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Sermon-Title-Slide---Wk2Words are powerful. Words have deep meaning. Words can encourage. Words can diminish. Words can make you feel like you are invincible and then bring you to your lowest point of self-worth. Words are important. Words are power.

This is how we started last week, as we began this new series talking about our words and how we use them. Do we build up, or tear down? Do we hurt others with them, or do we offer life-giving words? What has it been for you this week? Have you reflected on your words, what you said and how you said it?

Today I want to turn our focus to our families. We may have great families, ones that we love and cherish, but others may not get along with their relatives. So, it is in this area that I want to focus today. Before we do, I want to remind us of a verse we heard last week. It’s Ephesians 4:29; “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

Our words have the power to kill the human spirit, from the inside. Adam Hamilton talks about the analogy of Roundup. Some of us like the stuff, others, not so much. But when dealing with some pretty harsh weeds in some tight places, Roundup does the trick. What Adam talked about was how it actually works. I didn’t know this, that when it is sprayed on the plant, weed, bush, or anything else, is begins by blocking an enzyme that the plant needs to grow. It works from the roots out, essentially killing the plant from the inside out.

Our words have the same effect on us. We hear harsh words about ourselves, and although we might be able to brush them off, they have a way of getting into our heads and hearts. Then, we hear them again and again. These words begin to poison our hearts and eventually begin killing our spirits from the inside out.

This happens as we call our kids, our brothers and sisters, or even our parents names that are mean, cruel, and degrading. I don’t remember how many times I had been walking through a store and hear parents talking to their kids in ways I would never dream of. Names like “stupid, idiot, and good-for-nothing are all ones that I have heard. To top it off, the attitude that comes with them makes them even worse.

Words have power. Words are power. How do you plan to use them this week?

But we must see that this is nothing new. We all know this, we know we shouldn’t do it, but yet, there are so many times we find ourselves saying those things we shouldn’t. We know it’s wrong. We just need to practice doing and saying the right things.

But let’s think about another aspect of this. Speaking harsh words is bad, but withholding good words can be just as bad. I guess we could think about this like a drought of positive, encouraging, and supportive words. I think we all know what a drought is? We all probably know what a drought can do. Without all the nutrients needed to help the crops grow, they fail, shrivel up, and produce crops that are almost worthless. When we withhold these praises, encouragements, and love filled words from our kids, we force them into a positive image drought. The results can be dramatic. Their self-image is not a healthy one and they can start looking for acceptance and love in places they shouldn’t be.

Some of you may have grown up in homes like that. You don’t remember hearing encouraging words or positive messages of love and acceptance. That has affected you and formed you into who you are today.

We know that speaking harsh words and withholding good words is wrong and that we shouldn’t be doing that. We know that we should be encouraging, grace-filled, and loving with all that we say. So, we need to be speaking those words of grace, hope, and love. Are you speaking them?

What are these words? Let me give you a couple of examples. I love you. These should be not only spoken, but also demonstrated. Also, thank you. Words of gratefulness are important to share. The hard ones, but also necessary are; I’m sorry, and I forgive you. And don’t underestimate the power of listening.

Again, Ephesians 4:29; “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Have you spoken kind and gracious words to your family today? Words are powerful, words are power. How are you wielding that power?

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Sermon-Title-Slide---Wk1There was a teacher who talked about an unruly student. Mark was his name. He would talk all the time and she couldn’t get him to be quiet. Now, I know this would not fly in today’s classroom, although there are probable some teachers here today who either would have tried this, or maybe they have done it. Anyway, Mark kept talking and finally the teacher had enough. She went over to him and taped his mouth shut.

I know, you’ve thought about it, maybe even with your kids. But I’m guessing it worked for Mark and that teacher. Well, later that week, the teacher had an exercise for the kids. She wanted them to write down the nicest thing they could say about each other and then hand it in. The next day, she handed lists out to all the students with all the nice things that were said about them.

Several years later, Mark was killed in the Vietnam War. After the funeral, many of the classmates got together with Mark’s parents as well as that teacher for lunch. Mark’s father took his wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed,” he said. He carefully removed a folded, refolded, and taped piece of paper. It was the list of all the good things that Mark’s classmates had said about him. Other students responded as well. Charlie smiled and said he keeps his in his desk drawer at work. Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck put his in our wedding album.” “I have mine, too, in my diary,” said Marilyn. Vicky reached into her purse and pulled out her frazzled list.

