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Blog posts August 2016

August 29, 2016: Luke 14:25-33, “Priorities”

Most of us struggle very little between bad and good.  We learned those lessons from our earliest days.  Our struggle, instead, is between good and better or between better and best!

Life dangles before us every opportunity imaginable—ways to spend our money, places to invest our time.  We turn on the television, and commercials lure us with hot new gadgets to buy.  We have to have the latest iphone and it, too, becomes a trap of sorts because through the process of our searches product placements appear and lure us into buying modes. 

Then come the tugs of ways to spend our time.  Again the marketing professionals spin their messages designed to entrap us, “You haven’t lived until you’ve taken this cruise or until you’ve traveled the world.”  “You work hard, and you deserve to relax on golden beaches.”  Sports trainers and coaches lure us by telling us they can most certainly turn our five-year-old children into professional baseball players or football players or Olympic athletes, but first we must commit to every evening at practice, every Saturday on the field or in the gym, and certainly every Sunday morning we must spend at games or in practices.

So what about the need to save money, to not go into debt or to get out of debt?  What about the need to give unto God that which belongs to God?  What about the need to live simply so others can simply live?  What about the need to keep a balance with regard to our time so that we know who we are as members of the family?  What about the need to protect time that rightfully belongs to God so as to maintain close connection with God?

Luke 14:25-33 are some of the most challenging and thought-provoking words in the New Testament, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple!”  Jesus definitely gets my attention as he speaks those words!  He seems to suggest that human being become like cyclops with one eye in the center of their foreheads and with that one eye trained on Jesus!  While Jesus’ words are about hating brother, sister, mother and father, they stray away from literal application and head instead in the direction of Jesus being such a priority in our lives that it is as if we “hated” all other priorities in life—even those with the closest persons in our lives! 

But guess what!  When we make Jesus our singular focus—our priority—then all other relationships turn out better.  When we make Jesus our singular focus—our priority—then all other decisions and all other activities in our lives go in a better direction.








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August 22, 2016: Jeremiah 1:4-10, "Excuses, Excuses"

            It begins in our childhoods.  It goes something like this, “Shirley, why did you bite your brother?”  “Because he kept bothering me!” comes the answer.  “Johnny, why don’t you have your homework?”  “Well, I did it, but the dog ate it.”

            The issues become a bit more serious as we grow into adulthood.  “So, Ms. Smith, why exactly is it that you were going 20 miles per hour over the speed limit?”  “Well, I lost my keys.  I was running late for work, and now I am making up for lost time.”  Or how about this one, “Why is it that you don’t have money for groceries this week when you just got paid a few days ago?”  “Well, you see my friends and I went shopping and I hadn’t bought any clothes or any new shoes for a long time, and besides everything I bought was ON SALE!”

            You might have guessed that what I’m talking about is excuse making!  We practice it until it becomes a fine art.  We practice to such a degree that sometimes it becomes difficult for us to recognize when the excuse has validity and when it’s just something made up in the moment to try to get us off the hook.  The sad thing is that we practice it so much with people in the world around us that it becomes easy and natural to offer excuses to God as well.

            We could talk about Moses called by God to go to pharaoh, to appeal to him to let the people of Israel leave slavery in Egypt and to head to the promised land.  We could talk about the prophet Elijah called by God to go to a widow’s house and appeal to her for food and lodging. Then comes the story of Jeremiah.  The calling from God is to be a prophet—to speak messages to people as God instructs.

            Common to all these stories is offering excuses to God.  Both Moses and Jeremiah say that they are not good public speakers.  Jeremiah also adds that he is very young and fears that he is not experienced enough to live into God’s calling.  The widow is poor and is in fear of being unable to support not only herself but also her young son.  She finds it hard to envision how she could possible open up her tiny supply of meal and oil to make food for the stranger at her door.  It’s a reasonable and understandable excuse, don’t you think?

