It has been a challenging week with the ever unfolding scandal at Penn State and the aftermath of the mass shootings in Aurora, CO. It is difficult enough to try to wrap your head around it without people spouting off and making silly comments.
I have heard (and I am paraphrasing these) some of the following comments:
- God is punishing the US because of abortion/homosexuality/same sex marriage
- God was there to save the victims (what about those who died?)
- God hates _____ (fill in the blank)
- God loved enough to save people
- The victims are in a better place now
All of this begs the question: “Where is God?” People have been asking this question this weekend as we come to grips with another loss of innocence from a shooting or the fallout of a major child-molestation case. Where was God? Why didn’t God do something about this?
I believe that in many cases we have done this to ourselves. Now, I am not saying that God punished the people in Colorado or the children at PSU but I believe we have made decisions along the way that laid the groundwork for these things to happen. Over the years, we have allowed the morality of our country to slide and what was immoral a decade ago is now perfectly accepted today. We look the other way for one thing and pretty soon we look the other way for other things as well. It is not long before we realize how far we have drifted and well it is easier to stay adrift than come back.
So where is God? God is there all the time. Scripture tells us that God is ever present as the 1st verse of Psalm 46 indicates:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
The problem is we only turn to God when there is trouble. I offered prayers for the victims in Aurora, CO and I continue to pray for the PSU community but I am reacting to the events rather than working to prevent them. We turn to God when troubles come but not before. I know Psalm 46 begins with God being our help in trouble but the 10th verse of Psalm 46 is better advice:
‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’
How often are we still and pray to God? How often do we pause when things are going well and acknowledge God? I am guilty of it too. We react when troubles come and cry out to God (and yes even blame God) but God is still there to provide refuge and strength.
Imagine, for just a minute, what would if we cry out to God all the time? In good times and in troubles. Would this mean that our lives would be trouble free? Of course not, we live in a fallen world but if we begin to acknowledge God in all things, we are no longer drifting in our morals and we are beginning to turn back to God. We may realize the potential horror of our decisions and begin to work, together as a people, we can stop our immoral slide and make things better for all people.
It sounds hard but it begins with one person – me. I can do this by choosing to acknowledge God and follow God in all things. As I do it, I can influence the people around me – quietly and without confrontation – to follow my example. Slowly, we can make the world a better place for all people as we acknowledge the presence of God in our lives. It begins with me.
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. ~1 John 3:18 (NRSV)
I have a confession to make. I visit the Westboro Baptist Church’s website from time to time. Why? I want to know the message they are putting out to the world. I am not calling them the enemy but I think it is important to know what messages they are sharing in the event that other people ask. Another confession related to the WBC – I have to shower when I am done because I always feel so dirty.
I am bringing this up this morning because yesterday as the events of the theater shooting unfolded, I was reading messages on Twitter that people were saying that God hated America, God hates________ (fill in the blanks), or God is punishing people for sin. I was troubled (and still am) but these statements because (1) they are insensitive and (2) I believe they go against the Bible.
God is love. The Bible shows this time and time again. God is a being of love and therefore is incapable of hate. If God hated, then God couldn’t be God. The most commonly quoted scripture verse is John 3:16 which says (in case you forgot):
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ~John 3:16-17 (NRSV)
Read those words and concentrate on loved and saved. God desires a relationship with every person and sent Jesus to show the way to God and God did it out of love. There is no hatred in that statement. There is not condemnation. God loved.
Another passage that many people are quite familiar with (mainly because it is read at weddings) is 1 Corinthians 13. Paul talks about love and what it may look like. To me, the first verse sums up what sharing a message of love is all about: If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (13:1 NRSV) Yup. I can preach the Gospel and share God but if I do not do out of love, I might as well not bother. Those churches and people who go out (and in some cases gleefully do so) and share that God hates and God is punishing are nothing more than noisy gongs. They are making a whole lot of noise but doing little more than driving people away from God.
In my mind, I would rather love someone to God than scare them there. I would rather show someone the love of God through my actions towards them and how I treat them then to use words and scripture and hateful messages to scare them into accepting God. I would rather serve a God out of loving devotion than to accept a God out of a fear.
