Archive for September, 2016

He Bought the Farm

he-bought-the-farmThis past Sunday, we looked at a passage from Jeremiah chapter 32 where we find him purchasing a plot of land from his uncle Hanamel. God asks Jeremiah to buy this plot of land and he is “all in” with his relationship with God, so much so that the other circumstances don’t seem to matter to Jeremiah.

First, Judah is about to be overrun by the Babylonians. It is not only evident, but it is also immanent. It is coming and coming soon. Second, Jeremiah is being held by the king in the courtyard of the guard, he is in prison. So God’s request might sound a little bit crazy.

But then again, this is nothing new. God asks many people, maybe even you, to do some pretty wild things. Things that don’t make a lot of sense. Let’s look at a few references from scripture.

Ananias, follower of Jesus Christ, was asked to go to a house on straight street and restore sight to Saul. You know, Saul, persecutor of Christians, authority figure who approved the stoning of Stephen. God, you really want me to go and willfully see this man, stand right in front of him. Really God?

Abraham, resolute father, finally has his son, Isaac, and he is so proud of him. He is so thankful that God has blessed him and his wife, Sarah, with this son. Then God asks him to take his son, Isaac, up the mountain and sacrifice him on an altar. His son, who should be the heir to the family name, the beginning of the family line, the reason Abraham’s name will continue. Sacrifice him. Really God?

Moses, stuttering man of God, is told to go and face the Pharaoh. Tell he Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, free them from their slavery. That would be the slaves that are building all of the Pharaoh’s temples and buildings, the ones he would not be able to erect without their help. And Moses is supposed to stand before this powerful man and demand something like this. Really God?

Noah, really. A boat in the middle of the desert. He couldn’t make use of a kayak if he wanted to and God wants him to build an ark. There’s nothing for me to float it on, and how do you expect to get all those animals inside. And on another note, why couldn’t he have left the mosquitos off the boat, did he really have to bring them along? Really God?

2012 God whispered something in my ear. At the time I was a manager, almost part owner of a rental business in Rockford. We weren’t doing great, but it wasn’t that bad either. It seemed like everything was going along just fine. Sherry, the girls, and I were doing ok. I felt like I was achieving the “American dream,” whatever that is. Life was good.

But then that still small voice, you belong in the ministry. What? I’m not sure you have the right person for this. I’m too shy, I’m not comfortable in certain situations, I don’t know everything about the Bible, I’m not the guy you want. Public speaking was never really my strong point. Really God?

What about you? Has God has asked you to do something that you answered with, “really God?” Is God telling you today that you need to do something, to reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in many years, to make a phone call to a brother or sister that you don’t get along with, to start a new job, to quit your old job, anything that seems a little difficult, a little crazy and so you’re saying those words, maybe just under your breath. Really God?

Well take Jeremiah, he purchases a plot of land that was caught in the middle of a losing battle, while he himself is in prison. But he does it because God asks him to. He redeems the land by purchasing it from his uncle, keeping it in the family name. He does this so that the people of Judah will know that God’s covenant remains intact. He does it so that the people know that God loves them and wants to restore not only the land, but also their relationship with him.

Jeremiah redeemed a field so the people of Judah would see that God’s covenant still stood, and that they would soon be able to purchase houses, fields, and vineyards in the land once again. Jesus Christ redeemed us all, the whole human race, by dying on a cross.

When God asks you to do something a little out of the box, remember that he himself went way out of the box when he sent his Son to this earth to die for us, to redeem us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Heart Check

LighthouseThis past Sunday we talked about a passage from Jeremiah, chapter 8. This was one of the many times we witness Jeremiah crying out to God for the people of Israel. So why does he?

Well, Israel is worshiping false idols, doing their own thing, and disobeying God. God provided for the Israelites, gave them a land to live in, full of good things. They are living in the promised land, the place where “milk and honey flow.” And are the people grateful? Are they thankful for all that God has provided them with? No. they want more, and this breaks God’s heart.

If we need an example of this in our world today, we don’t need to look much further than many of the remembrances we had last Sunday from the attacks 15 years ago. Or we can look at all the violence in our cities, even the latest police shootings of Terence Crutcher.

We need someone who is willing to speak out for God, to speak against all of this violence and hatred. We need a Jeremiah. We need an Ezekiel. We need a Jonah. We need someone who will cry out for the violence and hatred we see.

