Archive for August, 2018


Silence….

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Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10a)

What does it mean to be silent. to wait on the Lord? What does it look like to not speak, but just enjoy the presence of the Almighty right where you are?

I am reminded of a moment when I was able to reflect the presence of God in the midst of terrible tragedy. I was in the middle of my clinical pastoral education at a local hospital, providing chaplain services to the patients who were suffering there. My pastoral duty, I thought, was to give wise counsel, to provide words of hope and promise to so many who felt distanced from God and from the peaceful realities of this life. I thought I was supposed to have answers or the right words to say. And for the most part, I thought I did pretty well in this area, until that one day…

It was a day like many others. It was a day that was filled with patient room visits, conversations with nurses and doctors. It was a day that seemed normal. I finished my rounds of visits and paperwork, and was finally on my way home. I reflected on what had happened throughout the day and was pleased with the words that God had given me to speak and the comfort they provided for those in the hospital. Dinner with the family was normal, almost forgettable. But then everything changed.

My pager went off a little after dinner. When I called in to find out the circumstances, I learned that it was for an infant baptism. The doctors were concerned with the health of this newborn and informed the parents of possible outcomes. When I arrived, there was a flurry of activity around the bedside of this little one. I was able to baptize the infant and then stepped back to observe the doctors, nurses, and parents.

It was a couple of hours later that I was called back to the room because of the decision which needed to be made by the parents. It was excruciating to bear witness to the death of a newborn boy. I couldn’t imagine what the parents were thinking and feeling. Following the decision, we were led into a different room so that the parents could be alone with their son. I followed them in and stood off to the side.

As I stood there, I was thinking that I should say something, anything, but what? How could any words in this moment speak comfort or peace when there seemed to be a complete lack of it. I began to question, as I was sure the parents were, to the presence of God in this moment. Why were there no words coming to mind to share with this family? I had gone through so much of this chaplaincy with pride in knowing what to say and when to say it, now…nothing.

I stood for what seemed like eternity. Then I looked around and found a chair to sit down on. I then rested for another half-hour or so. After listening to the family cry, one of the members asked if I would share a prayer. As best I could, I lifted a prayer for peace and understanding, for strength and wisdom in such a time. Before leaving the room, I let the family know that I would be right outside if they needed anything else.

It was the next day that I understood what God had called me to that night. I met with the parents and once again expressed my deepest sympathy and pain in their loss. It was then that the mother spoke to me. She expressed that she was thankful for all that I had done for them. When I asked what it was, she responded by telling me that it was because I sat down. In that moment, when things were swirling around and the world was crashing down around them, they felt the very presence of God. It was nothing I said. It was in the silence that God spoke to them. This is the very definition of the ‘ministry of presence.’

When we face terrible times in our lives, are we silent and still before God? Are we so in tune with God’s voice that we hear him speak in the silence, the stillness? Although we need to feel God’s presence in those difficult time, we also need to feel it everyday. How are your 15 minutes going?

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10a

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Sermon-Title-Slide---Wk4Words are powerful. Words have deep meaning. Words can encourage. Words can diminish. Words can make you feel like you are invincible and then bring you to your lowest point of self-worth. Words are important. Words are power.

This is how we started this worship series three weeks ago, and again each week since. We are talking about our words and how we use them.

Do we build up, or tear down? Do we hurt others with them, or do we offer life-giving words? What has it been for you this week? Have you reflected on your words, what you said and how you said it?

So, the first week we talked about those words that we use in our everyday lives. These are words we use when in school, at work, at the store, or just walking down the street. We need to be careful of what we say because we can’t take it back. Our words can be forgiven, but not forgotten.

The next week we talked about family words. These are words we use when speaking to our kids, grandkids, parents, and other relatives. These can be hurtful words or even withholding kind words.

Last week, we talked about our words when it comes to politics. I said, that I don’t believe you can be a Christian and not be involved in politics. We also mentioned not only talking, but also listening and debating, the art of conversation.