Any God that I have to fear (and I am talking fear and not a healthy awestruck trembling) because if I don’t accept God I will be punished is not a God for me nor is it a true relationship. I am in it out of fear. Rather, I would prefer to serve a God who despite my stubborn, flawed, sinful, arrogant, and imperfect nature still loves me and wants me to know him better.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NRSV)
This morning, I was at the YMCA working out on the elliptical machine. I am not a person who can use the little television attached to the machine so as I was listening to music, my eyes caught a verse of scripture on the wall:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. ~Psalm:46:1 (NRSV)
The scripture is the source of the title of this post but as I thought about it and reflected, a few thoughts came to my mind. The first, and probably most obvious, is that God is our source. God is, as the title implies, refuge, strength, and help. For regular readers of my blog, you know that I have been on a journey for some time. You will also know that I was in anguish from time to time out of worry and dread and doubt. It was in those moments, that I felt God’s refuge and strength the most. I certainly did not have the strength or will to make it without God.
The second part of this is that God is very present. I will admit that there are times when I am not consciously aware of God’s presence. I am so wrapped up in myself or focused on something that I am not sensing God. However, in hind sight, when I pause and reflect, I am aware that God is there and has been there the entire time even when I didn’t realize it or focus on God.
It’s funny how you reflect on things. Today, I was simply working out and had the time to reflect on God and God’s presence in my life. I am blessed not only to have God but to have the time to reflect.
Edward Everett Hale, the great American orator, once said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” It may seem like a trite comment but there is power behind it. As I was running this morning, I was thinking about the idea of ministry. I have talked with people who tell me they could never be in ministry. It catches me off guard when I think that everyone is in ministry. Every thing we do is for the glory of God. Some people are called to ordained ministry while others are called to hospitality or music or some other ministry. Paul writes:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. ~Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV)
As I think about an army unit, I am the chaplain not the commander, not the cook. I have a specific role within the unit just as everyone else does. My role differs from everyone else’s but I am just as important as the commander or the cook. However, without each part of the body of the unit, nothing would happen. It is the same way in a church. Different people have different roles but it is all ministry and without one person or another doing their piece of the ministry, things will not happen.
We are all in this together so let’s work together for God’s glory. Let’s remember that everything we do should be in worship to God and so there is no small task in ministry or in life. Without the work of each of us, ministry will not happen. Embrace what you can do and do it the best you can!
- GIVE UP CONTROL
- GIVE OVER CONTROL
- GET UNDER CONTROL
First, I must give up control. Once I stop trying to fix the problem, once I stop trying to change the person, once I stop trying to control the situation, then God gets involved. When I say, “I give up” God says… finally, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting for that. Now I can get involved! But not only do I need to give up, I have to do a second thing. I have to give over control.
You see, if you’re just holding on to the steering wheel real tightly and you’ve been driving for hours and hours and you don’t even know where you are because you’ve taken so many wrong turns and you’re so lost and you’re so worn out and you’re so tired and you’ve failed and so you give up and you let go, you’re just going to crash. So you can’t just let go. You have to give over the steering wheel to someone else. But then there’s a third thing. I give up. I give over but I have to get under control.
I have to get under control. I have to turn that wheel over to someone who has real control. I can’t get control of my own life but I can get my life under control when I turn that wheel over to God. We cling so tightly to the wheel of our life. We think… “I can do this, I can handle one little wheel!” But the truth is there are so many wheels all spinning out of control. There’s a wheel for your spiritual life, your marriage, your work, your school, your friends, your family, your hobbies. We try to control them all, but we can’t… Or we say, Jesus you take the wheel, or we hold on to one of them. The truth is we can’t handle even one of them on our own. The only way through is to let go.
If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. ~Luke 17:33 (NLT)
The only way I can successfully let go of all these things is to take hold of Christ. I need His presence and power in my life to live a life of love. You’ll never master it this side of heaven but each day you grow in His love you will experience stronger and deeper and more fulfilling relationships. I believe this was the Apostle Paul’s great ambition in his life and for the churches he started. One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is found in Ephesians 3 when Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus. I want to close this series with this prayer for you and me today.
