Good Grief!

I love being an American. The freedoms, the pride, the heritage, the beauty of this land. They stir my heart.

But when it comes to this area of dealing with death and grief… our American culture fails pretty badly.

To start with we are a death-denying culture… Until a big crisis or disaster, we don’t talk about death. We act immortal, like nothing we ever do will hurt us and we can live forever.

And IF something happens that DOES capture our attention in this area, and death hits our own families or perhaps a famous person like Dale Earnhardt or Robin Williams or Princess Di, we couch our feelings and emotions in our own little mythologies… Trying to comfort each other with phrases about how God needed another angel so that must be why that particular person had to die. And our attempts at helping the one struggling with grief usually boils down to well-meaning, yet useless phrases like, “Be strong for your kids,” or telling parents who’ve lost a child: “Well, you can have more” or telling a young boy who’s lost a dad that he’s got to be the man now… and “men don’t cry.”

Most of the time, when we’re dispensing our own brand of seeming wisdom, we’re more likely to simply avoid anyone that we know is dealing with grief.

They feel the pain of loss, and we feel badly for them, we want them to feel better, so we either want to say “the right words” that’ll make them feel better and make their grief go away or we don’t want to be around them because we’re afraid we’ll say something that will make them feel worse… and then we’ll feel worse. So we don’t talk about it.

I’m reminded of a poem I once heard that talked about this uneasiness we feel, especially in America, and how hurtful it is for people to respond that way…

“The Elephant in the Room”

There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting,
so it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with “How are you?”
and “I’m fine” …
And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything else –
except the elephant in the room.

There’s an elephant in the room.
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It has hurt us all.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.
Oh, please say her name.
Oh, please say “Barbara” again.

Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about her death,
Perhaps we can talk about her life.
Can I say “Barbara” to you and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me
Alone …
In a room …
With an elephant.

Paul, in First Thessalonians, chapter 4, writes that he doesn’t want the Christians there to be “ignorant” about those who “have fallen asleep”… those who have died… But his reason is more than to just give knowledge or to be theologically clear… He says that he wants to clear up the confusion surrounding the death of Christians so that the Christians there who are still alive won’t “grieve as others do who have no hope.”

Essentially, Paul is filling us in that there is a Christian way of grieving… there can be “Good Grief.”

If grieving is the process of coming to terms with the feelings of loss… and then finding the comfort we so desperately need so that we can move on with the rest of our life… then part of the question is where do we find that kind of comfort… or as Paul said it… that kind of HOPE… that kind of help.

As Christians, instinctively, we turn to the Scriptures… and the Scriptures declare:

“My help comes from the Lord”

The first way God can help us in times of grief or trouble, is through the Scriptures. We read in the Bible what it has to say about death, about dying, about what follows this life, about what happens to those who die in the Lord… to those who die as believers in Jesus Christ.

In the Bible we find that those believers who have already died are called a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)… and the Bible describes those dead believers as ones who are watching us here like spectators in the grandstands, rooting and cheering for us as we complete our part of the relay race of faithful living.

In the Bible, we find comforting words like Isaiah 57:1 where it says that “The righteous man perishes, & no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity.” And in Revelation 14 we read:

“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” –Rev. 14:13

In the Bible we read that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8)… and that when we find ourselves in that resurrection of the dead when we find ourselves before our Lord, we shall be like him as he is… And we know what that will be like because the Bible says that Jesus’ resurrection was the “firstfruits” the downpayment and example of what our resurrection will be like… You want to know what it’ll be like in that final resurrection… you look at what Jesus was like after his resurrection…

Notice, he knew the people around him and they were able to recognize him… and he wasn’t relegated to some lower status as an angel… one who simply serves God and His creatures… No, to die and be resurrected is to step into the inheritance of the kingdom… not become mere lowly angel…

Not only does the Bible help us understand what happens after death for the believer… but it points us to how to find the comfort and help we need in times of our own grief and loss.

