Latest Entries »

IMG_3840This past week, I had the honor of helping to lead a group of youth on a missional work trip to Camp Courageous in Monticello, Iowa. This is a trip that I have been a part of for over 5 years now and I am continually amazed at the amount of hard work accomplished and devotion of the youth who go on this trip.

Too often, the projects we are able to complete are limited only by the assumptions of the adult leaders. We know what is required for completion and we doubt the abilities of the group of youth. But each year, I get a glimpse into the capabilities of our young people. They can accomplish many things if we just get out of their way and allow them to work it out.

This year we had a couple of bigger projects, including moving a 30-foot wall and dismantling a deck platform and railing which was built by a previous work trip group. While the wall removal and relocation required some technical knowledge of construction, the dismantling of the deck was negotiated by the youth. They assessed the situation and methodically moved through the project without much adult input.

God equipped them for the task at hand and God used them just as they were.

This past Sunday’s lectionary reading came from 1 Samuel and was the story of the anointing of a new king, one from the line of Jesse. Almost all of Jesse’s sons were paraded in front of Samuel in hopes that the king would be one of them. But as each one passed in front of him, Samuel told Jesse that it was not that one who was chosen. They reached what they thought was the end of the line without one chosen to be king. So, Samuel asked if that was it, were there any more sons?

Jesse let him know that there was one more, but he was just a shepherd boy. He was not the strongest, boldest, or most likely to succeed. He was meek, humble, and insignificant. Samuel asked to see him and as he passed before him, Samuel told Jesse that this was the one. This young boy was going to be the new king.

God is always doing this. He is taking the ones who this world would not think would amount to much, and elevating them to something greater. The first will be last, the last will be first, right?

When we think something can’t be done, or we think that a certain person is too small, too weak, to insignificant to make a difference, God shows us something incredible. This is what was happening this past week as I watched the youth on this trip accomplish projects that others would have said they could never have done. But God wanted to show off. He wanted to once again, prove to me and to many others, that His ways are higher; that His plan is greater; and that He can do all things through anyone he chooses. Why should we get in the way? Why should we doubt what God can accomplish?

This past week was just what I needed. I needed to see the power and glory of God once again lived out in the lives of our youth. I needed my doubt erased. And that is just what I received. I have a renewed sense of God accomplishing all things to his glory, using sometimes the most unlikely sources.

I am one of those sources, small, meek, and insignificant. But I am also a child of God, just as you are, and we are part of God’s greater plan. We just need to trust in His calling on our lives and go where he leads. Are you willing to go with me?

Advertisements

The Voice; The Finale

MicrophoneSo, how’s your hearing today? Any better than last week? I found it very interesting that the lectionary readings for the past two Sundays reflected on two call stories. Last week was Isaiah, and now we have Samuel. But there are some differences in the two stories. Both are called to proclaim destruction, but Isaiah hears the voice of God speaking to someone else and he responds. Samuel hears the voice of God directly, but doesn’t understand that it’s God’s voice, he needs someone else to tell him what it is.

So here is Samuel, in a time when visions from God were rare; people were not hearing God’s voice often. So, I guess you could say that it would be normal for Samuel to question who the voice is coming from. Anyway, Samuel was lying down in the temple, I assume almost falling asleep, and a voice is heard calling his name. Samuel, Samuel. Here I am, he cried out, and ran to Eli’s bedside. But Eli assured him that he didn’t call him and that he should go back to bed. Again, he hears the voice and runs to Eli. And again, he is told that it was not Eli that called.

Finally, Eli realizes what is going on and tells Samuel that it is God who is calling out to him and that he should respond with; “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel could not figure out the voice of God, he heard it, but didn’t know what it was. How many times do we hear something, but not understand what it could be? We hear or feel a nudge to do something, but we are not sure if we should or not. We feel like we should make a phone call, visit a friend, take a new step in our career, start a new business, or join a ministry in the church, but we are not sure if it is God who is calling us to this new thing.

I’m sure there are times when it is just obvious that it is God’s plan for our lives, but other times we wonder, we question, and we doubt. And other times yet, we run headlong in the direction we think the voice is calling, only to realize later that we should have gone the other way.

Author John Ortberg tells a story about coming to Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. He was looking for a little bit of spiritual direction so he contacted a close friend. He described the pace of life in his current ministry. The church where he worked tends to move at a fast clip. He also told him about the rhythms of his family life: the van driving, soccer league, piano lesson, school orientation night years. He told him about the present condition of his heart, as best as he could discern it.