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” ~Ephesians 3:17-18 (The Message)
When I run, I find my mind wandering between the few running cadences I know:
The Army Colors:
The Army colors,
The colors are blue,
To show the world
That we are true.
The Army colors,
The colors are green,
To show the world
We’re a fighting machine.
The Army colors,
The colors are red,
To show the world
The blood we’ve shed.
The Army colors,
The colors are black,
To show the world
That we’re on the attack.
The Army colors,
The colors are white,
To show the world
That we can fight.
When my granny was ninety-one,
She did PT just for fun.
When my granny was ninety-two,
She did PT better than you.
When my granny was ninety-five,
She did PT to stay alive.
When my granny was ninety-six,
She did PT just for kicks.
When my granny was ninety-seven,
She up and died and went to heaven.
She met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates,
She said, “Gee, St. Peter, I hope I’m not late.”
St. Peter said with a big ol’ grin,
“Get down Granny and knock out ten.”
Granny replied with a big old smile,
“Hell, no, St. Peter, I got a profile.”
However, I don’t spend the entire time I am running just doing the cadences. I also find myself praying and reflecting on scripture and even reciting scripture in my head. In either case, whether prayer and scripture or cadences, the end result is the same. I am focused on something other than me or something other than how far I have to run or something other than what is troubling me. I am able to focus on other things.
This morning, I realized that prayer and scripture serve the same purpose in our every day lives as well. We have struggles, challenges, and even hills to face as we go through our daily lives and prayer and scripture serve as cadences to help us keep going. It is great to have a Bible but it is even better to know scripture by heart so you can refer to it whenever you need it. I have some favorite verses that I depend on in times of trouble and need.
Just a though from this morning’s run.
This morning as I was running, I couldn’t help but reflect on Pentecost. The sky was just beginning to grow lighter and the stars were just a bit dimmer. The birds were beginning to wake and the world was still around me. It was just like any other morning that I run. Then I began to wonder about the Apostles on that first Pentecost. Did their day start out normal? Did they know anything was going to happen? Did they know their world would never, ever be the same after that day?
But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace. -Acts 20:24 (CEB)
I wonder about our day today. Is it going to be different than other days? Is it going to be a day filled with wonder? Or maybe changes? Are we ready? Just some thoughts from my run this morning.
This morning as I was running, I had a thought. Of course, I have many thoughts while I am running but I was thinking about the fact that during boot camp, Soldiers are broken down so they can be remade into, well Soldiers. You have raw recruits who are coming in and need to be shaped up and made ready to serve.
While Christians are not always broken down to be made into Soldiers, I think when we hit our moments of being broken, God remakes us into better people to love and serve God. This morning as I was running, I heard the chorus below and started to sing it and reflect on it.
Brokenness (Brokenness) is what I long for
Brokenness (Brokenness) is what I need
Brokenness (Brokenness) is what You want for me
Those words shot straight to the core of me. I need to be broken before God in order to be used by him. I need to be broken so that any pride that exists can slowly fade away. As I sang those words aloud as cars passed by me, I knew God was showing me that this is where he wants me.
To be broken over the things that break his heart. To be broken over my sin and how it affects others. To allow Christ to break me so that I can better reflect his image to the world around me. To be broken enough so that I realize life is just not all about me (something I reallystruggle with).
I then started to sing the Chorus:
Take my Heart and mold it
Take my mind, transform it
Take my will, conform it
To Yours (to Yours) oh, Lord
I’m so thankful that I can give to him my heart, mind, and will so that he can do what he pleases in my life, even if that means quite a bit of brokenness.
But now, Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand. -Isaiah 64:8 (CEB)
I think we need to be broken and shattered before we can fully realize how much we need God. Maybe no. I am envious of those who fully love God without question but I find that I am one of those people who struggle from time to time and need to be reminded that I need God. When I am at my weakest moment, when I am broken, when I am hitting rock bottom, I am at my fullest need for God and in those moments, I am being remade.
Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong. -2 Corinthians 12:10 (CEB)
Over the past few weeks, I have been focusing on faith and following Jesus in light of the resurrection. We are people of the resurrection so that defines not only who we are but what we do as well. Today and over a series of guest blog posts, I want to look at different callings and the struggles we encounter as we attempt to live out our callings. I spend a lot of time wrestling with things as I run and this morning was no different. I have been wrestling with this idea for some time but this morning it was really on my mind as I was running.
