Sunday, January 31, 2010

Loaf and Jug on Sunday

Today has been a busy day. I did my usual leading of Sunday School and church at Fowler First Baptist. Saturday evening and Sunday morning we cleaned house and prepared for houseguests to come. They had to cancel last minute. I also had to lead a nursing home worship service and a book club in the evening.

After coming home from the worship service at the nursing home, I decided that I was going to stop at Loaf n Jug to get some gas. January 31st is the last day that the rewards for purchasing gas at Loaf and groceries at any Kroger affiliate can be redeemed. So I pulled up to collect.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the convienience store had a line two deep to get into fill up with the shopping discount. We staying in line with cars idling for 10 minutes to fill up with a 20 cent a gallon discount.

Usually I don't like rewards cards, but I have been using the King Soupers card at Loaf to get my discount. I think most rewards cards are big brother's way of tracking you. So, I don't like them. But since I bought my gift cards at Loaf for Christmas....the discount was hard to resist.

I was amazed at two things. First, I was interested in how many people were so eager to save just a dollar or two in gas costs. So often we are willing to skimp in savings on one thing or another, but people will go out of their way for miles just to save a cent or two on gas. This always makes me grin.

Second, I find it interesting how many procrastinators there are. Even in our little small town, there was a line to redeem points from Loaf and Jug. Because the greatest number of us will almost always wait until the last possible minute to do something. Why is this? I wonder.

Rough Waters Sermon Part 1

16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them. 18 Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing. 19 So when they had rowed about three or four miles,[a] they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. 20 But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.
I can hardly watch CNN anymore. Every day Anderson Cooper is down in Haiti with a bunch of reporters. Every day there is another story of the aftermath of the earthquake that is simply heartbreaking. A little girl that is an amputee, but still cannot find her mother or her father. A group of senior citizens at a nursing home taken outside of their collapsing building, set on their beds, and then left to fend for themselves. Some of them senile. Most of them incontinent. All of them alone. The staff went to find their own grandparents, to tend to their own children, and find their own shelter.

Some stories are more hopeful. A young girl rescued from the rubble after two weeks. A middle-aged woman rescued after being under a collapsed building for over a week. As she is pulled out of the rubble, given a drink, and put in a stretcher you can hear her voice. “God is good. Praise God. God is good. Praise God.” She cries. I don’t know if I have that kind of faith or that kind of witness. This woman did. And millions of people heard her witness.

Much of our lives are a result of the decisions we make and the attitudes we have. But there are many situations that seem outside of our control. I can’t control when the earth is going to shake. I don’t have any power to solve the problems in the Middle East. I hear prayer concerns from many of you, and I have no power within me to help make you any better. I wish I had that power, but I don’t. So I pray. I love. I hope. And I keep marching on.

In those situations, it is easy to be a little afraid. A little nervous. A little anxious. Especially when we are personally involved in those situations.

I can be high strung at times, but I am generally not an overly anxious type. Since Jennifer has gotten pregnant, I can see myself at times being more and more anxious about things. Recently she had a test that said we had a 1 in 250 chance of a certain kind of birth defect. There is a 99.6 percent chance that the little one is completely healthy. Still, until the high tech ultrasound next month, that concern is going to be in the back of my head.

After seeing a Ford Explorer turned over on the side of the road coming home from a meeting in the Springs on Thursday, I told Jennifer we needed a 20 year old Suburban with its own zip code in order for our child to be safe. Or a Hummer. You never know when some drunk driver is going to come squealing around the corner. I want to be prepared.

Let me get back to these thoughts in a moment. Let us look at the Scripture text for this morning.
In the beginning of Chapter 6, before we get the feeding of the 5000, the chapter begins with John telling us that the Passover holiday was approaching. There is a reason for this. John wants us to remember the Passover, and to put what Jesus is doing in that context.

When Jesus takes 5 loaves and two fish, and feeds 5000 people in the wilderness, the people want to make him king. We did not get much into this last week. Why did they want to do this? Because he could do miracles?

