in a net. He ties a rope around this heavy burden and drags it along, to remind himself of the violent life he has left behind. The sack of armor slows the expedition, but the priests tolerate it because they know how important it is to the penitent man.

Close to their destination, the missionaries climb to the top of a waterfall. At the top, they warmly embrace the native friends they have come to know on an earlier journey. But then the natives spy the exhausted Mendoza, still ascending the rocks beside the waterfall, dragging his armor behind him.

They know him, and they fear him. One of the natives grabs a knife and runs over to Mendoza, holding the blade against his neck as though to kill him in revenge. Mendoza looks up at his assailant, preparing himself for death.

But then something surprising happens. The native does slash his knife, but what he cuts is not Mendoza’s throat. He cuts the rope holding the bag of armor. The entire company watches the conquistador’s burden fall away, falling end over end down the waterfall, smashing onto the rocks below.

Mendoza cries like a baby, fresh from the womb of God. A priest says, “Welcome home, brother.” Then, his real instruction begins.

Jesus doesn’t want us to carry around our baggage of sin; he frees us from that and scatters it far and wide.  It takes a lot for us to let that sink in.  Total forgiveness for our awful stench of sin.  Us hanging on to the sin can lead to darkness, if we don’t cling to the Lord’s good forgiveness.  

Lay aside the works of the darkness and put on the armor of light.  Not the heavy armor of sin, but armor of light.  To protect as from the darkness.  To protect us from the evil that so quickly creeps in.  God does not leave as defenseless and alone, he instructs us to lay aside, to put away from us, the darkness of sin and put on the armor of light.  We must truly repent and turn away from sin, that’s how we’ll be children of the light.

“Put on” the Lord Jesus through a personal connection and a community of support to help us.

A mother with two young children put them to bed and went to prepare herself for bed. She put on some old clothes and went to the bathroom. She washed her hair and wrapped a towel around her head to dry her hair. She applied cold cream on her face to remove her makeup. Just as she was about to wipe off the cream, she heard the noise of her children playing in their room. She stormed into the room, hollered and told her two small children to get back into bed, reminded them that it was time to sleep, turned out the light and slammed the door. As she left the room, one of the children, with a trembling voice, asked the other, “Who was that?” 

We don’t want others asking, “Who was that?” when they look at our lives. We want others to know Who it is Who lives, breathes, and shapes our lives. We want Jesus to be all over us!

It’s not putting on airs, putting on the ritz, or putting on your make up; but it’s putting on Christ.  It’s not just being nicey nice or putting on an act, it’s actually taking on the characteristics of Jesus.  Jesus exemplified the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  As we put on Christ, we should start with those virtues listed in this Galatians text.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Those are a good place to start!

How else do we “put on” Christ but by being in the Word, creating a spirit of gratitude, and not letting the world, or the devil, get the better of us.  

We all need encouragement and support from a community of faith.  To sing our song to us when we are down and out, to sing our song to us when we are weary and discouraged to help us sing when we’ve lost our tune.  Bishop Woodie White, retired United Methodist bishop, tells about the chaffinch bird, a little reddish-brown bird found in Europe. The chaffinch sings like a canary, but there is something unique about this popular songbird. When people take them into their homes, the little birds soon forget how to sing. When they forget how to sing, they get sick. Eventually, they become depressed and die. Unless, of course, they are taken back to be with other chaffinch, in which case they congregate and relearn how to sing and are well again.  We are like the chaffinch, we don’t need do it all by ourselves, we need to be with others to help us forge the rivers and help us scale the rocks of the mountains.  Our fellow journeyers make us stronger, the full body of Christ, not divided – ONE. 

Through putting on Christ individually and as a community of Christians that’s how we can really love one another.

It’s all about love, friends.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” 

I was hearing in my head, “when love is the way,” and realized it was from Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at Prince Harry and Megan’s wedding.

“Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.

Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.

Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

When love is the way, there’s plenty of good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.

“Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.

When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.”

When love is the way we wake up from our slumber, lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and then, then we will be able to “put on” our Lord Jesus and love of our neighbors as ourselves.  

Posted in 3 Simple Rules, Christian, Forgiveness, Marking, Romans, yoda

Marks of a Christian

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There’s a lot to take in here, so we’re going to use as our matrix, John Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules:  Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love with God.

Do No Harm.

In Elmer Bendiner’s book, The Fall of Fortresses, he describes one bombing run over the German city of Kassel: “His B-17 (The Tondelayo) was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That wasn’t unusual, but on this occasion their gas tanks were hit. Later, as he reflected on the miracle of a twenty-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, the pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told him it wasn’t quite that simple.

On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask the crew chief for the shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but eleven had been found in the gas tanks. Eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast them out of the sky. Even after thirty-five years, the event was so awesome that it leaves the author shaken, especially after he heard the rest of the story.

