Tag Archives: Trust in God

Merit Badge Religion

Most of us think that in some way we must do something to earn God’s love and forgiveness in order to become a Christian and qualify for heaven after we die.  I like to refer to that as “Merit Badge” religion and  it has little to do with what Jesus taught and lived.  When I was a Boy Scout leader, the boys who won the coveted rank of Eagle Scout were those who won a large number of  merit badges and completed a useful project for the community. It was what they knew and what they were able to do that won the award.  “Merit badge religion” is the result of the church being taken over by the American culture.   In this culture we attain superiority  by competing well: by being the most knowledgeable and highest educated; by improved morality and improved behavior.  We worship success in our culture  and believe that we get what  we deserve  by what we work hard for and therefore are worthy of.

We have transferred these same principles to our churches.  So to have the right informed knowledge about God; to  know the Bible through deep study  and to  behave morally and ethically according to its perceived teachings;   and to practice the  correct rites  of worship,  communion,  baptism,  plus giving our money in acts of  stewardship we will competitively qualify for heaven . We earn it.  It  is by what we know and what we do  that qualifies us.    And therein is the problem .Note I refer to it as “religion”  not “Christianity”

 

Our Christian spiritual lives and our churches are too often  based on this same sort of religious meritocracy. For example:

  • Being able to recite Bible memory verses
  • Going to church every Sunday
  • Attending Sunday school
  • Having the “correct beliefs” by understanding and defending the church’s creed
  • Being a “good” person
  •  Praying
  • Being baptized in the “correct” way
  • Taking communion
  • t These are admirable, I will concede, but none will earn us a seat at the Lord’s table in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus makes it very clear that ONLY GOD’S GRACE can do that and it has already been given to us.  All we need to do is be aware of God’s saving love and forgiveness.   It is freely given and there is no way God’s Grace can be earned.

The problem with “Merit Badge” Christianity is that it bases our entry into God’s Kingdom on what we do  and as the New Testament says and Jesus proclaimed it is all up to God’s grace.   “Merit Badge” Christianity says we must work, labor, sweat and learn, and do more to gain a place in God’s Kingdom. The opposite is true! God gives us his Kingdom. Nothing we do on our own can gain us entrance.

Jesus did not say “Blessed are the brightest and the best”

He said:   “Blessed are the poor for to them is the Kingdom of God”.

Practicing What We Preach

Yesterday I spent an hour with my hospice Chaplain.    I shared my concern about “leaving things hanging”,  and gave her an example of where my files are and my loved ones not being able to find them.   Before she could reply,  my son spoke up and said;   ‘Don’t worry about those things,  Dad,  we don’t want you  to spend your time shuffling files and papers—we’d rather spend the time with you  and we’ll  find what we need when we need it.

That led to a discussion about “letting go” of our anxieties.   My chaplain asked me to tell her a time that I felt God working in my life.   I gave her an example from the time of my first wife’s death.      She fell and in a week died of severe brain bleed.  It was so sudden that I had a hard time dealing with it because I was dealing with a situation that I couldn’t fix.   At one point I remember crying and telling God “help me, I can’t do this alone”!!    And a sense of peace came over me that let me know that God was present and would help me cope with my grief.   That moment changed my relationship with God forever…I truly knew God was in that room!! I felt  his presence.

As the chaplain left she gave me this advice:    “You need to take all of your anxieties and give them to God.     Let go of your anxieties and put your trust in God !”

How many times I have given this advice to people who are approaching end of life, both in the role of a hospice chaplain and a pastor?—yet I had not done it myself.   I realized I need to practice what I preach!

I think there is a lesson for all of us,  particularly ministers,perhaps,  but really it should be a lesson for all Christians.    The lesson is that if we really believe God is a God of love and is present in our lives we should put our trust in God in all things.   Our anxiety means we are not doing this.  We are not trusting God.

We need to read again what Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew, chapter six, when he told his disciples to consider the birds of the air who do not toil or spin, and yet God takes care of them.    He tells his disciples that if God does this for birds, why will he not also take care of you for you are worth many birds to God.

Does God Care about Paris?

 Text: Exodus: 16: 2-15

 Theme: God Cares For us through human actions as well as God’s actions.

We are faced often with destructive events.   Some are man-made, such as terrorists attacks like the one in Paris this past Friday evening; mass shootings at schools and movie theatres and malls; shootings at the Baptist Church in Charleson, S.C. during a prayer meeting.   Some of the events are natural: such as tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis.   All are violent and lead to loss of life, pain and suffering for both the victims and those related to us.  

