Monthly Archives: October 2016

FLASH BACK: Half-Full or Half-Empty

On this Halloween 2016, a FLASH BACK to one of my classic posts: “Half-Full or Half-Empty from October 2006… and the essence of last week’s Sunday morning sermon…

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waterFor this week’s sermon, I started with an object in hand: Half a glass of water. My question to the congregation was simply, “Is it half-full or half-empty?”

The answer of course, depends on your perspective… the way you choose to view the glass.

Are you an optimist? Then it looks half-full to you, doesn’t it?

Are you a pessimist? Then it looks half-empty, doesn’t it?

It all depends on your perspective!

There is only one glass, only one quantity of water, yet there are two different views you could have regarding that glass and that water. You could believe it to be half-full or you could believe it to be half-empty. And both answers seem to be acceptable answers and both seem to be right. It all depends on your perspective.

During this next couple of weeks, everyone around us will be focusing on the fun and festivities of Halloween, and many of us here in this sanctuary right now have already made plans for what our family will be doing that evening.

Halloween can be a lot of fun. If you are allowing your children to go trick or treating or to a Halloween party or whatever, I hope it is a fun event. It ought to be.

Throughout my adult life I have run the gammet on what I believe with Halloween as a Christian. When I worked at the Olean General Hospital as an orderly, I guess I still didn’t think about it too much. Somehow I would always end up working on October 31st, and the tradition was to dress up as a character of some sort. The only one I remember was that I spent one Halloween night (3:00 to 11:00) dressed as a modern prince. You know, three piece suit, cape, sash, crown, rings, dress shoes. Trying to do my job in that get up was a royal pain, to say the least. Especially when a patient died and, as the orderly, I had to take her to the morgue… dressed up in a suit… on Halloween night… and there was a full moon to boot.

Other years, as I’ve come to understand some of the realities of what all happens on Halloween night, like the razor blades, the drugs, the occult practices, I’ve refused to participate in the day at all. I had more of a fear of all the occultic stuff I guess.

Bit by bit, though, I have come to understand that it’s my perspective that makes the difference. Just like that glass of water… half-full or half-empty… it depends on your perspective.

I COULD look at Halloween as an evil holiday, originally instituted as a druid festival with heavy emphasis on the occult. I COULD focus on the druid “Lord Of Death” that supposedly sent evil spirits out on the night before ALL HALLOW’S DAY to roam the earth in search of food which, if not given, would cast an evil spell on the person who would not help. I COULD focus on the masks and costumes the Celts wore to try and convince the Lord of Death that they were just one of his spirits, so he should leave them alone.

And all of those things are true. They are the reason behind our “give us a treat or we’ll play a trick on you” attitude of trick or treat and our dressing up in costumes. But I think that just might be the wrong perspective. That’s fear speaking.

We have been taught as Christians that we are in the world but not of it. We have to be a part of the world. We’ve been called to be in the world… rubbing shoulders with the everyday people, with sinners, with mean people, and yes, even with those who don’t understand us or our Lord. We, as Christians, will continue to encounter those people every day, because we are IN the world. But we don’t have to be LIKE the world. Because we’re the ones who know the HOPE that there is through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, that we are to be salt. (Matthew 5:13) Salt is never very good on its own, but it always changes the taste of the food it is put on. And the salt itself never gets to really choose what food it will affect…it has the same effect on every piece of food it touches… it makes it more salty. It gives it a new taste.

I guess that’s where I am now with my understanding of my responsibility as a Christian when it comes to Halloween. I must be salt and help change its flavor. I need to help redeem this holiday like Christians in the past helped to redeem midwinter pagan rituals and gave rise to our current birthday celebration for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

What does that mean, in practical terms, for me as a Christian then? I have discovered two practical ways that I can help redeem this holiday as a salty Christian. I’ll take the good of this holiday and focus on that and draw people’s attention to the truth.

First of all, I can emphasize the good things, while taking a stand against the evil. As our children have grown, we have deliberately allowed them to dress up for the Halloween parties at school, and let them go to select neighbors’ houses for trick or treat… but never were they allowed to hide their faces behind a Freddy mask or dress as a goblin, a witch, or a vampire. We reject that part of the ancient traditions of Halloween of trying to convince the evil one that we are just another demon spirit so that hopefully he’ll leave us alone. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is greater than any other spirit. And followers of Christ have nothing to fear.