The answer is Yes and No. Yes he could do miracles. And many were impressed. But it is also the kind of miracle or sign he performed. He provided bread in the wilderness. What is this reminiscent of? It is to remind us of the Exodus. Of the manna that fell from heaven to provide for God’s people as they wandered in the wilderness. They think Jesus is the new Moses. The new deliverer. He is. But he is not going to be put in their box and expectations. His mission is bigger than military conquest.

So he send the disciples out on the water. He sends them out in a boat. The disciples try to make their way from Tiberias to Caperneum over water by rowing a 20 foot skiff with 12 men inside.

Now you need to know this. Jews were not keen on sea travel. The Pheonicians, just northwest of them, were known throughout the ancient world as men of the water. Jews were men of the land.

Hebrew superstition held that the sea was a place of chaos. The believed that under the water was an untamable place full of all sorts of unpredictable evil and uncontrollable powers. It was where everything bad resided. There was one time where Jesus healed a demon-possesed man. The demons asked if they could go into the pigs on the hillside. Jesus permitted them to do so. The pigs ran headlong over the cliff into the Sea of Galilee. Why? Because that is where the evil spirits went. Underwater.

The water could be a fearful place. The Sea of Galilee is especially fearful. Not much larger than Crater Lake in Oregon and or Blue Mesa Resevoir near Gunnison, though it is wider. During the day you would be able to see from one side to the other. At night, especially without modern electricity to light up cities, it was hard to see where you were going.

The Rough Waters Sermon Continued

Then a storm blew up. The Sea (or lake) of Galilee has crazy storms. It is over 600 feet below sea level, yet it is bordered by mountains about 2000 feet above sea level (if you can call those hills mountains). Winds come down the river, and off the Mediterraenan Sea after going over the “mountains”. Tiberius had 10 foot high waves crash into the middle of the city in 1992, and it caused millions of dollars in damage. It has crazy high water because of the weather conditions, and because the lake is somewhat shallow. And they were rowing north, while the Jordan flows gently south through the lake. Put a small little boat, waters that are a lot like a noreaster in the Eastern Seaboard, and rowing against the current, and you can see what the sailors were rowing against.

It must have been scary. And nerve-wracking. The Scripture says they got to a point where they were halfway to their destination, about four miles. But Scripture does not record them being fearful until they are in the water in the middle of the night and some being starts walking on the water toward them. Is it a ghost? An angel? Is it the death angel? Is it Jesus? Did we mess up somehow? Were we not supposed to leave him behind? Did they kill him and this is his ghost. These are the questions racing through their head.

Jesus tells them not to fear. He tells them it is Him. He walks up to them. They let him in the boat. As soon as they do, they are miraculously at their destination. This is the fifth sign of Jesus in the gospel of John.

What is Jesus saying through this sign?

Many people look at this story about Jesus, and others like it and they use it metaphorically. They talk about the power of Jesus over the storms and darkness in our lives. When hard times come our way, Jesus is bigger than those hard times. When it seems like all of our circumstances are stormy and out of control, Jesus can come in and bring peace and hope and new life. When our world is dark, Jesus can bring it light and hope. Certainly all of this is true. But this is not the whole story.

Again, at the beginning of the chapter we see that this set of circumstances in Jesus’ life is tied in with the Passover, celebrating the deliverance of the people of God from slavery in Egypt. And as the bread is to remind them of the manna. If this is the case, then what is walking on the water and power of a storm to remind them of around Passover? If you guessed the parting of the Red Sea you would be right on. Jesus has power over the waters to see his disciples through the walls of water crashing around them. Moses led his people through the parting of the Red Sea. Jesus is showing he is a deliverer like Moses. He is the Messiah. He is the promised one. He is showing that he is more powerful than any of the worlds governments or forces. His kingdom was supreme.
But, he does this by showing his power over nature. The one who created the wind and the waves rules them still. As he walks over the waves, Jesus stands over the forces of nature and says “Fear not, It is I”. When he says “It is I” this is a form of the words “I am” which is the name of God that God revealed to Moses. He is bigger than the most scary and nerve-wracking power in nature.