            The question that always emerges after any or all of these events occur is this one:   Does God Care?   They ask:   Why does God let such terrible things happen to his creation and to his creatures?   He is supposed to be a loving God, why does He let such things happen to people? Does God really care? (This question is often asked in an accusatory way that indicates—-“I don’t think so!”

            Human beings have been asking this question for a long time. In Old Testament times the man, Job, asked the same question of God. Job, who lost everything that he owned, and also his wife and children and Job laying in the dust, condemned by his fellow men as a great sinner, asked God the question in these words:   “I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me.   Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands?”  (Job 10:3-4)

Do you care for me God? Job asks.

The same question was addressed to Jesus by his disciples in the 4th chapter of the gospel of Mark.   Jesus was in a boat with his disciples and a great storm came and the disciples feared for their lives.  Mark writes that Jesus was asleep in the boat on some cushions in the rear of the boat, where the tiller is that steers.   The disciples, in great fear, woke up Jesus with the words:   “Do you not care that we perish?” Jesus rebuked the wind and waves and an immediate calm came about—and he said to his disciples “Why are you afraid? Do you still not have faith?”   In other words—-don’t you know I am always with you?   Don’t you know that I care?   Why then be fearful?

 Does God Care?   That is essentially the question the grumbling Israelites asked Moses in the Wilderness as we read the text today from Exodus.

            The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.   The Israelites said to them:   If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger!

What they were saying was:   You claim that God cares for us and told you to deliver us from slavery in Egypt, but at least there we had enough to eat.   God doesn’t really care about us. We’d have been better off as slaves in Egypt, rather than starving in the wilderness. Where is your God now, Moses? Does God care for us?   Prove it!!

 In response, God told Moses that he was going to “rain bread from Heaven” upon the people and cause quail to land among them.   “At twilight you shall eat meat, says God, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”

God shows God’s care through his actions.   Through sending food to the Israelites God shows he cares—-with a resounding YES.

            But the Israelites missed the point—-as we read in Numbers—-they soon craved and preferred the “slave food” of Egypt over the “soul food” of the wilderness—the manna.   Listen to their complaint:

            We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at!”

Far from finding spiritual sustenance, they complained about gastronomic boredom!! They weren’t satisfied with God’s provision.   They wanted more variety.   They wanted to shop around a bit for a better menu.  

And that has been the history of God’s people for all time.  When it comes to what God gives us we say:   what else is on the menu—is that all?  

You see—God has provisioned us also.   He has let us know that He cares in many ways.   He has provided us with “manna of divine nourishment”—-we call it prayer, meditation, the Bible, worship services, communion, tithing, fellowship with our brothers and sisters—AND YET WE CONSIDER THESE PROVISIONS OF GOD WITH A “TAKE-IT-OR- LEAVE-IT-ATTITUDE’.   We say:   “Is that all?   I want something better. I want better music! I want a better preacher.  I want someone else to do the praying because I’m busy.  “I”!   “I!   “ME”!   “ME”!

In our market-driven culture, a market driven church has emerged, as Eugene Peterson put it in his book “The Jesus Way”:

            “The great American innovation in congregations is to turn them into a consumer enterprise….If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get people into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon; and recast the gospel in consumer terms, i.e.:   Entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem solving, whatever….” (p.6)

What Peterson is saying is that people now want to be spiritual CONSUMERS instead of DISCIPLES.

They come to worship looking for something tasty and exciting and sensational.   And if they don’t get it, or the service is bad, they will reduce the tip or not tip at all.   And if the worship menu doesn’t get better, they’ll stop visiting this particular spiritual restaurant altogether and patronize another one where the food, the service, and the ambience are more to their liking!

            THE POINT I’M MAKING IS THAT GOD CARES—-IT IS THE PEOPLE WHO DON’T RESPOND TO GOD’S CARE!!!   We thumb our nose at God as the Israelites did, and say—-is this the best you can do for us God?   Just the same old manna and quail, day after day!!!   Just the same old scripture and worship services every Sunday?

 But we continue to ask the same question, Does God care?    We asked that question when the planes hit the Twin Trade Towers in 1001—-we asked the question when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast—-we asked the question when many were killed at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C.—-we asked the question when innocent children in a school were shot down like rabbits. We will hear the question asked again about the massacre in Paris last Friday. Does God care?   Why does God allow his people to suffer and die?    

            What we are saying is “if God cares God wouldn’t allow this to happen—but if we think rationally about that question, we know God doesn’t cause bad things to happen.   A loving God grieves with us, cries with us, and gives us strength to endure the bad things that happen—but never causes them.  

            God has created a world in which the laws of nature are so precise that we can fire a rocket and know that it will reach orbit and its destination at a specific time and place.   That’s how precise the so-called laws of nature are that God created.

