Archive for January, 2018


Sermon-Slide-Wk2In case you missed last week’s message, we are in the middle of a worship series called ‘Half-Truths.’ We are looking at those phrases that on the outside, look like they could be correct, but when we really get into the meaning of them, we see that they couldn’t possibly be true.

In our first week we looked at the phrase ‘Everything happens for a reason’ and after some discussion, we realized that this couldn’t possibly be true. For detail on this message, you can refer to our website at lanarkumc.com.

This week we focused in on ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ It was surprising to me to see how many people thought this was a scripture passage in the Bible. Although it sounds like a proverb, this is not found in scripture. It was made popular by Ben Franklin in the 1730’s. So, we ask the question, is this true or not? I would argue that there are instances when it could be true, but there are also times when it most certainly is not, thus making this a ‘half-truth.’

Adam Hamilton speaks about this in his book as he explains that when we thank God for our food when we share grace, we acknowledge that our food didn’t just magically appear. There was a lot of work that needed to be done in order for this food to arrive. Planting, harvesting, transporting, stocked shelves, and even preparing come into play to make the food appear before us at mealtimes. 2 Thessalonians 3 even tells us about those who would not work. Paul tells them that they should not eat. So, if we look at it through these eyes, then yes, God helps those who help themselves. But that’s not all that God wants us to hear today.

For those who can work, they should work. But what about those who can’t? What about those who have physical disabilities, mental health issues? What about those who live in poverty who can’t see to get out of the hole they find themselves in? Does God, who have said in this phrase, only wanting to help those who help themselves, leave these people on the outside looking in. Does he leave them on the margins of society? Scripture tells us no.

There are passages in Leviticus which gives laws on how to harvest, leaving some of the food around the edges for the poor, to leave the food that has fallen on the ground for the less fortunate to pick up because they can’t afford anything else. Jesus teaches that we should care for the widows and orphans, that we should be like the Samaritan who tended to the man who couldn’t help himself on the side of the road. Then, in the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus tells us that we are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the lonely, and if we do those things, we do them unto Jesus.

You see, God helps those who can’t help themselves, and he does it by using each one of us. He sends us out to serve where he calls us. I guess you could call this paying it forward as we lay up these treasures of helping others in heaven.

But there’s another way that I can say this phrase is incorrect and it comes in one word, grace. Romans 5:8 tells us this; “but God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This does not say that once you get your life right, once you pick yourself up and get everything in order, only then will I help you. No. It tells us that while we were in the pit, unable to pick ourselves up, God reached down and lifted us from the mud and clay, and set us on dry ground.

All of this is a gift. We didn’t deserve it and we certainly can’t earn it. This gift of grace is freely given to all of us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.”

There are times when we can help ourselves, and we should. But there are times when we can’t, and that’s called grace!

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Everything Happens for a Reason?

Sermon-Slide-Wk1How many times have you heard the phrase; “Everything happens for a reason?” How many times have you said it? Does it bring comfort in times of uncertainty, in times when things seem to be falling apart? Do you believe it, that everything does happen for a reason?

Over the next few weeks we will be talking about phrases like this that we would consider a half-truth, something that sounds true, but when we reflect on it, can’t possibly be.

We’ve all been in a situation like these; a friend just lost their job, a co-worker’s mother just passed away, a relative was just in an accident and is paralyzed, and the first words out of our mouths is “I’m sorry to hear, but you know what? Everything happens for a reason.” Comforting? Maybe we say it using different words. How about; “It was meant to be, it must have been their time.” Or some of my favorites; “It was all part of the plan, or It was God’s will.” While these point to a truth that God’s ways are higher than our ways and that we don’t get to see the ‘big picture,’ they fall short of who God is and what is happening around us.

So, does everything happen for a reason? Is all of this part of God’s plan? My very simple, straight-forward answer to you today, is no. It is not all part of God’s plan, and everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Part of the issue that I have with these kinds of statements is that by using the word ‘everything’ or ‘all,’ you include every instance, every occurrence, every time, every place, everything down to the smallest of details. It’s like another phrase that heard over and over again, ‘never say never.’ It’s all inclusive, no exceptions. It’s an ‘absolute.’

EHFAR Meme2I remembered seeing a meme online once that referred to this phrase, but it said this “everything happens for a reason, but sometimes those reasons are that you are stupid and make bad decisions.” This is a little closer to what I believe about things happening for a reason. You see, I have a few problems with this statement, a few things that when you really reflect on the deep meaning, when you take this simplistic statement and stretch it further down the line, things start to fall apart. Let’s look at a few of them.

First, if we believe that everything happens for a reason, then people are let off the hook. We have no responsibility. In fact, no one has any personal responsibility to things that happen to them. Whatever is going to happen will happen because it is the will of God. Adam Hamilton talked about this by saying that “if I cheated on my wife, it’s because God wanted me to cheat on her, or if I was involved in an accident because I was texting while driving, or drinking while driving and the other person was killed, then it must have been their ‘time.’ It wasn’t because I was doing something that I shouldn’t have been. God must have put me up to this to accomplish his ‘greater’ good. I was only doing what God already planned for me.” You see how this is beginning to not make sense.