Bohn had been told that the shells had been sent to the armory to be defused. The armory told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They couldn’t say why at the time, but Bohn eventually discovered the answer. Apparently when the armory workers opened each of those shells they didn’t find any explosive charge. The shells were clean as a whistle and just as harmless.

Empty? Not all of them. One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured the base for until they found someone who could decipher the note which read: “This is all we can do for you now.” 

Click below….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqY0pP6oogQ 

That’s a somewhat exaggerated clip that gets to the heart of road rage, social media angst, and our general hair trigger rage.

Oh, the harm that goes with unforgiveness to the people we’re not forgiving…and to us.

I’m up here preaching about forgiveness and unforgiveness, and those of us that truly need that message, are the ones thinking I’m preaching to someone else.  We’re not like the lady hitting the guy over the head with her purse or pocketbook, but we have the unforgiving nature that leads to the root of bitterness that leads to a critical spirit welling up and festering inside of us.  Sometimes we’re afraid to let our grudge go.  We’re afraid to lay it down because we’ve gotten comfortable with it, we think it protects us, shields us, BUT WE HAVE TO LET IT GO.  2008d3e1014e8220bd2b786f9373ba02As Yoda says, ““Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” You will suffer more with unforgiveness than the person you won’t forgive.  It’s like a bullet, you have to take it out for the wound to properly heal.  You have to root out the bad stuff, before you can truly heal and bring about the good.

Y’all know the passage from Matthew about seeing the dust in other people’s eyes while we’re walking around with giant planks in our own eyes.  We have to be real and honest with ourselves, others and God.  That’s the only way we have a hope of living up to the marks in this passage, the marks of the Christian life.  In Romans 12:18, If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  Let the peace of the Holy Spirit flow through you.  When we get angry or frustrated, we need to let it out and vent to God.  We can even hit a punching bag, scream in the shower, anything to get out our anger productively, not destructively.

If it’s more than just a tiff or annoyance and someone has actually hurt us, our Loving Parent God, will deal with it.  Paul writes in verse 19 – 21, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Leave room for God’s wrath and do not repay anyone evil for evil.  That does harm to the community, your witness and you!  And Paul hardly ever uses the word “Beloved,” so you know it’s important.  Get the anger, hurt, vengeance out of your system, and leave it for God to take care of.  Our Loving Parent has a clearer picture of the who’s, why’s and how’s of every situation.  Give it to God, so we can go about doing all the good we can.

That brings us to the second Wesleyan pejorative. 

Do Good.

Romans 12:9-13 – Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 

Fred Craddock, tells a story of a church that lost track of the importance of hospitality. Sadly, it was a church he once served, early in his ministry. It was located in the hills of eastern Tennessee.

Years later, Fred returned to that church. He brought his wife, Nettie, along for the ride — for she had never seen it. As the two of them drove to the little town, Fred reminisced about a time of controversy in that church. The nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory was expanding, and new families were moving into the area. Fred, the young pastor, urged the people of this beautiful, little white-frame church to call on the newcomers, to invite them to join them.

“They wouldn’t fit in here,” was the curt reply.

A week later, there was a congregational meeting. “I move,” said one of the longtime members, “that in order to be a member of this church, you must own property in the county.” The motion passed, over the pastor’s objections.

When Fred and Nettie pulled up to the old church building, years later, it looked to be a busy place, much busier than he remembered. In his words:

“The parking lot was full — motorcycles and trucks and cars packed in there. And out front, a great big sign: ‘Barbecue, all you can eat.’ It’s a restaurant, so we went inside. The pews are against a wall. They have electric lights now, and the organ pushed over into the corner. There are all these aluminum and plastic tables, and people sitting there eating barbecued pork and chicken and ribs — all kinds of people. Parthians and Medes and Edomites and dwellers of Mesopotamia, all kinds of people. I said to Nettie, ‘It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be in here.’”

Hospitality.  We must not be stingy with God’s grace, we have to share it, and by us sharing it, it multiplies.  We have to be the Gospel lived out.  What that means is we have to show them our real, authentic selves trying to live out what Christ commands us to do.  We will mess up.  Definitely.  But we have to aspire to do the good, be the light, and seek the higher way.

Yes, there is evil in the world, and Paul knows it. “But God’s people are to meet it in the way that even God met it, with love and generous goodness,” says N.T. Wright. God knows that “the way to overthrow evil, rather than perpetuating it, is to take its force and give back goodness instead.” That’s what Jesus did on the cross, and what we are challenged to do in daily acts of love and sacrifice.

wafflehouse

Betty Meadows, general presbyter of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery (a position similar, in some ways, to bishop) describes a summer sabbatical that transformed her life. She left her church world behind and went “under cover” for three months, working as a Waffle House hostess. To her surprise, as she put it, “the risen Christ showed up every day.”