Words have power. Words are power. Yes, they can tear people down, but they can also build people up! Your words have that kind of power. Whether you like it or not, your words have incredible power.

I remember there was a kid in vacation bible school back in Rockford. According to one of the volunteers, this child was ‘out of control.’ He was running around, talking, yelling, ignoring his teacher, and no one could get him to calm down. I remember the teacher trying to speak louder and louder as the child’s volume increased. I remember the teacher standing over the child and giving orders; stop that, be quiet, don’t touch the other kids, stop running! The teacher was exhausted and at her wits end. She was ready to give up, and probably did a little while ago.

The boy was running up the aisle, away from the teacher, and right into my path. I looked him straight in the eye, and in a calm voice, asked him to slow down because it was dangerous and disrespectful of all the other kids that were there with him. I said we all want to have fun, but we also need to listen so that we know when it’s time to go onto the next activity. I asked him if I could go to his next activity with him and then asked him for a hug. He gladly gave me the hug and we went to the next area, walking.

Many times, it’s not what we say, but how we say it. What will our kids hear? Will they hear words of commendation, or condemnation? Will they hear encouragement or hindrance? Will they hear love or hatred?

Mohammed Qahtani, winner of the 2015 Toastmasters award, told of a friend of his and the relationship this friend had with his father. The words his friend heard all throughout growing up was that his father was never pleased with him. Harsh criticism was the topic of so many conversations between father and son. All the son wanted was to hear that his dad was proud of him, but those powerful words never came. When he went away to college, he overachieved just to make his father proud. He called his dad after receiving his final grades to tell him that he graduated with highest honors and a 4.0 grade point average all throughout his college career.

The response he got from his father; “let me call you back in a while, I’m busy.” I’m busy. How hard would it have been to say a few words, to listen to his son? Instead, it was two short, but extremely powerful words; “I’m busy.” What a way to make a son feel wanted, celebrated, and loved. It was only a few months later that Mohammed got a phone call. His friend had overdosed on medication, killing himself. Four little words could have saved this man’s life. “I’m proud of you.” Four little words…

Words have power, words are power. Which ones are you speaking? Are you tearing down, or are you building up?

Stay in Love With God

3-Simple-Rules-Week-3If you have been with us over the past couple of weeks, you know that we have been looking at three simple rules. These are rules that John Wesley had for his societies, a gathering of people longing to grow in their relationship with God and each other. We talked about the first two simple rules: #1, do no harm and #2, do good. These are rules that affect our relationship with each other. We have to understand that God’s deepest desires are displayed in our relationships, with each other and with God. We especially see this in the greatest commandment. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. But we are also to love our neighbors as ourselves. Relationships.

So, the first two rules deal with our relationships with each other, and now the third helps us understand our relationship with God. Stay in love with God. How do we do this? What does it really mean? Time, effort, intentionality, and a desire to be in this relationship; I think that’s a major part of this rule.

First, let me emphasize that loving God is such an important factor in God’s desire for each of us. We can hear it in Jesus’ questions to Peter. “Do you love me?” Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. This is important. Jesus asks you this today, “do you love me?”

If the answer is yes, what do you do about it? You go to worship, listen to Christian music, try to help those around you. These are all good things and we should continue them, but should there be more? For those who have been in worship with me for some time will understand when I say that the foundation of our relationship with God is built in 15 minutes.

15 minutes of time spent with God. Whether it’s on your back porch, in a tractor, driving down the road, or in your favorite chair, 15 minutes spent with God is the beginning of a strong foundation. Many of you have adopted these 15 minutes into your lives and I hope that you have seen a difference in your communication and relationship with God. For those of you who haven’t yet, what are you waiting for?

Philip Yancey once wrote; “Experiences of God cannot be planned or achieved. They are spontaneous moments of grace, almost accidental, a rabbi said. His student asked, ‘If God-realization is just accidental, why do we work so hard doing all these spiritual practices?’ The teacher replied; ‘To be as accident prone as possible.’

How accident prone are you when it comes to experiences with God? If you find it hard to think about where you have seen God working in your life over the past 24 hours, maybe we need to focus a bit more on our spiritual practices, our spiritual disciplines. That’s what staying in love with God means. Jesus exemplified this in his connection with God by showing us what these disciplines look like. Time and again, Jesus walked away from the crowds and spent time alone in prayer, maintaining that connection with his Father.