            True, we know that God CAN intervene with nature.   Surely God has that power—the power of the Creator over his Creation. And yet, have you thought about what would happen if God granted each of our prayers and intervened with what we want in Creation? For example:Here is a farmer praying for rain so that his crop will grow, while two miles away another farmer is praying for dry weather to allow him to reap his crop.  Both, if they don’t get what they want question “Does God care about me and my problems?”

Perhaps the best answer to the question is that God allows evil to happen with its disastrous results just as God allows good to happen with its beautiful results. He does not control either. To do so would take away free will from his creation and we would be puppets pulled by God’s strings. God desires relationship with God’s creation and that can’t happen if God is pulling all the strings and we are just puppets jumping according  to his Will. God does not relate to us as puppets but as human beings he has created with free will in God’s image.    When human beings have free will, evil as well as good will result.  But God can take evil and use it for good, as the Bible points out in the story of Joseph.   God is in the world and with us at all times—-God is not some bearded and whitehaired being that is sitting on a throne in heaven, wherever that might be—-God is here—-with us.   Paul says:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose….If God is for us, who can be against us?….Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?   (Note:   all of these the result of evil in the world) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

THAT’S THE ANSWER:   God Cares for us. God loves us.   God is always with us.   Nothing can se[arate us from God.   God will provide.   God will be with us in Joys and in sorrows ; in times of Hope and times of Despair.   God is with us. Nothing can separate us from God —even the worst evils that befall human beings.  

God will not protect us from pain and suffering and death and destruction.   We will endure  pain and suffering because human beings have been created with free will—to do good, or to do evil.    When evil occurs God does not protect us from it but sends love and sustenance and his presence in our lives to help us endure what happens to us and our loved ones because of that evil in the world.      

God provides us with many sources of strength and comfort as we face the dangers of life on this earth. Let me name a few of them.

First, there are the scriptures that we can read and that can become a part of us so that they are food for our souls when we are in distress. For example:   Psalm 23: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff hey comfort me.”

As a pastor I have seen this many times as I walked through the valley with a dying patient—-saying this Psalm and seeing the patient’s lips speaking the words as I say them—-comfort!   God is there.   He cares.   His Word gives comfort to the dying and peace and comfort to heal the broken hearts of a family as they are reminded through the scriptures that their loved ones are not gone forever—that death is not “goodbye” as I like to say, but more like “see you later”. As Jesus said:   “In my father’s house are many rooms.   I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will return again and take you to myself, that where I am you will be also.”

Yes God is with us through the Scriptures—-But we must read them and re-read them and make them a part of our lives.

Second. We find comfort and the care of God through the hymns that we sing each Sunday during worship services.   The old hymn “God Will Take Care of You” is an example—“be not dismayed, whate’er betide. God will take care of you.   Beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you”  “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.”   “Under His Wings, I am safely abiding. Tho’ the night deepens and tempests are wild.   Still, I can trust Him; I know He will keep me; He has redeemed me, and I am His Child”…But to find comfort in these hymns we must sing them in worship and let them become a vital part of our lives.   .   Here again, OUR RESPONSE to God’s comfort provided is vital.

And finally, we find comfort and care of God from other Christians.  Here is where WE fit into God’s plans.   Many is the time when I have been present at the visitation of one who has departed this life, when I see someone who has recently lost a loved one and knows the sorrow and pain the bereaved person is feeling—go up to that person and without a word, put their arms around them and cry with them.   And the grieving person is receiving God’s care and comfort through that person who holds them and cries with them.

 

One of the books I have read is titled “The Conspiracy of Compassion.”   Conspiracy means from the Latin “to breathe with”.   And Christian brothers and sisters as they show compassion are showing how God cares.   In hospice we called that “being present”.

God cares—God shows that care in many ways, including the three ways named above.    IT IS UP TO EACH OF US TO BE A PART OF THAT CARING AND TO RESPOND TO GOD.   As Jesus loved us and gave himself for us, so must we love one another and show the love to others that Jesus showed us was God’s love and care.

The Apostle John says it best:    Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action!” (I John 3)

 YES—GOD CARES!!   HOW ARE WE RESPONDING TO HIS LOVE AND CARE?   God has shown his care as he did with the Israelites in the wilderness—by God’s actions!! THE MANNA WAS HIS MESSAGE THAT HE CARED!

      For us:   the Bible, Prayer, Meditation, Communion Worship, and the ministrations of other fellow Christians to us—that is his Manna Message to us today that He cares for us. We must be open to receive the care that he sends us.   Amen.   