While we are at it, if everything happens for a reason, that would mean that God is responsible for all of the horrible things that go on in this world. Those 12 kids in California were starved because God wanted them to be, for his plan. All of those people in Las Vegas who were shot by someone out of a hotel window, were injured or died because it was part of God’s overall plan, therefore it needed to happen. Every instance of sexual abuse, child abuse, all of the wars, violence, terrorist attacks, and even the natural disasters like earthquakes and storms were all part of the plan. God caused them to happen so that He could complete the master plan. Is it starting to fall apart for you now?

Some things happen for a reason. God steps in and miracles and signs happen, there are times when we see glimpses of the Kingdom, those moments when you definitively say, that was God! Those are God shots, and those happen for a reason. But not everything is that way. Many things happen because God loved us enough to give us the chance to make choices, and sometimes those choices are bad ones which affect us and those around us. It is here that I see Paul’s words to the church in Rome to be significant. “And we know for those who love God all things work together for the good, for those who are called to his purpose.”

My belief, as I have mentioned many times before, is that God does not cause these bad things to happen, but he will, in his power and wisdom, work his plan through them. Weaving our choices into the tapestry of the master’s plan.

Tent Peg Migraine

Strange Things Sermon Slide Week 3In case you missed last week’s message, we are studying some strange things that we find in the Bible. Last week was a talking donkey, while this week is a weird one of a woman killing a commander with a tent peg. But as strange as the story is, there is a message for us today. Let’s check it out.

The passage comes to us from Judges chapter 4 and our main characters are Barak, Deborah the judge, Sisera and Jael. The story begins with Israel wanting to defeat the Canaanites with an army led by Sisera. Deborah, who is leading the Israelites at the time, calls upon Barak to lead an army into battle. She tells him that the Lord has proclaimed victory for them and will deliver Sisera into their hands. But Barak is not so sure. He questions this message with a request for Deborah. He asks her to go along with him. “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” She then tells him that because of his lack of courage, Sisera will still be defeated, but instead of Barak getting the credit, it will be given to a woman. Jael to be exact.

Well, the battle goes on as promised, and Barak defeats Sisera’s army, just as God had said. But Sisera escapes during the battle and runs to a camp well outside the battlezone. He makes it to the tent camp of Heber the Kenite near Kedesh. This is good news because Heber would have been friendly to Sisera as there was peace between Jabin the king and the Kenites. Heber is not home, but his wife Jael is. She invites him into the tent. No one would expect to find him there as men were not allowed into tents of women, unless they were her husband. Sisera felt safe. After giving him some milk, she covered him with a blanket and he laid down. Exhausted by the battle, Sisera quickly falls asleep. Jael, being no stranger to setting up tents in the middle of the desert, picks up a stake and proceeds to drive it into Sisera’s temple, in essence, nailing him to the ground.

After this weird scene unfolds, we hear that Barak was pursuing Sisera and finally arrives on site. Jael welcomes him and lets him know that she has who he has been looking for. Come and see. God delivered on his promise, that the battle would be won, but Sisera would be defeated by a woman.

Courage, this is what Barak lacked. Courage, it’s what God wanted for him. Courage, it’s what Deborah and Jael both had in abundance. To be able to declare this promise from God, Deborah had great courage. To invite the commander of an army into your tent so calmly, and then to kill him with a strange weapon, Jael had incredible amounts of courage.

How much courage do you have? Are you like Barak, or maybe Deborah or Jael? What does Deborah and Jael have that Barak ain’t got? Courage. But I think they have something even more than just courage. Courage by itself can get you into a heap of trouble. You may have the courage to step into a burning building, but if you don’t have knowledge or wisdom about fire, you could be stepping into a grave situation. Blind courage can be a bad thing, but courage, coupled with wisdom and trust in our God, is a force to be reckoned with.

How many times do trust and courage go together? Throughout scripture, I would say almost always. Joshua 1:9; “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Deborah gave a message to Barak, and he needed to trust it. He didn’t have full faith in what was being asked so the victory was credited to someone else.

What message are you hearing today, from a friend, a family member, a pastor, or maybe even a stranger, that you need to listen to and obey. The request is made, you just need to step outside of the boat. What victory is God proclaiming to you today.

Are You Talking to Me?

Strange Things Sermon SlideThis past Sunday, we began a worship series that focuses on some of the strange things we find in the bible. You see, sometimes it is good to look at these weird stories and reflect on what they might mean for us today. How is God speaking through these passages?

Our first story was that of a talking donkey. Now for those of you who know of Shrek, this isn’t too far-fetched, but then again, that was a cartoon movie. Our story today is about Balak who is the king of Moab and he feels threatened by the Israelites. He wants to beat them, but he knows that he can’t without someone’s help. So, he hires Balaam to curse Israel. He sends an entourage with gifts to entice Balaam to come and make this infamous curse, but there’s a problem. When the offer is made, Balaam says that he needs to sleep on it. During the night, God speaks in a dream, telling Balaam not to go with these men. In the morning, he gives them the news which was not well received back home.