The problem happens when we stop, when we don’t take the time to focus on our relationships. We’ve all seen it first-hand. I think we all know someone who has gone through divorce or maybe even lost a best friend. In just about every instance, a breakdown in communication has happened and as soon as that starts to happen, the relationship starts to deteriorate. No healthy relationship can survive without good communication. Just ask anyone who has been married for a long time.

Connection with the other person is lost, and you just seem to drift away from each other. The farther you get away, the harder it becomes to come back together. It’s possible, but it will take work. So how are your relationships today? How is your relationship with God?

3 simple rules. Simple, yes. Easy, no. Essential, absolutely!

So how do you plan on staying in love with God? Do you have a renewed sense of focus for your 15 minutes?

Do Good

3-Simple-Rules-Week-2Clarence Jordan, a philosopher-farmer in Americus Georgia, was convinced that poor people living in dilapidated shacks could improve themselves with a little support. “They don’t need charity,” he said to Millard Fuller, who visited Jordan’s church community, Koinonia Farm. “They need a way to help themselves.”

Millard Fuller, thirty, who was nearly a millionaire, was inspired by Jordan to begin what today is a worldwide organization to provide housing for the poor. Habitat for Humanity runs on what he calls “the theology of the hammer.” The group raises money and recruits volunteers to renovate and build homes, which are sold at cost. Mortgages are interest free to qualified recipients. Habitat now builds or renovates over twelve houses a day.

One of my favorite presidents in history is Jimmy Carter. Yeah, sure, he was a peanut farmer and I love peanuts. Roasted, salted, in the shell, out of the shell, but mostly crushed up on top of a nice hot fudge sundae. But I digress. There is so much more to Mr. Carter. In fact, the reason why I like him so much doesn’t have as much to do with his presidency, as it does his work after he was president. Jimmy Carter is a humanitarian. His work in social justice beyond the oval office is incredible. He was always looking for ways to help those around him become better, more stable members of the communities they lived in. I guess that’s why he has been so instrumental in the work of Habitat for Humanity. He helped with funding, organizing, as well as the hands-on physical labor of building these homes.

You could say that he followed John Wesley’s words of doing all the good he could, by all the means he could, in all the ways he could, in all the places he could, at all the times he could, to all the people he could, as long as he ever can. At 93, he is still building homes for Habitat. But he is also very active in his church, teaching Sunday School, leading classes, and writing books on his faith.

Now, you may be thinking that this is great, but can I make a difference like the millionaire Millard Fuller, or have as much influence as Jimmy Carter? But listen to the story of Jackson Rogers.

Jackson is 10 years old and lives in San Antonio, Texas. The pastor of his church decided that he wanted to put out a challenge. He gave people $100 and told them to use the money for good, but then report back as to what they did with it. Jackson wanted to go to the front of the church and get the $100 but his mom was discouraging him from volunteering because she didn’t really know what the pastor intended from the challenge. Jackson took off anyway and went up front to receive his $100.

He knew he wanted to help a homeless family but wasn’t sure how to do it. So, he asked his dad. What they came up with was a letter-writing campaign asking for donations to raise $50,000 to build a house through Habitat for Humanity. Jackson wrote a letter in his own handwriting on notebook paper. He then used the $100 to buy stamps and paper to send this letter to friends and family. When people received the letter, they were so moved that they forwarded it on to others and soon, there were people from all over the country sending checks to help the mission. There were a total of 170 people who responded and donated $43,000. When the congregation at Jackson’s church heard about the $7000 shortfall, they quickly chipped in the remaining balance. “A little person can do something really good. You don’t have to wait to be an adult,” said Jackson’s mother.

Jesus told us a story about someone who was down on his luck. He was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Two people walked by on the other side of the road because they were afraid. But the third, looking to do all the good he could, stopped and help this stranger.

People are beaten down, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. How do we see them? Do we see them? And what is our response? Do we walk down the other side, afraid to get our hands a little dirty, afraid of losing what we have? Or do we act like Jackson, like President Carter, like Millard Fuller, like the Samaritan, and like Jesus and help those around us?

3-Simple-Rules-Week-1In January 2006, scientists in Australia were investigating a disease that was taking the lives of many of native Tasmanian devils. Now, if you’re like me, you may think of Looney Tunes when you hear this name, but these are actually animals about the size of a small dog and they live in Tasmania, Australia.

