Archive for June, 2017

Forged in Fire

ab30a2e9149a839a6b48e2386b8bI have become a big fan of the television show “Forged in Fire.” It plays on the history channel and is a competition show where contestants are given a lump of metal and are asked to form knives or swords from an indistinguishable piece of metal.

I am amazed as we watch this unfold, just how they can not only form a chunk of steel into a fully functioning blade, but they can also make them look good. They do not control the material which is given, but they work with what they have to make this knife; and it happens every time. Sure there are people who don’t make the cut, but the finished products of those who go on are simply amazing. But it’s not easy.

In order to get this piece of metal to take on the shape that they have designed, they must do many things to it. First, they must put it in the fire, multiple times to get it soft enough to form the shape they want. This only comes through intense hammering. The blacksmiths go through a process of heating and forming, heating and forming, repeating it over and over until they have the design they originally thought of.

Once they have the shape and a rough edge, they heat the blade up once again, and once it is hot enough, it is immediately forced into cold oil or water in order to “quench” it. This takes the extremely hot blade and quickly cools it down, making it harder. Making it able to withstand the tasks that it will encounter during its life.

How often does this sound like our own lives? We feel like we’ve been beaten down. We feel like we’ve been put into the fiery furnace. We are tested, tempted, tried, pushed, pulled, through everything possible and we wonder if it will ever end. Will we ever reach the point of life not being so tough, of not feeling like we are in the fire all the time?

Psalm 66:10-12 says; “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

The answer is a resounding, yes! God bring us to a place of abundance, but before we get there, there is still fire to walk through, burdens to carry. But all these things help to build us up. Those times that we spend in the fire, feeling like we are being trampled on, feeling like the burden is too heavy to pick up; those are the days which refine us, like a fire refines silver.

Those are the days that strengthen us, like the blade that is heated up and quickly quenched in oil. All of these experiences, help us to be strong so that we can withstand all the evil in this world. It makes us better husbands, wives. It makes us better fathers and mothers, parents and grandparents. It makes us better friends and neighbors. It makes us better people.

God works all things for the good of those who love him. He takes all our pain, all of our disappointments, all of our experiences and uses them to form us from this lump of clay, into a beautiful human being.

So don’t dwell on all of the negative things. Focus instead on God’s plan for your life and then you will possibly see the reasons or at least the path that all your trials have led you, so that you can arrive at God’s purpose for your life. Get refined in the fires of life. Get stronger through all your experiences. That’s what God desires for you.

We Believe; The Church

We-Believe-Series-Bulletin-Cover-wk5We at Lanark UMC are finishing up a worship series called “We Believe.” Over the past few weeks we have looked at some of the foundational beliefs of the Christian Church and how the Methodist founder John Wesley would have viewed them. We reach our last message in the series where we talked about the church. So what is the church? Well, the church is not a building. Many times we refer to buildings as churches, but the real church is what inhabits a physical space, a building.

The Greek word for church comes from “ekklesia.” Which really means “called out” and many times in the New Testament refers to an assembly, a group of people gathered for many different reasons. In fact, the word ekklesia is not exclusively used for talking about the Christian Church as we would say. It can have secular meanings as well.

So, using this language, we could say that the church is a group of people, called out by God to do his will; to love God and to love our neighbors. Pretty simple right? Well, as we see in scripture passages from Romans 12:3-8 & Ephesians 4:4-6,11-16, from the world around us, and even the world inside the four walls of our church building, we can emphatically say that it is not.

Paul, in his letters to the church in Rome and Ephesus, writes about unity within the church. Now, he probably would only be writing about this if it was a problem, if people weren’t being the church they were called to be. They, like many other churches, were having problems with unity. They were fighting among themselves, probably about what hymns or songs they should be singing, about what food they should have at the next potluck, about who said what to who, and maybe even about that person that showed up last week dressed like who knows what!

So, Paul is reminding them about who they are, who they were called to be. They, like us, are called to be the church, the gathered body of believers who God will use to bring about his plan.

A church needs to be a community. I once heard a pastor say that to take Christianity and make it a solitary religion is to kill it. At it’s very core, the church is community. The United Methodist Church will follow along with John Wesley as he talks about the church in connection. We are a community, connected with each other through our denomination as well as through Jesus Christ with all other believers.

