Archive for May, 2018

The Voice

MicrophoneMax Lucado once wrote this story;

Once there was a man who dared God to speak. Burn the bush like you did for Moses, God. And I will follow. Collapse the walls like you did for Joshua, God. And I will fight. Still the waves like you did on Galilee, God. And I will listen.

And so, the man sat by a bush, near a wall, close to the sea and waited for God to speak.

And God heard the man, so God answered. He sent fire, not for a bush, but for a church. He brought down a wall, not of brick, but of sin. He stilled the storm, not of the sea, but of a soul. And God waited for man to respond.

And he waited. . . And he waited. . . And waited.

But because the man was looking at bushes, not hearts; bricks and not lives, seas and not souls, he decided that God had done nothing. Finally, he looked to God and asked, ‘Have you lost your power?’ And God looked at him and said, ‘Have you lost your hearing?’

How’s your hearing today? Are you able to hear the still small voice of God? Are you able to hear the thundering shouts of God? How’s your hearing today?

The calling of Isaiah is an interesting story because I don’t know If Isaiah knew what was involved with God’s calling on his life. God asked the question, “Who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response was, “Here I am, send me!”

Recently, I needed to travel to Glenview for a meeting. I kind of knew where Glenview was, I mean, it’s a suburb of Chicago, right? It’s somewhere over by that big lake. I usually pride myself in being able to read maps and figure out the quickest route to destinations, but I’ve started to fall into the habit of asking Siri.

I pull up that trusty map program on my phone and enter the destination. In a matter of seconds, a route is programmed for me to follow. All I have to do is tap the ‘go’ button. There, my destination is 2 hours and 21 minutes ahead of me. How is it, that this little device can pinpoint an arrival time, down to the minute?

Well, for those of you who are not that technologically savvy, there are a number of things that happen, including the software accessing other phones from people who are on the same roads as you will be taking. It compiles all of that data, taking into consideration the traffic patterns, and gives you an extremely accurate arrival time.

But this time, something else happened. When I was about 30 minutes away, a message popped up and told me there was a faster route, one that would save me 6 minutes. Now, it looked as if I was going to be about 5 minutes late, so I jumped at the chance to increase my travel time. Without knowing what was ahead of me, I tapped the “go” button again and miraculously, the arrival time changed and I was going to be on time.

I trusted this little device with my immediate future. I didn’t know the ins and outs of the programming, if it was done right, if this device had my best interest in mind, or anything else. I just blindly clicked and followed along. Why is it so easy to trust our phones, and not God’s plan? Why is it so easy for us to follow the guidance of my GPS, but yet is so difficult to follow God’s will?

Isaiah didn’t know what was in store for him when God called him, but he trusted.

May we all hear the voice of God, trust Him, and follow where he leads. Like Isaiah, God will call us to bigger and better things, but there will be risks to take. There will be times of uncertainty. There will be times when we will need to take that step of faith and trust that God will take care of us.

Pentecost Sunday!

Pentecost1Pentecost Sunday, this is the birthday of the church as we remember scripture from Acts chapter 2. This celebration was this past Sunday. But what does that mean? Why would we call this the birthday of the church? What happened on this day so long ago?

I guess you could say that something profound, perplexing, and spiritual happened. This even caused Peter to exclaim to the people gathered these words; “for these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.” Those who witnessed this were surprised to say the least.  What was it?

The Holy Spirit was given to the people, just as Jesus promised as he was leaving. He said the comforter would come, the Holy Spirit, and this Spirit would teach us new things while reminding us of all that Jesus taught. The Spirit will fill us to overflowing and that is exactly what happened on this Pentecost day. This is also why so many were afraid and claiming those who the Spirit was falling upon were drunk.

On that day, there were many people from many different areas in Jerusalem. They all spoke different languages. But when the disciples and apostles gathered in a central place to worship and the Holy Spirit came, they began speaking in languages not their own. They were Galileans, but the language they spoke was not.

All of the others began hearing the message of Christ in their own language. How amazing that would be to see and hear this worship? Scripture tells us they were all amazed and perplexed at what they were hearing, but then Peter got up and spoke. He assured them that these people were not drunk, but that Joel had shared a prophecy about what was happening. He then proceeded to give testimony to Jesus Christ.

The people listened. They were taught by the apostles and were moved to care for each other by selling personal belongings and sharing the money with those who needed it. Acts 2:46-47 says this; “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

That is Pentecost! That is the birth of the church! That is what we celebrate!