Now we could see Jeremiah, with all the authority of God, proclaiming judgement to the people, taking the position of authority. The position of feeling like he was higher than everyone else, that he was better than everyone else. We could see a disconnect between Jeremiah and the people. It would be really easy to shake the dust off his feet and leave, but we don’t.

What we do see is a man who cares deeply for these people, regardless of how they were treating him. So much so that he cries out to God, hoping that he will forgive them, hoping that God will give them a second chance. Jeremiah has a heart for the people that he was trying to help.

Where is your heart? When we think about all the violence, the terrorism, the bullying, the anger, and the hatred, where is our heart in all of this? Are we just as angry at them as they are to the world around them? Do we desire more violence in order to punish the offenders? Or do we have a heart like Jeremiah’s?

Is the first thing we think about when we hear of another police shooting, or school shooting, or even the gang violence in cities across the nation, is how justice will be played out, how will the perpetrator be punished? Or do we, like Jeremiah, see a life that has traveled so far from God that they seem to not be able to find their way back? I believe that we are called to do more. Certainly justice has a plan within our society, we need rules and a way to enforce them. These help us to live in community with one another. But there is another level of community which we are called. God desires us to belong to a community with all people in love and peace.

Jeremiah shows us one of those ways to reach that kind of community. We need to look at people as who they really are. They, like you, are all children of God. We are adopted into God’s family, we are sons and daughters of the one true King. And when we lose family members to violence, our hearts break. When we see a friend walk away from God, from good decisions, from following the straight and narrow path, it should break our hearts. We need to be crying out to God, asking for just one more chance. Asking for another opportunity for forgiveness.

We need to pray for them. Praying for their hearts to be changed, praying that the love of God reaches into their lives, praying for them to realize what they are doing is wrong and they stand in the need of forgiveness. We need to be the ones who reach out to them, letting them know that no one is beyond the love and grace of God.

Before Paul was the great church planter and evangelist, he was persecuting Christians, throwing them in jail, even killing them. If Paul’s life can be changed, anyone’s can. God’s love reached Paul and convicted his heart to his past mistakes and deliberate disobedience of God and brought him back to a right relationship with him. No one is beyond the love and grace of God.

Sometimes we don’t know when there is a problem with our hearts, but other times, we get a pain that signals something is wrong. Then it is time to get a heart checkup, EKG, echocardiograms, angiograms, and so many other test that will tell us what’s wrong and what we need to do to fix it.

Same thing here, we begin to feel something is wrong in a relationship, in some hatred or violence. This pain should drive us to our knees in prayer. I hope that it signals you to do something, to pray for those, to pray for the love and grace of God to reach into their hearts and change their lives.

15 Years & Counting

15-yearsThis past Sunday at Lanark UMC we reflected, as many other churches, on the 15th anniversary of the attacks of September 11th. We thought about where we were, what we were doing, and what we were thinking right after that horrible day. We looked at our response was and what it might have been. What it should look like as followers of Jesus Christ.

It’s so easy to fill up with hate towards those who do these horrifying things to other human beings. It’s so easy to want to hunt them down. It’s so easy to declare war against them. It’s so easy to discriminate and hate a large group of people, based upon the actions of a few. A few radical members, those that take the extreme side of a particular religion. A religion that can be so full of love, but so full of hate to a certain few.

It’s so easy to hate, but incredibly difficult to love in situations like this. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. The next is like it, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, even our enemies. Such a difficult calling.

We are called, as followers of Christ, to be an example of his love, an example of his compassion. In our scripture lesson from this past week, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, we find a lesson in how to live, how to show the world around us the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul is talking about his life in Christ and reflecting on his life prior to his knowledge of Jesus. He said that he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and opponent of the gospel. He said that he acted ignorantly. Paul was doing so much of what we see in our world today. He was persecuting Christians, ridiculing them, throwing them in jail, even killing them.

I’m sure that if we saw Paul before his transformation, we would feel the same about him as we do about so much of the violence going on around us. We would think that he was beyond the reach of God’s grace, he was a lost cause. But Jesus did not think that way. He saw in Paul the ability to reach so many for the sake of the gospel of Christ.

He saw the potential that Paul had. He saw an opportunity to spread his message throughout the world through this broken and sinful man. So he changed him, he softened his heart, spoke life into him, and recreated his life for the glory of God. Remember that God uses all things for the good of those who are called to his purpose.