John asked his friend; “What do I need to do, to be spiritually healthy?” After a long pause, his friend told him, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

“Ok,” John said, “I’ve written that one down. That’s a good one. Now, what else is there?” John had a lot of things to do and this was a long-distance call, so he wanted to cram as many spiritual wisdom pieces in as little time as possible. There was another long pause.

“There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” John eventually got it. He said, “I have concluded that my life and the well-being of the people I serve depends on following his prescription, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry destroys souls.”

This idea of eliminating hurry was not one that John was ready to hear. He thought there would be far more things he could do to improve his spiritual health. If left to his own thoughts, he might have continued to search for other ways.

Like Samuel had Eli to help him hear God’s voice, John needed his friend to help him discern God’s voice. You see, sometimes we need an Eli in our lives to help us discern God’s plan for us. We need that external voice of reason, that voice of experience, that spiritual direction that comes from a mentor, spiritual guide, or close friend.

Who do you have around you that can be that voice for you?

The Voice

MicrophoneMax Lucado once wrote this story;

Once there was a man who dared God to speak. Burn the bush like you did for Moses, God. And I will follow. Collapse the walls like you did for Joshua, God. And I will fight. Still the waves like you did on Galilee, God. And I will listen.

And so, the man sat by a bush, near a wall, close to the sea and waited for God to speak.

And God heard the man, so God answered. He sent fire, not for a bush, but for a church. He brought down a wall, not of brick, but of sin. He stilled the storm, not of the sea, but of a soul. And God waited for man to respond.

And he waited. . . And he waited. . . And waited.

But because the man was looking at bushes, not hearts; bricks and not lives, seas and not souls, he decided that God had done nothing. Finally, he looked to God and asked, ‘Have you lost your power?’ And God looked at him and said, ‘Have you lost your hearing?’

How’s your hearing today? Are you able to hear the still small voice of God? Are you able to hear the thundering shouts of God? How’s your hearing today?

The calling of Isaiah is an interesting story because I don’t know If Isaiah knew what was involved with God’s calling on his life. God asked the question, “Who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response was, “Here I am, send me!”

Recently, I needed to travel to Glenview for a meeting. I kind of knew where Glenview was, I mean, it’s a suburb of Chicago, right? It’s somewhere over by that big lake. I usually pride myself in being able to read maps and figure out the quickest route to destinations, but I’ve started to fall into the habit of asking Siri.

I pull up that trusty map program on my phone and enter the destination. In a matter of seconds, a route is programmed for me to follow. All I have to do is tap the ‘go’ button. There, my destination is 2 hours and 21 minutes ahead of me. How is it, that this little device can pinpoint an arrival time, down to the minute?

Well, for those of you who are not that technologically savvy, there are a number of things that happen, including the software accessing other phones from people who are on the same roads as you will be taking. It compiles all of that data, taking into consideration the traffic patterns, and gives you an extremely accurate arrival time.

But this time, something else happened. When I was about 30 minutes away, a message popped up and told me there was a faster route, one that would save me 6 minutes. Now, it looked as if I was going to be about 5 minutes late, so I jumped at the chance to increase my travel time. Without knowing what was ahead of me, I tapped the “go” button again and miraculously, the arrival time changed and I was going to be on time.

I trusted this little device with my immediate future. I didn’t know the ins and outs of the programming, if it was done right, if this device had my best interest in mind, or anything else. I just blindly clicked and followed along. Why is it so easy to trust our phones, and not God’s plan? Why is it so easy for us to follow the guidance of my GPS, but yet is so difficult to follow God’s will?

Isaiah didn’t know what was in store for him when God called him, but he trusted.

May we all hear the voice of God, trust Him, and follow where he leads. Like Isaiah, God will call us to bigger and better things, but there will be risks to take. There will be times of uncertainty. There will be times when we will need to take that step of faith and trust that God will take care of us.

Pentecost Sunday!

Pentecost1Pentecost Sunday, this is the birthday of the church as we remember scripture from Acts chapter 2. This celebration was this past Sunday. But what does that mean? Why would we call this the birthday of the church? What happened on this day so long ago?

I guess you could say that something profound, perplexing, and spiritual happened. This even caused Peter to exclaim to the people gathered these words; “for these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.” Those who witnessed this were surprised to say the least.  What was it?