What they found was this disease was actually a rare form of cancer and they called it Devil Facial Tumor Disease, or DFTD. This would form tumors on the animals faces and eventually take their life. They found out the abnormalities in the chromosomes of the cancer cells were the same in every tumor. That means this disease began in the mouth of a single sick animal.

The ferocious little animal facilitated the spread of DFTD by biting its neighbors when squabbling for food, which is a natural behavior of the Tasmanian devil. When scrounging for food, they would fight over meals, biting each other. Bits of the tumor would break off and stick in the wounds of the other animal.

Over the course of several years, infected animals continued to inflict deadly wounds with their mouths. Consequently, DFTD spread at an alarming rate, ultimately wiping out over 40 percent of the Tasmanian devil population.

A similar fate threatens churches in their members persist in the devilish behavior of wounding their neighbors with their mouths. James 3:8 warns us about our tongues; “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” When we spout hateful words, discriminating words, or even words that don’t build up but tear down, we are doing harm.

God calls us to live a life of not causing harm to others. You see, we are called to live like Christ and he lived a life of not harming others. So how do we do it? We do this by treating others with respect and striving to guard all of our actions, even with those we disagree with; maybe especially with those we disagree with.

When we agree that we will not harm those we disagree with, then open conversation begin to happen. Relationships are formed and strengthened. But this takes effort. It’s not easy. Maybe it’s because it costs so much. We need to change our attitudes about how we talk about each other and how we view those around us. When we begin guard our tongues, our minds, and our actions, we start to see the other person. We truly begin to see them, for who they are, a child of God. And when this happens, we start to see all of the areas where we share common ground. We are united in Christ. We are called to the same mission of making disciples. We may not agree of how that happens or all other areas of our theology, but we can find many other areas of commonality.

We need to be intentional about prioritizing our relationship in Jesus Christ over our individual thoughts of practical theology. This requires a trust and faith in God’s plan for the whole world’s salvation. Can we trust that plan? Can we love each other and vow to not harm others, whether it’s in word or deed? I hope so.

Once again, I don’t believe that any of us goes out of our way to be mean, cruel, or harmful to anyone else, but it happens every day. We see it all around us, even in our own lives. We reflect back on the day that has just passed, and we see so many times that we caused harm, either to ourselves or others around us. Too often it happens to the ones we love the most. How does this happen?

I have to be honest with you. For me, this happens when I get run down. When I’m tired, exhausted, stressed out, or too busy, I find myself in danger of harming others. Common sense goes out the window as our internal filters either get clogged up or lose their charge. The only way around this is to make sure that I am taking enough time to recharge my filter. So, how’s your filter? Does it need recharging?

You need time to recharge your filters, we all do. We do this by taking our 15 minutes to be alone with God. We need to be proactive about this, otherwise we become reactive, and many times, that brings results that we don’t like. In order to do no harm, we need to be on guard for all those things we say and do. It is going to take effort and it’s probably not going to be easy. But, what about the results? How could your world change if you were intentional about not doing any harm and by avoiding evil of every kind?

The first simple rule; ‘Do no harm.’ Simple, yes. Easy, no.

Sufficient…

sufficientIn a passage of scripture from 2 Corinthians we hear a familiar verse. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This comes after Paul had been talking about a certain thorn in his life. Now, there have been many theologians who have discussed what this thorn could be, and no one really knows.

Whatever it was, it was a pain to Paul. It was something that tormented him. It was bad enough that Paul asked three times to have this problem removed. I would imagine that Paul had conversations like this. “God, if you would take away this problem, I could serve you better. I would be able to move around much faster and speak to more people about your grace and mercy. God, if you would heal me of this, people would see once again your mighty power. What a testimony that would be! God, you can do this, I know you can. So, help me God. Heal me, take away this thorn and I can serve you better because I won’t have this weakness anymore.”

Sound familiar? Have you had one of those conversations with God? God, if you could take away this sickness, if you can heal my body, I would be able to serve you more. If you would help my financial problem, I would be able to give more. If you would remove these people from my life, I would be able to help your ministry more.

And then the word comes. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Now, I don’t know where you are today, and maybe those words come to you and your response is, ‘great, thanks God. I was hoping you were going to take away my problems.’ So, hear them again; “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Like Paul, we ask for God to remove things from our lives. We pray and ask for healing. We pray and ask for provisions. We pray and ask for God to bless us. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes he blesses us with that healing, while other times he blesses us by not healing us. God didn’t take away the thorn for Paul. But he said his grace would be sufficient, but he did offer grace that would be all Paul would need to overcome the thorn.