The water is the place in Jewish thought, remember, where chaos resided. Underwater was where evil had reign. The water was a place that was untamable and uncontrollable. It was a fearful place. And Jesus stood on top of it. He controlled it. He ruled over the waters. He was more powerful than the more fearful place on the planet for the Jews. And it did not phase Jesus one bit.

There are a lot of things in our lives beyond our control. I don’t have all the answers to why all of them happen. I don’t know why some people live 90 years and other babies live only a year or two. I am not sure why some people have all the money in the world, and others can’t even afford to buy shoes. I might have guesses. But I don’t have answers. I just know THE ANSWER.I know the one that stands upon the waters as they rage and says, “Fear not, it is I”.

There are a lot of things in my life beyond my control. I don’t know if I will only have one more breath, or 50 years worth. I don’t know if Jennifer and I will have a boy or a girl yet. I don’t what level of health or lack of it that child will have when it is born. I do know the eternal hope that the Scripture offers when it gives me this promise about my eternal destiny because I trusted in him from the prophet Isaiah:
1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.

Final part of the Rough Water sermon

I do not have all of the answers to give anyone about why God would allow something like an earthquake in Haiti to happen. I don’t believe Pat Robertson does either, even if he says he has the answer. I don’t know all the big reasons why earthquakes have to happen, but I know that even in the midst of tremendous pain and suffering, the Lord that created the heavens and the earth is the Lord still. I know the Jesus that sees this pain and suffering endured the pain and suffering on the cross in our stead, and stands with us in our pain and suffers with us still.

I know that God has given us all sorts of opportunities to be witnesses to be his hands and feet and show what our faith is all about through giving to relief in Haiti. And you can do that at any point through our missions giving. Just write a check to the church and put Haiti relief in the memo. We will pass it on through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering and it will get directly to those who need it most.

I don’t have all the answers about why there are hurricanes in New Orleans, tsunamis in Southeast Asia, earthquakes in Haiti, and famines in Africa. God has not hired me as his consultant. I doubt he will. I do know that God is loving and God is good, and that some questions are not answerable, and some answers I could not comprehend. And I do know that the one that hovered over creation on that first day and the Jesus that stood on the water on the Sea of Galilee is Lord still. I can trust my life to him. I can trust my soul with Him.

Our final hymn was written by Horatio Spafford. Spafford was a businessman in Chicago. When the Great Fire of 1871 burned Chicago, the fire destroyed all he had. He lost his business and his home. The fire also killed his only son. Two years later he was going to travel with his family to Europe. He got delayed working on rebuilding after the fire in Chicago, and sent his wife and daughters ahead. The ship hit rough waters and sank. He later received a telegram from his wife. It said, “Saved Alone”. All their children were now dead. As he travelled by boat to meet his wife in England and bring her home, he stood on the boat over the waters where the boat sank and penned these words to the hymn, “It is Well with My Soul”. The first verse reads, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way,When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

And I know if a woman trapped under a building with no food or water for over a week can be drug out and as soon as she has breathe can cry. “Praise God. God is Good.” I can say it too. And if a man who lost everything he ever loved can sing “It is well with my soul” I can sing it to. Not because I am supposed to. Not because I am that faithful. Because in the middle of my fears and the things in the world I can’t control, Jesus comes to me and you and says to each of us like he did to those disciples, “It is I, do not be afraid.” And then he gets in the boat with us in the middle of the storm. And the fact that he is with me, and with us makes all the difference.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review of the Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

(I have discovered a service at that allows me to recieve complimentary books in exchange for offering reviews of these books on my blog. The following book is the first in this series of books. If you have interest in doing the same go to the website and register yourself!)

The Liturgical Year is an excellent book for those of us who want to know a little bit more about the church year, and what it means for our lives. The book is part of the Ancient Practices Series put together by Thomas Nelson on the Spiritual Disciplines. The book begins by making a case for the use of the Christian Calendar in spiritual formation, and then carefully explains each part of the church year. Interspersed in between the different seasons of the church year are explanations of how different parts of the church year help form different virtues in our character.

I enjoyed reading this book. At first I was anxious about reading The Liturgical Year because I had seen the author on television, and thought she appeared somewhat angry and dour. The book could not be more different. It exudes joy and passion.