It has been my experience of late that unless you are following a specific calling, others struggle to understand your calling. In my own life, I am experiencing this first hand. Now, please don’t read this as a criticism – it’s not, but I am finding people are struggling with my calling to be an Army Chaplain. Becoming a chaplain is not something I just woke up one morning and decided to do. I struggled with this call over several years until I fully realized this is where God was calling me. That does not mean it is an easy call. That does not mean I am completely at peace with my call – it just means I am secure in doing what God has called me to do. Being an Army chaplain has its own unique challenges including a higher likelihood of encountering violence and facing your own death.
Callings are very interesting.
As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers. -Mark 1:16-20 (CEB)
Now, this particular verse does not differentiate callings as all mentioned were called to be “fishers of people” but it does show a group of people being called into ministry. In this case they were fisherman who had sure work and a routine they followed every day. They were making a living, and while they were living on the margins, they were at least part of society. Accepting Jesus’ call would change all of that. They were not following the traditional path to ministry nor were they considered the likely people to go into ministry in that day. Scripture tells us the struggles they faced along the way as they sought to live out their calling to ministry from God (specifically from the Human One).
Now, I am not comparing myself to the Apostles by any means but I understand some of their struggles. We all have specific views of ministry and when a person seeks a ministry that does not fit into that view, we question it. When a person seeks ministry who does fit our view of a person who should be seeking ministry, we question their calling. We encourage them to seek some other path or direction. This is not a criticism of anyone but rather a view. These observations come from my own experiences and talking with others who are encountering similar things. I will freely admit that I am jealous of my friends and colleagues who are pastors. They have deep relationships with people that come from years of conversation and pastoring. They literally will be with some families from birth to death and everything in between. It is an awesome ministry but it is not my calling. I can be a pastor but it is not what I am called to do – at least not pastoring in a church.
So to bring this all home and get back to where I started – what does this have to do with being a people of the resurrection? In light of a loving and living God who seeks to reconcile all of humanity to God, we have been called to ministry – some of us to a specific, ordained ministry but all of us to ministry. Our purpose is to share God’s loving work and reconciliation with the world. There are many ministries and there are many different people to do those ministries.
We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful. -Romans 12:6-8 (CEB)
We may not always understand a ministry or even think it is one we would want to do ourselves. But we need to trust that God has called that person to that ministry and support his or her work as they seek to live out God’s calling on their life.
I think we all have this idea of God having a reverberating voice that will stop everyone in their path. I think we all seem to expect that when God wants to get our attention, it is something great, dramatic, loud, and powerful. I don’t think this is the case.
After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. -1 Kings 19:12 (CEB)
A case in point, the bracelet that is pictured on this post was a gift to my daughter from the son of a friend. He made it for Sophia so she can look at it and know that even though I may be off somewhere serving in the Army, I am okay. It is a connection from Sophia to me and from Sophia to God. It was a simple gesture but a powerful message from God. God spoke through the gesture of a gift. It wasn’t a loud, reverberating voice but the message was still there. I could hear God’s voice speaking to me.
How often do we listen for God’s voice and miss it? Are we waiting for a loud voice or is God speaking through the rustling of trees in a breeze, the voice of a child who asks a question, or through a bracelet made in friendship?
The third watch of the night is an interesting time. I am up running at this time of morning and I enjoy watching as the darkness grows just a little darker before it begins to lighten as the sunrise approaches. There is something very mystical and spiritual about the entire experience. This morning as I was running, I was thinking of the first Easter morning and how everything must have seemed so dark and that the light would never again shine. I was reminded (and continue to be reminded) that we have all been at that point in our lives from time to time. We are in a situation where there seems to be no way out and we are afraid that the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel may very well be a train. In my own case, it has been my dealing with the Army and navigating through it.
