Tag Archives: Book of Psalms

Acts of God?

Recently, I’ve heard, read, and watched different supposed Christians who want to take all the hurricanes and fires and earthquakes and ascribe them to God as if GOD had evilly created a plan to punish people with Hell on earth in the nasty now-and-now…
And other people who try to use these events as reasons to “prove” that there is NO God anywhere, nor has there ever been.
In response, today, I want to share a great resource actually written and published by the denomination to which I belong: The United Methodist Church.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

Sometimes the devastation is overwhelming. The waters rise and the rain won’t stop. The ground shakes beneath our feet, or the wind blows the roofs off homes. Sometimes, even the side of the mountain roars into town. The problems seem insurmountable, the destruction beyond our comprehension.When tragedy strikes, it is common for us to ask why. We turn to our faith for answers, but answers don’t come easily. We wrestle with making sense of the suffering we witness, in light of our Christian faith. Questions are left unanswered. The tragedy is not explained.In a sermon titled “The Promise of Understanding,” John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, says we may never know. He writes,

“[W]e cannot say why God suffered evil to have a place in his creation; why he, who is so infinitely good himself, who made all things ‘very good,’ and who rejoices in the good of all his creatures, permitted what is so entirely contrary to his own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works. ‘Why are sin and its attendant pain in the world?’ has been a question ever since the world began; and the world will probably end before human understandings have answered it with any certainty” (section 2.1).

The short answer is: We do not know why natural disasters and other suffering are part of our world.

Did God do this?

While Wesley admits we cannot know the complete answer, he clearly states that suffering does not come from God. God is “infinitely good,” Wesley writes, “made all things good,” and “rejoices in the good of all his creatures.”

Our good God does not send suffering. According to Wesley, it is “entirely contrary to [God’s] own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works.” Suffering is not punishment for sin or a judgment from God. We suffer, and the world suffers, because we are human and part of a system of processes and a physical environment where things go wrong.

God with us

In another sermon titled “On Divine Providence,” Wesley again writes of God’s love for humanity and that God desires good for us. He then adds how God is always with us, even in the midst of tragedy. Wesley shares,

“[God] hath expressly declared, that as his ‘eyes are over all the earth’ [see Psalm 34:15; 83:18], so he ‘is loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works’ [Psalm 145:9]. Consequently, he is concerned every moment for what befalls every creature upon earth; and more especially for everything that befalls any of the children of men. It is hard, indeed, to comprehend this; nay, it is hard to believe it, considering the complicated wickedness, and the complicated misery, which we see on every side. But believe it we must” (paragraph 13).

This is good news. While we cannot fully comprehend the why, we know that God is with those who suffer. Note that Wesley says God cares for “every creature.” We are never alone in our suffering.

In our experience, we know that tragedies happen to Christians and non-Christians alike. As Jesus said, “[God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The good news we proclaim is that God is with us through it all.

A different question

When Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind, the disciples ask Jesus the question we are asking. “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Jesus, why does seemingly arbitrary suffering occur?

Jesus’ answer, “Neither he nor his parents,” tells us that the disciples are asking the wrong question. “This happened,” Jesus continues, “so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus asserts that it is in our response to suffering that God is found, in moments of everyday grace and in grand and sweeping gestures of care and solidarity with the suffering. God’s mighty works are found in hospitals and nursing homes and shelters.

Jesus is calling his disciples and us to a ministry. We are to join Jesus in displaying God’s mighty works. We are an extension of God’s presence in the midst of the tragedy as we come beside those who are suffering in ways we don’t comprehend. We are to be agents of healing, working to restore God’s order to people’s lives and communities. We are to be representatives of the day of resurrection to come, as we seek to rebuild and renew.

In our United Methodist congregations, we join together in these ministries. We assemble flood buckets and work alongside those who shovel the muck from floodwaters from the floors of their homes. We rebuild homes. We stand in the gap alongside the suffering. We support our local food banks, help build houses in our communities, take care of one another’s cars, visit those who are ill and imprisoned, and so much more. We are also active in our communities, working to change systems that inflict suffering on people in our communities.

In the aftermath of tragedy, we give witness to the love of God. In our outpouring of support, we proclaim the value of every human life. As we grieve with those in mourning, we share the love of God. When we send supplies through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, we witness to God’s provision. When medical professionals bind up wounds, Jesus is shown as a healer. When homes are rebuilt, we proclaim resurrection.