Years ago, in the northeastern United States, cod was big business. There is a market for eastern cod all over, especially on the West Coast, but how to get it there? At first, they froze the cod and then shipped them, but the freezing took away the flavor. Then they shipped them alive, in tanks of seawater, but that proved even worse. Not only was it more expensive, the cod still lost its flavor and, in addition, became soft and mushy.

Then they got creative. The cod were placed in the tank of water along with their natural enemy–the catfish. From the time the cod left the East Coast until it arrived on the West, the catfish chased the cod all over the tank. And, you guessed it, when the cod arrived, they were as fresh as when they were first caught. If anything, it was better than before.

It’s painful enough to stay in the tank. But in addition to our situation, there are God-appointed “catfish” to bring sufficient tension that keeps us alive, alert, fresh and growing. It’s part of God’s plan to shape our character to be more like his Son. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul had a catfish in his life, he had a thorn.

I wonder what you have in your life that you consider a thorn. Is it a person, a situation, or a temptation that you have? Trust that God’s grace is sufficient, it is enough, to bring you through it. And in the process, God will be glorified. Because his strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. You see, we don’t have to be strong, because God is! We don’t have to have all the answers, because God does! We can be just who we are, cracks, blemishes, weaknesses and all. Because God works in and through us every day.

God’s grace is sufficient for you. When you’re tired, worn down by the pace of life, exhausted by everything going on; God’s grace is sufficient for you. When you’re in pain, suffering from illnesses, stuck in depression, or trying to recover from surgery or accidents; God’s grace in sufficient for you. When you face opposition, whether at your job, in your family, friends, or even an enemy; God’s grace is sufficient for you. Even when you face temptations, when you are prideful, or are deceived by this world’s view of what success should look like; God’s grace is sufficient for you.

Romans 8:28 tells us that “all things work for the good for those who love God.” All things, even the thorns in our lives. So, we must remember that God works in all things, and he works through all things, for the glory of God.

Therefore, we don’t boast in our salvation for our own sake, because we did nothing to deserve it. It was given to us. Through Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for our sins, and who rose from the dead so that we would have everlasting life, this grace was offered. All we have to do is believe and accept it.

old-fiddleIn the mid 1800’s there was a gentleman by the name Ole Bull. He was a self-taught Norwegian violinist. He was a great musician and composer. He toured Europe and America and was one of the world’s most renowned violinists. But like many in certain fields, he was not known to everyone. The story comes that he was traveling in the forests of Europe when he got lost in the dark and stumbled on a log cabin, the dwelling place of a hermit. The old man who owned the cabin let him in, fed him and warmed him up.

Following the meal and some time around the fireplace, the old man decided to pull an old, battered violin from the closet. The old man picked a few rough tunes on this well-worn instrument.

“Do you think I could play on that?” asked Ole Bull.

“I don’t think so,” replied the hermit. “It took me years to learn.”

Ole Bull replied, “Let me try.” Taking the old scarred violin, he drew the bow across the strings and suddenly the hermit’s cabin was filled with music so beautiful, the hermit sobbed like a child.

No matter how beaten and scarred we are, in the master’s hand we can become beautiful instruments of healing, forgiveness, and new life. All it takes is the touch of the master’s hand.

This past Sunday we heard about a couple of Jesus’ healings. These came through a little girl who was on deaths door step and a woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years. The little girl was apparently on her death bed as it was said that she was sick to the point of death. Her father knew that she was gravely ill, which was the reason for his visit to Jesus. His daughter was beyond the help of the doctors and he knew of the only way she could be healed. It was through the power of Jesus’ touch. So, he pleads with Jesus to come to his house and heal her. All he was asking for was a touch; just lay your hands on her, Jesus, and she will be made well. He wanted a touch of the master’s hand.

The woman was looking for a touch as well. But she thought to herself that if she could only touch the edge of his cloak, she believed she would be healed. This woman had faith in the healing touch of Jesus.

Both received healing, both received resurrection. Both received new life. Jesus Christ, in his power, raised them from the death they were experiencing.

Now, you might be listening today and everything is going just right. Life couldn’t be better. But maybe, you have some things that you are keeping from your family. Maybe you have secrets that your spouse doesn’t know, or your parents don’t know. Maybe you are having health issues but don’t want anyone to know about them. Maybe your finances are not where you want them to be and you are worried about where the money will come from to pay all the bills. Maybe your relationships with family or friends are not in a good place.

