Tag Archives: Jesus

Teach Us To Pray

These are my speaking notes from this morning’s worship services. And during the  prayer time I DELIBERATELY left out the Lord’s Prayer. After a hymn, I started my sermon…

Anyone notice anything different about our service today?

We didn’t use the Lord’s Prayer to end our prayer time!

It’s not that I forgot it…

I wanted to see if anyone would notice.

You see, too often we end up doing religious things and say religious words during our worship services that just don’t mean anything to anyone anymore.

And the Lord’s Prayer is far too important for that.

Let’s turn to one of the two places in Scripture where we find the Lord’s Prayer, and Jesus’ teaching about it, recorded for us…

[READ: LUKE 11:1-13]

11 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father, hallowed be your name,
your  kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

How did you first learn to pray?

Maybe you’re like me and the kids in children’s time… “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

We talked with the kids and said it was like talking to your Dad…

And that’s exactly how Jesus started to teach his disciples…

1st part… FATHER…

Jesus isn’t just starting this prayer with a religious term. In fact, the very first word of this prayer was enough to catch the Jewish people of his day off guard.

To talk to God, one used a title like “Almighty and most holy, awesome Creator…” or “Eternal and Magnificent Lord…” And Jesus doesn’t do that. He teaches his disciples to look at God as their father.

God is someone with whom they can be in close, intimate, approachable relationship.

NOT ONLY THAT, but when you spoke of someone, you then also spoke of their reputation…

We do that nowadays, don’t we?

‘O, that’s Alice, you know, she’s the one who left her husband…’

‘Hi Patrick, pretty good game you pitched there the other day!’

 ‘Dear Brittany, you are such an AWESOME singer… I just love you!’

And that’s how we start praying to our Father, God… We speak of our love and admiration, our respect and HIS reputation… how we really see him.

It’s NEVER: “Dear God, gimme…”

Rather, “Father, You’re awesome… I love you… You are the One…”

2nd part…Your kingdom come…

As we step into the next part, Jesus teaches us to remind ourselves and remind God of exactly who has the authority of ruling our lives… In the Lord’s Prayer we learn to proclaim that GOD’S the king of our lives… and we pray for Him as king to have HIS way in HIS kingdom… And that always begins with the one who’s praying the prayer…

If you’re going to pray the Lord’s Prayer… you’d better make sure you’re allowing him to be your king… your ruler… and you are doing things HIS way… REGARDLESS of what everyone else is doing… REGARDLESS of how popular or unpopular it makes you!

“God, You are the holy one and I hope and pray that things will happen down here just exactly the way you want them to be… because you are our king and lord.”

3rd part…Give us our daily bread…

In the first 2 parts Jesus has us talking to God and about God… The pronouns are all second person, singular… “your name… Your kingdom… your will…”

Now we move to a different focus… NOW we get to us… All the pronouns are first person now…

But notice that they’re first person PLURAL… not singular…

Now preacher, I haven’t had English class in a long time… what are you talking about with pronouns and singular and plural and persons?

OK… I mean this…

In the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, GOD is the focus and we talk ABOUT Him.

In the second part of the Lord’s Prayer WE are the focus and we talk about OUR needs… NOT Me, not You… US.

There’s no “I” or “ME” or “MINE” in this prayer.

I’m reminded of the poem:

You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘I’;

You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘My’;

Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for another,

For when you pray for daily bread, you must include your sister and your brother;

For others are included in each and every plea;

From the beginning to the end of it,

It does not once say ‘Me!’

(From an email from “Peter Wales” Sat, 24 Jul 2004 22:07:01 +0930)

ANYWAY… Jesus teaches us to look at God as our provider… of all our NEEDS… He doesn’t include our wants… he doesn’t include the needs for thirty years away… but rather that we look to God for what we need today.

Throughout Scripture, we hear that same message…

  • “be content with what God provides.”
  • “Contentment with godliness is great gain.”
  • “Having food and clothing, let us be content.”

Sometimes our unhappiness is because we’re so focused on what we DON’T have, that We can’t possibly be happy with what God provides…. Jesus teaches us to ask for what we need today… and to trust God as our provider.

