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It’s Not Enough

Although he had performed so many signs (miracles) in their presence, they did not believe in him. -John 12:37

“Seeing is believing” is a statement so universally accepted that it seems to be self- authenticating. Yet in this remarkable statement, we find a situation directly contradictory to that idea. And it is not unique in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ministry. In John’s gospel it is a very common reaction.

If we were not so used to it, it would astound us.  They saw the lame healed, the deaf given speech, the blind sight and the dead given life AND THEY DID NOT BELIEVE! Many signs equaled few disciples.

On closer study it becomes clear that John and the New Testament distinguish between simply believing facts about Jesus and as it is put here, “believing in him.”  It is the difference in believing something to be true and acting on that belief. It is not just agreeing with him, but trusting him enough to follow him.

And make no mistake about it; that is the difference between salvation and lostness, life and death, heaven and hell. Jesus really wants followers, not just admirers. click here to begin.

 

Made Whole

Luke 17:19-Your faith has made you whole.

One day as Jesus travels he is encountered by ten men who are lepers. The horror of their predicament is illustrated by the fact that they cannot even approach Jesus but, from a distance, plead for his pity.

Jesus issues simple instructions to go show themselves to the priests; a requirement for anyone healed of leprosy to have it verified. And the text says, “as they went, they were cleansed.” Interesting—not “they were cleansed and went” but as they went. They obeyed and were healed.

Then one of them, only one, seeing he was healed returned to praise God and thank Jesus.

Does this incident surprise you?  It did Jesus!  I find it hard to say that and wondered if I could (I know the theological difficulty).  In one sense Jesus is never surprised.  He is God.  But, he is also human and in a human sense, he was surprised.  He was also apparently very disappointed.  It shows in his words: “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Then Jesus adds the words that put a whole different light on this story.

“Rise and go; your faith has made you well [whole].” Did you notice? All were “cleansed” or “healed.” But only this man was said to be made whole. Or as the Message has it: “Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Physical healing is great but it is not salvation. Fixing some problem we have, helping us be a better person, giving us insight into a puzzling situation all are things for which to be grateful. But only our faith in Jesus provides salvation, makes us whole.

The point of it all is to be made whole.  To stop short of that is to accept a treatment that deals with the symptoms rather than radical surgery which produces a cure. God wants to make you whole.

The nine received a touch from God, and they probably went on to do what they were told, but they were not made whole. It made them better able to fit into the community, better citizens but it did not produce the indelible stamp of faith: gratitude. When God touches us, then our praise, gratitude takes precedence over everything else!

God, don’t let me settle for anything less than being made whole.

A Life Of Prayer

Matt. 14:23-  And after he [Jesus] had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,…; (NRSV)

Peter Marshall once began a Senate session with this prayer, “O Lord, forgive us for thinking that prayer is a waste of time, and help us to see that without prayer our work is a waste of time.”*

I once calculated that a little over 4% of all my sermons as a pastor had been on prayer.  So I averaged about 2 sermons a year on prayer.  They included a series of sermons on “The Lord’s Prayer.” Some of the titles were “The Most Difficult Prayer To Pray,” “The Least Understood Prayer,” “Jesus’ Prayer For His Church,” “A Pastor’s Prayer,” “When Praying Seems Hopeless,” “A Prayer For The Right Stuff,” and “The Ultimate Weapon.” Of course, I talked about prayer at other times, mentioned it in other sermons and I hope made prayer a significant part of my life.

But, I have to confess that when I talk to you about a life of prayer, I feel a little like the parent who says, “Don’t do as I do, but do as I say.”  Because, in my life, it is more about need and aspiration and goal than achievement.

Notice how this is labeled—“A life of prayer.”  I did not say we need to pray. Or this is how to pray, etc.  When I first thought those words, I was probably thinking more like that. But I realized it’s much more.

It is true of course that a Christian ought to engage in the activity of prayer a lot. A life of prayer certainly means we pray much. We pray with breadth—in and for all things, all forms, places and times. Sometimes we even pray with urgency and depth.

But a life of prayer can never be confined to formal prayer—in church, specific places, times, causes, etc., no matter how frequent or intense.  That is relatively easy. They may be activities of a life which is characterized by something else.

A life of prayer brings God and his work into sharp focus. In a little book more than fifty years ago, Roslind Rinker wrote: “Prayer’s real purpose is to put God at the center of our attention, and forget ourselves and the impression we are making on others.” (Conversing With God, 5)

It is of course to speak with God. But Martin Luther put this in perspective when he said, “The fewer the words…the better the prayer.” Because it is about listening to God. The great missionary Frank Laubach once said, “God is speaking all the time, all the time, all the time.” We need to hear what God is saying.