But there’s something we haven’t talked about yet. The words we speak to ourselves. What words do you speak to yourself every day? How is that conversation going on in your own head? These are the words that keep replaying over and over in our head and they may have initially been heard from parents, co-workers, bosses, or schoolmates. What are the words you hear every day? What are those names you call yourselves? Do they sound like worthless, ugly, stupid?

If so, here’s the good news for you today. God’s word for us, is not the words that we keep hearing over and over again. God’s word counters our own “self-talk.” It erases our low view of ourselves. God speaks words of hope, grace, and love to our hearts. But what are those words, where do we find them?

We find them within scripture. We find them in the stories of Noah and Abraham as we hear about the promise of descendants and a future. We find them in the stories of Joseph in his protection. We find them in the stories of Moses. When Moses claimed that he couldn’t accomplish all that God was calling him to do, repeatedly, God gives him the hope and strength to complete God’s plan.

We also find these words in the life of Jesus Christ. We hear so many stories of healing where Jesus is offering his grace to all around. A man lowered through a roof in order to be healed, many lepers who had been cleaned, someone with a withered hand is restored, and Bartimaeus regains his sight.

We hear those life-giving words in Jesus’ comment to the woman who had bleeding for 12 years, the woman who was washing his feet with her tears, even in his calling Lazarus from the tomb back to life.

We hear words of grace spoken to the woman at the well who felt it necessary to get water in the heat of the day so she would not run into other women in the community. And the wonderful, loving words to the woman who was caught in adultery and was about to be stoned to death. Jesus tells everyone that if they had never sinned to go ahead and throw that first stone. The sound hear was that of stones just falling to the ground as they all walked away.

And finally, the words of grace, hope, and love spoken from the actions on that cruel cross. Jesus offers us life everlasting and life-giving words that counteract all of the hurtful words we continue to reply in our heads. These are all words for us from God, and they speak of grace, hope and love!

Religion & Politics

Sermon-Title-Slide---Wk3Words are powerful. Words have deep meaning. Words can encourage. Words can diminish. Words can make you feel like you are invincible and then bring you to your lowest point of self-worth. Words are important. Words are power.

This is how we started this worship series two weeks ago, and again last week. We are talking about our words and how we use them. Do we build up, or tear down? Do we hurt others with them, or do we offer life-giving words? What has it been for you this week?

We’ve already heard about how these apply to our daily lives and especially within our relationship with family. But can these words also apply when talking politics? Maybe they don’t right now, but I think they should. Why does it seem like when it comes to this topic of politics, all the rules of civility, kindness, compassion, and humility go right out the window? We are in a time in this nation when words are so often used, on both sides of the aisle, with reckless abandon. Words are spoken without regards to who they may hurt or what damage may be done.

How did we get here? What slippery slope did we find ourselves on to reach this unhealthy destination? The political scene looks like two opposing factions, lobbing hateful words against each other, not interested at all in coming together. They have become more interested in satisfying their base and strengthening their position. Each side is the one in the right and they believe the other is completely wrong.

What has happened? How did we get to this place? Can we ever get out of this hole we’re in? Because I’m tired. I don’t know how you feel, but when I watch the news and hear all the hateful words being said about human beings, I hurt. I’m tired of it. I believe there are three things, out of many, have contributed to the state we are in today.

First, we have developed a failure to listen, to really listen. When you hear someone speaking, are you listening to what they are saying, or are you just listening enough so that you can respond with what point you are trying to make? Are you listening to understand, or listening to react?

Second is how we talk to each other. Are we talking with people, or are we talking at people? There is a big difference. You see, when we talk at people, we are saying that our way is the only way and that we can’t believe that anyone who is rational would think any other way. We begin talking, not interested at all about what the other person thinks or feels. But when we begin talking with people, we begin having meaningful conversations.