The Holy Spirit was given to the people, just as Jesus promised as he was leaving. He said the comforter would come, the Holy Spirit, and this Spirit would teach us new things while reminding us of all that Jesus taught. The Spirit will fill us to overflowing and that is exactly what happened on this Pentecost day. This is also why so many were afraid and claiming those who the Spirit was falling upon were drunk.

On that day, there were many people from many different areas in Jerusalem. They all spoke different languages. But when the disciples and apostles gathered in a central place to worship and the Holy Spirit came, they began speaking in languages not their own. They were Galileans, but the language they spoke was not.

All of the others began hearing the message of Christ in their own language. How amazing that would be to see and hear this worship? Scripture tells us they were all amazed and perplexed at what they were hearing, but then Peter got up and spoke. He assured them that these people were not drunk, but that Joel had shared a prophecy about what was happening. He then proceeded to give testimony to Jesus Christ.

The people listened. They were taught by the apostles and were moved to care for each other by selling personal belongings and sharing the money with those who needed it. Acts 2:46-47 says this; “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

That is Pentecost! That is the birth of the church! That is what we celebrate!

But what does it mean for us today? Is this just a remembrance of the good times of the past? Is it like this with much of the other times within our own congregations? We remember the good times and wonder why it isn’t like that anymore.

Rest assured, we are not the only generation to think this. I think it’s common for anyone to look back and reminisce about the ‘good ole days.’ While it is good to celebrate and commemorate those days, it’s not good to live in them. When we do, it’s like we are claiming that God was at work back then, but we don’t see it today. We can look back and say exactly where God has been at work in the life of the church, but it becomes difficult for us to point to circumstances where God is at work today.

Maybe it would be best for us to spend the majority of our time focusing on the presence of God in our present and only occasionally looking to the past. Because God is still at work, God’s presence is here, it is now. God is still redeeming and loving. God is still saving and creating. God did not send the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost day to fill only those gathered there. God continues to send the Spirit to each one of us.

Do you feel the Spirit within you? Do you sense the power that comes with the Spirit’s presence? If you are questioning it, maybe it’s time to rekindle the Spirit within you, and what better time than this Pentecost season. Invite the Spirit in and call on it to give you strength, wisdom, and peace for your life today.

Here’s To You, Mom!

Happy mother's dayThis past Sunday we celebrated some special women in our lives. It was Mother’s Day; and I hope you were able to honor some of the mothers in your life, whether they were biological or those who have helped you through this life.

You see, too often, we approach Mother’s Day, especially in the church, with celebrations of those who fit our ‘perfect world’ view of what a mother is. The ones who seem to get the most recognition are those who are happily married and have one or more kids the natural way. It’s the vision we can see played out in movies or in social media. But we know this isn’t the case all the time. There are many moms out there who don’t fit the correct mold, per se. They don’t look like the picture-perfect mom that we have grown up thinking we should all be.

Here’s what I would like to say to all of the women listening today. You don’t have to. You don’t have to live up to what the world has painted as the ideal mom. Why? Because there is none. We are all different, we have different fruit, different kids in our lives, and that’s ok. There is no ideal mother role. You are all loved by our creator.

Think about the mothers that you have heard about in the Bible. You may have a hard time coming up with any that fit the ideal model. I know, you probably thought there would be a lot of them, giving us an example of how you should live as that perfect mom. The more you search, the more you find something quite different.

Eve had two sons who could not get along with each other. I wondered what the others would say about her parenting skills when they would not stop fighting. Hagar was pushed into a relationship with another woman’s husband just so she could have a kid. When she did, her relationship with her husband became so strained that he had to send her into the desert, alone. She was the first single mother. Naomi had to deal with the loss of not only her husband, but also that of her two sons.

Tamar had a very complicated journey on her way to becoming a mother, between losing her husband to death, having a brother-in-law cheat her out of pregnancy, and then finally having a child through an unsuspecting person (you’ll have to read all about it in Genesis 38), her path was not easy.

Rachel spent years watching her sister have four kids while she remained barren. She eventually had children, but the time she spent waiting and watching must have been incredibly difficult. Sarah had a late start. I mean a really, really, late start.

Moses’ mom had to give her son up. Placing him in a basket and sending him down the river so that he could be raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter. She knew what would happen to Moses if she kept him. In a way, this was the first adoption. Of course, then we have the Pharaoh’s daughter who took in Moses, adopted him, and cared for him as her own, even though she did not give birth to him.