Prayer is not just utilitarian, how we get something. A life of prayer is in some sense an end in itself. William Law put it this way: “Prayer is the nearest approach to God and the highest enjoyment of him that we are capable of in this life.”

I understand why the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Even more help us to live a life of prayer.

*SermonCentral

 

A Week Like No Other

Christ died for our sins,
He was buried,
he was raised to life -I Corinthians 15:3 & 4

This week is different than any other time in the Christian calendar. It is the only time when several specific events are directly connected to form a whole.

There are seasons in which the emphasis looks to a specific event in the God story. Advent looks ahead to the birth of Jesus. Pentecost is a season where an event is celebrated. Even Easter has a season, Lent, connected to the actual event.

But this week is different. From the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), to the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday), the crucifixion (Good Friday) and the resurrection (Easter) historical events are uniquely joined. They are all components of The Passion. The events of that week in Jesus’ life clearly are the focus of God’s action for our salvation. Notice how much of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are dedicated to telling about that week. Beyond that think about how much of the rest of the New Testament is predicated on it. I don’t mean to imply that all history is not in some way the stage for God’s work. But this is where it all comes together.

I challenge you to read it this week. Then be “mindful” of it and all that includes. Think about it, absorb it and live in response to it.

What an amazing message—“He died for me (you) and my (your) salvation.” And He lives.

“Things To Come”

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. -Jeremiah 29:11-NRSV

These days we hear a lot about living in the present—“go with the flow,” “seize the day,” “enjoy the moment,” “have it now.” And while, in the right context, these ideas have merit, they also can muddy our efforts to live full lives.

It is not without significance that when God reveals his plan for our life, an inescapable characteristic is that much of it is about the future. It is promise. So, much of the experience is anticipation. Anticipation is a powerful thing. Looking ahead to some desired event, a trip, a family get together can bring as much or more pleasure than the actual event. Negative anticipation can create dread, fear that is worse than what we actually encounter.

God has done a lot to help us have a holy anticipation. And if we don’t pay attention, we can really get in trouble with false assumptions and expectations about what God is doing in our lives and the world.

Joel Barker in his book, Future Edge tells about a man driving on a curvey, dangerous mountain road. As he comes around a curve, he sees this red convertible, careening back and forth across the road. The driver is a pretty, young, blond woman.
He slams on the brakes, and heads for the shoulder to avoid her. At the last minute she swerves and narrowly misses him. As she passes, the woman driver screams at him, PIG!
His face red with anger, he yells back at her, WENCH!” Muttering to himself he steps on the accelerator hits the curve at full speed and crashes into the biggest pig he has ever seen standing in the middle of the road. (as told by Maxi Dunnam)

Anticipation lets us risk as we break out of such assumptions to see a new vision of the world and the future. It will enable us to see beyond ourselves and beyond the obstacles.

God’s word to us warns us that things are not always what they seem to be. Looking around us doesn’t give us a whole lot of evidence for what we are told the final outcome will be.

In Birmingham, England, there is a store called Louis’. It’s a great chain store in one of the main streets, and it wanted to expand. But a little chapel of Quakers, a Friends Meeting House stood in the way. The store sent a letter to the leaders of this Friends Meeting house:

“Dear Sirs,
We wish to extend our premises. We see that your building is right in the way. We wish therefore to buy your building and demolish it so that we might expand our store. We will pay you any price you care to name. If you will name a price we will settle the matter as quickly as possible.
Yours, Sincerely.

They got this letter back:

Dear Sirs:
We in the Friends Meeting House note the desire of Louis’ to extend. We observe that our building is right in your way. We would point out, however, that we have been on our site longer than you’ve been on yours, and we are so determined to stay where we are that we will happily buy Louis’. If therefore you would like to name a suitable price we will settle the matter as quickly as possible. –by Donald English

Can you imagine how the person from Lewis who read that letter must have been laughing? A little Quaker Meeting House will buy Lewis’! All of that would change when they saw, “Signed, Cadbury.”

Yep. Cadbury, as in England’s Cadbury chocolate candy. They are Quakers. Who signs the letter makes all the difference.

The promise of heaven, eternal life is signed by God.

Always Encouraging

Encourage one another daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

Since I attended the University of Iowa and spent more than thirty years of my life in Iowa, I was especially interested when Iowa played Duke in the NCAA basketball tournament some years ago. You see I have been a Duke fan for all my life. When Duke won the game I’ll never forget the reaction of some of the Iowa players. The thing that impressed them about the Duke team was “They’re always encouraging each other.” Not they’re great shooters or rebounders or ball handlers but they encouraged each other.