Then I was reminded of Jesus and that he goes before us. Even in death.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. -1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (CEB)
Even in the darkness, light will come again. Even in death, life will come again. Even in the midst of hopelessness, hope will come again. I am simply reminded that no matter what, Jesus has already been there and is, in fact, already there. If I consider Paul’s words that everyone will die but everyone will also be given life in Christ – there is hope. I know I have to die but I also know that Jesus died as well. Jesus came through death and I will as well.
In my mind, it is like that first tiny hint of light on the horizon. It is dark but then you notice a slight lightening in the distance. It is not as dark as it was. Then suddenly it is growing lighter quickly and the sun rises. A new day is here and things don’t seem as bad in the light as they did in the darkness.
That first Easter morning, in the light of Christ, things must have seemed so much better (once they got over their fear) and filled with hope. I keep repeating it but it is worth repeating – Jesus has already been there. Jesus is already there.
Just some thoughts from the third watch. The darkness is never as bad as it seems. It is never as hopeless as it seems. It will get better one day. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. But one day soon.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. -Revelation 21:4 (CEB)
I am comforted knowing that not only has Jesus gone there before but he is already there waiting for me. What a great thought for today and always.
This morning as I was running, I was thinking about a lot. This week, I have been focusing on the acts of the apostles as they moved from fear to evangelism. I passed a neighborhood watch sign in my neighborhood and thought about how we have a crowd of people in my neighborhood but no real community. Too often the church is exactly the same way.
Then I remembered the feeding of the multitudes stories in the Bible like the one found in Mark 6:30-44 (CEB).
You can hardly blame the disciples for being a little irritated with Jesus. Here they have just returned from their first missionary adventure, weary yet bursting with energy to share with him “all they have done and taught.” In response, Jesus invites them to go away with him “to a deserted place by themselves” (Mark repeats this twice for emphasis). The first-ever-recorded church retreat is interrupted, however, in part because of the success of their own outreach. The crowd sees them going, recognizes them, and follows them. The disciples, together with Jesus, have begun to establish relationships with the people, and they are no longer anonymous.
When Jesus sees the throng amassed on the shoreline, he is moved to compassion and cancels (or at least postpones) the retreat. For him, it is time to get to work. We can imagine that the disciples had a somewhat different reaction. By the time night falls, they are both frustrated with Jesus and fatigued by the work. In context, Jesus’ response to their rather sensible suggestion to send the crowd away seems almost incomprehensible: “You give them something to eat.” The crowd has now become a burden.
Yet that seems not to be what Jesus has in mind. The disciples assume the resources for this repast must come only from them. Jesus instead sends them into the midst of the people to assess what resources might be available from those they are called to serve. They are not impressed by what they discover, but Jesus is not dissuaded. What they have will be enough.
Then, in a move that is often overlooked in the retelling, Jesus prompts the disciples to act in a way that they must have found mystifying at the time. He directs them to have the crowd sit down in groups on the green grass. Not just any size groups, but groups of fifty and one hundred. In that moment, the crowd becomes a community. Then, to reinforce their role as leaders, after blessing and breaking the loaves and the fish, Jesus gives the food to the disciples to set before the people. It is they, not he, who feed them.
Without diminishing the miracle, notice how fundamentally this move alters the dynamic of the narrative. You can visualize the significance of the transformation. I picture a supply truck arriving in a refugee camp, the hungry crowd gathering as a frenzied pack to get their share of the scarce resources before they quickly disappear. In community, the dynamics are altogether different. Sitting in a circle, you connect with those around you. As you pass the bread from person to person, aware of how many people it has to feed, you are less likely to take more than your share, both because you can see the faces of those around you and because the collective will of the group would not allow anything else. You can imagine—though Mark does not say it—that those who might have had a little extra tucked away, afraid to share with the hungry crowd, now are more willing to add theirs to the collective pot, knowing that there will be enough for them, too.
Mark’s narrative invites us to abandon our assumptions of scarcity and trust the abundant resources of the communities in which we serve, both inside and outside the congregation. While there are certainly times when going on retreat is appropriate and getting away to a deserted place by ourselves is just what the doctor ordered, Jesus refuses to let the needs of the crowd be ignored because that is our need. If we come to feel that it all depends upon us, then the recourse is not to escape for a time, only to return so that once again we can be the sole provider of leadership in our congregations and communities, but to look more deeply, to “go and see” what resources are present that we have not yet discovered. The promise of community, and the testimony of organizing, is that we will discover resources in such abundance that not only will the community discover its capacity to meet its own needs, but our own spirits will be fed in the process. At the end of the day, there is a basket for each one of us, too.