Are we perfect? No. If we look at every church, we will find that none of them are. We are all a little dysfunctional in one way or another. This is because we are imperfect people, while we are moving towards Christian perfection, we are still imperfect. This is where problems, issues, attitudes, and so many other things come from. It’s just the way we are, but does that mean we can’t be the church God has called us to be? Absolutely not!

This past week, I spent time on a mission trip. I was one of two pastors who took three church youth groups on a work trip to Camp Courageous in Monticello, Iowa. It is here, every year, that I get a microcosm of what the Church is and can be. We start out divided; 3 churches, different kids, different lifestyles, different backgrounds. We work together, play together, talk together, pray and worship together. By the end of the week, the bonds have grown through the work, play, and worship. Friendships form, and many different jobs get completed, including the work of the Spirit in their lives.

Sure, there were tough times, sure there were times we didn’t all get along, sure there were times I would have liked to string a few of them up, but as I said earlier, we are imperfect people, but through the grace of God, we can accomplish more than we could ever dream of. This is the Church, this is the body of Christ as God has designed it.

As the body of Christ, we are called to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick, heal to hurting, show compassion, speak out against injustices, show mercy, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. How are we doing with that charge? Are we doing all of those things? Are we still holding tight to our individualism, looking for what’s in it for us? Are we too interested in our traditions and what we have always done, to allow the Spirit to move in our midst? We are the church, we are those chosen and called out by God to do his will, will you accept the call and participate in his kingdom?

We-Believe-Series-Bulletin-Cover-wk3We at Lanark UMC are in the middle of our worship series called “We Believe.” We are looking into some of the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Today, we focus on the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is instrumental to God’s plan for our lives and for our salvation. The Spirit is involved throughout our salvation process from prevenient grace and justifying grace, to sanctifying grace. We can see the Spirit’s involvement in our entire lives.

So, what does the Spirit do in our lives? The Spirit calls us out of complacency, into something new. Just a few months ago, the Spirit called out to Connie Lower and myself regarding a new worship opportunity, “Focus Point.” With the Spirit’s prodding and empowering, this service has begun and is reaching people for Christ. We are looking forward to our services in the park beginning this Saturday at 6pm. I encourage you to heed the Spirit’s calling as you feel urged to invite friends and neighbors for this great time of worship.

The Spirit prompts us to action. One day in August 2015, I felt an urge to call one of our members to stop by for a visit. Even though I was told that this person wasn’t going to be very responsive to me, I felt the Spirit’s nudge to go and visit. When I arrived the family still wasn’t sure if he would talk to me, but to my and their surprise, this person opened up and shared with me, many things about his life. He shared about his military experiences, how he got to Lanark, his family, and how much he loved his wife. It was a wonderful visit, and I might have missed it had I now listened to the Spirit.

The Spirit enlightens our understanding of scripture and many other things. I still remember spending a couple of days alone at my parent’s trailer on the lake in Wisconsin as I was discerning a call into ordained ministry. After much prayer and meditation, reading scripture and a book given to me about life in ministry, I was standing, looking over the little pond next to the trailer when I had a peace come over me. Even though it was 80 degrees, I felt a chill come over me and a feeling of peace that I can only explain as God, through the power of the Spirit, lavished upon me.

God knew that I was worried about this call of ordained ministry and this was telling me that everything was going to be alright. This was the encouragement that I needed from the Spirit.

The Spirit also intercedes for us, whether it is in prayer or even in our conversations with others. Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t know what to say, how to say it? Then the words came. I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself in those situations. Everytime I get ready to speak with someone or visit someone, I offer a prayer for God to send the Spirit to give me the words to say. Because I know that if they are my words, they will fall flat. I need God in those times. I do the same before every message. I want God’s words, not my words to be heard.

There are so many other areas where we can see the Spirit at work. I’m sure that if you took the time to reflect on the things going on around you, you would see the Spirit in everything.

So, here’s my challenge to you this week. I want you to look all around you and truly see where the Spirit is at work. Look at your life. Look at the lives of those around you, the ones you know and the ones you don’t. Then, at the end of each day, spend a little time thanking God for all the Spirit has done that day. And then ask for the Spirit’s help over the next day.