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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Growing Weary?

It is safer to stay where we are then to venture into the unknown. Have you ever thought that? Many people do. Who knows what is out there in the “unknown” (which is why they call it the “unknown”)? Things may be dull and boring here but at least I know what they are and, therefore, they are safe.

That was the attitude of ten spies who were sent by Moses to scope out the Promised Land when Israel had left slavery in Egypt. Yet two other spies – Joshua and Caleb – were captured by a vision of what could be if they had faith in God.

Some think faith is also an unknown, and therefore to be feared or rejected. But think about the Israelites. They were called to have faith in the God who freed them from slavery in Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, who dramatically gave them the Law and made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. They were called to have faith in God, with whom they have an intimate relationship and ample evidence that God will never forsake them!

Joshua and Caleb desperately urged Israel to follow them in their faith in God. But their voices were drowned by the fears of the other ten spies and Israel wandered for another forty years.

God had promised them that better things lie ahead of them but they bought into Satan’s lie that “nothing will change, it will be too hard and unsafe.”

As we continue our Journey of Faith it occurs to me that if we do not have the anticipation of better things ahead, we will have no heart for the journey.

Are you afraid of what lies “out there”? Don’t be! Because the God who is with us here is also out there, waiting for us, leading us to great adventures!

One of the most poisonous of all Satan’s whispers is simply, “Things will never change.” That lie kills expectation, trapping our heart forever in the present. To keep desire alive and flourishing, we must renew our vision for what lies ahead. Things will not always be like this. Jesus has promised to “make all things new.” Eye has not seen, ear has not heard all that God has in store for us, which does not mean “we have no clue so don’t even try to imagine,” but rather, you cannot outdream God. Desire is kept alive by imagination, the antidote to resignation. We will need imagination, which is to say, we will need hope.

It has been said that impatience, discouragement, and despair as the “noonday demons” that most plague the seasoned traveler. As our road through mission and ministry grows long we grow weary; impatience and discouragement tempt us to forsake the way for some easier path. The temptation is that we need to find the solutions to our financial challenges right now. Which means we give a little more, do a little more, attend a little more now, but give up after a couple of weeks. The mission and ministry that we have been given is not for a month or a couple of months or to the end of the fiscal year. It is for our lifetimes! Shortcuts never work, and the guilt we feel for having chosen them only compounds our feelings of despair.

We should be pacing ourselves for the long run. We can do this because God is here and God is there. He is here encouraging and strengthening us and God is there, out front, leading and urging us on!

(Parts of this taken from The Sacred Romance , by John Eldredge, pages 156–57)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Heroes

What is a hero? There are several definitions but today, one rises to the top of the list.

In June of 1944, my grandfather stormed the beaches of Normandy as part of the Allied invasion force on D-day. He survived that campaign, lived to fight six months later in the forest around Bastogne, where he received wounds in combat and awarded this purple heart and sent home.

To me, my grandfather and all those who found in World War II and all of our nation’s wars are heroes. They sacrificed to keep us free.

But if you were to ask my grandfather (who died 20 years ago) or any veteran if they considered themselves heroes, you would get a very different answer.

Veteran Ed Pepping of Whittier, California, said, “I don’t consider myself a hero. It was just a job. Sometimes today I get treated as a hero, but I always try to turn it around and talk about the greatness of the guys who served. I’m just me. The people who are heroes are the ones who gave their lives for our freedom.” [We Who Are Alive and Remain: Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers, Marcus Brotherton, page 224.]

Veteran Roy Gates of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, said, “Heroes? I think they’re all dead. These guys who saw a lot of combat, I really respect, but I think they’d agree with that statement—the real heroes are no longer with us.” [ibid, page 226]

Veteran Buck Taylor, of Stuart, Florida, said, “What does it mean to be a hero? I don’t know how to answer that. Were my actions heroic in the war? I’ll say this: all the heroes are the ones buried over there—the men who never came back.” [ibid, page 229]

Memorial Day is a day to remember heroes. But what makes their deaths heroic? Veteran Earl McClung of Pueblo West, Colorado, said, “You figure a hero is someone who does above and beyond the call of duty, and when you give your life that’s as above and beyond as you can get.” [ibid, page 225]

When you die for someone else, you are considered – according to these veterans – a hero.

And the one who defined this perfectly was Jesus Christ – who went above and beyond the call of duty of any man and god to save all of us from our sins and eternal death. His death for you and me is the very basis of our lives. In this country, we are free to live our lives to worship Christ for this.

And that freedom was won and continues to be paid for by the heroes we remember this Memorial Day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Get Out of the Boat

During a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus came up to the boat of His disciples - walking on the water. They were frightened - with the wind and waves threatening to drown them all and seeing a person walking ON the water, who could blame them for being afraid.

