Archive for May, 2017

We Believe; Jesus Christ

We-Believe-Series-wk2Scripture tells us time and again that Jesus came to this earth so that he could save us; Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is Christ’s work, not ours. It is not because of our works, but because of our faith and belief in Jesus Christ.

The great tradition of the church has seen its share of views on this topic of the Atonement. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we are redeemed, reconciled, and brought back in that relationship that God desires for us all. We are once again, “at one” with God. This is where the term atonement is seen, as the “at-one-ment” that Jesus offers to us.

Like the church today, the church in the early centuries through the reformation and beyond, did not agree on how this atonement is played out or what it means. Let me give you a little background and see where you find yourself in the following ideas of atonement.

In the 12th century, Anselm proposed an atonement whereby Jesus dies in our place. He takes our place on the cross of death, where we should be. This is the substitutionary atonement. I spoke once about the first recipient of this substitutionary method, Barabbas. He was on his way to be crucified and Jesus took his place. Pilot let Barabbas go in place of Jesus. From there forward, we can see how Jesus’ death on the cross was to be ours, but he took our place. He made his life a ransom for many as he took our place, so that through his grace, we could have everlasting life.

Within a short amount of time, Peter Abelard introduced a different view of the atonement. He felt that it was contrary to how he viewed God in that God required something as horrible as his own Son dying on the cross to reconcile our relationship with him, that he viewed the atonement as a Moral Influence. Christ’s life was an example of how we are to live and love. His life was meant to inspire us to love God and our neighbor. This was also used to exemplify the martyrs and the suffering that Christians have faced over the centuries. The danger is seeing Christ only as an example and therefore we need to live up to that example.

In his writings from scripture, Paul showed a different point of view of Jesus and his work on the cross. Paul showed Christ as Victor. There have been images of Christ throughout history, portraying his as bursting out of the grave, muscles flexing, victory winning. I can almost hear the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jesus proclaims victory over Satan in the cosmic battle in the spiritual realm. We can see this view through much of Paul’s writing when we hear so much authority in the words he expresses.

Finally, in the four that I want to express to you today, although there are many other views of the atonement, we find Athanasius and his view of Christ as Vicarious Healer. In his work on the cross, Jesus offers us healing for our sin filled and broken lives and world. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, declares that Christ has condemned sin to the flesh so that we can live our lives in the Spirit. We receive new life in the Spirit, the old has passed away, the new has come. We are healed through the work of Jesus on the cross.

A point to make clear. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, didn’t focus on one or another of these atonement theories. He used a wonderful little word, “and.” He didn’t believe, nor do I, that any one theory on the atonement is correct. He saw, as I do, that through our lives, our experiences can be viewed through different scripture passages and therefore, different views of the atonement.

Maybe you’re in the middle of something right now that it helps to view Jesus on the cross as a substitution for yourself is beneficial. Maybe you need an example to follow or the ever-powerful Christ the victor image. Some of you today need the healer Christ in your lives. Where are you today? What Jesus do you need today?

Maybe that question that is raised by Jesus to his disciple’s rings truer today than ever before. “Who do you say that I am?” Who do you need Jesus to be for you today?

We Believe: One God

We-Believe-Series-Bulletin-Cover-wk1Two scripture passages for us today, Exodus 3:13-15 and 1st John 4:7-13. These passages lead us into a discussion and reflection of who God is as we begin a new series at Lanark United Methodist Church called “We Believe.” Today we focus on One God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Listen to the word of God today…

Exodus 3:13-15

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[a] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[b] the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.

1 John 4:7-13

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.

How do we know who God is? How can we ever describe this being, our Triune God? First, let me tell you that our language, whichever one it is, is very limited when it comes to talking about who God is. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, just because it sometimes takes that many words to describe how it looks and also how it makes us feel. God is infinitely more. Frederick Lehman penned a beautiful poem about the love of God and I think he describes it well, just how limited our words and descriptions can be for God. Hear these words.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

So if words can’t describe God, how are we supposed to know? How do we learn if we can’t read about him? Well, certainly we can read about God as we reflect on scripture as this is the Word of God and it tells us of the wondrous story of his great love for all of us. We also see God in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But there is more.

We know God through the great traditions of the Church. Through all the work that the church has done throughout the years, including the writing of many creeds including the Apostle’s and Nicean Creeds. We also know God through our own individual experiences. Do you remember a time when you felt extremely close to God, whether it was out in nature, in a church, or maybe just in your 15 minute chair? Yes, that’s how we can know God too. Finally, we can know God through our reasoning. We all have brains and can think and reflect on many things. We can use this reasoning to better understand and know God.

So, ask yourself this question today; “Who do I say that God is?” It a question only you can answer for yourself, because your definition might be different than others around you, and that’s ok. Jesus asks the question of so many in the Gospels too; “Who do you say that I am?”

Who is God to you?

It Is Well…

2012-09-10_18-42-47_556I was asked, during an “Ask a Pastor” Sunday; “What is your favorite hymn and why?” I did not have time to answer that during that worship service. So, I thought I would take another Sunday and dive in to the original meaning, as well as what it means to me. I hope you enjoy the story, and if you want to hear the entire sermon, complete with my singing of this hymn, go to our website and you will find the link to the YouTube video of the message. Here is an excerpt from that message…

Horatio Spafford was a good business man, he was successful lawyer, real estate manager, and a devout Christian. Horatio knew the scriptures and had a wonderful relationship with a very well-known evangelical leader in D.L. Moody. He and his wife had 5 kids up to this point, one son and four daughters. His son died of scarlet fever at the age of 4, leaving him with the four daughters.