A van broke down in the parking lot, on the Fourth of July, carrying a family from Alabama. No garage or mechanic could be found. A waitress heard of their plight and called her boyfriend. He arrived 15 minutes later and fixed their van, for the price of a cup of coffee.

“The risen Christ in the mechanic and the waitress,” writes Betty.

A lawyer set up shop in the Waffle House, offering legal help to the needy of the community, for what they could pay — or for no payment at all, if they couldn’t afford it.

“Day after day,” writes Betty, “this lawyer sat at a table, smoking his cigar, meeting client after client, turning down no one. The risen Christ in the lawyer.”

A woman hobbled into the restaurant, a cast on one leg, but displaying signs of other medical difficulties. The police had just arrested her boyfriend for drunken driving and had impounded his truck. She was turned out on the street, with nowhere to go. The restaurant was so busy, none of the staff could give her a ride to the bus station, but she called her landlord, who lived an hour and a half away. He dropped everything, and drove right over to pick her up.

“When the landlord arrived,” writes Betty, “I said to him, ‘How kind of you to drive so far for one of your tenants, for this woman.’

“The man looked puzzled. And then he said, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’

“The risen Christ in the landlord.”

“But God’s people are to meet it in the way that even God met it, with love and generous goodness.”  We have to show people Christ and that leads us to our third rule.

Stay in Love with God

An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, celebrated orchestra conductor, what was the hardest instrument to play. Without hesitation he replied: “Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” 

We stay in love with God, by knowing our place.  We are the second fiddle to Jesus and when we reflect Jesus as our Lord and Savior, a beautiful harmony emanates everything.  When the world sees our “goodness” we point to Jesus.  Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  It’s not by our own merit; it’s not by my own strength.  Ellie Holcomb writes about this temptation in her song, “Only Hope I’ve Got.”

I don’t wanna tell some arrogant story

Or let myself believe I’m you!

I don’t wanna be a thief who’s stealing Your glory…

Will You help remind me of what is true? 

The ONLY hope I’ve got, It’s You.

We stay in love with God, by taking care of our devotional lives.  We stay in love with God, by inputting good stuff in, and letting the bad/angsty go.  We stay in love with God by actually making God a priority – in our time, in our lives, in our hearts.  If we live out the calling in Romans 12, we automatically will fall more and more in love with God as we show to the world the true marks of the Christian life.

Do no harm.  We’re able to let go of our unforgiveness and angst and bitterness.  Do good.  We’re actually able to put more good out in the world through our being ambassadors of Christ.   And finally, we are able to stay in love with God, by reminding ourselves we are not God, and the only way to any kind of goodness is through Jesus.  Thus, we can live the true marks of the Christian life.  We can do no harm and put good in the world by staying in love with Jesus.  He’s the only hope, we’ve got and we can trust in the Triune God conquering Evil at last!

Posted in blessed, Sermons

God is on Our Side

Psalm 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side

—let Israel now say—

if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,

    when our enemies attacked us,

then they would have swallowed us up alive,

    when their anger was kindled against us;

then the flood would have swept us away,

    the torrent would have gone over us;

then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,

    who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird

    from the snare of the fowlers;

the snare is broken,

    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,

    who made heaven and earth.

This scripture says to me, we have to trust God, our Loving Parent, put our hope in Jesus, our Savior, and be led by the Holy Spirit, our advocate and comforter to share with the world that God is on the side of God’s people.

First of all, we have to trust God, as our Loving Parent. 

Dear Mom,

Scoutmaster Webb told us to write our parents in case you heard about the flood and got worried. We’re all okay. Only one of our tents and two of our sleeping bags got washed away. Nobody drowned because we were all on the mountain looking for Chad when it happened. Oh yeah, please call Chad’s mother and tell her he’s okay. He can’t write her because of the cast on his arm.

I got to ride in one of the search-and-rescue Jeeps! It was neat! We never would have found him in the dark if it hadn’t been for all the lightning. Scoutmaster Webb got mad at Chad for going on a hike alone without telling anyone. Chad said he did tell him, but it was during the fire, so he probably didn’t hear him.

Did you know that if you put gas on a fire, the gas can will blow up? It was so cool! The wet wood still wouldn’t burn, but one of our tents did, and some of our clothes. Boy, Johnny is going to look weird until his hair grows back!

We’ll be home Saturday if Scoutmaster Webb gets the car fixed. It wasn’t his fault about the wreck. The brakes worked good when we left. But he said with a car that old you have to expect something to break down. That’s probably why he can’t get insurance. We think it’s a neat car. He doesn’t care if we get it dirty, and if it’s hot, sometimes he lets us ride on the tailgate. It gets pretty hot with 15 people in the car. He let us take turns riding in the trailer until the highway patrolman stopped and yelled at him.