I think the ongoing message of Easter is that we need to reach out to the community and take care of one another and we will be surprised at what happens.
Have you ever thought about what you would preach if you had just one sermon to preach? It does make you think and I am sure there are some of you who are thinking that you don’t preach for a living. I would argue otherwise. Yesterday, I preached a sermon about how we are all ministers and priests but some of us happen to be ordained. You may think you don’t preach but how you live your life is your sermon.
It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching – St. Francis of Assisi
That may change how you view your own sermon. Lent is often a time when we stop and reflect on how we are living our life in relation to God. I think it is also a time when we should be reflecting on how much God is in our life. Do we simply keep God at bay except on Sundays? Or when we hit a bad time in our life? Or when it is convenient? In my case, I can answer yes (at times) to all of those questions. It is a lesson that I need to remember myself. I need to focus on focusing on God in my life and sharing God with the rest of the world.
I want to share Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (CEB):
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I didn’t come preaching God’s secrets to you like I was an expert in speech or wisdom. I had made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified.
Paul suggests that we need to do more than just weave God into our daily living but rather make sure God is our daily living. We need to keep focused on God and what God did for us through Jesus Christ. Our thoughts, actions, and words should preach Jesus to everyone we meet. God should literally be part of our life in every way to the point that we no longer have to limit God to certain moments but rather God is like the very air we breath. We no longer have to think about a God time because every moment is a God moment.
I really don’t live under a rock but I tend to keep my blinders on when it comes to things happening around me. I don’t always pay attention to what is happening and if I do, I usually decide if it truly will affect me or not. Having said that, I am going to weigh in on the Trayvon Martin case. It is getting a lot of media attention as it should but I have some thoughts that I want to share.
- We have another case of media saturation. Every time I turn on the television, listen to the radio, or read something online, it is involving the Trayvon Martin case. Okay, maybe not every time but fairly close. As is often the case, the media will beat something to death until the next big story comes along. We become inundated with the story to the point that no one cares after awhile (think JonBenet Ramsey). This story will be in the news and front and center as long as it is the latest thing. As soon as some other worthy event occurs, the media will drop its focus and move on. We may hear about this story from time to time and then that’s it.
- I also think about the wife who is beaten nightly but her drunken husband. The young child who is being sexually abused by his step-mother. The neighborhood children who are being terrorized by a bully. The family who was killed by genocide. The family who is grieving the loss of their child to war. We don’t hear their stories yet they deserve justice as well. I pray for justice for Trayvon and his family but I also pray that perhaps this tragedy is an opportunity to look at our world and see there is a lot we need to change. We need to stand up and say no to violence, war, and injustice. We can’t do this when the media jumps on a story. We need to do it all the time.
I am sure some of you will jump on me for being insensitive and throw the idea that I would not feel like this if it were my child and that is true. As a parent, I cannot begin to imagine (nor do I want to find out) what Trayvon’s parents must be feeling. I can’t relate. But as a member of humanity, I can say that I am tired of this violence and injustice. We can pray for the kingdom to come or we can begin to stand up and say no more. We can stand up and say no longer are we going to judge people on what they wear, their skin color, their sexuality, their wealth, and where they live. We are no longer going to put people into categories but instead we are going to love people because they are people – God’s creation. The hard part of this? We have to love everyone – even those who commit acts of violence. Hatred will only spawn more hatred which can lead to more violence. Let’s use Trayvon’s story to change how we deal with the world and truly make a difference. We can begin today if we truly wanted to.
Originally, this blog was to serve as an online journal of sorts. However, lately, it has been a place where I have been sharing scripture devotions and the like. I am not saying that is a bad thing but I do try to keep up with a journal as well. I have shared parts of my journey over the past few years but I have been terrible about keeping my readers up to date with what is going on in my world. So here is an update of sorts.