 

 

Climbing Ladders

There is a drive in all of us to achieve success in our lives.   That is what our ego’s, or as Rohr puts it “our false self” feeds upon.   Seldom do we take time to really define what “success” is.    What is “success” for you?   You will have to answer that question, I can’t.   I have a hard enough time answering  the question for myself!

On my wall above my desk are some physical signs of what might be called success.   Three college degrees (including two Master’s degrees);  Awards of various kinds from both the Education field (Who’s Who in American Education, e.g.)  and the field of Christian Ministry (Minister Emeritus of Christian Church in Kansas, e.g.).   Does that mean I’m a success?   No—it means some people think that I am a success, I feel.

I have pictures in my office of my two children, a boy and a girl.   They are now adults and are doing well—but most important they are loving and caring individuals who are contributing to society.   Does that make me a success?   I’d like to think so,  but who knows but what they would be the same despite me being there to help raise them—-and I have to share any success in that area with my wife who did more to raise them than I was able to do while working two jobs to support my family.

I have a nice, comfortable home in Wichita and a loving wife to share it with after the death of my first wife.   We have two cars and a half-garage full of woodworking tools that I love to use.    My life is comfortable and I’ve had reasonably good health for my age in the late seventies.   Does that make me a success?   It may mean that I am blessed by God far beyond what I deserve, but I do not believe material things make me a success.

Wherein should my feeling of success lay then?    As I write this I am reminded of the words of Thomas Merton:  “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

I am trying, at this point in my life, to lean my ladder of success on the right wall—God’s wall.   The only true success I can strive to attain is in an ever closer relationship to God.    I found at the sudden death of my first wife that all the knowledge and skills that I had were of no value in dealing with an event over which I had absolutely no control.   I turned to God and said:   “Help me God, I can’t do this without you.”   And I felt a peace come over me and knew that God heard and began the healing process of my heart at that point.

Since that time, as God helped heal my grief and led me to a loving caring and Godly  woman that would share my life and become my wife,  I have realized more and more that the ladder to success for each of us mortals is the ladder to God.   The happiness my wife and I feel today is the result of a “God-thing”, we both agree.   So I have endeavored to place my ladder of success on the wall of God.

And the greatest thing about the ladder  to God is that we don’t have to laboriously climb it from day to day with great fear of falling and failing—-instead our God of love and grace comes down the ladder to dwell  with us now; right here,  and will do so forever.    Amen

Get Out of the Boat

Text:  Matthew 14:22-33

Theme:   The church needs the passion of Peter to risk leaving our safe boats to walk on the water with Jesus. 

            “Crazy Simon Peter is doing it again!”   I wonder if that is what the disciples in that boat thought about the events that were unfolding before their eyes.    Peter was known for being impetuous.   He was known for speaking before he thought about what he was saying and doing things on the spur of the moment, without thought.   He was known for his passionate nature.   He was the disciple, re remember that drew his sword the night the soldiers came to arrest Jesus and cut off the year of the servant of the high priest.   Jesus told him to put away his sword that time and healed the ear of the servant.   Peter was the disciple who at one moment was saying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (what we refer to as the Good Confession) and the next moment he is being told by Jesus to “get behind me, Satan” for what he said.           

            Peter was passionate.   He was the kind of person who took risks.   And the story we read in the text today is another chapter in the saga of this passionate and impetuous man.   Let’s take another look at it…..

 Jesus had left the disciples to go pray alone and sent them on ahead of him in the boat he had used to speak to the crowds.      The Sea of Galilee is known for its sudden, fierce storms; and the disciples had been caught in one of those storms and it was blowing them out to sea.   They had been rowing all night trying to keep the boat from capsizing by rowing into the wind towards the shore.   They were  exhausted.   They were frightened by the ferocity of the storm.    Then they saw something that frightened them even more—-they saw a man walking on the sea towards them!   Who was it?  Was it a ghost?  Were they hallucinating?   And then the man spoke to them and said:   “Take heart, it is I?”   Was it Jesus?   Was it really him?

            That’s when impetuous Peter said—-“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water!”   Good old crazy Simon Peter!!! He’s done it againf!    And Jesus said one word to him:   “Come”.   

            So Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the waves that were tossing the boat to and fro.   He’s not just walking on calm water—he’s on a stormy sea!    Suddenly, he had second thoughts—what in the world is he doing here??

What made me do this crazy thing? 

            And he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink!   He cried out:  “Lord, save me!!”  And immediately Jesus reached out to him and pulled him back up, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

 You have probably heard many sermons given on this story.   While Mark and Luke also have the story of the calming of the sea, the story of Peter trig to walk on the water to Jesus is found only in Matthew’s gospel.    Some sermons may have emphasized that we must keep our eyes on Jesus and when we fail to do so we sink.   And they are right!    Other sermons you may have heard have been on the faith that is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus   And they are right!