This morning all the guys were diving off the rocks and swimming out in the lake. Scoutmaster Webb wouldn’t let me because I can’t swim, and Chad was afraid he would sink because of his cast, so he let us take the canoe across the lake. It was great. You can still see some of the trees under the water from the flood. And Scoutmaster Webb isn’t crabby like some scoutmasters. He didn’t even get mad about us leaving the life jackets behind. He has to spend a lot of time working on the car, so we’re trying not to cause him any trouble.

Guess what? We passed our first-aid merit badges. When Dave dived into the lake and cut his arm, we got to see how a tourniquet works. Also, Wade and I threw up. Scoutmaster Webb said it probably was just food poisoning from the leftover chicken. He said they got sick like that with the food they ate in prison. I’m so glad he got out and became our scoutmaster. He said he figured out how to do things better while he was doing time.

I have to go now. We’re going into town to mail this and buy some bullets and more gasoline. Don’t worry about anything. We’re doing just fine.

Love, Your son

God is our Loving Parent.  The spin cycle of sin…Romans 8:31 says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

All kind of calamities are happening.  Fires in California, two hurricanes in the Gulf, and I’m not going to get into the global pandemic and all of the affects its having.  God is not like the Mother who gets the letter from her son.  God is actively engaged in our world today, working things for our good.  

Amy Grant, the Collection, was my favorite CD growing up and her song “Angels,” reminds me of this concept.

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.

A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way.

Near misses all around me, accidents unknown,

Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.

But I know they’re all around me all day and through the night.

When the enemy is closing in, I know sometimes they fight

To keep my feet from falling, I’ll never turn away.

If you’re asking what’s protecting me then you’re gonna hear me say:

Got his angels watching over me, every move I make,

Angles watching over me!

Angels watching over me, every step I take,

Angels watching over me.

God is ALWAYS, always working for our good, even when it doesn’t seem like it.  Even when we’re under attack.  We are a BLESSED people, writes the psalmist, because we haven’t been surrendered as “prey” (v. 6). Indeed, because of the Lord’s help (v. 8), we have “escaped” (the word is used twice in v. 7).  We’ve got to trust God has our best interests at heart, ever working in the midst.  To sharpen us so that we’ll better persevere, to give us strength and sustenance on the road ahead when we’re desperately tired and parched, to give us a future with hope.

Second of all, we have to put our hope in Jesus our Savior, the only hope we have this side of heaven.   

Peter J. Gomes, chaplain of the Memorial Church at Harvard University, wrote a book titled The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus Christ: What Is So Good About the Good News? (New York: HarperCollins, 2007). He tells about a time some years ago when South African novelist Alan Paton spoke at Harvard. At the time, the apartheid regime of Paton’s home country appeared to be close to collapse, and a black majority government would soon take over. Many people feared that massive bloodshed was imminent. During a question-and-answer time, a woman asked Paton, “Given all that you have said and we have heard, are you optimistic about the future of your beloved country?” Paton replied, “I am not optimistic, but I remain hopeful.”

Gomes writes that he has thought much about that distinction between optimism and hope ever since. He recalls that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once warned against cheap grace. Similarly, Gomes warns against “cheap hope.” He explains: “Hope is not merely the optimistic view that somehow everything will turn out all right in the end if everyone just does as we do. Hope is more rugged, the more muscular view that even if things don’t turn out all right and aren’t all right, we endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us. Something of the quality of that hope is found when the psalmist asks, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.’”

Such muscular hope comes with a price, writes Gomes. It’s the kind of hope that requires work and effort, with no real guarantee of when, how or even whether we will see a positive return. Citing Romans chapter 5, he states, “Paul’s sequence reminds us of this: We pass from sufferings that are not avoided to ignorance, which is the quality that allows us to keep on when it would be easier to quit. The process of enduring produces character, that inner quality not to be confused with image or reputation, that is who we are when no one is looking. It is from character that hope is produced. This is where the old aphorism comes that says, ‘Show me what you hope for, and I will know who you are.’”

Miss Congeniality was on this weekend.  Sandra Bullock’s character plays an FBI agent, gone undercover in the Miss USA as Gracie Lou Freebush.  She jokes that she’s hoping for world peace.  I’m not talking about that kind of hope, I’m talking about this muscular hope, where we actively work with Jesus to make it happen in the world.  If we’re hoping for world peace, we better be actively working for peace on our own lives in word, deed and Spirit.  If we’re actively working for muscular hope, we show that in our own lives, we radiate that hope, and we point people to the hope in Jesus.

Thirdly, we have to be led by the Holy Spirit to blow hope, peace, love and joy to a world that is so stressed out, angry, and battered.