But what does it mean for us today? Is this just a remembrance of the good times of the past? Is it like this with much of the other times within our own congregations? We remember the good times and wonder why it isn’t like that anymore.

Rest assured, we are not the only generation to think this. I think it’s common for anyone to look back and reminisce about the ‘good ole days.’ While it is good to celebrate and commemorate those days, it’s not good to live in them. When we do, it’s like we are claiming that God was at work back then, but we don’t see it today. We can look back and say exactly where God has been at work in the life of the church, but it becomes difficult for us to point to circumstances where God is at work today.

Maybe it would be best for us to spend the majority of our time focusing on the presence of God in our present and only occasionally looking to the past. Because God is still at work, God’s presence is here, it is now. God is still redeeming and loving. God is still saving and creating. God did not send the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost day to fill only those gathered there. God continues to send the Spirit to each one of us.

Do you feel the Spirit within you? Do you sense the power that comes with the Spirit’s presence? If you are questioning it, maybe it’s time to rekindle the Spirit within you, and what better time than this Pentecost season. Invite the Spirit in and call on it to give you strength, wisdom, and peace for your life today.

Here’s To You, Mom!

Happy mother's dayThis past Sunday we celebrated some special women in our lives. It was Mother’s Day; and I hope you were able to honor some of the mothers in your life, whether they were biological or those who have helped you through this life.

You see, too often, we approach Mother’s Day, especially in the church, with celebrations of those who fit our ‘perfect world’ view of what a mother is. The ones who seem to get the most recognition are those who are happily married and have one or more kids the natural way. It’s the vision we can see played out in movies or in social media. But we know this isn’t the case all the time. There are many moms out there who don’t fit the correct mold, per se. They don’t look like the picture-perfect mom that we have grown up thinking we should all be.

Here’s what I would like to say to all of the women listening today. You don’t have to. You don’t have to live up to what the world has painted as the ideal mom. Why? Because there is none. We are all different, we have different fruit, different kids in our lives, and that’s ok. There is no ideal mother role. You are all loved by our creator.

Think about the mothers that you have heard about in the Bible. You may have a hard time coming up with any that fit the ideal model. I know, you probably thought there would be a lot of them, giving us an example of how you should live as that perfect mom. The more you search, the more you find something quite different.

Eve had two sons who could not get along with each other. I wondered what the others would say about her parenting skills when they would not stop fighting. Hagar was pushed into a relationship with another woman’s husband just so she could have a kid. When she did, her relationship with her husband became so strained that he had to send her into the desert, alone. She was the first single mother. Naomi had to deal with the loss of not only her husband, but also that of her two sons.

Tamar had a very complicated journey on her way to becoming a mother, between losing her husband to death, having a brother-in-law cheat her out of pregnancy, and then finally having a child through an unsuspecting person (you’ll have to read all about it in Genesis 38), her path was not easy.

Rachel spent years watching her sister have four kids while she remained barren. She eventually had children, but the time she spent waiting and watching must have been incredibly difficult. Sarah had a late start. I mean a really, really, late start.

Moses’ mom had to give her son up. Placing him in a basket and sending him down the river so that he could be raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter. She knew what would happen to Moses if she kept him. In a way, this was the first adoption. Of course, then we have the Pharaoh’s daughter who took in Moses, adopted him, and cared for him as her own, even though she did not give birth to him.

Then we have the most prominent mother in scripture, Mary. But her story is not one of ease, a life of peace. No, hers begins as she is pregnant as a teenager. Young and scared, her story in a complicated one to say the least.

So, if you find yourself, or know someone who is having difficulty with being a mom because they don’t fit the mold, remember the many different mothers from scripture. It doesn’t matter if your motherhood is complicated, full of difficult kids, if you’ve lost a child, if you’ve watched while others have had kids, if you’ve wondered why others seem to have problem free pregnancies while you have gone through miscarriages or early deliveries, if you’ve given a child up for adoption or maybe adopted one yourself, if you’re a single mom, or maybe not a mom with your own kids but a mom to so many others who aren’t yours genetically. You are a mom, and we love you dearly!

You see, there’s no right way to be a mom. Your situation is not unusual. There are many going through the same thing as you are, and chances are, there are some in scripture who have experienced the same thing. You are not alone.

Here’s what I want you to hear today: Whether in joy or sorrow, comfort or peace, plenty or loss, singleness or married, complicated relationships, with difficult kids, kids not your own, or even no kids, you are a mother to someone, and you are a good mom, and God loves you!

