Archive for March, 2019

Be Still – Simplicity

Be-Still-SimplicityThere was this story of a farmer who had lived on the same farm all his life. Sound familiar? Well, it was a good farm, but with the passing years, the farmer began to get tired of it. He longed for a change, for something “better.” Every day he found a new reason for criticizing some feature of the old place. Finally, he decided to sell it, and listed the farm with a real estate broker who promptly prepared a sales advertisement. As one might expect, it emphasized all the farm’s advantages: ideal location, modern equipment, healthy stock, acres of fertile ground, etc.

Before placing the ad in the newspaper, the realtor called the farmer and read the ad copy to him to make sure it met with his approval. When he had finished, the farmer cried out; “Hold everything! I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to sell. I’ve been looking for a place like that all my life.”

The farmer thought the grass was greener on another side, another farm. He didn’t realize what he had, until it was pointed out to him. He realized that he should have been content with what he already had, because it was good, it was worthy, and it was his.

Philippians chapter 4, verse 11 says; “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” How content are you? I know this is not a normal conversation to have in this world. We are constantly bombarded by images and words that tell us that we need to have more, that we deserve more, that our life is not complete without the next big thing. So, talking about being content with what we have is counter-cultural. It’s not normal.

Philip Yancey wrote; “I’ve become more convinced than ever that God finds ways to communicate with those who truly seek him, especially when we lower the volume of the surrounding static.” He talked about someone who was truly seeking a deeper spiritual life and so, trying to interrupt this busy life, he decided to spend a few days in a monastery. He was introduced to one of the resident monks who told him as he showed him his room; “I hope your stay is a blessed one. If you need anything, let me know and I’ll teach you how to live without it.”

We live in a world of excess. We see it all around us. We might even walk through it every day in our homes. If I asked you how much clutter you have, can you honestly say that you have none? Maybe some of you do, and that’s great! But there are many of us who can’t answer that question well. The spiritual discipline of simplicity can help us with our lives of clutter, overscheduled-ness, and feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted. Now, I’m not asking you to live like monks without anything, but to simplify your life by eliminating some of the things that you don’t need.

During the 40 days of Lent, some people have taken on this discipline by filling 40 bags in 40 days. They will go through their house, room by room, closet by closet, and remove as much stuff as they can during Lent, donating the items after Easter.

Some of you know who Marie Kondo is. For those of you who don’t, she is a lovely Japanese woman who helps people with clutter, simplify their lives. She has a program on Netflix called “Tidying Up” where in about a half hour show, she is able to introduce a plan for people to reduce the things they own. Her plan is pretty simple, but difficult. It is all about finding joy.

Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 2:22-23; “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain, even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” All our working, day and night, if it doesn’t bring joy, its meaningless. I would even say that its more than that. I think it had the potential to harm us. Yes, I know there are jobs that are not the most glamorous, not viewed by society as important, but there are people who find joy in them. And when you find joy in what you, it ceases to become work. It becomes part of your life, and it is not meaningless.

I am reminded of a very special person who always brings a smile to my face, and she is just doing her job. But she does it with such enthusiasm, such joy, that it becomes infectious. I don’t know her name, but some of you may, but every time I hear her voice welcome me to Walmart in Freeport, I can’t help but smile and greet her back. Some may think it’s a meaningless job, but I see her as fulfilling a part of God’s plan by demonstrating joy in the everyday! How do you feel about your job? Are you able to find the joy in what you do?

When we find that joy, we begin to live into God’s plan for our lives. We find joy in the everyday. We find joy in our jobs, in our things, and in our activities. This is God’s desire for us, to find all that sparks joy in our lives.

Be Still: Study

Be-Still-StudyWe at Lanark United Methodist Church, are in the middle of our Lenten Series of “Be Still: A Lenten Journey of Spiritual Disciplines.” We’ve already talked about how prayer can be a discipline of spiritual growth, and now we look at another foundational discipline, study.

As Christians, we are called to a continual growth in our faith and knowledge of God. It’s not like we make a decision to follow Jesus and then “poof” everything is good, all falls into place, and we have no other worries, or frankly, no other questions about who we are following or what it means for us. Think of it this way, you are fresh out of high school, and you have finally decided what you want to do with the rest of your life. Maybe you want to be a teacher, a doctor, work in manufacturing, maybe sales, administrative assistants, or countless other fields you can work in. Do you make the decision and then begin working, like you’ve been doing it all your life? Probably not. There’s usually some training involved. You need to get to know the company you are working for, the people who lead and manage, your bosses. And that’s after you spend so much time in school learning about the field you’re going into.