Rabbi Hugo Gryn used to tell of his experiences in Auschwitz as a boy. Food supplies were meager, and the inmates took care to preserve every scrap that came their way. When the Festival of Hanukkah arrived, Hugo’s father took a lump of margarine and, to the horror of young Hugo, used it as fuel for the light to be lit at the festival. When he was asked why, his father replied, “We know that it is possible to live for three weeks without food, but without hope it is impossible to live properly for three minutes.”

May the world know that the church exists not to raise hell, or give ’em hell, but raise hope and give ’em hope. As Psalm 124 reminds us: “Blessed be the Lord .… Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (vv. 6, 8).  We’ve got to show people through our very lives the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” 

It’s easy to give in to anger, strife, and the ceaseless complaining of this world.  It’s much harder to be a city on a hill that stands for light in the ever-growing midst of the darkness.  Don’t give in.  Trust God to provide, cling to the robust hope in Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit guide and lead you to who you need to talk to, giving you the words to speak, and using words to inspire and create a spirit of cooperation and unity, not divisiveness and dissatisfaction.

Isaiah 51:1-6

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,

    you that seek the Lord.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,

    and to the quarry from which you were dug.

2 Look to Abraham your father

    and to Sarah who bore you;

for he was but one when I called him,

    but I blessed him and made him many.

3 For the Lord will comfort Zion;

    he will comfort all her waste places,

and will make her wilderness like Eden,

    her desert like the garden of the Lord;

joy and gladness will be found in her,

    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4 Listen to me, my people,

    and give heed to me, my nation;

for a teaching will go out from me,

    and my justice for a light to the peoples.

5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,

    my salvation has gone out

    and my arms will rule the peoples;

the coastlands wait for me,

    and for my arm they hope.

6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,

    and look at the earth beneath;

for the heavens will vanish like smoke,

    the earth will wear out like a garment,

    and those who live on it will die like gnats;

but my salvation will be forever,

    and my deliverance will never be ended.

Our help and our hope is in the Lord our God who will always be on our side.  If we trust God, put our hope in Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide our steps, we will truly be the body of Christ in the world.

Posted in Fear, Scripture, trust in God

No Fear

Do y’all remember in the 90’s the No Fear t-shirts?  My brothers had to have them.

no fear

It’s hard to not have fear.  Fear about the safety of our children. Fear about shootings and bombings happening all over the world. Fear about our health, our college funds, our retirement. Fear about climate change and what the world will be for our grandchildren. These are definitely first world problems…some people worry when they will get their next meal and fear for their very lives.

Christians are meant to be fearless.  If we let fear rule our lives, it will paralyze us and our efforts to spread the Gospel.  We name our fears and worries in our prayers and give them to Jesus.  Naming and saying it out loud takes away its festering power.  Like a boil, festering, it can ruin our spiritual lives.  If we say our fears out loud they no longer have any power over us.  That is, if we don’t pick them back up again.  It’s hard not to because we think we can figure it out on our own or box the fears up on our own.  We think we have to do it by our own strength.  It’s Christ strength that is within us that says “No” to fear.  It’s the Holy Spirit at work within us that says “No” to fear.  God created Adam and Eve in the Garden to have no fear or worries and not til they had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge did they experience fear.  It was not God’s design to have us as fearful beings.

We have power over this fear.  In God’s Word, in prayer, in being thankful, and seeing and knowing the fear, but overcoming it in Jesus’ name.  The Enemy seeks to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus calls us to boldly proclaim his Good News to all people.  We don’t have to just bob passively through life because we have a God who became flesh who is right beside us.  In Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”  In Joshua 1:9 it says, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.”  God walks right beside us even through the valley of the shadow of death.

At night when the fears and worries creep in, give it all to God in prayer and the things for which you are grateful. As it says in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Wise words.  Jesus even taught about this very thing in Luke 12:22-27, “He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

It’s hard to convince someone to trust.  That’s basically what it’s about.  If you’re fearful and worried all the time, do you have the trust and faith that God will work it out?  It’s a nature of God question.  Trust me, if you put these things in practice by digging into God’s word, intentional prayer, and being grateful for what you have, I promise it will change your life.  You will still face hard times, but lean on the One who never will fail you.  The One that says in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  And promises to love you no matter what in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The Triune God is faithful and true, and will never leave nor forsake us.

I’m preaching Sunday about common phobias and fears and I’ve created a handout with my favorite verses about conquering our fears.  We are going to write down some of our fears then lay them at the altar and give them to God.  As 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” If we seek the Lord’s direction in our lives, if we put our fears and worries in God’s mighty hands, as Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

I’ll close with this song that I love by Ben Rector called “Follow You.”  Have a great weekend!