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk5-option2She was a nurse employed at a residential care home in Western Oklahoma. It was a muggy summer night and many of the residents seemed more restless than usual. One of the patients, an elderly woman who seemed angry all the time and who most wouldn’t even venture near, was especially ill. Her doctor had quietly told the nurses she probably had only hours to live.

As the woman yelled loudly once again for someone to help her, the nurse hurried to the end of the hallway to her room. When she arrived at the room, like so many times before, the woman did not appear to need assistance, but seemed only to want someone with her. She complained she could not sleep and demanded the nurse do something about it.

The old woman had been a resident at the center for many years. She was known as a bitter person who complained long and loudly on a daily basis. No family ever visited her. Most of the nurses disliked treating her at all and even the most optimistic of the residents had given up trying to befriend her. Indeed, most only wanted to put distance between themselves and her constant complaining.

A little while later, the nurse returned to the woman’s room with a sleeping tablet prescribed by the doctor. She spoke in quiet tones to calm the woman who seemed very tired. Suddenly she looked up, terror filling her old eyes as she said, “I know I don’t have much longer to live and I’m afraid.” Big tears began to roll down her wrinkled cheeks as her eyes pleaded with the woman for understanding.

The nurse’s heart filled with compassion and she went to the woman then and put her arms around her. It was near midnight and her frail body shuddered as she cried. “I’m afraid to die,” she sobbed.

After many minutes, the nurse was finally able to quiet the old woman. She looked up at her from her bed, wrinkled cheeks wet with tears and asked “Would you stay with me? I’m so afraid.” The nurse remembered times when she was afraid and just wanted someone to hold her as well. She quietly nodded her head and climbed into bed with the old woman. She gently held her frail little body and stroked her hair until at last the sleeping pill took effect and she fell asleep.

In the early hours of morning, the nurse went back to check on the woman. Quietly opening the door and walking over to her bed, she saw that the woman looked peaceful, but then she saw she had stopped breathing. Tears again filled her eyes as she realized her kindness had been the last kindness shown to the old woman before she passed away that night.

The nurse in this story got it right!

True compassion does not stand and offer only words in time of need. Real compassion does not only look, it sees. The eyes of compassion see the pain and suffering of the other person and has the courage not only to look, but to look for ways to help, however small those ways might be.

It was only a few years ago that people within a small community displayed what the hands and feet of Jesus looked like. One of their own was given a diagnosis that no one wants to ever hear, it’s terminal. How do you go forward, what will happen to the family? Will those left behind be taken care of, and mostly, how will this crop ever be harvested?

No fear, God has called many to help. People showed up from all over, and they didn’t come empty handed either. All in all, 10 combines, 12 grain carts, 16 semis, and over 40 workers showed up. They weren’t asking questions of how much it would cost them, or how they would keep up with their own harvest time; only this question, how can I help? What can I do?

10 hours and 450 acres later, harvest was complete and Carl Bates and his family could rest knowing the job was complete. Hands and feet of Jesus Christ!

These are all examples of when people get it right, when people do what God has asked us to do. You see, we get it right when we accomplish God’s will here on earth. We get it right when we care for the sick, feed the hungry, speak up for those who suffer injustice, and love the “unlovable.” This is what Jesus did, and this is what he calls us to continue. And just as a passage from 1st Corinthians, chapter 13 tells us, everything we do should be done with love. Everything!

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk4-option2We find ourselves in the middle of a series of talks about when Christians get it wrong. Today our attention touches on a very sensitive subject, homosexuality. A recent survey found that among young adults, 91% of them felt that the church was “anti-gay.” This included those who attended and didn’t attend church. They thought that the church in general carried a stigma of judging, condemning, and even at times excluding of those who are part of the LGBTQ community.

Now, I grew up in a time that talking about this was not accepted, and when it was, it was usually in derogatory terms. Jokes and bullying were a major part of it. Some of you grew up feeling the same way. Some of you have grown up in a time when it just wasn’t talked about at all. But I must say, that the young adults and those in school right now, are in the middle of a generation that talks about it every day.

There have been many surveys completed on this topic and after looking at a few of them, I am struck by the increasing acceptance within generations of the LGBTQ community. There have been steady increases for many years, but in the last 10 years, the numbers have jumped.

Now, some of you may be thinking, should we let surveys and polls determine our beliefs? Should we allow popular public opinion to determine our theology and doctrine within the church? My opinion, is no. Scripture is always primary in how we determine those things.

John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was an educated man. He felt that there were other ways that we discern the will of God in our lives as well. John still believed that scripture was primary in this process, but that the traditions of the church, our individual experiences, and our intellectual reasoning also played a part in determining doctrine and theology.