Since returning home in December from Fort Jackson, I have been spending my days substituting for Metro Nashville Public Schools. I am reminded that I enjoyed teaching but not to the point that I wanted to go back into the classroom. My days are filled with interacting with children and teaching them but then I get to go home at the end of the day and not worry about the headaches that teachers have. It is not a bad thing and it keeps me out of trouble for the most part. It is not a bad thing. I get to influence children and learn from them as well and get paid for it.
Along the way, while I am subbing, I also have the chance to work on my weekly sermons since I am filling it at a church. Again, there is not pressure to proveanything so I am more relaxed asI go through this ministry. That is not a bad thing.
I will admit this is not where I expected to be right now but then I can see God at work so I keep the faith and keep going until I am told otherwise. It is not easy but then who said life would be.
The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 3:14 (CEB)
I have to begin by saying that my sermon this past Sunday was not one of my best. For those who preach, you know you can wrestle with scripture and fall short. The sermon was not developed and polished like I wanted and it just was not a good sermon. We all have bad sermons from time to time and this was one of mine.
Having said that, my wife overheard some folks in the congregation saying they want to hear some sermons with substance. I have thought about that over the past few days and my sermons do have substance. I focus a lot on discipleship and spreading the kingdom of God through living a good life. This particular church is small and saved so I have been trying to encourage them to be better disciples.
The more I reflect on that statement, the more I realize that they want a sermon on hell or a “turn or burn” sermon. I struggle with this idea because it goes against my own theology. It goes against what I have to come to learn about God through my own prayers and studies. I do not believe that is the best way to grow the kingdom and so at first I balked at the idea.
Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 (CEB)
However, this morning, I was running and thinking (a dangerous combination) and I came to a remarkable conclusion. My yearning is for a simpler Christianity, without social expectations, choruses aspiring way beyond my experience, without dogma but communicating the loving heart of God for every person. A Christianity that is not about control, hierarchy, and systems; that is not misogynistic, homophobic, not biased on social-class, that welcomes discharged offenders, lone parents and puts no physical or attitude barriers to prevent people embracing that inclusive love. Our predecessors embraced that approach and melded it well with an appreciation of God’s created world, maintaining a connection with the land, the seasons and the beauty of creation. That is what I am seeking in my sermons. I believe this what Jesus taught (more so than about hell) and I need to be faithful to my views and pray that through it all, Jesus will use me to reach others.
I think this is something I will wrestle with for a few more weeks but it may work itself out into some sermons as well.
Here is today’s sermon for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany based on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. I preached it at Mt. Denson Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Don’t you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize? So run to win. Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything. The runners do this to get a crown of leaves that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies. So now this is how I run—not without a clear goal in sight. I fight like a boxer in the ring, not like someone who is shadowboxing. Rather I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others. -1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (CEB)
I am a reluctant runner. I hate running. I hate every single step I take while I am running each morning. I dread each run and I am grateful when I am finished. Why do it, you may ask? It’s Simple. The Army says I will be able to run two miles in less than 17 minutes. A happy bonus is coming up on my next birthday because I can run it in less than 18 minutes. So I run 6 days a week – reluctantly. But you know what? The Army says so is not a good enough reason. I could simply prepare for a PT test a few weeks ahead of time and pass and go back to walking. The Army says so is not enough. My motivation to keep running, my motivation to take the next step, and my motivation to push myself beyond what I think I can do is God. Because you see, it is not about me, it is not about the Army, it is about God. For my own race and for yours…
- God provides the purpose and the prize
- Context: Putting ourselves into the 1stCentury dirt
- Corinth was host to the Isthmian Games
- Important part of life in Corinth
- Second only to the Olympics
- Paul addresses the runners
- Training for these games was very important
- Some athletes trained all day – every day
- To win the one and only prize
- A crown of olive leaves
- Temporary, fading, and perishable glory
- Our world is not concerned with God’s race but with the rat race
- Humanity offers that crown of olive leaves in the form of money, fame, glory, wealth
- All temporary according to Paul and not worth the time or effort given the true prize
- “And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive an unfading crown of glory.” – 1 Peter 5:4 (CEB)
- So how do we stay focused on training for God’s race?