Follow You by Ben Rector

Go on, lay your troubles down
Set your feet on solid ground
Peace deep as I have found
I wanna follow you
Come on, all you weak and weary
Come round now if you can hear me
Poor, sick, and God-fearing
I wanna follow you
I said I wanna follow you
Leave all your trouble
Leave all your sorrow
Set down your burden
Come on and follow
Come on, heavy laden
Don’t wait for tomorrow
Come on, my brother
Come on and follow
Go on, leave your worries, too
Not a bit of good they do
There’s a word that’s coming through
Go on, leave your worry, too
So I call your name in the middle of the night
I wanna know can you hear my cries?
June heat and moonlight
I wanna follow you
I said I wanna follow you
Leave all your trouble
Leave all your sorrow
Set down your burden
Come on and follow
Posted in Easter, Jesus

Blah -> He IS.

I know I’m not supposed to be admitting this.  But I’m really not feeling Holy Week.

I was geared up last week for Palm Sunday, excitedly showing clips from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” to get at Jesus’ suffering a “traitors” death for each of us.

But I’m literally blahhhhhhh, it’s Easter.

The bulletins are printed.  The scriptures and titles picked. The slides and videos done.

I have my cascarone eggs and olive wood crosses for Easter Sunrise and Easter.  I’m not sure what I will do with them.  I’ve come up with different angles throughout the week but I’m not satisfied.

I’m up late looking for inspiration scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, emails…I’ve thought about using Tiger Woods’ redemption, the Avengers Endgame supposed “resurrection,” among other things. 

I know to preach, “He is Risen!  He is Risen, Indeed!”  And I know and trust the Holy Spirit will show up.

Maybe it’s the desire to spend Spring Break with the kids, falling on my face on Tuesday afternoon walking the dog with scrapes on my knees, my elbow and my face, an overall malaise with Notre Dame burning, the Mueller Report and Rachel Held Evans, or hearing on the Today Show this morning that church attendance is at an all time low.

Perhaps it’s the pressure of a new place.  Or all of the Easter advertising.  Or coming up with a fresh spin.  Or wanting to get it right…perfect…the most epically awesome Easter sermon ever. 

Perhaps you’re feeling blah too.

Perhaps we need to hear the story anew and afresh.  Perhaps it can be an actual personal encounter or a real Word of Grace.

“Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,

    and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,

   and I hold the keys of hell and death.

Because I live, you shall live also.”

Because He Lives.  Even when we’re feeling blah, He IS.  Even when we’re feeling trapped, He IS.  Even when we don’t feel worthy enough, He IS.  Even when all hope seems lost, He IS.  Even when………He IS.

Posted in (in)courage, Breathe, Busy-ness, Devotional Life, Forgetting, Goal, god is with us, God's Voice, Jeremiah 29:11, Rest, Straining

God Speaks

I went to the kids’ award day for the third nine weeks, watched Kathie Lee Gifford’s last Today Show, walked the dog with my husband, Mike, and cleaned out my car.  I haven’t washed or cleaned the car since we left Mt. Pleasant in July.  It was gross.  When I found this devotional book that I’ve had in there for a year or more. IMG_2570 (1) I put it in there because I often have a busy schedule.  Well, if I’m honest, I ALWAYS have a busy schedule and I need to get in my devotions when I can.  Stuck in traffic, waiting at the doctors’ office, waiting in a drive thru line, before I go into work – you get the idea of why I put it in there.  You know what?  I have used it approximately 3 times.  I check emails or I’m calling someone or ….. I’d forgotten it’s in there.

I thought about taking it to my office where all the other prayer books are.  But then, I would never use it….except for maybe a staff devotion or a devotion for church.

I subscribe to the (in)courage blogs and I know I’ve not taken enough self-care by how many blogs I have in my inbox.  (I have many.). As I was in the massaging pedicure chair, I was reading this blog titled “Here, Take a Moment to Breathe,” and at the end, lo and behold it’s the book that’s been riding around with me for years under my console.  Much cleaner, I must say.  I got the message loud and clear.

The sermon on Sunday is based on Philippians 3:12-14. The verses are about pressing towards the goal.  If we (I) don’t take time to breathe, if we (I) fill up our calendars, even if it’s doing great and worthy stuff, then we’re missing out on the richness of living the daily Christian life.  It’s not about getting little Jesus fixes, but it’s about the day to day spending time with our Creator, our best friend, the Spirit that intercedes for each of us.  