We may not know why things happen, but we embrace the ministries of healing, renewal and reconciliation to which Jesus calls us, and in doing so, God’s mighty works are revealed.

Related:

Turning to the Bible when sorrow strikes

‘Jesus wept’: Finding God’s comfort when times are bad

 

Have questions? Ask the UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

First published Aug. 31, 2017.

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Eyes

As a child, one of the Sunday School songs started like this: “Be careful little eyes what you see…” and it reminded us that what we look at, affects our thinking, which affects our actions, which becomes a spiritual issue as well. Similar verses warned our ears and what we listen to, our hands and the things we choose to do, and finally our feet and where we choose to go.

I have been repeatedly returning to Psalm 119 over the past four or five months every once in a while and yesterday I got caught on verse 37: “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, And revive me in Your way.” (New Living Translation).

I was immediately reminded of how many times I go online for some legitimate reason and “accidentally” find myself still online 20 minutes, an hour, or even several hours later. I need to redeem the time… and Facebook and Twitter can be tools and even very helpful, but they can be the door in to a longer, more wasteful, worthless online experience.

And it’s EVERYTHING we allow into our minds and hearts, isn’t it? Internet, video games, books, comics, magazines, songs (and lyrics), and the list could go on for quite a while…

Couple that with a crazy “selfie” picture that I had taken a couple of weeks ago when I had shaved my beard down and a new graphic reminder of this verse was born.

Enjoy… or be freaked  out… but heed the Scriptural truth.

psalm-11937-mixed-rendition

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REPOST: Teach Us To Number Our Days

I like the story of a man who accidentally calls a wrong 1-800 number and gets GOD. After being apologetic about wasting God’s time with a wrong number, God says that’s OK, what we humans think is a long time is really almost nothing to him. So the man says: “Let me get this right: 1000 of our years are like nothing more than a minute to you?” And God says “yes.”

“So what money?” says the man. He continues: “Is it true that you really own the cattle on a thousand hills and that everything we could possibly ever own is really yours?” Again, God responds with a “yes.”

Feeling a bit braver, he pushes on. He says, “So a million dollars to you is like nothing more than a penny, huh?” God says “That’s right.”
The man then asks “Hey God, I got a favor to ask. Can I have a penny?”
To which God responds: “In a minute.”

 

PSALM 90:10 says: “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty.”

The most we can hope for, as far as our age goes, is about 70 years; maybe 80 or so if we’re exceptionally strong in health… more or less. And back in verse 4 of Psalm 90 we read “For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.”

Our full-life, in God’s reckoning of eternity, is like the morning fog: it’s gone pretty quickly without a trace. But what does 70 years give us… what value does it have?

Depends on what we put into it.

chalkboard-hours

There are 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year, which means we each have 8,760 hours in a year. If you multiply that number of hours in a year by a life span of, let’s go ahead and say 70, you get 613,200 hours in a 70 year lifespan.

BY THE WAY, by following the math out, a 70 year lifespan would have 36,792,000 minutes (36 MILLION…) OR 2,207,520,000 seconds (2 BILLION, 207 MILLION…)

So, since our time is our most precious commodity, we ALL could be considered to be MILLIONARES! (or even BILLIONAIRES). So how do we spend our time? Into what purposes and activities do we invest our time?

To start with, the average American person, in a 70 year lifespan, will have spent an average of 178,360 hours just sleeping. (7 hours/day x 7 days/ week x 52 wk/yr x 70 yr = 178,360 hours of sleep in your lifetime. To make it easier to process, you can take that number of sleeping hours (178,360) and divide it by the number of hours in a year (8760) and that means you sleep about 20 years of a 70 year lifespan.

That same person will have spent 104,000 hours of their life working, which turns out to be almost 16 years spent working out of 70.

That person will also spend an average of 76,440 hours of their life eating! (Assuming an hour for every meal (that’ll count your snacks) X 3 meals a day X 7 days a week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 76,440 hours of eating. That’s almost 9 years of eating!

Time spent watching television is also insightful: 3 hours of TV each day = another 9 years spent just watching T.V. !

Now, when it comes to church, there’s a bit of a problem because the AVERAGE American simply does NOT go to church! So for the average American it boils down to ZERO hours a year.