We read words like these:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 [2 Corinthians 12:9a; KJV]

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also… I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you… Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”   [John 14:1-3, 18, 27; KJV]

 

“Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”                                                         [Isaiah 43:1b-2; KJV]

Well, if the first part of “Good grief” is the truths of Scripture, the second component would have to be prayer.

The Bible tells us that if we seek God, we WILL find Him… When we look for God in prayer, He WILL be found by us. (Jeremiah 29:13-14)

In another place, we are told that God says of us: “He shall call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. (Ps. 91)

And again we read: “If you abide in me and I in you, you shall ask what you will and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)

If we want to know His help, his comfort, we have only to ask…. and God will be with us… In fact, at Christmas time we hear how one of the names of Jesus is “Emmanuel”… which means God Is With Us. (Matthew 1:23)

Part of the “good” experience of grief we can have as Christians is through our seeking God in prayer.

The third component of this “Good Grief” I want to share with you this morning comes from the body of Christ itself… through the people of God, the believers.

In the book of Romans we read that as children of God, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are expected to “rejoice with those that rejoice & weep with those that weep…”

God, through his people, weeps with us, even as we stand in line to pay our respects, or bring food to the family so they don’t have to cook or buy groceries in the midst of those crucial first days when they are just coming to grips with the enormous loss in their lives.

God is with us, in a baby’s laughter, which is so contagious… so wonderful, so releasing… And we hear God reminding us that life and love go on.  I can’t tell you the number of times when God has used the children and the babies as a healing touch from Himself during the days leading up to the final goodbye to a parent, grandparent, brother or sister.

But God is especially with us, through his people, when we sit around and remember the good things of our life together with the one we’ve lost. We share the stories… We share the memories… even the heartbreaks.

That’s why it’s such a ministry for churches to offer funeral dinners, not as a fundraiser, but as a ministry… because after the final goodbye… it’s time for the people of God to help those who’ve lost a loved one to remember the ways that God touched their lives and the life of the deceased… That way, no one ever gets left in a room alone with an elephant.

God is with us when we, the brother or sister in Christ, takes time out to just listen… not to give the right answers… but to be the right listener… Even though the grieving person may sometimes not make sense or may repeat themselves. Sometimes, it’s just hanging out with someone… and sharing silence… together.

Part of our healing comes as we sepnd time together with the rest of the body of Christ… that’s why it’s so important to remember to include those who’ve faced loss in our plans…

And just one more word about grief and loss, particularly as Christians, before we wind this up…

It’s not just the death of a loved one that leads us into grief is it?

There are all kinds of deaths and losses in our lives… even as Christians.

Death of a marriage, estrangement of a son or daughter… or parents… loss of health… loss of a job… and more…

These all lead us into grief… and, as Christians, there is a “Good Grief” available as we turn to the truths of Scriptures, turn to God in prayer, and turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ and let them help us walk through the pain of grief and loss.

This morning, I want to especially invite anyone who is especially feeling the sting of grief, the effects of loss, whether because of death or some other loss… I want to invite you to pray with me… Please feel free to come to the altar rail and I’ll pray for you here and now… Maybe that prayer is right there where you are in your pew… and maybe you want to just jot me a note that says “Pastor, I’m facing that kind of pain, the pain of grief, in this situation… or that…” or maybe you just want to let me know you’d like to talk later…

Perhaps, you realize that you’re in the throes of grief and loss, but have never accepted Jesus as your Lord, your Savior, and so you don’t feel His comfort… you’re missing out on His help. Remember, God Himself said He’d be found if you just started looking for Him… Ask Jesus to come into your life and heart and make you one of His children.

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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…

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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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Call To Me…

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” –Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

Last month I had the chance to sit in on one of the adult Sunday School classes here in my new church setting. The discussion was already underway, so I just listened and discovered they were talking about Romans and someone had drawn a comparison to something in Ezekiel. The idea raised was pretty interesting so I decided to look it up later on. But when I actually made it to some alone time that evening, I accidentally opened up to Jeremiah, chapter 33 to be specific. And verse three (quoted above) just captured my heart and mind!

