Archive for August, 2017

LUMC O--NPsalm 124 begins “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side.” That statement is followed by remembrances of things that God has delivered them from. They are thinking about all the things that could have gone wrong, but didn’t. This Psalm is a celebratory one speaking of the time following the Israelites from exile in Babylon. They are thankful, grateful, and excited that God has delivered them from those horrible times they were living in.

When I hear the words of God being on our side, there are many times I think of sporting events where people thank God for giving them the victory; like God wanted the Bears to win because he is not a Packer fan. It’s absurd. Certainly, you can thank God for the gifts and talents that you have and that you are using them to glorify God. Professional athletes have a very big stage that they can proclaim God’s love to a very wide audience, that’s what they should be thanking God for, not for providing them victory.

However, if we look at this Psalm and the phrase, “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,” as it relates to our lives today. I think we can look into our history and reflect on the ways we have seen God’s hand working in our lives. We can see those times when we thought things were not going to turn out like we hoped, that we were going to fail, maybe that things were going to fall apart. But then God placed his hands on a situation and delivered us from pain, suffering, or just a bad situation.

This past Sunday, we shared many things in the history of Lanark United Methodist Church and pointed to the faithfulness of God in all times which has helped his people throughout history. I think we all could see where God has used so many experiences in our history so that we could learn and grow in our faithfulness of him.

So I have a few questions for you. Where have you seen God’s hand in your life? What has God delivered you from; a bad relationship, alcohol, drugs, hate? When you look back over your life, can you see times when God was there, even if you couldn’t recognize it at the time?

Maybe you’re in one of those situations right now and are not sure how you are going to make it. You don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Take heart and trust in God. As we can see through this Psalm 124, God will provide. He has always provided in the past, so why wouldn’t he now or in the future?

This reminds me of a famous poem which talks about a dream that someone was having. They dreamt that they were walking along a beach with God and as they reflected on their lives they noticed that in the hard times, they noticed only one set of footprints in the sand. So this person questioned God about why he would leave them, especially when they needed him the most. God replied, ‘My child, those times when you see only one set of footprints in the sand. Those were the times I carried you.’

God never leaves us, he will never abandon us. When we find ourselves in those troubled times, take time to reflect on times in the past when God has helped, and trust that God will continue, because he has promised to.

Where does our help come from? “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Lessons From A Fig Tree

Storyteller-Series-Week6This week we concluded our series called ‘Storyteller.’ This has been a wonderful 6 weeks considering some of the parables of Jesus. Now we finish with a short story about a little fig tree found in Luke chapter 13:6-9. It is a story about repentance, about turning from our old ways and deciding to follow Jesus Christ. It’s about second chances. It’s about the grace that is given to us all in our second, third, fourth, or whatever chance you are on today.

But there’s another part to this story. We’ve heard stories about the owner, gardener, and the fig tree. But what about the soil, what about the manure that is mentioned here? Where are you planted? I know that physically, you are planted within a community. You may be planted on a farm, in town, a house or an apartment. But where are you planted spiritually? Where is your spiritual life grounded? In family, friends, in a relationship with Jesus Christ? Where?

In our story, the fig tree is planted in the vineyard. It was not planted in the Judean wilderness, not in the desert where almost nothing grew. It was planted in fertile soil, a place where grapevines flourished. This fig tree had ample resources for growth, for producing fruit, yet it still was barren.

Where are you planted? What kind of soil surrounds your roots? Many of you are planted in a church family. You are surrounded by people of strong faith and solid beliefs. You are like the fig tree planted in the vineyard. But some of you are still not bearing fruit, like the fig tree. Some of you are struggling in your faith. Some of you are uncertain of where you stand in your relationship with Jesus. This parable has a message for those of us in this place. It’s not too late. God offers us a second chance, but it is through the gardener who wants to fertilize us. He wants to spread manure. Sounds inviting. I know, just what my life needs, a little more manure.

So, I guess we really should look at what this manure could be. It is fertilizer, and what does fertilizer do? It makes things grow and flourish. What makes us grow and flourish in our spiritual lives? A relationship with Jesus Christ and a devotion to the spiritual disciplines. Jesus Christ, the gardener, wants to help us grow but we must be participating in our spiritual disciplines if this is going to happen.

We need to be spending time in prayer, studying the scriptures, and meditation. This is your 15 minutes alone with God. But there’s more to it. We can also add worship, confession, service, and celebration, especially in the sacraments. This is John Wesley’s view of the means of grace, those things we should be participating in to grow in our faith and our relationship with God.