            In each of the stories God has a ready response.  To Moses he promises Aaron to go alongside and to assist in the work to be done.  To the widow God promises that as she practices generosity she will never have an empty cupboard.  To Jeremiah he promises his presence to guide and direct his steps, and he promises to put words in Jeremiah’s mouth—precisely the words Jeremiah needs to speak for all situations!

            The calling of God is not a thing of the past.  It did not happen only to Old Testament or New Testament peoples.  God calls each one of us—some in specialized ways as ministers, as missionaries, as Directors of Christian Education, or Youth, or Music.  God calls others to be strong Christian laypersons—persons who use their witness in the world as they go about their jobs. 

            Will we hear God’s voice?  What will be our response?  Will we offer excuses—too old, too young, too inexperienced, wouldn’t know where to begin?  Or will we respond to God, “Here am I.  I will trust you to be with me.  I will trust you to put the right words in my mouth.  I will be your witness wherever you choose to send me.”  This we may know for a certainty—to do God’s bidding is to experience a blessing in our lives! 




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Aug 15: Hebrews 11:29-12:2 "By Faith"

            Faith…what is it?  Is it blind following?  Does it mean unexamined, unthoughtful patterns of living like putting our hands up and saluting the leader who turns out to be Hitler in disguise?   Certainly not!

            Instead faith—the Christian faith is about putting faith and trust in the one who has proven ultimately faithful, ultimately dependable—the one who has shown over and over and over again that he has our best interests at heart.

            Faith—is it an insurance policy?  Is it protection against bad things coming our way—storms, floods, loss, and pain?  Certainly not!

            In fact the Bible is clear that bad things visit themselves upon the just and the unjust.  They simply are a part of life in this world.  And what’s more in certain instances faith—when we cling to it in situations where we are surrounded by opponents to faith—sometimes makes us objects of rejection and even persecution.

            Is it something that very few people in the world ever are able to realize or to cultivate in their lives, and if so are these persons to be put on a pedestal and admired for their great faith?  Are they deserving of accolades and pats on the back?  No. 

Paul worried that when human beings would talk about faith they would describe it as something completely from within, something of their own doing—and therefore as something DESERVING of pats on the back.  He wholeheartedly rejected such a notion, and in response he described it as a GIFT from God!           

Does it guarantee a prize?  Is it like a lottery ticket?  We put dollar after dollar into it with the hopes of finally gaining the big prize money?  No, of course not—although gaining the prize, winning the race, and finishing the course in faith certainly are analogies that we claim in the Christian life.  The prize, though, is not winning the lottery or achieving fame or fortune.  Instead it is about the prize of another world—a home in heaven.  It is about hearing words from God at the end of our lives, “Well, done, good and faithful servant!”  Thanks be to God who enables a life of faith and who provides for us a home in heaven when our time on earth is done!


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August 8, 2016: Isaiah 1:10-20 "White as Snow"

I’ve always lived in the south—never in a place where the snow comes and stays forever, where it becomes increasingly dirty brown, where residents wish upon wish that it would go away and never come again!  Instead the snow comes in the south as a wonder and a surprise.  It visits its beauty upon us in ways that we are captivated, held in its mystery! 

I can’t even begin to guess the number of hours I have sat in a window seat watching God’s magic mounding up one flake at a time right before my very eyes!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood outside gazing up into the gray sky with a cascade of flakes falling in my face! 

Our lives oftentimes are anything but blankets of beautiful white snow visiting themselves upon the world.  Instead we visit the world—people around us--with bitterness, anger held onto for decades, resentment, jealousy, a host of negative emotions.  We cling to negative emotions as if they were the last few valuable coins in our pockets.  We tell the same wrong-done-to-me stories as if they were gems of literature the world eagerly awaits.  And sometimes our bitterness and resentment build to the point that we lash out—return evil for evil.  Like blankets of snow that’s stayed too long and experienced too much traffic our lives and our relationships become—dirty, dingy, soiled beyond being recognition.