When we decide to follow Jesus, and we give our lives over to his grace and guidance, we quickly realize that we don’t know everything. In fact, it’s at that moment that we realize just how much we don’t know, other than the great love He has for us. We want to learn more.

This comes through learning all about God. This comes through studying. This comes through reading the bible, devotionals, and Christian classics by wonderful theologians over the years. But how do we do this? Is there a process, a plan, a schedule? Is there an organizational chart that shows what days you should read, how much time you should spend, and what material you need to read? Yes, and no.

In order to find out more about God, who God is, what God desires, how God acts, judges, and loves, we need to dig into the word. We need to intentionally take the time to read the bible, to digest it, to listen to what is being said and how it affects our lives. We want to know what all these stories mean for us. If you’re wondering where to begin, my answer would be that there are many ways to read the bible. So, you need to find a path that works for you. You may want to start in Genesis, the first book, and read through the bible from cover to cover. Others might like to start with the gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There really is no wrong way of reading the bible.

Here’s what I fully believe. The Bible is the living Word of God. It speaks to us, right where we are. There are times when I read a certain passage that I will hear one thing on Monday and something completely different on Friday. It depends on where I am and what God wants to say to me at that particular time. Now, don’t get me wrong, scripture passages don’t change, and overall meanings of the texts stay the same, but different verses will stand out to me at different times.

There was a story of a time when the preacher’s car broke down on a country road. He walked to a nearby roadhouse to use the phone. After calling for a tow truck, he spotted his old friend, Frank, drunk and shabbily dressed at the bar. “What happened to you, Frank?” asked the good reverend. “You used to be rich.” Frank told a sad tale of bad investments that had led to his downfall. “Go home,” the preacher said. “Open your Bible at random, stick your finger on the page and there will be God’s answer.”

Sometime later, the preacher bumped into Frank, who was wearing a Gucci suit, sporting a Rolex watch and had just stepped out of a Mercedes. “Frank.” said the preacher, “I am glad to see things really turned around for you.” “Yes, preacher, and I owe it all to you,” said Frank. “I opened my Bible, put my finger down on the page and there was the answer — Chapter 11.”

As funny as that is, I need to let say that there have been times when I was struggling and needed to hear a word from God. After some prayer, I just asked God to speak through scripture. I took my bible and opened it up, right to a passage that spoke to my need at that time. This doesn’t happen all the time, and I don’t want it to seem like it’s a granted wish thing, but it was still there. We need to be open to hearing God speak through scripture, but in order to do that, we need to spending time reading it.

Our bibles can’t be just sitting on a shelf, collecting dust. We have to open it, we have to read it, we have to study it. This is one way that we are able to hear God speak to us, it is one place we are able to get guidance for our lives.

Be Still – Prayer

Be-Still-PrayerHow is your prayer life? Is it just before big family meals on holidays, only on Sundays during worship, or maybe only when someone else is offering a prayer in your presence.

Let me ask you a question; how confident are you in your prayers? Really, when you pray for something, does it usually go like this… “God I’m really hurting right now. I’m in pain, I feel lost, I am struggling financially, emotionally, spiritually. So God, if you have a moment, can you help me out here? Please? I know you have a lot of other people to help right now, so I understand if you are too busy and can’t help right now and frankly, I’m not sure if I deserve your help anyway. But if you can find it in your heart to help, I would appreciate it.”

That doesn’t sound very confident, does it. It reminds me of a story.

Three farmers gathered daily during a horrible drought. The men were down on their knees, praying that the sky would open up and pour rain down on them. The heavens were silent, however, and the farmers became discouraged. But they continued to pray every morning.

One morning a stranger asked the men what they were doing. They said; “We’re praying for rain.”

The stranger looked at each of them and shakes his head. “I don’t think so.”

The first farmer said, “We are down on our knees, pleading for rain. Look around; see the drought. We haven’t had rain in more than a year.

The stranger said they’re efforts won’t work.

The second farmer said, “We need the rain; we aren’t asking only for ourselves, but for our families and livestock.”

The stranger still wasn’t impressed. “You’re wasting your time,” he said.

The third farmer in anger says, “What would you do if you were in our shoes!”

“You really want to know?” the stranger asked.

“Yes, we really want to know!” the farmers said.

The stranger said; “I would have brought an umbrella!”

How confident are your prayers? Do you have the confidence of praying for rain, so that you need to bring your umbrella? Our prayers need to be filled with expectation. Many times, in my prayers, I bring up the past. Now, this is not good to do in arguments with your spouse, but in moments of prayer, it is certainly alright. Proclaim God’s power in answered prayers of the past. This can be from scripture, or even from your personal life.