            I would like for us to consider this story, however in terms of an allegory about the church.    

We must remember the Gospel of Matthew was written late in the first century—probably around 90 A.D.,  and it was written to a church that was suffering persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire.   Think about the disciples on the boat as being like the church.   They are on stormy seas.  The wind is against them.  But note several things:

            First, when Jesus comes walking toward them they don’t recognize him!  The church doesn’t recognize Jesus???  Whoa!!

            Note secondly, that they do not give  up—they keep on rowing.   But with Jesus not being with them in the boat, they seem to not be getting anywhere, but are just surviving.

Sound familiar?    Do you ever feel that way?   Do you feel like you labor and strain in working for the progress of the church and nothing much happens?     Might it be because we don’t have Jesus in the boat with us?

            Note thirdly, that only Peter is willing to get out of the boat.   The rest of the disciples keep rowing and stay in the boat.   

            Next note   that it is when Peter, in faith, stepped out of the boat that he reaches out to Jesus who saves him!!              

Finally, note a that it is only when Jesus is back in the boat that the storm abates and the seas become still!!

 How very much like the church today are those disciples  in the boat!   Most churches are like a bunch of Jesus’ disciples that are battling to stay alive in an increasingly hostile environment.   Small groups of Christians are rowing like crazy into this life’s  storm that is beating on their church,  and are getting worn out; and it seems like all they are doing is holding their own against a stormy world or worse, they are losing ground.

And it is a stormy world.   It is a world that threatens to enguls us.   To swallow us up.

A world that is in direct competition with the church for the lives and time of Christians.    That schedules events on Sunday mornings to entice Christians away from worship of God.

A world that schedules sports events for children on Sunday and tells us that is more important than children being in church and Bible Study. 

A world that pushes an immoral way of life as being “fun” and the “in thing” to do in movies, TV, music and rap.

A world that is full of violence and hatred.  One in which terrorists kill innocent human beings in behalf of their political and religious agenda.   A world where rulers kill peaceably assembled protestors of their regimes.

A world that threatens large numbers of adults and children with starvation and violence at the hands of their own governments.

 A world where disease threatens and takes lives on a daily basis—-disease that is curable if the cure was available to those who are dying of the diseases.

 A world where drugs are pushed on our children; where our children are not safe from the attacks of child molesters and child pornographers.

 A world where families are split apart by governments”getting tough on immigration, by divorce,  and by poverty and whre families are dysfunctional , with children drifting and lost.

A world where poverty leaves children and parents hungry and without adequate medical and dental care because Kansas will not expand Medicaid

 Richard Hamm, former General Minister of DOC and now retired described the world of today in these words in his book From Mainline to Frontline.  Written 10 years ago, sadly it is still very true.   If things have changed, it is only that they are probably worse!   He writes….

 “See that mean-spiritedness is everywhere, impatient automobile drivers, who seem more bent on making a point than getting somewhere; parents in the supermarket who slap their children around; politicians who deliberately belittle and lie about those who oppose them;  radio talk show hosts who do not simply differ from the ideas and positions offered by others, but who seek to assassinate the character of those with whom they differ;  people who want to win and will crush their opponents in any and every way possible to do so.

            The world is a greedy place….The world is a place where racism is part of everyday life;  where sexual orientation becomes more important than one’s humanity in defining a person’s value.

Hamm continues

            The world is a place where certain people are expendable.   A world fueled by consumerism.  To be attractive or to have value, you must buy this product or that product.  You must have this car.  You must use this toothpaste.  You must wear this designer label.

{End of Quote}.

The world is also a place where our governments try to balance  their budgets with cuts that adversely affect children, the elderly, the poor, and the sick…while giving huge subsidies to oil companies that net billions of dollars each year in profits that they pay little tax on.  This is a frightening world.  It is a world that desperately needs the church to take a stand on the above issues and to be there to heal and help those who are being tossed about or being thrown away.

 The church in this world needs to listen carefully to the words spoken by the prophet Micah long ago:       

“With what shall I come before trhe Lord, and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?   Will the lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?   Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice,  and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”

 And where is the church in this stormy world?

I fear the church is too often fearful and  cowering in the boat, being buffeted by the storms of this world, and trying to row by themselves instead of getting out of the boat and taking risks with Jesus by their side.   

I fear Jesus is not in the boat with us and we are afraid to get out of the boat and go and meet him on the stormy seas of this life.   We feel safe in the boat, rowing hard, but getting nowhere.  Nowhere is something that we are familiar with.   Better not to take a risk by getting out of the boat and going toward Jesus.