Encouragement is a powerful element for success in any facet of life. And nowhere is that more true than in the life of living for Jesus, being Christian. As you read about the early Christians in the book of Acts you get this refrain “they encouraged” one another.
Just one of many examples: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by.”

Sisters/Bothers, God has made provision for Monday morning, for the discouragement that lurks around the corner, for the draining effect of the battle. It is encouragement. That is the primary ministry that we are to have to one another—“always encouraging.”

What God Offers That No One Wants

For you have been given…the privilege…of suffering. –Phillipians 1:29

Last week a young man in our community in his mid-twenties died suddenly and unexpectedly. Something like that raises questions which we can’t answer. But, for most people death, however untimely, can be accepted as part of the order of things.

Something much more problematic for those who believe in God is suffering. In fact we often try to deal with a loved one’s death by saying, “She/He doesn’t have to suffer any more. It has been said that Americans know only one stance toward suffering—“get rid of it.” Dr. Jack Kervorkian, who assisted dozens to die, said that he was helping end suffering.

Carmen Benson, in the midst of a long struggle said, “I can bear suffering for a little while, but after years of it—pain heaped upon pain, with never a day of respite—I find it just too much! Surely that cannot be God’s will for anyone!”

Is it just possible that our preoccupation with escaping pain, suffering run counter to God’s working in our lives and thus prevents us from maturing spiritually?

This is a delicate matter, a holy matter and we need to enter only in humility and caution. Benson wrote “Our minister spoke glowingly of all that suffering does to refine the character…. tender… compassionate. The only thing lacking was that he doesn’t do much suffering.”

No one in their right mind wants suffering. To seek it, for its own sake, a martyr’s complex is a sickness itself.

That being said, suffering is a part of life, even a Christian’s life. Oswald Chambers once wrote, “An average view of the Christian life is that it means deliverance from trouble. It is deliverance in trouble, which is very different.”

There is, of course, needless suffering—humanly caused, or that can be avoided, or healed by God’s grace. But the Biblical message is that suffering is a means of grace when faced in trusting obedience to God. Benson is right—“It is always God’s will to make us whole, but not to heal us physically [or to rescue us from suffering] —it is to cure us.”

Dave Dravecky was a young baseball pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. A cancerous tumor was discovered in Dave’s pitching arm. After a lengthy battle his arm had to be amputated. Dave and his wife, are Christians. He said, “Looking back, [my wife] Jan and I have learned that the wilderness is part of the landscape of faith, and every bit as essential as the mountaintop….Both places should bring us to our knees: the one in utter awe; the other, in utter dependence.”

Jesus attained His goal by suffering. Likewise, it may be said that our goal of spiritual maturity does not come without suffering. But suffering is not eternal. It does end. That is God’s promise to us.

Spectator or Disciple

Luke 19:1-10 (CEV)
“Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today.” (v5b)

Discipleship Is Not a Spectator Sport*

There are certain Bible stories that we all have heard from our child-hood—Adam and Eve, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, a boy with loaves and fishes, Peter trying to walk on water, and so on. There is wisdom in the retelling of these stories, something about them that tugs at the cords of our better selves. Here are places we hear the greatest of all stories—people meet God.

One such story is Zacchaeus. Every child who has spent any time in Sunday school has heard the story. Most know the song about him. In just 10 short verses we learn a lot about this man.

Do you ever complain about paying taxes? Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. Worse yet, he was working for a foreign government. So he was considered a traitor, a collaborator with the enemy. He was classed with the lowest, robbers, adulterers, cut-throats. He was hated and despised by most everyone. He had, in fact, gotten rich at their expense.

The day Zacchaeus heard the news that Jesus was coming and climbed up that sycamore tree, he had no inkling of what was about to happen. It is not hard for me to believe that he had no higher motive than the desire to see a celebrity, a famous man. He made no effort to meet Jesus. He didn’t go to hear him preach. He just wanted to see him. In the safety of that tree, he would be a spectator.

Now Zacchaeus knew what people have always believed, what most of us believe, what Scripture gives credibility to. A person can find God if she/he really looks for Him.

“You will find Him [God], if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”(Deut 4:29)

BUT like many, he never knew that God seeks us out—that Jesus was looking for him. Were he not, Zacchaeus would have been content for the rest of his life to remain a spectator—seeing but not knowing.