Overall, I thought the book balanced intellectual rigor and clear explanation with a very readable treatment of the Christian year. I particularly enjoyed how Chittister integrated "Sunday" into the Christian year. In the "Sunday" section she advocated that each Sunday was infact a use of time (the day of the week) for spiritual formation. Also, by introducing Sunday morning as the foundation of the church year, Ms. Chittister was able to focus all of our liturgy and the liturgical year toward the death and resurrection of Christ. I also enjoyed her discussion about how the Christian year forms us in Christian character, and is not just empty ritual.

As a Protestant, I struggled with the sections that were more Catholic in nature. These included the feast days, the sanctorial cycle, and the marian celebrations. Some of these parts I simply skipped over. Other parts I simply chalked up to cross-denominational education.

Overall the book is well done, and would be especially helpful to Christian ministers and worship leaders.

Beginning of Last weeks sermon: Loaves and fish

1 After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased. 3 And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.
4 Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” 6 But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.
7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”
8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”
10 Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples[a] to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” 13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Can you imagine it? Can you imagine what it would have been like to have been on that hillside that day? That day when Jesus took those loaves and those fish and fed five thousand people…can you picture in your mind’s eye what that must have been like?

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be that boy with those loaves and those fishes? I have always wondered how it was that some boy was the only person with food in the whole crowd. How was one young boy the only person with provisions for the whole group?

The only way I can work it out in my head is that it went like this. Most of the people saw Jesus and were chasing him down. Sure they might have slapped together a sandwich for the day and grabbed a bottle of water, but they were not really worrying about provisions. They were just chasing down this man that was working miracles, going after him to see what he would do next.

But this one young guy, I imagine he is around ten. I also imagine he is surrounded by family friends as he is on the trip. But my guess is that this young boy had a mother. A mother that doted on him. I think that she of those mothers that worried about her little boy’s every move, but didn’t want him to miss out on this thing with Jesus. So she wondered how he was going to have food. So she grabbed a backpack. And she shoved in a sweatshirt, a blanket, a change of underwear, a flashlight in case he needed it, and all of the day old barley loaves on the shelves and a few fish. Everyone else may have snacked on a granola bar earlier in the day, or finished a sandwich while they were walking.

However, by the time the boy meets Jesus it is meal time. People don’t have any food. They are starting to get hungry. I am sure the hungry people would be pleasant to Jesus, but it often difficult for folks when they are hungry to be pleasant with one another. Tired people do not always have the most pleasant mood either. Jesus asks the question out loud, “Where shall we buy bread that they may eat?”

Middle part of last weeks sermon: loaves and fish

Now people were getting confused with Jesus questions, so the apostle John lets us know that this is a rhetorical question. John says he is testing the disciples. He is making a point. He is teaching a lesson.
Phillip informs Jesus that purchasing bread for 5000 people in cost prohibitive. There are always those of us like Phillip. We look at the situation, and we realize that there are all sorts of problems in the game plan. We can see the flaw in the logic of the plan from a mile away. We are wide-eyed realists. We believe in saying it how it is, and responding directly to a direct concern. Sometimes we may be called critical or negative. But we believe in a direct and forthright assessment of the situation. That was Phillip. “It is cost prohibitive,” he said or in the NKJV “Two hundred denari is not sufficient for them, that everyone may have a little.”

While Phillip was pondering financial matters, Andrew was scoping out the crowd. He noticed this little boy, with his momma’s backpack eating a little bread. They asked him how many barley loaves he had.

“Five,” the boy squeaked out.

The disciples asked the boy how many fish he had.

“Two,” the boy sheepishly admitted.

“I don’t know what good that is going to do but it is something,” they muttered.

The Bible says Andrew said, “What is so little among so many?”.

Jesus started instructing the disciples. He wanted them to get everyone seated for a meal. He lifted up those loaves and fishes and blessed them. Then he started distributing the loaves and fish to the disciples, who in turn distributed them to the people. He just kept handing out more bread. And more fish.