Where are you planted? Are you firmly planted in your relationship with Jesus Christ or do you need a little manure to help you grow? It all begins with your 15 minutes. That time you dedicate to spending alone with your personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I know I talk a lot about this, but it is that important. You need to have that time. It is foundational to all your other relationships. Don’t shortchange yourself by skimping on this time.

Think of this time as getting rooted where you are planted, allowing this time to fertilize your relationship with Jesus Christ. Grow and flourish in the grace of God. Produce fruit that is pleasing to him through your life. Amen.

Where’s the Guest List?

Storyteller-Series-Week5Here we are, in the middle of our series of messages in ‘Storyteller.” And today we find ourselves in the middle of Luke, chapter 14 where Jesus is telling a story about a great banquet while he is attending a dinner party with the religious leaders of the day.

Jesus is a dinner guest at not just a Pharisee’s house, but the ruler of the Pharisees. This is the one with the power, the clout, the influence in the community. This is an important dinner…for those who were invited.

Jesus was invited probably so they could trap him in some of his teachings, show that he was not doing the right things, and better yet, that he was breaking the law. So, Jesus begins to tell more stories, more parables. And these did not sit well with those in attendance.

Imagine that you are throwing this wonderful party for a significant person, and they tell a story which implicates you and how you planned this party. He is telling you that you did everything wrong, or at least had the wrong motivations behind your actions. It would not sit well with you either.

Jesus tells them that their guest lists should not include anyone who can make their lives better. Those who would bring gifts, prestige, acclaim to the party should not be on the guest list. You should invite all of those who can’t bring you anything, who can’t forward your career by ‘buttering them up.’

But even with this story, someone at the party, feeling confident about their place in the Kingdom, blurts out ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God.’ Meaning himself, those at the table with him. So then, Jesus dives into this other story, this great banquet.

In those days, a great banquet or party required advance notice, not unlike today in some respects. But here, everyone would have been invited and when it came time for the party to begin, the notifications would have gone out. Like the servant going into the neighborhood to let everyone know that the preparations had been made and the party was ready.

Here’s where we find three guest lists. The original list, all of those who were initially invited were the ones told about the party being ready. One by one, they all came up with excuses as to why they couldn’t make it to the party. I just purchased land, I just got some new oxen, and I just got married!

For some reason, no one wanted to go to the party. Ever have one of those parties. You were invited, RSVP’d, but then thought that you didn’t want to go? You made up some strange excuse as to why you couldn’t go and hoped the host didn’t mind. But this is God’s party, this is the great banquet that we are all looking forward to, right? So, we’ve made a decision to follow Jesus, living for the Kingdom, looking forward to the great party. But then things come up.

Work is so busy, I just can’t take time out of my schedule to do ‘that’ God. Give me a little time, maybe next month, or next year. “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it.” Verse 18

This new car is sure fun to drive, maybe when I get back from this road trip I can volunteer some time. This new game is so cool, I have to try and reach all the levels. Once I’m done I can help out. “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out.” Verse 19

My spouse and I are so busy trying to keep up with our friends, our kids keep us so busy. But as soon as things settle down, we’ll focus on our relationship with you, God. “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” Verse 20

Excuses, excuses. We are so full of them, aren’t we? What excuses have you given to not follow God’s call in your life? In what ways have you turned down God’s invitation to this great feast? God doesn’t want to hear our excuses. He doesn’t want us to delay in the calling he has for our lives. He wants us to follow him, wherever and whenever he calls us. Amen.

Who Am I?

Storyteller-Series-Week4Luke 18:9-14 is a parable which talks about two characters. We have a Pharisee, a religious leader, and a tax collector. These two give us insight into not only how to, and how not to pray, but also into our views of ourselves.

As we listen or read a good story, even watch a movie or TV show, we try to put ourselves in the place of one of the characters in the story. We feel a connection with one or more of those mentioned in the story and therefore can relate to that character. So the story goes; the Pharisee is praying to God, boasting about how he is living his life and also thanking God that he is not like other people, those sinners. Then we have the tax collector who is praying a simple prayer, God have mercy on me, a sinner. This man doesn’t even look upward, he faces the ground and beats his breast in humility.

The comparisons between these two are great. They both stand far off from the congregation, one places himself higher than the rest, while the other doesn’t even feel worthy to in the temple in the first place. One looks heavenward while the other can’t bear to look even close to where the face of God might be.

Then we have their prayers. One prays about his accomplishments, about how he is living his life. His prayer is filled with “I” statements. Then he thanks God that he is not like other people, that he is different, that he is not a sinner like the tax collector. While on the other side, the other is praying a simple prayer of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. He is praying because he believes he is not worthy of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.