- Look ahead in our planning and living
- Example of running down the greenway
- “Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” –Matthew 6:33 (CEB)
- Pagans in Paul’s day sough riches glory first while believers sough God first.
- Through grace, God has called us all to run the race
And so believers run God’s race and God provides the purpose and the prize but
- God <also> supplies the strength and the success
- More running story: breaking down the run into smaller pieces to find the endurance and strength to keep going
- Paul understood that all strength and success came from God
- Paul was called when he wasn’t seeking
- Paul was given strength to survive beatings, stoning, and rejections
- Paul knew he could not rely on his own strength
- Through God, Paul was able to do all things
- Paul became all things to reach out to all people – a Gentile among Gentiles.
- Paul was more concerned with others than himself
- There are many things that distract us along the way
- Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: ““Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
- Our calling is our race – some think our calling is crazy and discourage us
- Our own doubts and fears
- Our sin
- We have to train to run the race
- I can’t run a marathon today (if ever!)
- I need to prepare with extensive training
- Paul says we should train for things that matter: following God
- Reading Scripture, praying, sharing the Good news, and most importantly living
An amazing thing happens when I take my focus off me while I am running and begin to look around me and focus on God. It no longer is a burden nor does it hurt to run so much. My focus is on God and I know that I am running God’s race. It’s not about me, it’s not about the Army or even running, it’s all about God
Today’s worship bulletin can be found here.
The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.” Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?” Philip said, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these! I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One. -John 1:43-51 (CEB)
Such vision required the unfolding of the full narrative of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In the signs that follow in the Gospel, particularly the pivotal sign of cross, the heavens are indeed opened. The disciples will see the divine glory fully only when the work of crucifixion and resurrection is completed. The unveiling of the glory of God occurs in the history of Jesus, in the mysterious conjunction of crucifixion and exaltation.
This story begins with Jesus making a decision. It is comforting to remember that even Jesus, though utterly Spirit-filled and completely in tune with God’s will, had to sort out his options and make his own decisions. God thus honors the gift of individual freedom.
Nathanael is excellent disciple material because he is without guile. Nathanael would make a terrible poker player but a wonderful friend. God thus honors the qualities of honesty, genuineness, integrity, and open-mindedness. This is not one of those cases where God takes a miserable sinner and turns him into a saint. This is one of those equally remarkable cases where God takes a person who is humanly praiseworthy in every way and makes of him something even more—a disciple.
Our relationship with God is a two-way street, both parties talking and listening and reaching out to each other.
Do you call yourself a disciple? What qualifications for this calling are necessary, as far as you are concerned?
I have the freedom to do anything, but not everything is helpful. I have the freedom to do anything, but I won’t be controlled by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, and yet God will do away with both. The body isn’t for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. God has raised the Lord and will raise us through his power. Don’t you know that your bodies are parts of Christ? So then, should I take parts of Christ and make them a part of someone who is sleeping around? No way! Don’t you know that anyone who is joined to someone who is sleeping around is one body with that person? The scripture says, The two will become one flesh. The one who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. Avoid sexual immorality! Every sin that a person can do is committed outside the body, except those who engage in sexual immorality commit sin against their own bodies. Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body. -1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (CEB)
Our lives may be ordered by commitments to many different things: career, wealth, power, reputation, sex, nation, church, tribe, or ethnic group. But we are not meant only for these things. We are not fitted to live only for these things. These things, important as they are, need to be fitted into a broader context. They need to be put into their proper places. Indeed, when we are oriented toward these things alone, when our attitude and disposition is not adjusted by an appreciation for and loyalty to some greater and grander reality, we become skewed and enslaved. Then we do things that are neither beneficial nor helpful.
Paul’s teachings remind today’s churches that the body and sex are good and that what we do with them matters. To be made as physical and sexual beings is to be given a powerful means of finding physical and spiritual union with other beings. However, this goodness and power also give us a profound responsibility to live in our bodies and express our sexuality in ways that glorify God and build up our communities. What might it mean for us to glorify God with our bodies, especially in the expression of our sexuality? What might it mean to think of our bodies as belonging to Christ and of sexual acts as done with Christ and to Christ?
My life is filled with obligations, but none greater than serving God.