And that quick, I “heard” God offering me that same opportunity he had given to the prophet some six centuries  before Jesus’ birth.

Jeremiah had been arrested and confined in Jerusalem during the time that the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzur had besieged the city. Jeremiah heard God’s calls for the nation to repent, and he faithfully shared those divine messages, but they fell on deaf ears. Furthermore, the leadership of his nation, King Zedekiah, wasn’t listening to sound counsel, nor was he turning to God to repent and do things God’s way. Jeremiah had to have  moments of doubt and wondering and grief and sorrow over what he could see was coming for his beloved land.

Now-a-days we are half-way around the world and over two and a half millenia have passed since Jeremiah’s day. I have days when I wonder what’s going to become of this land I love so much. Nobody seems to want to hear the call to repentance that God still extends to all. The leadership in our political parties and in official government positions seem intent at times to not only reject God’s ways, as laid out in the Bible, to actively promote the violating of any “rule” God might have laid down. Some of us have been wondering where this is all going to end… especially in light of what seems like hopeless choices for the election of various officials throughout our governmental system… or even our church organizations, allegedly “the people of God” and yet seemingly intent on turning our back on anything God has asked of us… at least if it involves repentance from sin.

This verse, as it JUMPED OUT at me that night, reminded me that my first responsibility in those moments of wondering about the future, or my country, or even my church, is not to cry out in frustration or to vow to vote for this one or that one or to try to come up with my own plans to “keep the peace.” Rather, Jeremiah 33:3, reminds me that my PRIMARY responsibility as I look around at all that’s happening is to…

… simply call out to God.

“Call to me and I will answer…”

And that quickly, the anxiety begins to lift a little and Jesus’ inviting words flood back into my memory:

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”   —Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

Jeremiah, even though he was facing overwhelming odds and great certainty that everything was falling apart, could call out to God and lay down his burdens before his lord. As I look at the uncertainty of my life, my nation, my health, my church denomination, my wife and children’s futures, my finances, even my own mental health… I can call out to my God and lay out all my burdens before Him… and give those burdens to him! He’ll take on those burdens and give me rest… and hope… and peace… even in a world that seems like its going to pot.

Oh yes, Lord! Remind me again and again that there is NO reason for me to carry all my cares, concerns, and burdens alone. Remind me to CALL to you and then lay these other things down to you as I simply draw closer to You, to learn from you and hear You. And I can then trust You to answer me and show me Your ways… even though I cannot see them from here. AMEN!

 

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Ask In My Name

Chambers COMPLETE WORKSYesterday I came across The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, a book I picked up back in 2002. One section is the book of prayers published after Chambers’ death under the title Knocking at God’s Door. Chambers’ wife created this book by pulling some of her husband’s personal, spiritual prayers he had written out at the beginning of each day into his diaries.

The prayer she assigned to today picks up its theme from John 14:14 (Revised Version 1885):

“If ye shall ask Me anything in My Name, that will I do” (RV). It is all so mysterious, O Lord, and all so simple — I pray, and believe that Thou dost create something in answer to and by the very means of my prayer, that was not in existence before.”

I’ve known this verse for years… but never thought about it quite like this. My prayer is the impetus for God to create an answer for whatever it is I prayed about! My prayer is the spark that gets the answer started! NO WONDER the book of James (4:2) says that the reason we don’t get what we most desire or need is because we don’t ask for it! The engine doesn’t do much until it is started!

I also am aware that there is that disclaimer in there that says we don’t get just anything we ask for… but rather, when we ask in Jesus’ name, the Father will do whatever we ask. I take it that means that if I know something is clearly NOT in God’s will, then I can expect no result from praying for that thing. Asking in His name implies I come alongside Jesus and ask for the very things he’s offered… the very things that carry out his will on earth… and I get to be a part of what He’s doing!