One way of knowing about your answered prayers, is by keeping a prayer journal. Write your prayers out on a journal and keep them. You can go back a couple of months or even a couple of years and read prayer requests that have either been answered, or, to your benefit, unanswered. This will also help with your confidence in prayer. You start to see where God is working in your prayer life, and then you want more. You want to keep your prayers going, you want to pray without ceasing. You begin to pray all day long, while you’re driving, while you’re working, when you get up, just before bed, anytime of the day.

Let me wrap this up with just a couple more thoughts.

Prayer is not complicated. Prayer is a simple conversation. Jesus tells us to not be like the those who like to stand up in public, lifting lengthy and wordy prayers so they can be seen by others. Be like the tax collector who humbly bowed his head and cried out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” God wants to talk to you, have a conversation with you. Will you talk to him today?

The late Mr. Rogers once visited a teenager with cerebral palsy. At first the boy was so nervous about the visit that he began hitting himself. His mother had to take him to another room. Mister Rogers waited patiently, and when the boy came back, the star of children’s television asked the boy, “Would you do something for me,” Mister Rogers said. “Will you pray for me?”

The boy was shocked because nobody had ever asked him for something like that. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers. At first he didn’t know if he could do it, but then he said he would try.

From then on, the boy kept Mister Rogers in his prayers. He didn’t talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figured Mister Rogers was close to God, and if Mister Rogers liked him, that must mean that God liked him too.

When Mister Rogers was asked how he knew what to say to make the boy feel better, he said, “I didn’t ask prayers for him; I asked them for me. I asked because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked because I wanted his intercession.”

Who do you want praying for you?

Prayer BackgroundBut God. Those two words that are so powerful in our lives. I especially think about these words when it comes to prayer.

Abram was worried that he would not have any children that could carry on the family bloodline. He wanted heirs, sons. I hear in Genesis chapter 15 a conversation with God. Here is a beautiful view into a prayer from Abram. I can hear the pain in his voice as Abram cries out to God; “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house in Eliezer of Damascus?”

Abram is asking God for a miracle. You see, Abram is quite old at this time and his wife Sarai is past her childbearing years. But the voice of God comes; “This man shall not be your heir, your very own son shall be your heir.” Great news, but how is this going to happen given the fact of the age of Abram and Sarai? It seems impossible.

But God.

Where have you been in your prayer life lately? Have you been asking God for something that seems impossible, something so outside the box, that you might not believe God will answer? Is it something that because of everything you know about your circumstance, you just know that it can’t possible come? If you think about it, all that Abram knew about his situation told him that having a child was impossible. He was pretty old, Sarai was too old to have kids anymore, and he wasn’t going to find another wife. It was impossible. But God.

I had this vision and dream of a marriage retreat, one that I believe God placed on my heart. But every time I thought about it, I thought that it would be impossible. I could never pull this off, so I kept putting on the ‘back burner’ waiting but thinking that it would never happen. But God.

God had other plans. Through the help of the leadership team at Lanark UMC and long hours and always encouraging words of my wife, Sherry, we were able to bring this prayer to life. Because God had the original plan. As I prayed for couples and marriage relationships all over, God spoke about giving them some help. This prayer was the catalyst for the Thrive Marriage Enrichment retreat.

Abram prayed, actually had a conversation with God, about having children. And even in both his and wife’s old age, God blessed them with Isaac. When every thing seemed impossible, God entered. Where in your prayer life to you need to see that with God, all things are possible?

Deep Waters

Lake with DockSo many stories that I remember from my years in Sunday School, come from Moses and the Exodus. Maybe it’s because I remember watching so many shows about it like “The Prince of Egypt” or “The Ten Commandments” multiple times. Anyway, the scripture passage from this past Sunday told the story of Moses and the Israelite’s escaping the Egyptian army by walking through a parted Red Sea and watching the army get swallowed up when the waters receded again. This is an amazing story, but we must see that much of the Israelite’s’ story in the Old Testament, like this one, is also our story.

This is the power of God on display for the Egyptians to witness, for the Israelites to witness and remember, and now, for all of us to see and learn from as well. When the Israelites were being chased into a corner, into the shores of the sea, by the Pharaoh and his army; when the obstacle appeared to be impassable, God showed them that all things were possible if they would only put their trust in him. When it didn’t seem like there was a way, God made a way. And it was through the deep waters.