Then we have the most prominent mother in scripture, Mary. But her story is not one of ease, a life of peace. No, hers begins as she is pregnant as a teenager. Young and scared, her story in a complicated one to say the least.

So, if you find yourself, or know someone who is having difficulty with being a mom because they don’t fit the mold, remember the many different mothers from scripture. It doesn’t matter if your motherhood is complicated, full of difficult kids, if you’ve lost a child, if you’ve watched while others have had kids, if you’ve wondered why others seem to have problem free pregnancies while you have gone through miscarriages or early deliveries, if you’ve given a child up for adoption or maybe adopted one yourself, if you’re a single mom, or maybe not a mom with your own kids but a mom to so many others who aren’t yours genetically. You are a mom, and we love you dearly!

You see, there’s no right way to be a mom. Your situation is not unusual. There are many going through the same thing as you are, and chances are, there are some in scripture who have experienced the same thing. You are not alone.

Here’s what I want you to hear today: Whether in joy or sorrow, comfort or peace, plenty or loss, singleness or married, complicated relationships, with difficult kids, kids not your own, or even no kids, you are a mother to someone, and you are a good mom, and God loves you!

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk5-option2She was a nurse employed at a residential care home in Western Oklahoma. It was a muggy summer night and many of the residents seemed more restless than usual. One of the patients, an elderly woman who seemed angry all the time and who most wouldn’t even venture near, was especially ill. Her doctor had quietly told the nurses she probably had only hours to live.

As the woman yelled loudly once again for someone to help her, the nurse hurried to the end of the hallway to her room. When she arrived at the room, like so many times before, the woman did not appear to need assistance, but seemed only to want someone with her. She complained she could not sleep and demanded the nurse do something about it.

The old woman had been a resident at the center for many years. She was known as a bitter person who complained long and loudly on a daily basis. No family ever visited her. Most of the nurses disliked treating her at all and even the most optimistic of the residents had given up trying to befriend her. Indeed, most only wanted to put distance between themselves and her constant complaining.

A little while later, the nurse returned to the woman’s room with a sleeping tablet prescribed by the doctor. She spoke in quiet tones to calm the woman who seemed very tired. Suddenly she looked up, terror filling her old eyes as she said, “I know I don’t have much longer to live and I’m afraid.” Big tears began to roll down her wrinkled cheeks as her eyes pleaded with the woman for understanding.

The nurse’s heart filled with compassion and she went to the woman then and put her arms around her. It was near midnight and her frail body shuddered as she cried. “I’m afraid to die,” she sobbed.

After many minutes, the nurse was finally able to quiet the old woman. She looked up at her from her bed, wrinkled cheeks wet with tears and asked “Would you stay with me? I’m so afraid.” The nurse remembered times when she was afraid and just wanted someone to hold her as well. She quietly nodded her head and climbed into bed with the old woman. She gently held her frail little body and stroked her hair until at last the sleeping pill took effect and she fell asleep.

In the early hours of morning, the nurse went back to check on the woman. Quietly opening the door and walking over to her bed, she saw that the woman looked peaceful, but then she saw she had stopped breathing. Tears again filled her eyes as she realized her kindness had been the last kindness shown to the old woman before she passed away that night.

The nurse in this story got it right!

True compassion does not stand and offer only words in time of need. Real compassion does not only look, it sees. The eyes of compassion see the pain and suffering of the other person and has the courage not only to look, but to look for ways to help, however small those ways might be.

It was only a few years ago that people within a small community displayed what the hands and feet of Jesus looked like. One of their own was given a diagnosis that no one wants to ever hear, it’s terminal. How do you go forward, what will happen to the family? Will those left behind be taken care of, and mostly, how will this crop ever be harvested?

No fear, God has called many to help. People showed up from all over, and they didn’t come empty handed either. All in all, 10 combines, 12 grain carts, 16 semis, and over 40 workers showed up. They weren’t asking questions of how much it would cost them, or how they would keep up with their own harvest time; only this question, how can I help? What can I do?

10 hours and 450 acres later, harvest was complete and Carl Bates and his family could rest knowing the job was complete. Hands and feet of Jesus Christ!

These are all examples of when people get it right, when people do what God has asked us to do. You see, we get it right when we accomplish God’s will here on earth. We get it right when we care for the sick, feed the hungry, speak up for those who suffer injustice, and love the “unlovable.” This is what Jesus did, and this is what he calls us to continue. And just as a passage from 1st Corinthians, chapter 13 tells us, everything we do should be done with love. Everything!