Lastly, is a failure to see people as human beings, as created beings whom God loves. I think we’ve all seen this. We’ve heard politicians call each other names, degrading them in hopes of eroding their position on any worthwhile issue. What was it that someone said? The one who slings mud, is losing ground. Then we hear people talk about other human beings as animals, less than human, and even by racist terms. When does the name calling stop? When does the hatred stop? I’m tired, I’m hurt, and I’m disgusted by all the hatred, name calling, and one-sided conversations that have been going on over the past several years.

So, what can we do about it? I think we can reverse this especially in our community by doing as scripture tells us. We are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. It doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but we can still love each other. Can we at least say that?

In order to see our lives involved with politics, I want to close with this.

When Sharon Kirtdall founded the women’s center in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1977, is was the primary advocate for the town’s African American community. Through the years, the services provided by the center have expanded to include health and housing issues, youth and older adult concerns, and crisis intervention. Although more and more of Kirtdoll’s time is devoted to fundraising, her basic commitment to social change has not wavered: “I don’t believe you can be a Christian and not care about people. Politics should enhance the lives of other people. And if you really care about people, your political ambition should be to change the structures to enhance the life of others. Sometimes I think, ‘Why can’t I just walk away and forget about it?’ It’s something in me, a spiritual conviction that makes me political.”

Many will say that the church should have nothing to do with politics, and that we should not discuss them together. But I say, that I’m not sure you can be a Christian without being involved in politics in one way or another. It’s about people. It’s about love. It’s about hope. And it’s about forgiveness. And I don’t want to be tired anymore, of people being ugly to each other.

Sermon-Title-Slide---Wk2Words are powerful. Words have deep meaning. Words can encourage. Words can diminish. Words can make you feel like you are invincible and then bring you to your lowest point of self-worth. Words are important. Words are power.

This is how we started last week, as we began this new series talking about our words and how we use them. Do we build up, or tear down? Do we hurt others with them, or do we offer life-giving words? What has it been for you this week? Have you reflected on your words, what you said and how you said it?

Today I want to turn our focus to our families. We may have great families, ones that we love and cherish, but others may not get along with their relatives. So, it is in this area that I want to focus today. Before we do, I want to remind us of a verse we heard last week. It’s Ephesians 4:29; “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

Our words have the power to kill the human spirit, from the inside. Adam Hamilton talks about the analogy of Roundup. Some of us like the stuff, others, not so much. But when dealing with some pretty harsh weeds in some tight places, Roundup does the trick. What Adam talked about was how it actually works. I didn’t know this, that when it is sprayed on the plant, weed, bush, or anything else, is begins by blocking an enzyme that the plant needs to grow. It works from the roots out, essentially killing the plant from the inside out.

Our words have the same effect on us. We hear harsh words about ourselves, and although we might be able to brush them off, they have a way of getting into our heads and hearts. Then, we hear them again and again. These words begin to poison our hearts and eventually begin killing our spirits from the inside out.

This happens as we call our kids, our brothers and sisters, or even our parents names that are mean, cruel, and degrading. I don’t remember how many times I had been walking through a store and hear parents talking to their kids in ways I would never dream of. Names like “stupid, idiot, and good-for-nothing are all ones that I have heard. To top it off, the attitude that comes with them makes them even worse.

Words have power. Words are power. How do you plan to use them this week?

But we must see that this is nothing new. We all know this, we know we shouldn’t do it, but yet, there are so many times we find ourselves saying those things we shouldn’t. We know it’s wrong. We just need to practice doing and saying the right things.

But let’s think about another aspect of this. Speaking harsh words is bad, but withholding good words can be just as bad. I guess we could think about this like a drought of positive, encouraging, and supportive words. I think we all know what a drought is? We all probably know what a drought can do. Without all the nutrients needed to help the crops grow, they fail, shrivel up, and produce crops that are almost worthless. When we withhold these praises, encouragements, and love filled words from our kids, we force them into a positive image drought. The results can be dramatic. Their self-image is not a healthy one and they can start looking for acceptance and love in places they shouldn’t be.

Some of you may have grown up in homes like that. You don’t remember hearing encouraging words or positive messages of love and acceptance. That has affected you and formed you into who you are today.