So we could allow our girls to play dressup, and still take a stand against the false belief that we must fear the evil spirit lord. In fact, for this next weekend’s costume party out at the church camp, thrown by the youth group for ALL of the church, my kids will have the option to be dressed up if they want, without a mask, without the evil disguises. And without the fear.

One year one of the girls decided to be an angel and the other was Sleeping Beauty. One time Michele was Pocahontas and Sarah was a skunk. They dressed up and had fun. And they can again this year as well.

And yes, if kids come to our door this year for trick or treating, we’ll have a treat for them… not because we’re scared of the repercussions if we don’t, but because my Bible speaks of generosity, and “suffering the little children.”

The other aspect of what I need to be doing as a Christian when it comes to Halloween is to recognize the underlying spiritual message of this holiday.

The message of today’s modern Halloween is still spiritual, and I don’t just mean the occultic influences…. it is a pre-occupation with death… and what comes after we die. Just take a look at the decorations in the stores, on homes, and on the TV… We have ghosts and skeletons and gravestones and the un-dead (whatever that’s supposed to be). We hear of evil spirits and witches and “bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble.” And Hollywood always seems to have a new thriller/horror movie out that packs the movie theatres.

Halloween, and the time leading up to it, is the one time of year that our society says it’s OK to deal with death. And seemingly everyone becomes fascinated with it. My responsibility as a Christian, trying to be salt and redeem some of this holiday, is to recognize the spiritual hunger that I see during this Halloween season.

Because we all hunger for a reality in the spiritual world. We long for there to be forces at work on our behalf in the spiritual dimension. We have a society that literally cries out in abandon at Halloween for there to be an answer to death… to spiritual life. And they fall back on “ancient wisdoms”. They try to control the spirit world on demand, they try to conjur and channel and image. They look for spiritual truth.

And so often, we Christians deny there’s any spiritual dimension to the day (or we go the other extreme and refuse to even acknowledge it). I believe we have a responsibility to acknowledge the spiritual hunger… because we are the ones who have the bread of life… Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior.

And we are the ones who know the most about death… because Jesus came back from there and said,

 

I am the resurrection and I am life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and I hold the keys of hell and death.
Because I live, you shall live also.

We have nothing to fear from death, because Jesus defeated death. All death has left, is fear.

Knowing that we would have trouble understanding this, Jesus, just before he went to Calvary, took the disciples aside and spent some time with them explaining what was on the other side of death and how to face it on this side during our lives. He didn’t say we had to wear evil disguises and hide our faces. No treats or offerings to demon spirits were needed. He simply said that we shouldn’t be afraid… and then went on to tell us about the other side of death, for those who allow Jesus to be both their Lord and their Savior. He simply said:

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
Because I live, you also will live.
Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

When Jesus spoke of us as salt, he never expected us Christians to just act like Christians when we are at church. He spoke of us as salt so that we would get a clear picture of our role in this world. We help even the bad stuff seem better. Not by sugar coating evil nor by compromising our standards, but by recognizing spiritual hunger and offering spiritual bread… a life with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Because, when all is said and done, and the final analysis is in, it is JESUS that this Halloween minded society is looking for. The questions concerning spiritual forces are answered when Jesus proclaims I AM THE WAY. And in all our uncertainty, Jesus answers even our unspoken, unuttered questions, by declaring I AM THE TRUTH. And our questions concerning death and the afterlife are answered when Jesus reveals: I AM THE LIFE.

I have a mission this Halloween… to redeem what I can of the good, take a stand against that which is evil, and to lift up the truth of Jesus Christ.

Because you see… the glass really is… half-full.

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Blessed To Be A Blessing

This morning’s Scripture Text, Genesis 12:1-7, along with the rest of the passages that talk about Abraham and his relationship with God, may very well be the “key” to understanding the Old Testament, and the New Testament as well.

Our understanding of how God relates to his chosen people, the children of Israel, and later, by spiritual adoption, to the church, can all be traced back to Abraham and his relationship with God.