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk4-option2We find ourselves in the middle of a series of talks about when Christians get it wrong. Today our attention touches on a very sensitive subject, homosexuality. A recent survey found that among young adults, 91% of them felt that the church was “anti-gay.” This included those who attended and didn’t attend church. They thought that the church in general carried a stigma of judging, condemning, and even at times excluding of those who are part of the LGBTQ community.

Now, I grew up in a time that talking about this was not accepted, and when it was, it was usually in derogatory terms. Jokes and bullying were a major part of it. Some of you grew up feeling the same way. Some of you have grown up in a time when it just wasn’t talked about at all. But I must say, that the young adults and those in school right now, are in the middle of a generation that talks about it every day.

There have been many surveys completed on this topic and after looking at a few of them, I am struck by the increasing acceptance within generations of the LGBTQ community. There have been steady increases for many years, but in the last 10 years, the numbers have jumped.

Now, some of you may be thinking, should we let surveys and polls determine our beliefs? Should we allow popular public opinion to determine our theology and doctrine within the church? My opinion, is no. Scripture is always primary in how we determine those things.

John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was an educated man. He felt that there were other ways that we discern the will of God in our lives as well. John still believed that scripture was primary in this process, but that the traditions of the church, our individual experiences, and our intellectual reasoning also played a part in determining doctrine and theology.

This became known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. So, as we look to discern our beliefs around this topic of human sexuality, we use more than just scripture to find our sure footing. This is why there is such a great debate going on right now, not just within The United Methodist Church, but in most mainline denominations, even non-denominational churches.

For many, this is an issue of scriptural authority. There are passages that we direct ourselves to in order to determine our beliefs that this is wrong. Leviticus has passages that talk about this, and even Paul writes in his letter to the Romans about it. So how do we reconcile the differences in opinion? How do we decide which is right and which is wrong? Can we ever know?

Many will point to those passages and say that if we are to believe that we can change our stance on human sexuality, then how can we relate to the rest of the Bible. If we throw out those selected verses that speak about homosexuality, where do we stop? Does that call into question the whole of scripture, and does that now mean that we can’t take anything that the Bible says as accurate and trustworthy. It is a slippery slope, is it not?

A few weeks ago, I preached on the topic “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” This follows along pretty closely with this topic.

But then there are others who will say that we have already done just that. There was a gentleman who wrote a book called “A Year of Living Biblically.” Author A.J. Jacobs attempted to live his life for a year as closely to the laws and teachings of the Bible as he could. What he found was that it was next to impossible to actually do it.

You see, if we follow scripture as it is written, then we need to give up eating pork and shellfish. We need to refrain from any work on the Sabbath and that includes mowing or weeding and even anything that would force someone else to work, like dining out or shopping. If we are caught stealing, we need to cut off our hand. If we look lustfully at another person, we should gouge out our eye.

Women should be silent in churches, our clothing should never be made of more than one type of fabric, and we should also dress modestly; no gold, pearls, or expensive clothing. Oh, and for those who have retirement plans, remember that we should not store up for ourselves treasures on earth. There were also things that deserved penalty by death, like disrespecting our parents, working on the Sabbath, and adultery.

Some would say that we have already removed passages that no longer speak to context that we are currently in.

One more, huge challenge that the church faced split the Methodist church, came back in 1844. It began in 1784 when the Methodist denomination officially opposed slavery. The schism, or split, happened around 1844, with those who condoned slavery leaving the denomination to form Methodist Episcopal Church South, only to rejoin in 1939.

The Bible talks considerably more about slavery than many of the topics I just mentioned earlier, including human sexuality. What made us change our minds? What allowed us to sense a change in direction? Could it be the value on human life? That we are all created in the image of God? And could some of the teaching in scripture be contextually different than our day?

Acts chapter 10, speaks of a dream that Peter was having. Many view this as a vision of what could be called ‘progressive revelation.’ The idea that God is up to something new. Peter’s hungry, I know there are many times I can relate to that, and he just wants something to eat. Maybe he’s fasting and that’s when the dream comes. And in this dream, he sees a sheet, maybe a tablecloth, that is coming down from heaven. On it are all of these different things that Peter knows he shouldn’t eat.