But, for OUR benefit, we’ll assume the Average American Church going Christian will have spent 6/10 of a year worshipping God.(Assuming an hour and a half each week, giving you time to get in here and get out plus the normal hour and fifteen minutes we usually set aside for the worship service.)

NOW, some reading this are going to challenge me in this. They might say: “That’s not fair, preacher! I go to church more often than that, I’m a really committed Christian!’”

Assuming that’s true, we’ll take you Sunday morning worship time PLUS EVERY Sunday School Class you’ve ever attended, PLUS EVERY Prayer Meeting scheduled, or Youth group meeting, or Women’s group, PLUS EVERY Bible Study that takes place, and we can bump your weekly Church worship time up to 5 hours in a week. What’s that give us? (5 hours per week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 18,200 hours in worship in your lifetime = about 2 years and a couple of months spent worshipping God.

Add to those numbers the results of a Survey of 6000 people polled in 1988, reported by U.S. News and World Report:

In a lifetime the average American will spend:

chalkboard years.pngSix months sitting at stoplights

Eight months opening junk mail

One year looking for misplaced objects

2 years unsuccessfully returning phone calls

4 years doing housework

5 years waiting in line

Reader’s Digest takes this even further and says that the Average American will spend 6 years looking for misplaced stuff.

OH GOD… Teach us to number our days……..

As we look back over this list of time spent, we can see how our little uses of time add up to YEARS throughout the course of a lifetime, so we need to ask God to help us number our days… to make the most of our time.

Who is our God? Our God is the one to whom we give our time and attention.

OH GOD… “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

-Psalm 90:12

(This originally started as a newsletter article years ago based on a message I had heard once at Cherry Run Camp. Then it became a blog post in January 2011. Now, it is ‘resurrected’ today here and served as the foundation for my Sunday morning sermon at Carmichaels: First United Methodist Church.)

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MUST NOT!

A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. 

— 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (NLT)

In our Tuesday Bible Study recently, we spent some time looking at a couple of the cults that we’ve encountered in our area from time to time. And while we discussed specifics about what they believed, and how it differed from True Christianity, another topic also arose: That of how do we treat people who are not like us… whether they are in a group we consider so different from our beliefs that we call them a cult, or perhaps just from another one of the Christian churches, or even an entirely different religion, or race, or political persuasion, or even sexual orientation… whatever.

As I’ve taught this class on and off in six churches over 19 years I’ve been a pastor, I’ve been inundated with different folks’ beliefs on how to best ‘get rid of’ a cult member who’s coming to your door: hiding in the closet till they go away, putting all the shades down, yelling at them to go away, standing there and belittling them with the fallacy in their belief, or deliberately showing up dressed in nothing more than a single undergarment.

I’ve also been at annual conference 18 of those 19 years (and to one of our General Conferences) when every time something legislative was brought up trying to sway the United Methodist Church to change our condemnation of homosexual behavior. (By the way, it is ALWAYS brought up and it has ALWAYS been voted down.)

My concern as a pastor relates to the passage up above. The way we talk to each other in the church, and to those outside of the church, is commanded that we never stoop down and quarrel in anger and bicker and fight like the non-believers do in the public forum. As Christians, regardless of how wrong we are convinced someone else is, we do not have the right to parley with our tongues like weapons and using our words like ammunition. Read that passage again: catch the words “gently” and “kind” and “patient” and the command to “not quarrel.” And the language used is not like these are suggestions. The emphasis is laid out in the very first phrase: “must not.”

And to top it all off, Jesus Himself is quoted as saying: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:35 (NRSV)

If we are to be his disciples, then the world around us will see it and hear it in through the love we show them. Because that’s what a Christian is like… at least according to Jesus. If we are just making a point and zeroing in for the kill by scoring a win over another person’s point, or argument, r discussion point, then we are JUST AS WRONG AS they are… in fact, we are MORE wrong, because we are Christians and are given CLEAR instructions in these two passages (as well as others) as to what the expectation is for a Christian.

In closing this month, my prayer is the prayer embedded in Psalm 19:

“May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be pleasing to you, O Lord…”                             — Psalm 19:14 (NLT)

 

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Stand in the Gap?

I originally shared this when it was my turn to share devotions with a mens prayer breakfast on March 21, 2007. 

“Fed up, God decided to get rid of them— and except for Moses, his chosen, he would have. But Moses stood in the gap and deflected God’s anger, prevented it from destroying them utterly.”