So, who are you in this story? Are you the Pharisee, or the tax collector? Do you find yourself relating to the prayers of the Pharisee, telling God all the good things that you’ve done? Or do you see yourself as unworthy of God’s love, beating your breast and crying out to God to have mercy on you?

Maybe you find yourself somewhere in the middle, not exactly either of these two people. But then you think, you know, maybe I’m not quite like the tax collector. I haven’t cheated anyone out of money, I haven’t lied to forward my financial gain. But you know what? I certainly am not like the Pharisee! God, thank you that I am not like the Pharisee…

As soon as we think this, we realize that we have just become the Pharisee. Without realizing what has just happened, we find ourselves in the shoes of the religious leader. We didn’t want to be there. How did this happen?

Jesus’ parables were meant to teach, but they were also meant to reveal deeper truths. It is so easy for us to take the first meaning that comes along to us, that we should be like the tax collector, humbled before God. But then we miss the other dangers of comparing ourselves to the Pharisee which then places us right there next to him, feeling proud that we were not like him. But yet here we are.

This is a story of being humble, of worshiping God from a place of humility. Those that exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Humble yourself and receive the rich mercy, grace, and love that God has for you this day. Amen.

If You Will Ask…

Storyteller-Series-Week3Today we find ourselves in week three of a series called ‘Storyteller’ where we are focusing on the parables of Jesus. This week we turn our attention to prayer as we look at a story about a judge and a widow. Jesus is telling us a story about two people, two characters who couldn’t farther apart in status. But these people can tell us about our lives and about how we can look at prayer.

First, we have this judge, and he is one who doesn’t fear God and has no respect for anyone else. I guess we could ask; how did this person become a judge in the first place? Maybe it was the power that went to his head. We don’t know, but we do know that he was probably not fit to do his job. He was corrupt, looking out for those who could line his pockets with all he thought he needed.

Then a widow enters this story who is looking for justice. This judge, possibly looking to the other party in the case, doesn’t want to give her the justice she deserves. But the widow is persistent. She continues to show up at his court, asking for justice. Day after day, she pleads with him to hear her cry for help, and rule in her favor. It says that for a while he refused, but finally, after many days of pleading, the judge gives in.

But why did he change his mind? What made him make this new decision? It was her persistence. It says in one translation, that he was worried about her wearing him down. The Greek translates closer to a boxing match. It refers to striking under the eye, giving him a black eye. She was giving this judge a black eye, she was making it pretty plain that he was not doing his job, so he gives in and grants her the justice she desires.

This parable is comparing God to this unjust judge. If the judge grants justice and mercy to this widow after a time of pleading, won’t God grant even more. God is faithful, the judge was not. God desires to give us all we need, he wants us to ask for it. Now listen to this; if we truly believe that God is the one who provides all that we will ever need, then prayer is not optional.

So, why don’t we? Why don’t we spend more time in prayer? Is it that we don’t know how, maybe we feel we are no good at it? Or is it a little deeper than that? Maybe we feel that it really doesn’t do any good, that the results are not what we were looking for.

What good does prayer do if God never answers? I know I’ve asked that question many times. A friend or family member is in need of healing, as is experiencing a painful struggle and my prayer was to relieve them of what they were going through, offer healing to them. But God didn’t show up. They either continued on in pain, or the healing never came. So what good did my prayer do? Why even continue on with it?

Garth Brooks once recorded a song called unanswered prayers. It was about a desire of his for a relationship with a girl. I know, pretty petty, but for a teenager, it’s not that far fetched. Anyway, God never answers that particular prayer, but that was because he had something far better for him. The problem is in calling them ‘unanswered prayers.’

God answers prayers, all the time. It just may not be in our view of timing. Silence from God is at times, an answer to a prayer. The question is whether we will have the faith to withstand the silence in preparation for the true answer to our prayer.

So how do we pray? When do we pray? How often do we pray? One other thing I would like to impress upon you. Prayer doesn’t have to be only for things we feel we need. God is not a genie in a bottle, granting wishes for those who believe in him. Does he want to hear when you are having troubles and are in need? Yes, but he also wants more.

God wants you to have conversations with him. Tell him what’s going on in your life, your celebrations, your worries, your fears. Thank him for all those things he has blessed you with, and then petition for others. Prayers don’t have to be fancy, full of theological words. Talk to him like you would a close friend. Isn’t that who God is to you, a close friend?

When God’s people pray, things happen. Things change, people change when we call on the Holy Spirit. If you truly believe that God is the one who provides all that you will ever need, then prayer is not optional.