But a voice tells him, “What God has made clean, do not call profane.” God is up to something new. The context is changing. Instead of relying on what he has been taught with regards to the unclean animals, he sees the new message and he tells those in the church what has happened. In Acts 11:17, Peter is testifying to the those in the church in Jerusalem, and they are challenging him because he went to the Gentiles and ate with them. But Peter says this, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

Grace is a gift that God offers to all of us, and He can give this gift to whomever he chooses. Who are we to judge, when it is God’s gift to give. This is a word about how we are to live with everyone.

Over the past few years, I have many conversations with those who find themselves in this LGBTQ community. All of them have brought a few things to light for me, because you see, when I was growing up, it was drilled into me by society that this was a choice. That people choose who they love and how that is manifested in the different genders. However, in almost every conversation, the following truth came. This is not a choice. This was who they are. In fact, many of them tried to change. Society forced them, by how they were viewed and treated, to try and go against everything within them to be “normal.”

It absolutely broke my heart to sit with people who felt so degraded, beat up, bullied, and shunned as they did. There were stories of parents turning their backs on their own kids. There were stories of constantly being picked on by classmates and co-workers. How can we, as God’s people, as the church, turn our backs on God’s creation? We are called to love God and love our neighbor. That doesn’t have a “except clause” in it. It doesn’t say that we should love everyone except that group of people. It says all.

How are we going to love all? How are we going the accept and include all? What does inclusive look like in your communities? Do you know? Can we all agree to get it right when it comes to loving and accepting all people? Can we stop talking about people behind their backs? Can we stop judging others for their view on human sexuality? Can we just love each other?

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk3-option2Last Sunday, during worship, we talked about other religions and how we, as Christians, should relate to them. How we should have discussions with them. There are many times that we get it wrong when we talk with people from other religions. In order to understand how to get it right, we need to understand a few of the ways the church has viewed those outside the church.

First, is what we would call ‘Christian Exclusivism.’ The belief here is that the only way to get to heaven, is through saying the sinner’s prayer, by accepting Jesus Christ into your life, no exceptions. If you don’t, then you do not pass go, you do not collect $200, and you most certainly do not get to enter the pearly gates of heaven.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, is it not written that the only way to the Father is through the Son, Jesus Christ? Is he not the way the truth and the life? Yes, he is. But what of those who have not heard? What about the groups of indigenous tribes in extreme remote places? What about all of those people who didn’t have a missionary stop by their village before they died to tell them about Jesus Christ? Are they condemned to hell?

Here’s another scenario. I have friends who take care of developmentally disabled kids who can’t function at a certain level, and they most certainly do not understand what it means to make a decision to follow Christ. Does this mean that they will not make it to heaven, because they can’t utter those words? Some would say yes. Now, I don’t have to tell you how heartbreaking that sounds. I just can’t believe that God could do that.

The other side of that belief is something called ‘Christian Universalism.’ All are in, regardless of what they believe, what they have done and continue to do, even if they have never known Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Rob Bell is the pastor of a church in Michigan and has written a number of books. But one that he wrote turned a lot of evangelical Christians inside out. His book “Love Wins” was a proclamation in what some would call universalism. That there really was no need for hell, because everyone would join together in heaven.

Some of what he says in this book is what I believe about God. He talks about his loving and forgiving nature. We see this in the life, death, and resurrection of his only Son, Jesus Christ. But if the message is that everyone will enjoy heaven, I’m not sure I can follow along with that.

But he does write this; “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better….This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

To that extent, I agree with him. The idea of predestination and the elect, the thought that you have to utter some certain words in order to enter paradise, goes against my belief in a loving and merciful God. Which leads me to the last group this morning.

‘Christian Inclusivism’ is somewhere between these other two. Foundational is still that salvation is offered in and through Jesus Christ. This was offered through the power of the cross and his resurrection. But here’s the twist. I am not God. I’m pretty sure that you are not either. The judgement is God’s alone.

God can choose to whom and how the merits of Christ are applied. It’s not our decision. So, as we look at those who are not Christians, whether it would be those practicing Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or maybe as an Atheist like my friend that I have talked about before, God chooses whether to apply the merit of Christ to their eternal life.

Many people who don’t claim to be Christian live their life just as Jesus has called us to live. They help the poor, love their neighbor, care for each other, and speak out against injustices. There are some who are more attentive to the needs of this world and behave more lovingly than some Christians do.

Ephesians Verse 4-5 says this; “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved!” Who are we to say where God will bestow that gift? And how do we pass judgment and limit God’s mercy?