And the people ate. Then they ate some more. The smiled and laughed and burped and smiled. When everyone was filled the Bible says, it is at that point that Jesus instructed the disciples to gather up the loaves and the fish. Jesus didn’t want any of the food to be just left lying around and go to waste. So they gathered up the loaves and there were twelve baskets full of bread. Twelve baskets from the five loaves of the little boy. The people were amazed enough that sought to seize Jesus as their king. Jesus didn’t want to be a politician. So when they started trying to take him and make him king he decided to slip away for some alone time.
There are so many sermons that could be preached on this passage. This morning I want us to take notice of one thing. I want you to notice the difference between the resources the disciples perceived that they had, and the resources that the disciples actually had with Jesus.

The disciples looked at the situation in front of them—five thousand hungry people—and saw an unsolvable problem and an insurmountable challenge. Phillip saw the lack of money. Andrew saw the lack of food on hand. They saw not enough. They saw not good enough. Not enough stuff. Not enough resources to work with. As a result, they come off a little befuddled.

Thank God the kingdom of God is a little bit bigger than our realism and our sober assessments about what we lack. Thank God that he is bigger than our worries about the circumstances in front of us. Thank God that He is bigger than our limited abilities and skills.

Jesus takes a few loaves and fish, and turns them into a banquet fit for a king. And what Jesus does then, he does now. He takes our humble gifts and offerings, skills and abilities, and multiplies them for his glory.

If you are paying close attention to this text you will notice that there a number of words that communicate the abundant and lavish provision of God in this passage. It says each person ate all they wanted. The Scripture says that the disciples picked up the food after the people were filled. Then they had twelve baskets full of food after the meal.

We see not enough. We say not enough. Jesus says for us to give him our loaves and fish, and see what he can make of them. When we say not enough, Jesus shows us that with him there is more than enough.

We say I am not young enough. I am not strong enough. I am not good enough. I am not smart enough. I don’t have enough. I am not enough.

Jesus challenges us to offer what we have. The time we have. The skills we have. The resources we have. The excitement and passion we have. Jesus says give him what we have, and let him multiply all of our “not- enoughs” into more than enough. And exactly what Jesus wants.

The Last part of last weeks sermon: Loaves and fish

A newspaper reported a story of a young boy in a Presbyterian church in a Texas community that illustrates exactly how God is still doing this loaves and fishes kind of work. Here is the story from the August 5, 2006 edition of the San Antonio Express-News:

Jackson Rogers, ten, raised enough money to put up a house for the homeless. The young entrepreneur said he took on the fund-raising project for Habitat for Humanity in February when he accepted $100 and a challenge from his pastor at First Presbyterian Church.

“My pastor gave me a hundred dollars and told me to do something good to help someone,” said Jackson, one of several congregants who accepted their pastor’s challenge. They were told to use the money for good and then report on what they did.

At first Jackson’s father was hesitant about letting his son take up such a daunting task, but Jackson was determined. “I was discouraging him from volunteering because I didn’t know what the pastor intended. But he pulled away from me and ran down there,” the father said.

Jackson knew he wanted to help a homeless family. But he wasn’t sure how to do that, so he asked his dad. What they came up with was a letter-writing campaign asking for donations to raise $50,000 to build a house through Habitat for Humanity. Jackson then wrote a letter in his own handwriting on notebook paper. “I used the hundred dollars to buy stamps and paper,” he said. He then sent out letters to friends and family.

One woman was so touched by his letter that she passed it on to several of her friends and colleagues. Soon, people from Tennessee, Virginia, and Idaho were sending in checks. The 170 people who responded contributed a total of $43,000. When the congregation at First Presbyterian learned the little miracle-worker was $7,000 short of his goal, people chipped in the rest.
“A little person can do something really good. You don’t have to wait to be an adult,” said Jackson’s mother.

One hundred and ten years ago this church was founded by men and women moving to this new town in the Colorado Frontier. They came from places like Missouri—I hear there were a lot from Missouri—and other places further east. They bought land and planted crops. And they decided that there needed to be a Baptist church. So they started one.