We know that speaking harsh words and withholding good words is wrong and that we shouldn’t be doing that. We know that we should be encouraging, grace-filled, and loving with all that we say. So, we need to be speaking those words of grace, hope, and love. Are you speaking them?

What are these words? Let me give you a couple of examples. I love you. These should be not only spoken, but also demonstrated. Also, thank you. Words of gratefulness are important to share. The hard ones, but also necessary are; I’m sorry, and I forgive you. And don’t underestimate the power of listening.

Again, Ephesians 4:29; “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Have you spoken kind and gracious words to your family today? Words are powerful, words are power. How are you wielding that power?

Sermon-Title-Slide---Wk1There was a teacher who talked about an unruly student. Mark was his name. He would talk all the time and she couldn’t get him to be quiet. Now, I know this would not fly in today’s classroom, although there are probable some teachers here today who either would have tried this, or maybe they have done it. Anyway, Mark kept talking and finally the teacher had enough. She went over to him and taped his mouth shut.

I know, you’ve thought about it, maybe even with your kids. But I’m guessing it worked for Mark and that teacher. Well, later that week, the teacher had an exercise for the kids. She wanted them to write down the nicest thing they could say about each other and then hand it in. The next day, she handed lists out to all the students with all the nice things that were said about them.

Several years later, Mark was killed in the Vietnam War. After the funeral, many of the classmates got together with Mark’s parents as well as that teacher for lunch. Mark’s father took his wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed,” he said. He carefully removed a folded, refolded, and taped piece of paper. It was the list of all the good things that Mark’s classmates had said about him. Other students responded as well. Charlie smiled and said he keeps his in his desk drawer at work. Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck put his in our wedding album.” “I have mine, too, in my diary,” said Marilyn. Vicky reached into her purse and pulled out her frazzled list.

Words have power. Words are power. Yes, they can tear people down, but they can also build people up! Your words have that kind of power. Whether you like it or not, your words have incredible power.

I remember there was a kid in vacation bible school back in Rockford. According to one of the volunteers, this child was ‘out of control.’ He was running around, talking, yelling, ignoring his teacher, and no one could get him to calm down. I remember the teacher trying to speak louder and louder as the child’s volume increased. I remember the teacher standing over the child and giving orders; stop that, be quiet, don’t touch the other kids, stop running! The teacher was exhausted and at her wits end. She was ready to give up, and probably did a little while ago.

The boy was running up the aisle, away from the teacher, and right into my path. I looked him straight in the eye, and in a calm voice, asked him to slow down because it was dangerous and disrespectful of all the other kids that were there with him. I said we all want to have fun, but we also need to listen so that we know when it’s time to go onto the next activity. I asked him if I could go to his next activity with him and then asked him for a hug. He gladly gave me the hug and we went to the next area, walking.

Many times, it’s not what we say, but how we say it. What will our kids hear? Will they hear words of commendation, or condemnation? Will they hear encouragement or hindrance? Will they hear love or hatred?

Mohammed Qahtani, winner of the 2015 Toastmasters award, told of a friend of his and the relationship this friend had with his father. The words his friend heard all throughout growing up was that his father was never pleased with him. Harsh criticism was the topic of so many conversations between father and son. All the son wanted was to hear that his dad was proud of him, but those powerful words never came. When he went away to college, he overachieved just to make his father proud. He called his dad after receiving his final grades to tell him that he graduated with highest honors and a 4.0 grade point average all throughout his college career.

The response he got from his father; “let me call you back in a while, I’m busy.” I’m busy. How hard would it have been to say a few words, to listen to his son? Instead, it was two short, but extremely powerful words; “I’m busy.” What a way to make a son feel wanted, celebrated, and loved. It was only a few months later that Mohammed got a phone call. His friend had overdosed on medication, killing himself. Four little words could have saved this man’s life. “I’m proud of you.” Four little words…

Words have power, words are power. Which ones are you speaking? Are you tearing down, or are you building up?