What’s the purpose within Christianity? Is this all about getting someplace? Is it all about the destination? Or is there something more? Do we share our beliefs with those of different religions because we are certain that they will spend eternity in hell? Or do we share with them because Jesus loves us and asks us to do something? Because he asks us to love them? And if that’s so, how can we love them if we spend our lives hating and judging them? It’s not our job.

We need to show the world Christ because he teaches how to love and live with each other. His teachings are of love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

We get it wrong when we repel others through judgments, hatred, and misunderstandings. We get it right when we love, find common ground within the good of people, and live in harmony with those around us. Let’s strive to get it right and be the example Christ has taught us to be.

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk2-option2I asked for a response recently on my Facebook page regarding people’s thoughts on Christians, Science and Politics. He are a couple of the comments I received; “It doesn’t even look right to see all three in the same sentence!” “They should all go together in my opinion.”

Others said this; “Ooh, ooh…Fun talk! Pour the wine and gather round my friends!” and “Science and religion are not antithetical but really complementary.” And finally; “Two responses – 1) a perpetually triangulated disagreement; and 2) 3 cats chasing each others tail…”

As we focus on places where Christians get it wrong, we turn our attention to science and politics. We will look at science today, but if you want to hear what my thoughts are on politics, you can check out the video sermons on our website.

For many years, people of the Christian faith have been close minded to the experiments of science. Not accepting some of the findings of great scientists of today. Let’s travel back to Genesis chapter one; In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. This is what I was taught, maybe what you were taught as well. But what does this chapter of Genesis really tell us? Is it a how-to manual on the steps God took to create this world and the universes around us? Does it tell us how many pieces it took to create man?

Think about this, in those days, the entire world was very small, all based out of the middle east. America wasn’t discovered yet; the view of the world was infantile. The people of that day would never have understood how God created this wonderful world, they just knew He did it. Not until around 1492 did we know the earth wasn’t flat!

Case in point; On June 22nd, 1633 the church announces that a certain man was a heretic and confined him to his home for proposing the notion that earth was not the center of the universe. At that time everyone knew that the earth was the center of the universe and that everything revolved around it. Galileo stated the earth rotated around the sun, a notion that put the entire world on its ear. The church starts to get it wrong here. The more we become close minded and unaccepting to the findings of science, the more we become irrelevant to the world, and to those in the world who might not be looking for “how” but looking for “why.” We get it wrong when we become quick to speak and slow to listen, assuming that we know it all. We don’t, there is only One who knows it all, and we need to believe that this One, God himself, can be bigger than we could ever imagine.

Some people who have looked at how the church and Christians have approached science, have stated that we seem to be behind the times or that we are anti-intellectual or “less intellectually active.” Maybe because some well publicized Christians have not wanted to hear about how God could have created this world and everything around it, they just want to say God created, enough said. Many believe that Christians do not want to hear about the findings of science because it threatens their faith. They don’t want to know the ‘how’ portion of the answer, they just want to believe what they have always been told. Think of all of the things we have witnessed the discovery of; countless new animal species, stars, planets, and the list goes on and on. God knew about all of these in the beginning, because he created them. His touch was on all things.

The difference between Science and Faith is this; Science explains the process of how the universe works, faith on the other hand, helps us to recognize why the universe works and what our existence means. While science asks questions like what and how, our faith asks the question why. Science should not undermine your faith and your belief in a God of immeasurable love. The account of creation in Genesis is not to be a science textbook. It does not tell us how God created all of this, but it does tell us that he DID create it. However, this world came into being; Big Bang, Inflation, Evolution, it really doesn’t matter because I believe that however it happened, God was the creator of it. It’s just fun and interesting to learn as we go about the how and when God actually created.

So, let’s remember that we get it wrong when we are close-minded about scientific discoveries. What is the opposite of being close-minded? How about teachable? When we open up our minds and allow ourselves to learn new things, we become teachable. We become respectful by listening and not being argumentative. We also show others the love of Christ when we take the time to truly listen, not judge and learn from everything and everyone around us.

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk1-option2I have a friend from high school and we are connected via facebook because he lives across the country from me. As a kid, he was taken to church, attended Sunday School and worship. But as he grew up, he became more and more disenchanted with what the church resembled for him. He stopped going to regular worship and quickly associated himself with Athiesm.

We have discussions over the internet, especially when he attacks Christianity or religion as a whole in a comment. You see, he has a distorted view of what Christianity is all about. But then again, how many others have a similar distorted view, and why do they have this view?