 But Jesus comes to us on life’s stormy seas and says“Come”.  Are we willing to answer that call?   Are we willing to look Jesus in the face and climb out of our safe boat and take risks in walking in the storm that surrounds us with him?

The church needs the passion of Peter to leave  to leave our safe boat and walk on the stormy seas of this world with Jesus!!

Passionthat is what we are missing.   We like to play it safe.   Jesus words “Do not be afraid” mean more than “rest easy”.   They mean something like “take heart”; “have courage”;  “be open and willing to receive what is coming”;  get ready for a new thing that God is about to do in your life.”   It is an invitation to welcome rather than retreat from walking with Jesus and the new future that goes with that for us and our world.

It is not always easy.

It is easier to complain than to try a new way of living that heals and forgives and reflects God’s mercy and love to others as Jesus did. 

It is easier to live with disappointments than to venture changes leading to unknow possibilities.

Easier to keep fighting the battles that we know than to undertake an entirely different approach to living by walking with Jesus the Christ in His Way.

 So what does the church need to do to survive the storms they are battling?   I would suggest three things:

FirstWe need to be passionate about what we are doing. We are too comfortable.   We must be willing to take risks.   We need to get our of our safe boats and walk toward Jesus, believing and trusting that he will keep our heads above the stormy waters if we do so. 

 Secondly, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  We need to invite Him into our church and into our hearts in a transformative way.   We need to sit at his feet in the Gospels and learn of His Way.   

 Finally, we need to trust that God will help us if we risk much.   That God, through Jesus will be there for us if we falter  

 

There is a story about musicians at a nightclub who complained about an old piano.   The keys would often stick and the sounds was truly hideous it was so out of tune.   After months of listening to the grumbling, the nightclub owner finally decided to do something about it­—he sent the piano out to be painted.

 Painted???  Painted????  What good would that do???

 I think that is something that we Christians in our churches often settle for—-a paint job when we need a full tune up and overhaul.      It is so easy to play church without actually being one.   But what people too often see and hear from the church is like the old piano that just had a paint job—we need a tuneup and an overhaul, not just a paint job.  And so many turn away from the church like the musicians did from the old piano. We are out of tune with the world around us that has changed dynamically in the last 50 years.  We don’t need a paint job as a church—we need a full tuneup and overhaul of the way we go about being church. It is so easy to  seek comfort instead of challenge; to want rest, not responsibility.

            We too readily accept complacency and the status quo and surrender our passion for God.  If we look for a paint brush rather than a tool box to fix our churches we will find that we will not solve our problems.

 Remember one thing:  Jesus is here with us as we face the storms of life that beat upon us as Christians and upon our church.   He will walk with us and reach down and pick us up if we stumble—-if we reach out to him as Peter did and say:  “Lord save me!”  

But first we have to get out of the boat and take the risk of walking with Jesus on the stormy sea!!

 

Fear Not!!!

 Text:   Matthew 10:24-39

There is a story about a young man who went off to college with great expectations of success.   After he had been there a month, he sent a note to his father, “Feather in my cap, elected class president”.   Two months later, he sent another note to his father, “Another feather in my cap; accepted into the best fraternity”.   One month later, a third note:   Still another feather in my cap, leading role in class play”.  

One semester later, he sent a note to his brother:  “Flunked out, prepare father.   Tell him to send money for me to get home!”       The brother sent a note back:   “Father prepared.  Prepare yourself.   Father says put those feathers on your shoulders and fly home!”

Obviously the young man was afraid and insecure and was trying to convince  both himself and his father that he was successful by these “feather in the cap” notes—-while, in reality, he was struggling and gripped by feelings of fear of failure.   I often wonder how the story might have been different if he had faced the fear, talked about it with his father, and askd for help and advice.  He might have discovered his father had struggled with the same issues and could have given him help and support.   BUT HE WAS AFRAID TO DO SO!! 

One of the greatest causes of human stupidity in action that leads to wars, and killing,  and chaos and suffering today is Fear.   We are afraid of others.   We are afraid of ourselves.  Being fearful seems to be a national characteristic in our current times in the U.S.    We are afraid of the horrific things happening in the middle east spreading to our country.  Fear was at the heart of the terrible thing that happened in Ferguson, MO recently—-fear the white policeman had of black people—-fear the black teenager had of the police.   And because of that a needless death and resulting chaos,  fed by fear on both sides.

We do live in a frightening world—frightening in many ways.   Pick up your morning paper and read:

Terrorists attack randomly and try to kill as many as possible—over thirty people die at a beach resort in Tunisia, victims of a terrorist.  Attacks and threats are a daily part of our news media reporting.