Everything was going well for Horatio. Besides his successful business and legal practice, he was becoming very wealthy through extensive real estate acquisitions on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Things were very well with Horatio. But then things started to unravel. In 1871, the great fire in Chicago devastated much of his properties, leading to more time at the office, working all hours of the day.

By 1873, he was looking for some rest for his family and himself. So, he booked a trip to Europe for relaxation and maybe some bonding time with his family. The trip was to take place in November. Just before the departure, something at the office came up that Horatio could not ignore. He told his wife and four daughters to go on ahead of him and that he would catch up with them during the trip.

I’m sure that went over well. He books this trip to rest with his family and then something comes up preventing all the family time. I’m sure many of us have experienced that at some point in our lives. Well, Mrs. Spafford goes ahead with the plans and begins the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

The majestic S.S. Ville du Havre begins sailing to Europe. I can only assume that everything was going well. Meals were probably gourmet, shuffleboard on the main deck, and the views of the sunrises and sunsets; as beautiful as anything they had ever seen. Then, tragedy strikes. On November 22, 1873, the S.S. Ville du Havre is struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel. The accident was catastrophic. There was no doubt that it was going down. In fact, the ship sank in 12 minutes. Not much time to launch rescue boats, get all the floatation devices out. All four of Horatio’s daughters perished in the accident. Mrs. Spafford, however, survived.

She sent a cable back to Horatio. For all you younger ones out there, this would be the first form of snapchat, the first tweet. Except this required two trained people, one of the transmitting side and the other on the receiving end to translate. Then the message was hand delivered to Horatio. Two words was all it said; “Saved Alone.”

Not only had Horatio lost his son to scarlet fever, just about all his property and money during the great Chicago fire, but now he has lost his remaining children to sea. What else could go wrong, what else was going to come his way. I’m sure that he felt like Job, as he was losing everything in his life. What depths of despair he must have been feeling?

Horatio departed on the next ship he could find, headed to Cardiff, Wales, where his wife was. Could you imagine the thoughts and feeling he must have had on that journey across the same ocean that claimed his daughter’s life only a few days before? The anger, frustration, and despair as day after day, he looked out over the water. The same water that God’s Spirit hovered over during creation. The same water that offers life to so many, but now has taken four lives that meant so much to him. Why God? Why me? Why now? I’ve been so good. I’ve followed you, read the scriptures, worshiped you. Why God?

It is thought, that at the very moment he was traveling over that part of the Atlantic that stole his daughter’s lives away from him, that he wrote these famous words:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Love Came Calling

Love-Came-Calling-Sermon-TitleCertain passages of scripture are so well known that they become almost second nature to us. We can recite them, almost from memory, and they bring us peace when we hear them. The 23rd psalm is one of those passages. We hear it so often during funeral services and even when we are facing difficult time, we like to go back to it, to reassure us when we need it.

So, when we hear both the 23rd psalm and our gospel reading from John chapter 10, we find the common denominator when it speaks about shepherds and sheep. It is amazing to me to think about how sheep will know the voice of their master, only responding to them. We even see this in the cattle farms around northwest Illinois. They know the farmers voice. But that begs the question.

How much time is required before the sheep know what their master sounds like, do they have a special call for them, something that is different than all the others? Or is it just the voice itself? I don’t know about you, but when I am in a crowded area, I can pick out people just by the sound of their voice. I know when my wife is calling me, usually, sometimes the hearing isn’t as good as it used to be.

There have also been times when one of my daughters has been hurt or scared and I can hear that in their voice. It’s a sign to come running. When did I learn that? How long did it take for me to be able to single their voice out above all the rest?

What about other voices? Can you pick out your parent’s voices? I sure could when I was a kid. I knew when they were calling for me to come to dinner over long distances. I could be a couple blocks away and could hear their voices. I might not be able to tell you what they were saying, but I knew they were calling.

How about God’s voice? Can you hear His voice calling to you? Do you know what it sounds like? It can be difficult. I think we all find ourselves in times like these. We have a hard time figuring out if what we are hearing or feeling is from God, or something else. And we are not alone in this. We can go back to Samuel in the Old Testament. Samuel is taking care of Eli and hears a voice calling to him, “Samuel.” Samuel said, “Here I am, here I am” and ran in to see Eli, thinking that he called him. But Eli had not. Again, God spoke, “Samuel.” Again, he responded, “Here I am” and ran in to see Eli only to find that it wasn’t Eli that called. After the third time, Eli told Samuel that if he hears the voice calling again, to respond with; “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel had a hard time discerning God’s voice from Eli’s. I think many times; we have the same problem.

So, how do we discern what is God’s voice, whether or not Jesus is calling out to us? How do we trust God when we hear it?

How many times in your life did you just want to hear your mom’s voice. I remember many times, but one in particular was when I was being a young boy, building a ramp to jump my bike on. I thought it was the best ramp ever built. I thought my bike could handle the Evil Knievel jump that I was about to embark on. I was wrong, on just about every level. The ramp fell apart as I left it, and my bike split in two when I landed, scraping my hands, elbows, and knees. All I wanted in that moment was my mommy. I needed her to tell me that everything was going to be alright, because at that time, I was sure that it wasn’t. Funny how sometimes just the sound of your mom’s voice brings peace?

You may find yourself in just such an instance this morning. Maybe you will enter one soon. What I would like to tell you is that Jesus can offer peace to your troubled times, even more than mom can, sorry moms.

John 14:27; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Jesus gives this peace to all who ask. In your 15 minutes alone with God, ask Jesus for that peace and then listen for God’s voice. This is one way you can hear God speak. Pray that your ears and heart would be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and that you would understand all the God is asking of you.

15 minutes in your favorite spot, it’s not too much to ask. Go waits there for you and he desires to share that time with you. Draw near and drink deeply.