Somewhere in the process folks decided to build a building. Interesting thing was that the church wasn’t established enough to get a loan on its own. So folks started taking out loans in their own names on behalf of First Baptist Church. Why did they do that? Why take such a risk? I think it is because the church believed that God was a God of abundance and not scarcity. They believed that if they set the loaves and fish of their credit in Jesus’ hand, that Jesus would multiply that into abundant ministry.

The Lord certainly did just that. How do I know that? I know that because the loans were paid off in short order. This is true. But I also know it is true because 110 years later we are still worshipping in the same building in this same town. We built an addition when the church was bursting at the seams in the middle of the century.

Many of us can remember years where church attendance was in the teens. Some of us can remember when church attendance was in the 100s. Through the times of success and failure, joy and grief, we have seen that God has took whatever resources this church has had and multiplied them for his glory.

God is still doing it. He is still multiplying whatever we will offer him into miracles. He still multiplies our giving into ministries of love. He still multiplies our time into the good news of God’s saving grace getting out to the masses. He takes our half-hearted efforts and our reluctant participation in his kingdom and makes them into beautiful ministry.

And that starts when we offer him our very lives. Maybe you have never offered your life to Christ. You have never accepted him as Lord and Savior. Believe this, no matter what mistakes you have made, God can use you. No matter how hopeless and useless you may feel, God can do great things through you. He can make your meager loaves and fishes into a feast.

Maybe you have been running from God. Or ignoring him. Turn back. God can still use you.

So come to him. Bring yourself as your gift to him. You will be amazed at what God can do with our meager offerings.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fear Is Scary Stuff

I hate fear. I despise feeling afraid. I dislike living in a culture that plays on our fears. I get frustrated with people that are overanxious.

Fear is inescapable really. It is on the television. It is on the news. It is all around us. Furthermore, it springs up from inside us. We are all afraid of something. Some fears we grow out of as adults. Other fears grow with time. Some fears appear out of nowhere.

I am not OCD, but I do have some obscessive compulsive tendencies. Sometimes I have to double and triple check locks. When I was in college the only way I got through this was to say outloud what I had done. "I have locked the door. I have my keys. I can go," I would say to myself.

Today on trips I have to do this with my phone, wallet, checkbook etc. And if something is not right with my CPAP machine, I am near a nervous breakdown. It is not pretty.

Most of my adult life I have made a conscious effort to not let fear rule my life. I often fear failure. I choose to face down that fear, and to take risks. I sometimes fear rejection, and so I force myself to put myself "out there" with people anyway. I also get really anxious while talking on the phone, but we will talk about that later.

I do have fears, but most of the time I am not afraid. I am not afraid of going into bad neighborhoods. I don't fear another terrorist attack like September 11. I don't often let people bully me around by making me feel afraid.

Lately, though, as I am forming a family, I get more and more anxious about all sorts of things, and it really bothers me. I get anxious about general stuff. This week I had to drive to a meeting in Denver. I found myself getting worried about it, and pondering how I could get out of making the drive. I worry about Jennifer driving back and forth to Pueblo. I get concerned that if I leave dishes to soak in the sink overnight that mice might get to them , and I fixate on this for several minutes. I get anxious about a thousand different things that usually don't concern me in the least.

And, with a child on the way, I get anxious and fearful about being a parent. Will I change diapers right? Will I put in the car seat correct? Will the child be kidnapped? molested? Will I pass on problems that I have to my child? How much time should I put the child in daycare? What if I drop the baby? What if our child becomes a meth addict? What if she is one of those meth users that loses her virginity in a public bathroom stall like on the billboard? Will I be able to love the child enough if it is born disabled? Is Fowler a good place to raise our child? Should I move closer to family? What if I get in a car accident? What if I prepare formula wrong? Will it mess our child up for life? What if I drop the baby? What if the wobbly railing on the stairway breaks? Fear is scary stuff!