Mass shootings at schools and public places are increasing greatly—the most recent was the killing of 9 people in Charleston, S.C. at a black A.M.E. Church during a prayer meeting the gunman attended.

Murder—shootings in Wichita seem to happen on a daily basis. 

Drunken drivers that cause death to innocent people

Lying

Cheating

Storms such as tornadoes, floods, hurricanes that destroy homes and lives.

Earthquakes

Also we fear losing jobs,  losing our health insurance, being struck down by cancer or other catastrophic health problems.   We fear for our children’s safety as well as our own, and this fearfulness causes us to teach our kids not to trust anyone they don’t know.   Fear causes us to encase ourselves and our families in a protective shell that  shuts out the rest of society and the world.

Just what is this “Fear”  that we are talking about?   I like Barbara Taylor Brown’s description of it:  “Fear is a small cell with no air in it and no light.  It is suffocating inside and dark.   There is no room to turn around inside it.   You can only face in one direction, but it hardly matters since you cannot see anyhow.   There is no future in the dark.  Everything is over.  Everything is past.   When you are locked up like that, tomorrow is as far away as the moon.”   In other words you cannot open the door from this prison because your FEAR paralyzes you.     If you do anything it might make it worse.  You feel safer to stay where you are even if you cannot breathe and cannot move—-that is how fear feels!

Only faith in God can cancel this kind of fear.  And Brown describes FAITH as:   “More like a rope bridge over a scenic gorge, sturdy but swinging back and forth, with plenty of light and plenty of air but precious little to hold on to except the stories that you have heard that this is the best and the only way across and that it is possible that it will bear your weight.!! 

In other words, we have to have faith in the power of the bridge to deliver us safely more than we do in the power of the gorge to kill us, if we are to overcome our fear.  In our own lives, we need to trust in God’s love for us and God’s presence in our lives more than the things that threaten us,  if we are to overcome our fearfulness.   Only God is able to help us cancel our fearfulness.

There is a lot of fear in the world.   First of all,  we need to differentiate between “fear” and “being fearful.”        

Fear” is a reaction to a definite threat.   It causes our adrenal glands to shoot adrenalin into our body and prepare us by increasing heartbeat, respiration, etc. for either “flight” or “fight.” 

Being Fearful” is a general feeling of being afraid without any concrete reason to feel that way.    It is more an attitude—-the way we view things.    Being fearful is like being anxious—there may not be any concrete and specific reason for it.  

Most of us are “being fearful” most of the time  because of something I call “the Human Condition”.    The human condition is something we all have to live with.  It can be summarized this way:

Some things will budge for us and some won’t.

We cannot live forever, no matter how desperately we try

We cannot control everything that happens to us.

 

That is the “human condition” and it can be frightening for us  because what it means is that we cannot choose all of the circumstances of our lives.  We cannot control everything that happens to us. 

Our lives can be comfortable one minute and spin completely out of our control in the next minute.

We can be a happily married couple one minute and a widow or widower the next minute—all in a heartbeat or the failure of a heartbeat

We can plan our future retirement and wake up in the morning and find that much of what we have worked so hard for and saved has been wiped out by a stock market over which we have no control. 

We can build a dream home and the next day huddle in its basement as a tornado destroys it!

What all of the above witnesses to us is that we are not in control. 

All we can really control is how we respond to what happens to us.

And just because we believe in God doesn’t shield us from any of the results of the human condition!    Our only assurance is that God loves us and will be with us to give us the strength and resources we need to cope with our human condition.    God’s resources are many,  God’s constant presence  and love are all around us.   God even sends his people, his servants to minister to us in times of need and to help us through any of the storms of life that we face  

We are not alone.   We need not fear.   As Paul writes in  Romans 8:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?   Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …..No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who love us.    For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

It takes a lot of courage to be a human being!!!  And it takes a lot of trust in God!!!  That’s why Jesus’s words are so important—-“Fear Not”!!

Jesus spoke to the problem of the human condition in our text today.  If we put the reading in context, Jesus was preparing his disciples to go on a mission to preach to the towns and villages in Galilee.  and was warning them that the things that people say and do about him will also be said and done to his disciples.   His disciples would be the recipients of the same hostility and rejection Jesus had already experienced.   They must  have shown signs of fear to go on the assignment as Jesus told them a total of 3 times to “Fear Not”.    He said:   “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves;….Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me….(10:16-18).    Because of our own experiences with fear, we can imagine something of the dread the disciples must have felt as Jesus sent them on their mission, especially because he went on to speak of the threats and dangers they could expect to encounter:  arrests, floggings, hatred, betrayal, and other forms of persecution.   I’m sure Peter must have said to himself—“Hey Jesus!  I didn’t sign up for this when I left my fishing boat to follow you!!”