Here is where Paul tells us that he is an example, the example of Jesus Christ’s perfect patience. Paul is an example of a life changed through the grace of God. Paul shows us that even the most hardened criminal is not beyond the love and grace of God.

God’s ways are higher than our ways and many times we don’t understand how his love can reach all of those people, but it does. Paul’s life shows us the hope for even the worst of offenders. We need to be examples like Paul was an example. We need to show the world the love and grace of God that is evident in our lives.

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, people flocked to churches all over the world, why? Because God was using this horrible tragedy to soften the hearts of so many people, bringing them into churches across this globe. Attendance was bursting at the seams, for a short amount of time. Why, why didn’t they stay?

I’m sure some of them did, but what about the rest? I think people got in the way. We thought we knew what they wanted. We didn’t. What they really wanted was more Jesus. They wanted to see their lives changed by Jesus Christ. They wanted to see more Jesus in all of us.

People are still searching. They are searching for Jesus Christ, and it doesn’t have to take another national disaster or terror attack to bring them back. It is all of the church, the body of Christ, praying for them, loving them for who they are and inviting them to a relationship with Jesus Christ. Are you ready?

Jars of Clay

Jars-of-ClaySome of the best artists we know, live under the same roof as ourselves. The media in which they use varies drastically, from water colors, Popsicle sticks, crayons, to Play Doh.

There are also many artists known throughout the world for their great accomplishments; Michelangelo’s statue of marble, portraying David; Gutzon Borglam and his nearly impossible feat of four faces in granite that we call Mount Rushmore; and how about Steven Sauvestre and his work with steel in his architectural masterpiece that we know as the Eiffel Tower? All are very well known artists, all celebrities in their own right, all masters of their art. But in Jeremiah 18, we find an artist, although not as well known, not as famous, but very important in his own right. We find one of many stories about a potter and the clay that he works with.

Why are there so many stories of potters throughout scripture? Why such imagery from this worker, this trade? I believe it is because there is much to learn about what happens in the creative mind of this small artist. The potter was a practical artist. People needed things to drink from, to eat from, to cook things in, even just to bring water from the well. Today we use pottery for many other purposes, but the fact remains from biblical times, pottery was a necessity.

And so the potter was an important person to have. They would create all of those cups, bowls, pitchers, and plates that the people used on a daily basis. It was a necessary job, a basic job, and one that God wanted Jeremiah to learn from.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord; ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’” Go down to the potter’s house, and there Jeremiah would hear the word of God. Go do something as normal as watching someone work. And it was here that he heard the voice of God telling him what he needed to proclaim to Israel.

But notice that the word comes to him while he is watching what the potter is doing; and the word coincides with the action that he is watching, the potter and his work with the clay. Jeremiah was tuned into God and was therefore able to hear what God wanted him to hear.

Are you tuned in to God, so much so that you can hear him speaking through your normal, everyday life? Are you paying enough attention that when you are shopping at the grocery store, you hear God speak to you in the displays of beautiful red apples, luscious peaches, and then you notice that weird looking fruit that bears the name ‘ugly fruit?’

Are you listening closely, that when you witness love and friendship at a local high school football game, you understand it to be the love of God manifested in people’s lives? Are you as tuned is as Jeremiah was when he watched the potter and the clay?

Well Jeremiah was really tuned in because before he heard God’s voice he noticed something about the potter and his working with the clay. He noticed that the potter would create something out of a lump of clay, but that sometimes what he created was not what he had envisioned. So he started over again.

Other times he would get the piece just about right, only to find a flaw in the clay which would weaken the clay, and when fired, would never hold up to the use it would get. Maybe the clay was too dry, or maybe the clay was not the right consistency, maybe as he worked with it, the clay began to breakdown. So many things that could go wrong with the material, not the potter. But when these things would arise, the potter would break whatever he was working on down and start over again. He would use the same lump of clay, working over and over again in order to make it into something useful, something beautiful.

Jeremiah was tuned into God, and therefore heard the message God was delivering that day. The message that there are a lot of similarities between the potter and God. God has the same desire to create something out of nothing, actually out of dirt and clay and He continues to create, recreate, and continue to work with us.

Tune into God and listen for his message for you today.