A basic understanding of the dynamics and tensions in our current world situation, as shown nightly on the evening news, can be traced as well to this point in the Holy Scriptures; for the Christian, Jewish, and even Muslim religions trace their history back to Abraham.

Several themes that we see throughout Scripture, have their birth here.

  • A chosen people,
  • Abraham’ “seed,”
  • Separating ourselves from the evil in the world,
  • following God’s leading…even when we don’t understand where He’s taking us,
  • the need for sacrifice if we are to truly worship God. It starts here.

What is it that is so important? What happens that opens up the mystery of the scriptures?

Just this: God Almighty, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, makes a promise to his friend Abraham.

A promise. Actually a covenant.

While I don’t intend to delve into all of the depths of the Abrahamic Covenant this morning, I do want to zero in on a couple parts of Abraham’s story.

First, how God calls him, and then on one portion of that covenant between God and Abraham. We don’t know a lot about Abraham before he was 75 years old. We know his name was originally “ABRAM” which means high father, but that God later honors him with a new name: “ABRAHAM” which means father of multitudes.

Chapter 11 of Genesis tells us his family tree and that the family originally came from a city called “UR” down near the Persian Gulf. We are told in Gen. 11:31 that Abraham’s father “TERAH took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to [the town of] Haran, they settled there.”

I suspect that Terah and his family already knew this God personally. For them to hear God tell them to leave their home, and then for them to actually get up and get moving, suggests that they might actually have known Him somehow. I wonder if some of the family stories about a loving, caring God who wanted relationship with His created people had been handed down generation to generation from Adam and Eve all the way to Noah had continued to be told and remembered after the ark by his descendants, all the way to Terah.

And the call of God comes to Terah’s family while they in UR to go to Canaan, but they got about halfway and settled down.  How many times are we like that? We hear God calling us to do something or we know that he wants us to do something, and we get started, but somewhere along the way get distracted and get comfortable and never quite finish the job.

I can understand that. I am told that I was like that with my parents when I was growing up. I was always the obedient son, you know, but on occasion, very rarely I’m sure, but on occasion, I would be asked to do something (like clean my room) and I would start, like a good obedient child should, but I’d get distracted by the missing comic book I had been looking for and had just found, or by a newly refound missing toy, or a book, or a ball, or whatever. (Actually, it didn’t take much at all to get me distracted.) But the end result was, I never finished the job…on my own.

And no matter how good our intentions, no matter how obedient our beginnings, it only counts in the final tally if we finish the task. The family stops in Haran and Terah dies there.

But God reissues the call, like a loving patient parent reminds us to get back to our assigned task, God speaks to Abraham to GO and offers him this covenant. And Abraham obeys.

Look again with me, if you will, to our first exposure to that covenant: Genesis 12:1-3.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;  I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth  will be blessed through you.”

The key is right there in verse 2: “I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”

“I will bless you… and you will be a blessing.”

Ever since Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden, sin had played havoc on all living creatures. The curse of sin allowed sickness, disease, stubborness, jealousy, perversion, arrogance, meanness to become daily partners with the very people that God had intended to have a constant, daily friendship with.

And when He found a man who was hungry for that kind of relationship with God, He began opening up the gates of Heaven.

All of the basic foundational principles of the Bible are here. God wants to have a daily friendship relationship with his people. He wants to bless them…he wants to have a daily friendship relationship with US. He wants to bless us.  But sin continues to separate us from God and, basically, ties God’s hands. He provides the way for us to have relationship with him, but we must choose to accept that. Abraham had to continue on with sacrifices of animals as temporary sacrifices. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is our sacrifice and we need only accept Jesus as our Lord and savior.

But the fact remains, God wants to pour out blessings on us. But catch the reason why… “I will bless you… and you will be a blessing.”

It’s not JUST that He loves us and wants to bless us…He loves ALL.

What does John 3:16 say again? For God so loved who?  Not just the Jews. Not just the Christians. The world. The WHOLE world! Because he loved the world, he sent his son Jesus Christ to die in our place.

But he chooses us, the people of God, in the same way that he chose Abraham and his descendants, the Israelites. He chooses us to bless SO THAT WE CAN BE A BLESSING TO OTHERS. We were never meant to just be blessed. WE are blessed so that we can bless others… so that God, through us, can change lives that are still bound by sin.