Another entourage is sent out with better gifts, hoping that the money was the issue and this new offer will be enough to get him to come and curse these people. Again, Balaam says he needs to sleep on it. This time he is told that he can go, but he must stick to a certain script, God’s script. They all agree and off they go. Now I’m not sure what happened on the road. Maybe Balak’s people got to Balaam and convinced him to change his mind about listening to this God and following His plan, or maybe Balaam’s pride was beginning to get in the way. Either way, something changed during the journey and God noticed the change in Balaam’s attitude and intentions.

So, he sends a messenger to remind Balaam what he needs to do, or he would die before reaching his destination. But herein lies a problem. Balaam doesn’t see the messenger. It could have been his pride that got in the way, we’re not sure. But we do know that he didn’t see the messenger. How, because of this interesting story that follows.

His donkey, that he has been riding on this journey, gets interrupted three times along the way. Upon seeing the messenger from God the first time, the donkey veers off the path into a field. With a little persuasion from a beating, the donkey returns to the path. The next time, the path is narrower, and the donkey pushes Balaam’s foot against a wall. A beating ensues again, and then they are on their way. But the last time the messenger appears, it is at a spot where there was no room for a diversion. So, the donkey proceeds to sit right down and take a break.

Another beating takes place, but this time the donkey speaks up, literally. He has a few choice words for Balaam. He questions why he is being treated this way because he has never done anything like this before. He was always a trusty steed for Balaam. After a bit of conversation with his animal, Balaam’s eyes were opened by God and he now saw the messenger which was blocking the way earlier. The donkey saved his life because the messenger tells Balaam that he would have killed him if they didn’t stop. Balaam finally realizes his problem and repents, and even suggests that he return home. But God has bigger plans and tells him to go ahead with the trip, but to only say and do what God wants him to.

How many times in our lives, do we travel this life and miss the messages of God? We don’t hear because we feel like we don’t trust the source. We think that God couldn’t possible speak through this person or that experience. So, we shut our eyes and ears to the message. We close our hearts and don’t let God’s word ring true within us. Are we like Balaam, too proud to hear a message from God, because WE think it can’t be from God? What disasters await us because of our pride, because we don’t want to listen to others who may be carrying a message from God?

I am reminded of the story of the Titanic, a ship that no one believed could sink. It was the best, the most luxurious, the elite of all sailing vessels. Everyone knew it, and a few in charge wanted to flaunt it. Ignoring warnings by others, they pushed through icy waters at speeds they shouldn’t have been traveling. When to dangers appeared, it was too late. Unlike Balaam, they didn’t have someone who made them stop. Unlike Balaam, they powered right through the stop sign, and there was no turning back.

What stop sign is right in front of you today? Is there a message for you that you have ignored for too long? Is God trying to get you to slow down, to listen, to grow deeper in your relationship with him? God is speaking today. God is calling today. Are you listening closely?

Reflection on the Season

Week 6 - Epilogue ReflectionsThis past Sunday was also the last day of the year in 2017. This was a day that we celebrated with scripture passages and carols throughout the service. We heard the Christmas story again as we have so many years in the past, but I encouraged all to hear like never before.

As I reflected on our entire worship series called “Christmas Traditions,” I realized that one of the downsides of them are the usual and familiar nature of traditions. We get so used to celebrating them that they become second nature and we lose all meaning as we just ‘go through the motions.’ It becomes as stated in Eccesiastes “Everything is meaningless.”

But it doesn’t have to be. As we heard during worship on Sunday, the words of old, the message of old, can have new meaning if we just allow God to speak through the words and enter our hearts anew. The words can speak to us in fresh ways, just as our traditions can breathe deep meaning into our lives, as long as we approach them a bit differently. If we watch closely, listen deeply, and participate fully in those activities.

So, we read and listened to the story again, the greatest story ever told, the story of God’s sacrificial love for each and every one of us. How can we ever become tired of hearing this story? How can the meaning behind God’s actions become less than miraculous? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is the beginning of the story, just the beginning. This story continues on. We follow this story up to Easter as we celebrate Jesus’ life and his death on the cross. But the story doesn’t end there. The story continues in our lives as we live for him, as we strive to complete God’s plan for our lives. The story continues, even after we are no longer on this earth. The story continues…

So, as you reflect on this past Advent season, this past Christmas season, our celebrations, and even our quiet times, what has spoken to you? Did you find one of your traditions with more meaning than years past?  Maybe while attending the candle light worship service on Christmas Eve, you found yourself reflecting on those lives from your past that helped shape who you are today. Maybe during your time of opening Christmas gifts, you smiled a little bigger, laughed a little louder, or thanked a little deeper this year. Maybe you were able to spend some time wandering the streets of your neighborhood, admiring the lights which glowed into the night, illuminating your path and reminding you of the true light in your life, Jesus Christ.

Whatever it was this year, I hope that God was able to open your eyes and hearts to something new, or maybe something old with a new meaning. These are treasures that we keep in our hearts. May God bless them and multiply them in your lives, especially in this new year. May God truly bless you this year.