–Chambers, Oswald. The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. Discovery House Publishers, associated with RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, Michigan. copyright 2000. (Complete Works

–Chambers, Oswald. Knocking at God’s Door: A Little Book of Prayers. 1957. in Complete Works pages 635-652. August 19th entry found on page 646.

 

 

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Weeping Jesus

     In January of 2002, my family visited the National Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City. After we explained to our girls the horrific story of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, we began walking through the memorial that has since been built on the spot where the building once stood. I have never been so moved as I was that day.

     At each end are huge gates… one representing the moment before the bombing (9:01 a.m.) and the other representing the moment after the attack (9:03 a.m.). And in between those two gates… in between those two moments… was the blast and its aftermath. Each of the lives lost is symbolized by an empty chair bearing the name of one of the 168 victims. Walking around the reflecting pool, looking at the chairs and the remains of the one piece of wall that still stands, I slowly began to realize that the chairs were of different sizes… and I remembered that 19 of those killed were innocent children at play in their day-care center. And I was struck by the horror of it all over again.

     At each end of the memorial site stand two church buildings that had also been damaged in the blast. Across the street at the eastern end is the United Methodist Church, which included an open chapel on the grounds when they rebuilt, complete with helpful brochures, healing pamphlets, and even free Bibles, offering the peace of Christ and the hope of Jesus to any who want to leave the terror behind.

     Across the street at the western end is a Roman Catholic Church, that commissioned a memorial of their own when they rebuilt: a statue of Jesus, with his back to the grisly destruction, weeping.  weeping Jesus

     Jesus Christ, weeps in the face of such hatred that would be so violent and murderous. He turns his back to such evil and destruction. God cannot stand sin… sin cannot abide in his presence. According to the Gospels, God the Father hid his face from His own Son when He was bearing our sins on that cross so long ago.

     Engraved on the gates of the Oklahoma City Memorial are these words: “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever…May all who leave here know the impact of violence…”

     We need to remember. Especially in light of the unimaginable events that we have since lived through lately. Bombings. Riots. Protests. Police shootings. Shootings of police. A truck deliberately crashing into pedestrians. Mass murder at a nightclub. A teen gunman in a mall luring people to their deaths. And that’s just the last few weeks in non-war zones. And looking ahead, we see events like the political rallies and even the Olympics coming up soon and wonder if we’re destined to endure even more heartbreak, sorrow, and terror.

     Terrorism is well named. For it is terror we feel when faced with these unthinkable, cowardly acts of violence. There is no protection it seems, no hope, no safety, no peace, when faced with terror.

     Yet, we are reminded by these two churches, and by the Scriptures, that even though our Lord despises and rejects such hatred, He is never untouched by the pain and the suffering. His back may be turned to evil, but his face is filled with tears of compassion and love. He promises to walk through the darkest of times hand-in-hand with any one of us who calls on Him and allows Him to bring us His peace and His comfort.

     We celebrated Christ’s victory over sin and death just a few months ago at Easter. But a key part of the Easter story is remembering the beatings, whippings, and gruesome death He endured. We remember his broken body and His shed blood as He turned His back to a cross and allowed Himself to be nailed to it in order to once and for all time purchase our eternal freedom. Since God cannot allow sin into His presence, and every one of us has sinned, we were all doomed for an eternity separated from God… an eternal death. But Jesus Christ, the only one who ever walked through life without ever sinning, took our place… facing death and hell so that we could be freed from that judgment of eternal death. Like when someone chooses to pay off a debt for you that you knew you’d never be able to pay.

     In this time of uncertainty, when the terror and fear and sin is so clearly visible, it is time for us to return to the weeping Jesus, and remember His death until He comes again.

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This was my pastor’s newsletter in our church’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Circuit Rider, (August/September 2016), First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA. (Based on an original devotional I wrote in 2002).

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