He believes that all Christians do is pray to an imaginary guy in the sky, and then wait for him to come down and fix the problems that we have in this world. He also points to so much of the history of Christianity and religion; the wars, violence, hatred, condemning, and hypocritical nature of behaviors that he has witnessed and heard about. He has some valid points. But there is so much more to this than what is on the surface.

There has been a lot of research over the past decade and beyond regarding the ‘rise of the nones.’ Those people who claim no affiliation with the church whatsoever. But the truly scary part of the results beginning to be studied is that of the ‘dones.’ These are those who have been turned off by the church.

In a recent PEW poll, they found some of the common reasons why they are leaving the church, and I have to be honest here, some of them do not surprise me. Let me give you this list of reasons…

  1. Religious groups, including churches are more divisive than they are uniting.
  2. There has been more harm done in the name of religion.
  3. They don’t believe in ‘organized’ religion, for them it is more personal. (Nature)
  4. It all about business, it’s all about the money.
  5. There are far too many clergy sex scandals.
  6. The church’s teaching on homosexuality. (We will touch on this topic on another Sunday all by itself)

Jesus had a few words for those in religious leadership. These people were called Pharisees. They were interested in their status and how others viewed them in the community. I was once told an easy way to remember their names, it’s in how you say the name. I’m fair, you see? Appearances were so important to them which led to may wrong actions and bad behaviors. Let’s look at just a few of them.

Matthew 6:1-8 warns us in doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Jesus’ teaching about giving and praying humbly lets us know that God is more interested in our honesty and humble service, than he is with how well we are perceived by others around us. He always has been, and always will be. Are you more concerned with how other people see you than you are about how God sees you?

Matthew 7:1-5 warns about being judgmental. He is telling us that should not point out the sin in other’s lives when we are just as sinful in our own lives. The Pharisees would not acknowledge the sin in their own lives, but would be the first to point out yours. Do you know someone like this? Or does this sound familiar?

We find an interesting passage in Matthew 23:23-24. The Pharisees were tithing even herbs just to make sure people would not accuse them of not following the letter of the law. But this took over their life, it was all about filling every part of the law, they became legalistic.

We’ve all heard about the book; “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” The subtitle is “and it’s all small stuff.” Not true. Jesus tells us that the important things like justice, mercy, and faithfulness. We get so caught up in the little details that we miss the greater message. Over the years, the church has been damaged by the infighting between denominations over things like how and who we baptize, is it a sprinkling, a pouring, or submerging? It is an infant, older child, or adult?

We even disagree about what music to play or sing in church. Should it be only hymns, and if so, which hymns. Should it be just the organ, or is a piano alright? What about a guitar or drums? Should we sing contemporary worship songs? These topics have torn apart churches and Christian brothers and sisters.

Finally, Matthew 23:25-28 are some difficult words to hear. The warning here is about being two-faced. It is about living your life one way while around your brothers and sisters in the church, but then a completely different life outside of the family. I know this one well as I was living one life in the church as a teenager, but a different life at school and with my friends.

Jesus talks about how the Pharisees would make sure they looked good on the outside. They dressed the way they should, said what they should, did what they should, all while out in public. But what was on the inside, was something different. Jesus relates it to washing the outside of the cup, but neglecting the inside. Have you ever found that cup you had been looking for, sometimes in the bedroom of your daughter, that has been sitting for way too long with chocolate milk in it?

Here is the warning for us. We can be presentable on the outside, but if we are not careful, we will be like that spoiled milk on the inside. The danger is that at some point, that spoiled attitude will spill to the outside. We will do or say something that will affect someone else. We run the risk of turning someone away from the church, away from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ warnings to the Pharisees ring true for us, because, like it or not, we are all recovering Pharisees. I think we can all relate to one or more of the things we talked about this morning. This requires a change. This requires our intentional response to God’s message.

I am reminded of something that Garrison Keillor once said; “You can become a Christians by going to church as easily as you can become a car by sleeping in a garage.”

Just because we come to church on Sunday, doesn’t guarantee that we will live our lives as faithful Christians, that requires a response. A response to this message. A response to the knowledge of the growing amount of people who are walking away from the church because of the actions of those inside the church.

Martin Luther said this about Noah and the flood, “If it were not for the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the stench on the inside.” Is this how the church is for some? Is this the reason so many have left?

Are you part of the stench? Or are you those who are trying to clean up the mess?