4th part…Forgive us like we forgive others…

The version we use in our worship services here is actually out of one of the very first English Bibles…

Our Methodist background is British… and when James, the new king of England (that is, new in 1603) had a government authorized translation of the Bible made which he approved of, a lot of the British Christians loved it and a lot of them did not… King James wasn’t known for his holiness or purity, and our spiritual ancestors REFUSED to pray the Lord’s Prayer out of the government’s Bible…

It would be like having the president you dislike the most (but don’t say that name out loud right now). If that president had folks create a new version of the Bible and then made a law that said that you HAD TO USE THAT version of the Bible and no other. Would you want to?

A lot of the folks in the early 17th Century felt the same way about the government’s authorized version of the Bible… the one we call the King James Bible, and so when they came to the Lord’s prayer, they used the wording from the older English Bible, rather than use the King James Version wording about debts and debtors.

That’s why we spit out words like ‘trespasses’ and that crazy phrase ‘those who trespass against us’… and we lose the meaning sometimes.

You know, the truth is, this has got to be the SCARIEST part of this prayer. You had better be aware of what you are asking God to do here…

We are essentially asking: ‘Dear God, I know that you want to forgive me… but please Lord, only give me as much forgiveness as I’ve given to the people around me who’ve messed up my life.’

No wonder Jesus makes such a big deal in Matthew 18  (verses 15-17) and other places about being reconciled with the people around us. You and I have to make a choice between hanging on to a grudge and unforgiveness or being forgiven by God… we can only hang on to one at a time… We ask God to only forgive us in the same way we forgive others…

Even in the prayer He taught us, Jesus reminds us that we need to be known as forgiving and gracious people…

5th part…Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil…

You know, in the book of James, we read how God will allow tests to prove us and see if we’re ready for the next chapter of our lives… Some of the translations call them tests, some translations call them temptations. Here, in the Lord’s Prayer, it’s using that Greek word we translate as “tests” but in the older Bibles it said “temptation” as a way of speaking about God allowing us to be tested… And that’s a good thing!

Sort of like a 16 year old WANTS to be tested in order to be able to move into the driving portion of their lives… No test means no license, which of course means no driving…

James goes on to say that the tempting part of the various tests is when we still have some evil desire in our hearts… that turns a test into a temptation for evil…

For instance, You could walk up to me and offer me a cigarette… and I have no desire in my heart or mind (or lungs) to smoke that cigarette, so I’m not going to even fall into that trap… I won’t take it. It’s not appealing for me… I don’t have that desire in my heart, so you can’t tempt me.

Now, when I was younger, and thought it was COOL to smoke, I was tempted big time and actually stole cigarettes from my mom… It was a temptation for me because I had an evil desire in my heart.

(Of course, it only took about two puffs for me to get sick and realize how addicted I am to oxygen… and cigarettes have never been a temptation since then.)

That’s what we’re asking here…

‘Oh God, don’t let me be tested in the areas I haven’t already surrendered to You… Help me to surrender those areas to You so I’m not even tempted at all by those things.’

And thus, even in the prayer he teaches, Jesus reminds us of our need to let God keep cleansing us and teaching us His ways so that we have pure hearts that are free from all of that evil that comes so naturally.

So those are the basics…

Luke records the essence of what Jesus taught… In Matthew’s gospel, we have the version of Jesus’ prayer that started being used in worship services… and over the centuries we even have tacked on a liturgical phrase that ends back where we began… giving the honor and glory back to God…

Some church traditions have taken Matthew’s intro where Jesus says, “Pray like this…” and have decided that the Lord’s Prayer is just an example… not something you ought to actually quote while you’re praying.

In part, they’re right… we don’t always have to use these exact words… we can use the example of this prayer to guide us in how we ought to pray in our own lives… outside of church… any time we want to talk to God…

But there’s also this passage in Luke where Jesus says specifically “When you pray, say this…” so I believe the Lord’s Prayer DOES have a part in our regular worship… as long as it never becomes just a memorized, meaningless bunch of words…

With that qualification… If you can pray this prayer honestly… from the heart… if you even dare…

Then I invite you to join me this morning, in praying the Lord’s Prayer together…

OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN,

        HALLOWED BE THY NAME.

THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE,

        ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.

GIVE US THIS DAY, OUR DAILY BREAD,

        AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES,

                 AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US.

AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION,

       BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL,

FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER

       AND THE GLORY, FOREVER.

AMEN.

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Filed under Church Leadership, Methodist, prayer, worship

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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Filed under Bible, Church Leadership, compassion, Disaster Relief, Methodist

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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Filed under Church Leadership, Death, Grief, sermons

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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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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