I love the way the Apostle Paul words it in the New Testament…

Galatians 3:13-14 (NIV) Christ redeemed us… in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

How about you? Have you been blessed by God? Salvation? Physical blessings? Relationship blessings? Financial blessings? Blessings of physical strength or special skills?

If you HAVE been blessed, then God has deliberately chosen you to be His way of blessing others. Not that you have to give away everything and live in a cave in the desert, but rather you and I DO have a responsibility to share the blessings we have received with those others in need when we become aware of their need.

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Whose Job Is It?

Back home, in my home church, the Shinglehouse UMC, the bulletin each week listed the pastor, the organist, and then listed: “Ministers: All The People.”

That basic idea is also one of Methodism’s foundational beliefs: that everyone who follows Jesus is a “minister.” And a few of those ministers are asked to be pastors as well.

That little church had captured that. The pastor is there as servant, administrator, and preacher, but most of the ministry of the church actually comes from the lay people who sit in the pews each and every Sunday.

In John 13:3-17, we read how Jesus got up from the table and took off his outer clothing. Kneeling down like a servant, he washed the feet of all the disciples.

Now, this is the last night before his crucifixion. The Twelve still don’t ‘get it’ that he’s about to die, so he tries one more time to remind them of key lessons. He chooses this idea of serving and ministering to others as one of those keys. And Jesus goes about it in a way that they cannot forget. He, the leader, the master, the teacher, the KING, starts acting like one of the lowest of slaves. He gets down and washes their feet.

HE serves THEM!

Verse 4 reads: “so he got up from the table…”  and he washes their feet. Later in verse 26, he is back sitting at the table and dipping the bread. Jesus shows them, and us, that service can sometimes be inconvenient; maybe even in the middle of a meal. Now, this was arguably the most famous meal in history (The Last Supper). Yet, by his own example, we see that even a meal is no excuse to keep us from serving others.

When I was growing up, my Grandma Mix really demonstrated this. I remember the big Sunday dinners  when she was up & down, back & forth, throughout the meal; making sure there were enough potatoes or meat or beverage or vegetable. If she saw that one of us needed something, especially my Grandpa, she would drop her fork, with food still on it, to go get whatever was needed.  Then she would return to her plate.

That’s what Jesus did here. Even though it’s the middle of the meal, he stops eating and takes off his outside coat, rolls his sleeves up (so to speak), grabs a towel, and starts washing feet.

Sometimes service as His disciple will be equally inconvenient, yet still necessary. Yet how many times do we say, ‘Sure, but just wait for awhile, I’m busy now.’?

ALSO, notice that he washes Judas Iscariot’s feet too. They sit down to the meal, Jesus gets up, washes feet, and then goes back to the meal. That’s when he says that the one who will betray him is the one he gives the bread to, and then Scripture even records Jesus talking to Judas. There is no question about it: Judas was there when Jesus washed feet.

How many times do we say we want to serve Christ, but then refuse to serve some just because they’ve  hurt us in some way?  Unfortunately, we are more likely to say something like “If that’s the way she’s going to be, then just see if I ever try to help her again!” Yet here is Jesus, who already knows what Judas is up to and what he’s about to do, and he still serves Judas!

And lest we think that this is just a message for just the “church leaders” on how to serve their church and their God, look towards the end of this passage in John 13:

15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

ANY of us who call ourselves followers of Christ are his disciples and are called to follow his example.  We are to be involved in service; through the local church and as individuals. How has he equipped you to help this church serve those around us?

Throughout this month our Nominations & Lay Leadership Committee will be recruiting people to serve on the 2017 Ministry Team. Where does God want you? Has he called you to a specific ministry?

It reminds me of the story I once read about “Who’s Job Is It?”

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. (author unknown)

Jesus is our example here. We are to serve. We are to serve even if it’s inconvenient. We are to serve even those whom we don’t like or who hurt us. But how we serve speaks of how we love our Lord.

(Adapted from the Sunday morning sermon on September 18, 2016 and used as the pastor’s letter for the Carmichaels: First United Methodist Church newsletter, October 1, 2016)

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