— Psalm 106:23 (The Message)
“I looked for someone to stand up for me against all this, to repair the defenses of the city, to take a stand for me and stand in the gap to protect this land so I wouldn’t have to destroy it. I couldn’t find anyone. Not one.”
—Ezekiel 22:30 (The Message)
     Oh God, how many times are we, your chosen people in this day and age, the very ones you’re waiting for so that we can “stand in the gap” to turn away your anger like Moses did? Like you kept wanting someone to do in Ezekiel’s day, and you never did find someone who would do that?

 

Is this the explanation of how it is that you could “change your mind” in the Old Testament stories? I wonder if in every situation where people faced Your judgment, that it was always your intention to grant mercy to them IF someone would simply “stand in the gap” in order to “turn away your anger.” The judgment is deserved, but you’d rather offer grace and mercy and forgiveness… if someone would just intervene and intercede.

     You judged the people in the desert and they deserved to die…but Moses intervened, he stepped in and pleaded desperately for them… and for his sake, you showed them mercy. You didn’t give them what they really deserved….
     You judged the people in Ezekiel’s day and sent Ezekiel with your message and kept waiting for someone on the receiving end of that message to step in and plead for mercy for your people… and no one did… and so the judgment was carried out.
     Today, the world around us clearly has walked away from your ways. If you’re truly a righteous and just God, then You have to judge us… our people, our land, our nation… You’ve sent your warnings. Is the seeming pause we sense just a God-given chance for us, your chosen people, to “stand in the gap” and plead for our friends and neighbors and relatives? To plead for mercy? To pray for forgiveness?
     O God… we modern American Christians are more likely to condemn those around us than we are to be an advocate for them. We see their sin and think “God’ll get you for that!”
     We are SO wrong! Forgive us O God and change our wicked hearts! Give us the compassion and love of Moses that he felt for his friends and neighbors and relatives. Teach us to stand in the gap!

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Seeing Things As God Sees Them

“Get away from me, Satan! … You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Jesus to Peter when Peter tries to talk Jesus out of the cross, from Mark 8:33, NLT)

In August, I preached on this passage of Scripture where Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. In Mark 8:29, Peter nails it with “You are the Messiah.” The next verse shows that Jesus immediately told them not to tell anyone else about it. Then, in what seems like a change of subject, we read that Jesus begins to teach them that the Son of Man has to actually suffer and face death. The disciples, who have heard him confirm that he IS the Messiah, are upset because they’ve been taught all about the Messiah all their lives: The Messiah is supposed to come and destroy Israel’s enemies. The Messiah reigns as conqueror! The Messiah can’t die at the hands of the Romans… It’s not supposed to work that way!

So when Peter tries to reprimand Jesus (Yes… it says “reprimand”), Jesus denounces him. He actually uses the word “Satan” to describe Peter because the word “Satan” is not just a name, it’s also means “accuser” or “opponent” in Greek. Peter has set himself against Jesus and is tempting Jesus to be the human idea of a Messiah… There’s no reason to suffer or face death on a cross. Peter is opposing Jesus and trying to get Jesus to do things the way everyone expects him to.

My point that day, which apparently threw some folks off, was that we, like Jesus, need to see things GOD’S way, not just the way our traditions have taught us. Far too often we in the church are like Peter and the disciples who have trouble seeing things the way God sees them.

To illustrate that, I tried to talk about how people have become concerned that Christianity’s numbers of worshipers and members have fallen since the 1950s. Simply put, there are less people in the pews. My contention that day was that those falling numbers don’t really tell us the spiritual story the way God sees it. You see, back in the ‘50s, it was a socially acceptable and expected thing that people who were worth anything, of course would go to church. Even non-Christians went to church because it was expected and people thought less of them if they didn’t attend. So Christianity’s numbers were much bigger.  Now-a-days however, if they don’t really want to go to church, there really isn’t a social expectation that they will go. You go because you want to. I tried to suggest that going to church because you want to, because you love Jesus Christ and want to worship him, is a much better reason to attend. And so the statistical numbers that say Christianity is fading aren’t real. Yes, we have fewer people in the pews, but hopefully they are people who are really Christians, not just people who were shamed into attending church. In fact, we’re better when we’re NOT shaming people into church worship services.

Seeing church attendance as something you HAVE TO do is seeing things the way the world sees (or at least saw) it back 60 some years ago. But there is a better way… seeing things from God’s perspective. God wants people in church because they love him and WANT TO worship him. That’s why there are texts like these, clear back in the Old Testament: “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”  (David to God, from Psalm 51:16-17, NLT).