This is a story that reminds us of our faith journeys. Have you found yourself in times when you have needed a miracle? The enemy is breathing down your neck and you just can’t see a way out of the mess you’re in? Have you cried out to God and received provision? Have you prayed and found a way where there wasn’t one just a little while ago?

Maybe you’ve found yourself in a medical emergency, tests that were coming up, diagnosis which was not positive, and you cried out to God because you couldn’t see the final result, let alone what could happen by the end of the day. And then one door opens, followed by another, and before you know it, you are on the other side looking back over the water you had just crossed with God’s help.

Maybe you have been in a financial crisis, not knowing if you were going to have enough money for food or shelter. You knew that bills were piling up and you couldn’t see a way out of the hole. But in your prayers, you lifted this up to God and asked for a way out, asked for a passageway through the tumultuous waters, and you were given a way out, a path that God provided.

Maybe it’s a different kind of problem, a different obstacle in your adventure of faith? Whether it’s a relationship, a belief, physical, or mental, it could be depression or oppression, you could be dealing with the death of a family member or close friend, you could have been hurt or abused by someone, you may even be questioning your belief in God, all you know is that you are stuck and you can’t see a way out. You think that this is yours, that this is what you are going to have to experience for the rest of your life.

You’ve come to the shoreline, and the enemy is gaining ground. You can feel that thing in your life creeping up on you and all you want to do is just run. But you have no where to go. If you turn around, you will run right into the problem that you are trying to leave behind. If you try to go forward, you will drown in the unknown, the circumstances that surround you. You are trapped.

It’s time. It’s time to let go of all of your predispositions of how things work and your limitations on what can be done. It’s time to trust in something bigger and higher than anything you could ever dream of. It’s time to trust God with your situation. It’s time to lift it up to him in prayer and trust that his ways are higher than our own. That his ways are filled with so much more wisdom that we could ever fathom. That his ways are not our ways.

What fears, hurts, disappointments, or other issues do you need to lay down before God today? What enemies are chasing you down right now? What oceans stand between you and the life you desire?

Lay it down before the Lord and take a walk. Let’s wade out in the water…

PathThere was this woman. She was not accepted in many of the circles within her community. She wasn’t allowed to be near everyone, no one wanted to be seen with her. She would go and get her coffee at odd times of the day just so she wouldn’t run into anyone she knew. She was shunned. She was an outcast. Deep down, she wanted so much more to her life. She wanted to feel loved. She wanted to feel welcomed, and even more than that, she wanted to feel accepted. Sure she had a past, sure she hadn’t always done the right things, but she longed for love and acceptance.

She found it one day, at the coffee shop. This man walked up to her and asked her if she would buy him a cup of coffee. Maybe he had forgotten his wallet at home, maybe he didn’t have any money. Maybe he had lost his job, who knows? She doesn’t ask him about that, instead, she turns the attention of the story to her. She tells him that he probably doesn’t want to be seen talking with her, that she was an outcast from the community, and that it would be bad for him to even talk to her. Word might get out, you know?

But then something happens. This man begins to tell her about her past, that he knows who she is, and that it doesn’t matter to him. He says, if you only knew, you could ask and I would take you to my coffee shop, and you could have all the coffee you would ever need. She wants to go with him, she realizes who he is, but they both know that she needs to stay in the community because she has a message to tell, just the way she is. Many lives are touched and changed because of her witness to this chance encounter with this man.

Sound familiar? John, chapter 4, Jesus meets the woman from Samaria at the well. He offers her living water and she goes home to share her experience with everyone. John 4:39; “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”

Jesus uses this woman to spread his good news to people that the Jews didn’t want to hear it. When the disciples came back to the well, they were astonished that Jesus would be talking to this woman, it was not what they expected. But then again, how many times did Jesus do things that were expected in those days?

Like the disciples, we are surrounded by things we don’t understand and don’t expect. There are things out of our usual or traditional understanding of life. Many times, this comes in discussion around human sexuality. But it also can be found in different areas of life as well.

This week we will celebrate Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season Lent. It is a day that we remember that our earthly bodies are mortal, that we will once again return to the dust from which God created us. But it is also a time of repentance. It is a time that we confess our sins before God, ask for forgiveness, receive the ashes on our foreheads, and then walk our Lenten journey of faith as we anticipate the celebration of the resurrection which seems so far away.

This Ash Wednesday, I ask you to reflect on how God uses each one of us to proclaim the gospel message of hope, grace, and love. Think of the many people who don’t look like us, act like us, or think like us, but who have lived out their testimony for the love of God. It may be like that woman at the well, whom everyone else disregarded, but Jesus empowered to witness of his love. Who might this be? Is it you?