I’m going to live into these verses, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Not rear view mirror living, but windshield living.  Taking it ALL in and straining/leaning/inching/muscling toward what lies ahead.  What’s our goal?  What are we pressing for?  The prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus?  I think it’s what Matthew 22:37-39 says “37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  

First, we HAVE to stay connected to the TRUE VINE with every ounce in us.  Otherwise we are short-changing ourselves in the abundant life that Jesus wants to give us.  Second, we have to love people enough to show them Jesus in our every day lives.  “Go ye and tell ALL the world” that I have an abundant love for them.  I want a relationship with them.  If they seek me, they will find me.

I think that’s the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus – to have our essence be so in tune with the Lord that it shows.  That IS our greatest goal in life – our greatest prize!  In her final words, Gifford referenced a Bible verse. “Jeremiah 29 says, ‘I know the plans I have (for) you, declares the Lord,’ ” she said, getting choked up, ” ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.’ That’s not just true for me, you guys, that’s true for everybody watching. Trust Him. Let Him love you like He wants to love you,” she continued. “Like I am loved by all of you.”

Looking forward to Sunday, my friends!

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Kathie Lee Farewell

Peace Over Productivity by Becky Keife

 

 

 

Posted in Disciples, Inc., Lincoln, Mark 9, Team

We are ALL on the same TEAM.

Preached at Bethany UMC on World Communion Sunday

To listen to audio – https://soundcloud.com/bethanyumcsc/october-7-2018-sanctuary?in=bethanyumcsc/sets/2018-sanctuary

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Mark 9:38-41 (NRSV)

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

The disciples were complaining to Jesus about a person who was not in the card-carrying club of the Disciples, Inc. casting out demons in Jesus name.  The Message puts it this way: “We stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.

The disciples clearly had already developed an “us versus them” mentality. Perhaps we’re no different. When you’re a member of an exclusive club, whether somebody is “one of us” or not is terribly important. One thing any of the ultra-elite clubs has in common is elitism. John wanted to make sure that non-disciples weren’t casting out demons. Most people might think that getting rid of a demon is a good thing. But apparently not John.

What’s even more comical, or disturbing, is that this incident comes on the heel of the “Who is the greatest?” argument that the disciples had been having. They didn’t get it then, and it is clear that in today’s text, they still don’t get it.

John’s confusion could have been well-intended. He had already witnessed and participated in things with Jesus that nobody had ever seen before. It would have been easy to understand the God-given power behind miracles as something reserved for Jesus alone and those sent by him. Jesus doesn’t have the same reaction.  Jesus takes on a decidedly inclusive and unthreatened response to privilege. He realizes that the work of God isn’t for the few elitist members of Disciples, Inc. — after all, he chose teenagers, fishermen, and tax collectors as his Twelve in the first place. Jesus has a larger cosmic perspective, an all-encompassing world view and when the fields are ready for harvest, it’s all hands on deck.

What can we learn from Jesus’ response to John? Surely there aren’t any parallels in our churches today, right? Is the church the most elite club in the world? Is there a dress code?  Like Mike’s first time at the country club where they made him wear a suit jacket? Are we guilty if giving the side eye, if people are sitting in our pew?  What if people genuinely want to connect with God and be used by God in a meaningful way, but we are accidentally standing in the way?  That’s something to think about.

We don’t get details about the “someone” of verse 38, but John said that he was not ekolouthei — literally meaning “not following us” or “not a disciple.” Somehow someone not yet known as a follower of Christ had gotten wind that demons could be cast out in the name of Christ. We don’t know anything else about the story of “someone,” but isn’t it possible that serving God — even with potentially impure motive (and we don’t know that was the case here) — caused him to believe in the power of Christ as the Messiah?  If you cast a demon out of a person using the name of Jesus, wouldn’t that have an affect on you?

Jesus was concerned with something so much larger than just one demon’s being cast out. He wanted to ensure that his future church would never feel like an elite club. Instead of being exclusivist, he wanted her to be as inclusive as possible.

So how do we turn our churches into the least elitest places of our culture? When we do this, we will truly “bear the name of Christ” (v. 41), and neither church insider nor outsider will need to feel that he is “not one of us.”  The church is a place where all are welcome.  Both Clemson fans or South Carolina fans.  Both Ohio State fans and Penn State fans.

We are ALL on the same team.

That may be hard for some of us to hear and understand.  We in our self-righteous anger thinking that we’re the only RIGHT way.  ALL “sides” are guilty of this.  I know many faithful Christians who are Republicans and I know many faithful Christians who are Democrats.  Jesus calls us to be united under his leading, his direction, as HIS FOLLOWERS.  When we’re getting ready to demonize the other, we need to check ourselves in the Spirit.    We may get rebuked by Jesus as the disciples did.  The harvest is ripe and the laborers are few.  So what if they don’t look like us or speak like us or dress like us if they’re preaching Jesus and it brings about Christ’s transformation that only he can do…great.  I can’t busy myself policing other people’s behavior if I’m to do what Christ is calling me to do.