Jesus tells them to calm down, it is He! Peter - of course! - says to Jesus, "If it is really you, command me to come to you on the water."

Jesus says, "Come."

And Peter walks on water! Pretty amazing!

That is, until Peter is distracted by the wind and waves around him. He takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink into the water.

But Peter got out of the boat! Would I have that kind of courage, that kind of faith?

That's what I'm looking for. To have the kind of faith that will do seemingly crazy things like getting out of a perfectly good and safe place to go where it would be insane to think that I could be safe.

But Jesus is out there! If I keep my eyes on Jesus, than that is the safest place in the universe.

Get-out-of-the-boat faith. That's what I want.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Five Rules for Church – Part 5

5. No perfect people allowed, only changed people.

Groucho Marx is reported as saying, “I would never want to join a country club that would allow me as a member.”

Sometimes I feel about the Church the same way. I sometimes think that I’m not good enough for the Church, that I could never be a member of the Church because I’m a poor, miserable sinner.

But a poor, miserable sinner is exactly who the Church is for! The Church isn’t for perfect people. One reason is because there are no perfect people. If the Church was for the perfect, there would be no one in the Church!

The Church is to be a hospital for sinners and not a museum for saints.  Museums are – or at least used to be – places where you went to look at things behind thick glass and couldn’t touch anything. Hospitals, on the other hand, are places where you go to touch and be touched and be healed.

Museums are places to go to learn things and you may leave them with more knowledge about something that you had going in. But knowledge only takes you so far. You can have all the knowledge of all the museums in the history of the world, but if you have a terminal disease that knowledge won’t do you any good. You will still die.

Hospitals are places where you go in sick and you leave a lot healthier than when you went in. (Even if you die in a hospital, if you have faith in Jesus you are a lot better off than you were when you entered the hospital.)

The Church can’t be a place for perfect people simply because there are no perfect people. But the Church can – and should – be a place for changed people. Not that people who are already changed should find a home in the Church, but that the Church is where you go to be changed.

The Church isn’t the place you go when you’ve “got it all down pat.” The Church is the place you go when you want to “get it all down pat.” But you’ll find that as you continue in the Church “getting it all down pat” fades as a priority because it was too small of a goal or purpose. It will change because everything and everyone is changed in the Church that preaches the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Church is where Jesus Christ changes your heart, renews your mind and transforms your life. Not that the building is special or that the ritual is magical. The Church is where you are changed because the Gospel of Jesus Christ – in Word and Sacrament – are in the Church. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church and it is the life-source of the Church.

If you want to change your life, then head to the Church – the place for changed people!

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Five Rules for Church – Part 4

4. No Part-Time Worship.

When I was a kid, my parents took me and my brother to church every week. In high school, that continued – for the most part. There were some weekends where we didn’t go to church, but only because I was either really sick (very infrequently) or we were out of town.

When I was in college, I went to church every weekend – but mostly because I was in a choir that sang in different churches nearly every weekend. I also went to chapel every week – but again for the same reason, I was in the chapel choir.

Now, as a pastor, I go to church every weekend – as you might expect. The problem is that it is easy for me to go to church but not worship every weekend.

I have to be deliberate in my worship. This is a good thing, too. It makes me focus on the words and music that are used in worship and – if they are the right words – they focus me on God, which is the point of worship, I think.

I figure if I’m being challenged to worship every weekend, then it stands to reason that a lot of other people are also challenged. I would suspect that most people are challenged to worship.

Some don’t bother with it at all. They do something else on the weekends instead of worshipping. Some are honest about it – they say that worship is boring and they have better things to do on Sunday. Some say that worship is meaningless and it is better to spend time with family relaxing on Sunday.

Others are not-so-honest. They say they can worship God better on the golf course, at the beach, in the mountains, fishing on the lake.

Then there is the idea that we don’t worship just for an hour and a half on Sunday but all the time. There is the idea that worship is a full-time occupation.

That’s what “no part-time worship” means. Everything we do should be an act of worship. In other words, everything we do and say should be “to the glory of God.” Everything we do should be because we love God and love our neighbor. These then become acts of worship.

But not because we do them. It isn’t the act, in and of itself. What we do can be worship only because God loved us first and sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins and give us eternal life with His resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. As we have faith in Jesus and what He has done for us because He loved us, we respond with acts of worship – which is everything we do.

Not just opening a hymnal, sitting in a church, singing songs and praying. But also driving to work, sitting in the classroom learning, doing your homework, mowing the grass, walking in the park, watching a movie, making dinner, eating breakfast with the family – all of these things are acts of worship for the one who has faith in Jesus.

No part-time worship.

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