The words of Isaiah begin without a pat on the back for the nation Israel.  Israel is worshipping God.  She is making sacrifices at the altar—all the right things it would seem to readers of this segment of scripture.  How many modern day preachers wouldn’t be overjoyed at church members SHOWING UP?  How many modern day preachers wouldn’t be ecstatic at church members not only SHOWING UP but also PLACING AN OFFERING IN THE PLATE AS IT IS PASSED?

Yet, God rejects the actions of Israel.  “It’s not enough,” says God, “not enough to show up, to sit on a pew.  It’s not enough to place a check in the offering plate as it is passed.  Instead what is pleasing to me is a heart given to me—a heart for me to remold and to remake according to my plan.  Work of the heart comes first and foremost.  A right heart creates the possibility for right worship!  A right heart creates the possibility for right living one with another!”

Isaiah’s listeners must have had moments of scratching their heads and looking puzzled.  After all they felt that they were fairly good people, doing most of the right things in life—going to work, taking care of their families.  How could God be so disappointed in them and reject much of what they were doing?  But more importantly what were they to do in response to God’s words—work harder, try harder in their relationships, work all the more to forgive and forget?

But then the message clicks.  It’s not about them.  It’s not about working harder.  It’s not something that they can accomplish in and of themselves.  Instead what God is asking is for them to open their hearts up to him.  Open their hearts so he can make them into the people he wants them to be.  And God, through the prophet Isaiah, says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow!”

It’s ALWAYS a good place to start—with God, in prayer, asking God to do the things in your life you haven’t been able to do for yourself.  You’ve tried and been unsuccessful at forgiving a family member wrong done long ago.  You’ve worked and worked at telling new stories—not the same wrong-done-to-me stories that took place thirty years ago, but somehow you haven’t been able to let them go and to begin to write new stories.  Hear God’s invitation, “Open your heart to me.  Allow me to do the work that I want to do.  Let me make your life as white as the snow and full of incredible new possibilities that are beyond your imagination!”

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August 1, 2016: Wait and Pray!

She handed us towels, and we eagerly tied them around our necks.  As soon as we did so we felt we had gained all the powers of the super-hero we watched on the screen of our 19-inch black-and-white television.  We believed that we could move faster than a speeding bullet, that we were more powerful than a locomotive, and that we could leap tall buildings.  We held out our arms and moved through the house and the yard wreaking havoc wherever we went.  Fortunately our imaginations never carried us so far as to leap off anything higher than the low-slung porch of my grandmother’s white farmhouse.

There’s nothing much worse than feeling “grounded,” stuck in one place, unable to find power or direction, or hope for anything other than the current circumstances.  That’s the way the disciples must have felt in the days following Jesus’ death and burial in a borrowed tomb.  They were fearful for their own lives.  The cruelty of the world baffled them.  The pain of living in the face of such events almost overcame them.  They struggled over and over again to try to mesh the stories Jesus had told them—about their doing even greater things than those he did while on this earth—set against their current state of affairs so as to make sense of them.

The Psalmist had it right!  “Joy comes in the morning”—or more specifically on the third morning!  Joy comes as the resurrected Jesus steps onto the stage and speaks his words of peace. 

The joy came laden with the need to go and tell, to speak words of peace, to bind up wounds, to heal the sick and the suffering, to cast out demons in his name, to go to the ends of the earth, to baptize in his name!  But despite the joy in their hearts, despite the desire to be the speeding bullet moving toward others with the good news of the gospel, despite their desire to leap over obstacles that might have deterred them, they still lacked the power to get the job done! 

For that the risen Christ tells them to wait—wait and pray!  So simple and yet so hard!

As the church we sometimes will do anything else other than wait and pray!  We will leap into action before asking for God’s guidance toward appropriate action.  We will form committees.  We will study something to the point all the life has been sucked out of it.  We will talk to every guru searching for guidance.  We will copy the action plan of the church down the block.  We will turn to our memories of the good things that happened in days gone by and decide they are appropriate guides for the present.

Wait! Wait and pray!  Why don’t we try it out?  It worked well for disciples two thousand years ago.  As they waited and prayed God supplied the gift of the HoGod’s calling and God’s promise are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow!

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