How is your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you doing good, or maybe just hanging in there? If people really knew what was going on in your life, would they say that you are spiritually or physically falling apart?

Jesus offered the woman and Jairus’ daughter healing. He gave them new life. Jesus tells the little girl to rise up. He tells her to rise up from her illness, because it’s gone. He tells the woman to rise up from her bleeding, because it has stopped. He calls lepers to rise up. He calls the crippled man to rise up and walk. He calls Bartimaeus to rise after he has healed his sight. He calls Lazarus to rise up and come out of the tomb.

And now he looks to all of us gathered here today and asks a simple question. From what do you need to rise? What is holding you back from the life God has called you to? What obstacles are standing in the way of your relationship with Jesus Christ?

Rise up! Rise up from your worries. Rise up from your illness. Rise up from your financial burdens. Rise up from your addictions. Rise up from your lack of spiritual life! Rise up from your broken relationships! Rise up!

Jesus wants to touch you today with his healing hand. Will you accept the touch from the master? Will you accept his help in that area of your life? Will you open the door and let him in?

The touch of the master is here today.

Now Is The Time!

PathI returned from a short-term mission trip a week ago, Sunday. I spent time with youth from both Lanark and Rockford in serving a camp for developmentally disabled kids and adults. We completed projects to help them enjoy life, the camping life, where they would normally not be able. The emotional highs that came from helping others in need and even the fact that we were helping people that we didn’t know and would probably never know, was awe inspiring. We were truly living out the greatest commandments to love God and our neighbor.

And then we returned home. I should have known better than to turn on the news to see what was going on in the world around me. But I knew that I couldn’t live in the sheltered bubble of ignorance to the worlds issues, even though a week-long hiatus was a blessing. However, I wasn’t prepared to hear the tragedies and atrocities that were happening before us.

People who felt that anything was better than what they were experiencing, made the decision to risk everything to run away. The violence and hatred they left behind is something that I hope to never experience, and I hope that none of you do either. But it must have been horrendous to make a long arduous journey to the unknown.

Exhausted, frightened, and desperate, they arrived at what they hoped would be a sanctuary, they instead were met with hostility. Worse yet, their children were taken from them. Zero tolerance was the term. A flurry of activity began as people shouted from both sides, proclaiming that they were right while the others were wrong. News media picked up on it and some increased the divide with skewed stories. Then it became about the “law.” The focus shifted to who was responsible and who could fix the problem.

The spotlight was on the wrong thing. It is almost like watching a master magician as your attention is drawn to one thing while something else, the important part, is happening while you’re not looking. The kids. What is happening to the kids?

An executive order was written to stop the inhumane separation of families, but some of the damage had been done. News outlets estimate that some 2900 kids were separated and some were placed in facilities far away from their parents and now the parents don’t know where their kids are.

But yet, here we are fighting about who was initially responsible. Was it this president, the last one, the one before that? Who is it? Does it really matter? At this point, the blame game does nothing for us. What does help is correcting the issue and making it right.

To make things worse, we heard a very powerful man quote scripture from the national spotlight. The problem was that he spoke out of context. He used a passage which spoke of governing authorities and how we should be submissive to them. But this was written to those who were being persecuted, not the ones persecuting. There is a big difference.

Mostly, I would bring your attention to a passage just a bit further down the page. Romans 13:9-10; “For 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: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Love does not exert authority. Love does not oppress. Love does not separate. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Did we miss this part of Romans chapter 13?

What if we asked that old question in this instance; “what would Jesus do?” I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would be. “Let the little children come to me, do not hold them back, the kingdom belongs to them.”

When do we, as a society, place the lives of those around us before our own. When do we say enough is enough when it comes to fighting with our neighbors.

Yesterday, I was wearing a shirt that said, “Love all, worship One” on the back and I heard a voice from behind me say, “I don’t think I can do that!” I turned around and asked what it was they couldn’t do. The reply came back; “I can’t love all.” I responded with that is what we are called to do. “I can’t” was the reply. No one ever said it would be easy, but that doesn’t mean that we give up.

Now is the time. Now is the time to cross the aisle. Now is the time to put our petty differences aside and accomplish something for the greater good. Now is the time to lay down our swords and embrace our differences, celebrate our diversity as well as our unity. We are called for such a time as this. Now is the time!

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?

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?