This became known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. So, as we look to discern our beliefs around this topic of human sexuality, we use more than just scripture to find our sure footing. This is why there is such a great debate going on right now, not just within The United Methodist Church, but in most mainline denominations, even non-denominational churches.

For many, this is an issue of scriptural authority. There are passages that we direct ourselves to in order to determine our beliefs that this is wrong. Leviticus has passages that talk about this, and even Paul writes in his letter to the Romans about it. So how do we reconcile the differences in opinion? How do we decide which is right and which is wrong? Can we ever know?

Many will point to those passages and say that if we are to believe that we can change our stance on human sexuality, then how can we relate to the rest of the Bible. If we throw out those selected verses that speak about homosexuality, where do we stop? Does that call into question the whole of scripture, and does that now mean that we can’t take anything that the Bible says as accurate and trustworthy. It is a slippery slope, is it not?

A few weeks ago, I preached on the topic “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” This follows along pretty closely with this topic.

But then there are others who will say that we have already done just that. There was a gentleman who wrote a book called “A Year of Living Biblically.” Author A.J. Jacobs attempted to live his life for a year as closely to the laws and teachings of the Bible as he could. What he found was that it was next to impossible to actually do it.

You see, if we follow scripture as it is written, then we need to give up eating pork and shellfish. We need to refrain from any work on the Sabbath and that includes mowing or weeding and even anything that would force someone else to work, like dining out or shopping. If we are caught stealing, we need to cut off our hand. If we look lustfully at another person, we should gouge out our eye.

Women should be silent in churches, our clothing should never be made of more than one type of fabric, and we should also dress modestly; no gold, pearls, or expensive clothing. Oh, and for those who have retirement plans, remember that we should not store up for ourselves treasures on earth. There were also things that deserved penalty by death, like disrespecting our parents, working on the Sabbath, and adultery.

Some would say that we have already removed passages that no longer speak to context that we are currently in.

One more, huge challenge that the church faced split the Methodist church, came back in 1844. It began in 1784 when the Methodist denomination officially opposed slavery. The schism, or split, happened around 1844, with those who condoned slavery leaving the denomination to form Methodist Episcopal Church South, only to rejoin in 1939.

The Bible talks considerably more about slavery than many of the topics I just mentioned earlier, including human sexuality. What made us change our minds? What allowed us to sense a change in direction? Could it be the value on human life? That we are all created in the image of God? And could some of the teaching in scripture be contextually different than our day?

Acts chapter 10, speaks of a dream that Peter was having. Many view this as a vision of what could be called ‘progressive revelation.’ The idea that God is up to something new. Peter’s hungry, I know there are many times I can relate to that, and he just wants something to eat. Maybe he’s fasting and that’s when the dream comes. And in this dream, he sees a sheet, maybe a tablecloth, that is coming down from heaven. On it are all of these different things that Peter knows he shouldn’t eat.

But a voice tells him, “What God has made clean, do not call profane.” God is up to something new. The context is changing. Instead of relying on what he has been taught with regards to the unclean animals, he sees the new message and he tells those in the church what has happened. In Acts 11:17, Peter is testifying to the those in the church in Jerusalem, and they are challenging him because he went to the Gentiles and ate with them. But Peter says this, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

Grace is a gift that God offers to all of us, and He can give this gift to whomever he chooses. Who are we to judge, when it is God’s gift to give. This is a word about how we are to live with everyone.

Over the past few years, I have many conversations with those who find themselves in this LGBTQ community. All of them have brought a few things to light for me, because you see, when I was growing up, it was drilled into me by society that this was a choice. That people choose who they love and how that is manifested in the different genders. However, in almost every conversation, the following truth came. This is not a choice. This was who they are. In fact, many of them tried to change. Society forced them, by how they were viewed and treated, to try and go against everything within them to be “normal.”

It absolutely broke my heart to sit with people who felt so degraded, beat up, bullied, and shunned as they did. There were stories of parents turning their backs on their own kids. There were stories of constantly being picked on by classmates and co-workers. How can we, as God’s people, as the church, turn our backs on God’s creation? We are called to love God and love our neighbor. That doesn’t have a “except clause” in it. It doesn’t say that we should love everyone except that group of people. It says all.

How are we going to love all? How are we going the accept and include all? What does inclusive look like in your communities? Do you know? Can we all agree to get it right when it comes to loving and accepting all people? Can we stop talking about people behind their backs? Can we stop judging others for their view on human sexuality? Can we just love each other?