But then Jesus told his disciples to not fear any of these things he had just listed.   He said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

Jesus also told his disciples:   “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.   What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.    ….

And:  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?   Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.   And even the hairs of your head are all counted.   So do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows.” 

In the final analysis, Jesus said in these passages,  only two events could  befall his followers—life and death—–and both are in the hands of God.  So trust in God because tjat cancels out fear!   Therefore, do not be afraid.   God is God of the past, God is the God of the present, and God is God of the future.   You are in God’s hands and there is nothing to be afraid of if you trust in God.    GOD’S LOVE CANCELS OUT FEAR!!  Trust in God’s love and care for you!!

It’s always been that way.   Long before Jesus spoke, God had spoken to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, saying:

Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;  I have called you by name, you are mine.    When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;  when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…..because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you!” (Isaiah 43: 1-4)

Some time ago, I read this story and it has stayed in my mind.   It so perfectly gives meaning to the text of this sermon that I’d like to close with it:

A man was traveling across the country on an airliner.   Somewhere over Texas, the plane hit a storm and the pilot came on and said,  “We are not going to be able to go around this storm or over it so we’ll be going through it.   Please fasten your seatbelts as there will be a lot of turbulence.

            Not too long after the announcement the storm struck.   There was thunder and lightening and the plane was tossed around like a child’s toy in the turbulence as the pilot fought to keep control of the plane.   Everyone was frightened—some were praying others were hugging loved ones—-except for one little girl the traveler observed.    She was about six years old and was sitting quietly in her seat,  seemingly not frightened at all by the fear and turbulence that was all around her.  

            After the plane safely landed, the traveler approached the little girl, still in her seat, and said:   I am surprised that you weren’t afraid of all that storm and what happened like the rest of us were.   Can you tell me why?   

            The small girl answered:   “My Daddy is the captain and he was taking me home.” 

 

GOD IS THE CAPTAIN OF OUR LIVES—-GOD WILL TAKE US HOME SAFELY—-DO NOT FEAR!!!   Amen

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

Old Age a Blessing??

 A reminder of mortality, as I just turned 79!  It finally happened to me!  My gastroenterologist  advised me that he would give me some tests now, and if they were o.k. he wouldn’t do it for five more years—by which time I would be 84 and it wouldn’t make much difference how those tests came out, as the life expectancy for males today is 82.    His words  reminded me of an e-mail I received from a high school friend recently that listed 9 important Facts to Remember as We Grow Older.  

#9 was – Death is the number One killer in the world.

#7 added – Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

#4 – Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.

But he reassured me in the last line—….and as someone recently said to me:   “Don’t worry about old age; it doesn’t last that long!”

As we grow older we all face our own mortality.   We know the time is shorter than it once was.   But being older is in many ways a gift from God.    What blessings we have known as we grow older, in comparison to those who die at a young age!    

We have been able to see our children grow up, marry and have children for us to love as grandparents!   We are blessed with grandchildren and watching them grow.   We are blessed by children who become persons that we appreciate for not only what they do, but for the kind of beautiful persons they have become.    We see grandchildren grow and are able to participate with them in their joys and defeats and cheer them on in all of their endeavors—-and spoil them as any grandparent’s job description allows them to do.

We have developed a legacy to pass on to those children and grandchildren.   Whether it be a special woodworking project that they will love,  or the memories we make together as we live our lives—-that legacy will be passed on when our grandchildren and children say:  “I remember what Dad (or Grandpa) used to say about this!”

We  have lived through tragedies as well as joys in our lives and it has given us a depth and stability and a trust in God we didn’t have in our thirties.   Richard Rohr writes about this “second half of life” in his book  Falling Upward:  “ There must be, and if we are honest, there always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot control, fix, explain, change, or even understand.”    This is when the first stage of our lives ends and we reach out to God and say:   “I can’t do it on my own, God, help me!”    And we enter the second stage of our lives where our own ego is not our ruler, and instead we trust in God to guide our lives since we realize that we are really not in control after all!

For me it was the sudden death of my wife that  brought me to this second stage.  For others, it may be a divorce, the loss of a career, the loss of a parent.    I reached out to God in my circumstance in  a new way.   I’d always been the fixer!   This I couldn’t fix.   I cried:  “Help me get through this God!”   and I felt a peace that I had never known and began a relationship with God that I’d never known before and in this second half of my life I am still living and growing in that relationship.   What a gift of growing older!!

All of the above are reasons why those of us who are growing older should be thankful, in spite of our aches and pains that accompany it.    We have been blessed by the above and much more!    Life is good!   Live it to the fullest until the day you die!