How easy it is to be satisfied with being a religious spectator. Churches can be wonderful places to be spectators. You can be close to Jesus—observe, even be entertained. The spectator sits, looks, listens. It is safe—you can enjoy or criticize as suits you.

But sooner or later “once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.”

Jesus stops under the sycamore tree, along the church pew, at our grandstand seat and says, “I want to go home with you. I want you to become involved with me.” He calls us from the grandstand to the playing field. Because He doesn’t want spectators, he wants disciples. He will not let us just watch.

Zacchaeus didn’t want very much from Jesus—just to see Him. A lot of us don’t want much from God—just assurance we’ve done our duty, gone to church. To know when we are in trouble, or we’re sick, we can call on him. We don’t really expect God to come, change us, and be part of our every-day-lives. Sundays, holidays, weddings, funerals, special occasions— that’s quite enough God, thank you. But Jesus says, “Let’s go to your house. I want to spend the day with you.”

Why Zacchaeus went to see Jesus, I don’t really know. What made him curious, I don’t really know. Who told him about Jesus, I don’t know. I only know he went to see a celebrity, a great figure passing through and there he met the son of God face to face. Zacchaeus could have said, “No.” But he didn’t. And to his credit and his benefit, to his own eternal joy, he took Jesus home with him.

And something wonderful, miraculous happened. The spectator became a disciple.

It’s the choice we all have to make. What about you—content to be a spectator, watch from the Sycamore tree? Interested? Even convinced? Jesus is saying “I want to go Home with you today.” Take Him up on it. Say, “yes.” Take Him home and where ever you go.

Want to know more? click here.

*This is an update of a previous post.

Jesus Could Not

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. -Mark 6:5, 6a (NIV)

“He can do anything, anything.” Those words, applied to Jesus, were the words of a song in one of the most powerful children’s musicals I remember from my years as a pastor. It is a sentiment you’ve probably heard repeated many times if you’ve been around Christians for any length of time. I would guess you’ve probably expressed it yourself or at least thought it. I know I have.

The only trouble with that is, the Bible says differently. In a text, that “stops me in my tracks,” whenever I read it, we are told, “He [Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except” heal a few sick people. “Could not” is not a phrase we connect to Jesus/God. It took a while for that to register.

My initial reaction to that text was focused on the “except” heal a few sick people. That’s not an absence of miracles. It is a powerful expression of God’s power. And it was done in spite of opposition and lack of faith. How we would rejoice to see that. Only after thinking about that for years did I begin to hear “could not.”

The implications of that are sobering to say the least. I don’t understand all it means. But for sure, in some important way, human beings who resist Jesus, who lack faith, hinder His work. Of course I believe that God is sovereign and that His ultimate plan will be fulfilled. However, it surely means some things God wants to do are limited by people just like you and me. And that probably explains why it took so long for that text to really sink in. I am responsible for preventing some of what God wants to do for me and through me. I don’t really want to hear that.

But the good news—you, I can make a difference, in the church, in the community, in the world by cooperating with and trusting Jesus.

What does God want to do where you are?

The Great Experiment

Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. -Matthew 5:16b

Today is July 4th, Independence Day in the United States. It is the birthday of this country, what has been called “The Great Experiment.” Christians living that experiment have become different from most other Christians in history. We have enjoyed a favored status. The government and larger culture have accommodated, even in some ways supported those calling themselves Christian. Many have seen this as a “Christian” nation, at least in name if not in fact.

Christians in most other countries for most of history have had a different and often more difficult journey as followers of Jesus. They have had to live as minorities with governments and societies less than friendly toward them or even hostile. So they have learned to live the life more nearly matching Jesus’ words, “in the world you will have tribulation.”

But things have changed for Christians in our country. We are becoming a more secular country and more and more find ourselves in opposition to decisions of our government and opinions of our neighbors. And we often do not know how to react.

Some express and become motivated by anger, fear or defeatism. None of these are characteristics that Jesus has taught and modeled for his followers.

So, how can Christians in our society avoid either compromising our Biblical principles or becoming angry and bitter self-imposed cultural exiles?

I believe the answer is found in one word—grace. We saw it modeled in Charleston. We heard it proclaimed by President Obama at the funeral for the slain pastor. It shows when we don’t get our way, when we are good losers. So when a law is passed by the democratic process which we don’t agree with, we respect it. It shows when we are mistreated, misunderstood or misrepresented. We don’t return evil for evil or hatred for hatred but overcome them by good, by love.

The “Great Experiment” was that people, all kinds of people would live together with their differences intact but accepting of each other. Jesus’ followers in such a place are to be “salt and light” and full of grace.