In the 1996 movie Phenomenon, John Travolta plays George Malley, an ordinary man who sees a bright light descend from the sky and discovers he now has super-intelligence and telekinesis.  I’ve always loved what he says about the apple.  “You know, if we were to put this apple down, and leave it, it would be spoiled and gone in a few days. But, if we were to take a bite of it like this,” he then takes a bite of the apple as he continues, “it would become part of us, and we could take it with us, forever.”  I’ve always wanted us to treat communion that way.  With only a bite of bread and a dip of juice, we can be changed people.  And we can take that with us, forever.  If we take the words seriously, we can be changed with this meal.  Even us judgmental disciples.  As I said last week, Jesus is always working on us, pruning us, shaping us, molding us.  If we think of this like we are ingesting Jesus and his likeness will pour out of us, what would that be like for us personally and in our communities, and by very extension, our worlds?

While he was President, Lincoln attended church almost every Sunday at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where Dr. Phineas Gurley was the pastor. Lincoln’s presence caused such a commotion that Dr. Gurley gave Lincoln a key to his private study just off the platform, and Lincoln would often slip in and listen to the message in the Pastor’s study. After one particularly eloquent, moving sermon, Lincoln was leaving and his assistant, John Hay remarked, “Mr. President, wasn’t that a great sermon?” Lincoln thought for a moment and said, “It was a good sermon, but it was not a great sermon.” His assistant asked, “Why do you say that, Mr. President?” Lincoln said, “Well, the speaker was eloquent and the content was excellent, but it wasn’t a great sermon, because Dr. Gurley forgot one important matter. He did not ask us to do something great for God.”

I’m going to ask you to do something great for God today.  I want you to take this meal and live like changed people, a living testimony for all the world to see.  In an increasing non-church culture, you may be the only witness the world ever sees of the grace and love of Jesus.  Live it.  Rest in God. Show people Jesus.

Posted in Demonize, Evil, Faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Other, Peace, UMC

Walk by Faith.

We left two magazines at the store, they’re part of my ritual of self-care, so I went back to pick them up.  Mike had just gotten back from fixing a bass pedal and he asked how I was.  My heart is cloudy and rainy like the sky in Summerville this afternoon and as I listened to Needtobreathe’s Difference Maker from their Wastelands album.  The jumbled thoughts from the Judicial Council decision and our divisive political climate where weighing heavy on me.  As I preach Children’s Sabbath on Sunday, I’m struck by the theme “Walk by Faith.”   I didn’t know who to call, to express my grief, looking for hope, so I began talking to Jesus, as the tears began to fall.

I wish there weren’t “winners” and “losers.”  I wish we didn’t demonize the “other” side.  I wish we could listen and not be planning our counter-attack in our head.  I know, love and respect some clergy that will leave the UMC if the Traditional plan passes at General Conference and I know, love and respect some that will leave if the One Church Plan passes at General Conference, not to mention the people in the pew.  I also know, that God will still be God, and some of my blog readers and most of my friends don’t much care what happens in our denomination.  (smile)  But earlier, I turned on the news…….I have no words, much less for an explanation for my 9 and 11 year old who are full of questions.

As I was mulling these things over in the car I realized, I need to “Walk by Faith.”  I don’t know how to navigate the denomination divide/political climate/interpersonal relationships with all kinds of the land mines out there!  But I know Who makes crooked lines straight.  I know someone that says He’s the way, the truth and the life.  I know that I will ask the Holy Spirit to guide and lead me in the coming months of navigation.  The Devil is alive, y’all.  Evil is real.  He seeks to disrupt.  He seeks to divide.  And isn’t he having a field day in our lives today??!!  Progressive.  Conservative.  Moderate.  Libertarian.  Liberal.  Evangelical.  Democrat.  Anarchist.  Republican.  And everyone in between.

We all need Jesus.

I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

We all need hope.  We all need the light.  We all need to seek the good in the world.  We all need Jesus.  When the world is at it’s darkest, when all hope seems lost, we TRUST and MOVE and have our very BEING in the One who commands even the wind and the waves with a Word.

My prayer as we continue to be bombarded by all sorts of “stuff” is that we rest on the Almighty love and grace of God.  We trust Jesus to shield us and He seeks to work all things for our good.  Remembering as we go on the twists and turns of this journey who we are and Whose we are.  Holy Spirit come down and heal our hearts.  Give us the ears to listen and the words to speak.  Give us your boldness to speak up.  Blow peace where you will, igniting, uniting, and sometimes dividing when we do more harm than good.  Give us your wisdom and discernment and shine your all-encompassing light on every thought and situation. Help us to seek to be followers of Jesus who walk in the way that leads to life.  We walk by faith, not be sight.  Please give us Your vision for Your kingdom come.  Amen.

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