Let’s make sure we look at things from God’s point-of-view, whether it’s about church attendance, responding to God when he wants us to do something different than the way we planned, or anything else that comes our way.

(This devotional article first appeared in the newsletter of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church)

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What Time Is It?

JOKE:

Man is at a payphone and accidentally calls a wrong 1-800 number… gets GOD.

After being apologetic about wasting God’s time with a wrong number, God says that’s OK, what we humans think is a long time is really almost nothing to him.

MAN: So let me get this right… 1000 of our years are like nothing more than a minute to you??

GOD: Well, yeas, I guess so.

MAN: How ‘bout money? Is it true that you really own the cattle on a thousand hills and that everything we could possibly ever own is really yours?

GOD: well, yes, that’s true too.

MAN: So a million dollars to you is like nothing more than a penny, huh?

GOD: That’s right.

MAN: Hey God, I got a favor to ask. Can I have a penny?

GOD: In a minute.

In Psalm 90:10, we read “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.”

Most we can hope for is 70 years… maybe 80 or so if we’re exceptionally strong in health.

Our full-life in God’s reckoning of eternity is like the morning fog… it’s gone pretty quick without a trace.

When we were little children age 10 seemed like very mature and 25 was ancient.  70…?  Wow that was FOREVER!

But what does 70 years give us… what value does it have?

Depends on what we put into it.

Let’s put it into perspective:

24 hours /day x 365 days/year = 8760 hours in a year.    (525,000 min/yr OR 31,536,000 sec/yr)

AVERAGE AMERICAN REPORTEDLY:

SLEEPS

7 hours/day x 7 days/ week x 52 wk/yr x 70 yr = 178, 360 hours of sleep in your life.

Divide it by the number of hours in a year (8760) and that means you sleep about 20 years of a 70 year lifespan.

————————–70 – 20 = 50————————————–

WORKS

8 hours/day x 5 days/wk x 52 wk/yr x 70 yr = 145,600 hours of work = 17 years of work

————————–50 – 17 = 33————————————–

EATS

Assuming an hour for every meal (that’ll count your snacks)

3 meals a day X 7 days a week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 76,440 hours of eating = almost 9 years of eating

—————————33 – 9 = 24————————————–

WATCHING TELEVISION

3 hours a day X 7 days a week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 76,440 hours of watching TV = almost 9 years of watching TV

—————————24– 9 = 15————————————–

GOING TO CHURCH

Bit of a problem here…. The average American DOESN’T ATTEND at all…. So for the average American it boils down to ZERO hours a year

But, for OUR benefit… We’ll assume the Average American Church going Christian for our calculations.

Assuming an hour and a half each week, giving you time to get in here and get out plus the normal hour and fifteen minutes we usually set aside for the worship service, that’s 1.5 hours per week.

1.5 hours per week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 5460 hours in worship in your lifetime = about 6/10 of a year spent worshipping God.

NOW…

You may say: ‘That’s not fair, preacher… I go to church more often than that, I’m a really committed Christian!’

OK…

Then let’s add your attendance at EVERY Sunday morning worship service, PLUS EVERY Sunday School Class, PLUS EVERY Prayer Meeting scheduled, PLUS EVERY Bible Study that takes place, and we can bump your weekly Church worship time up to 5 hours in a week.

5 hours per week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 18,200 hours in worship in your lifetime = about 2 years spent worshipping God.

—————————15– 2 = 13————————————–

ADD to those numbers the results of a Survey of 6000 people polled in 1988, reported by U.S. News and World Report:

In a lifetime the average American will spend:

– Six months sitting at stoplights

– Eight months opening junk mail

– One year looking for misplaced objects

– 2 years unsuccessfully returning phone calls

– 4 years doing housework

– 5 years waiting in line

Reader’s Digest takes it even further and says that the Average American will spend 6 years looking for misplaced stuff.

OH GOD…

Teach us to number our days……..

As we look back over the past and realize how our little uses of time add up to YEARS throughout the course of a lifetime, we need to ask God to help us number our days… to make the most of our time.

As we start a new year, let’s pause a moment and reflect on WHOM do we spend our time? Who is our god? The one we give our time and attention to?

OH GOD…

Teach us to number our days…

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