And what I find is that my anxiety about being a parent makes me more worrisome and fearful about just about everything. Is this normal? Or am I just being wierd.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sermon 1-17-09


46 So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."
49 The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"
50 Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"
52 Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives." And he himself believed, and his whole household.
54 This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

 1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda,[a] having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.[b]
5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"
7 The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."
8 Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk." 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.
And that day was the Sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."
11 He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"
12 Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" 13 But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."
15 The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

16 For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him,[c] because He had done these things on the Sabbath.




In churches we spend a lot of time talking about the preaching ministry of Jesus. We spent a lot of time talking about the teaching ministry of Jesus. We spend a lot of time talking about the ministry of Jesus on the cross, and the new life that resurrection offers. All of this is very important. It is essential as a matter of fact. It is sad, however, that we spend very little time talking about the healing ministry of Jesus.


When we do talk about the healing ministry of Jesus, we usually talk about it one of two ways. Either we choose to reflect on the power of Jesus to perform miracles, or we talk about the compassion of Jesus. When we talk about the power of Jesus we talk about how God can do things that we don't even think about or cannot even imagine. This is important to remember. God is active in the world. He created the world. God can reach into our world and do things that we thought were impossible, including healing the sick. We have all seen how prayer has pulled people through situations that were supposed to kill them. We have prayed for people to survive life-threatening illness, and we see them living among us. God can do greater things that we think or imagine. He is that powerful. But as we look at these healings, that will not be our focus this morning.


Sometimes when we talk about the healing ministry of Jesus we remember his compassion. How he looks at people, and hurts with them and for them. We think about how Jesus touches people who nobody would touch, and makes them healthy and whole again. He restores their health, he restores people to community, and he gives them the knowledge that God loves them and has done amazing things in their life. We all have stories, at least I hope most of us do, about how we have experienced God's love and compassion. But as we look at these two healings, it is not this compassion I want to focus on today either.


I want to talk about how God wants to heal you. Heal me. Much of Jesus' ministry is a healing ministry. We should not forget that.





On one hand, it is hard to forget that we serve a God that we believe wants to heal us. We pray with a prayer list every Sunday. And that prayer list has names on it, and most of those prayers are prayers for healing. Specifically, 90 percent of those prayers are for biological healing. We believe that God can heal, or we would not pray for people's health.


On the other hand, many of us are uncomfortable with the kind of healing ministry that we have seen over the years. In the old days it was religious huckster coming through town on a bus, setting up a tent for faith healing, and raking in the dough until we ran out of money and he moved on to the next town. Today it is a television preacher encouraging you to max out your credit cards in giving to him in order to be well, and telling you if you don't give like this than you don't have enough faith. Over the years, from before the time of Jesus, people have wandered around seeking to be seen as healers in God's name so that they could line their own pockets.


The kind of healing Jesus wants to do in you and I is the kind of healing that is different from the self-aggrandizing faith-healers. In many ways, it is also different than the kind of healing that we ask for when we put a name on the prayer list. Jesus does not want fame for healing illness. Nor does Jesus seem to emphasize the awfulness of injury and unhealthiness. That is because Jesus does not JUST want to heal our bodies. Jesus wants to heal our whole selves. Jesus wants to heal our souls as well.


Let me repeat that again, speaking directly to you. Jesus does not JUST want to heal your body. He wants to heal your soul.


This morning we read the second and third of the signs of John. Each of them are healings. In some ways these healings are the same. In many ways they are much different.






The first healing is the healing of a nobleman's son. The man came to Jesus, and asked Jesus to come with him to heal his sick son. The man pleads with Jesus to come with him. Jesus instead heals the boy "by remote" and tells the father to go home and see that his son has been made well. The nobleman goes home. The son is well. It is reported that he was healed at the very moment Jesus pronounced that the boy would get better. This healing leads the nobleman, the son, and the whole household to believe in Jesus.


The second healing is of what we would call today a paraplegic. He has been handicapped for thirty-eight years. He stays by the healing pool, hoping to get into the water at just the right time and be healed. Jesus comes up to the man. He asks the man if he wants to be well. The man responds that he has been laying by a healing pool for 38 years, trying to imply that this was the purpose most of the people sat around the pool. Jesus tells him to get up and walk. The man does get up and walk. This ignites a controversy, because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. Jesus meets the man in the temple, and encourages him to stop sinning. This healing makes the religious leadership angry. They start plotting to kill Jesus because of it.


These healings are very different. One is in Galilee. One is in Jerusalem. These are two different regions of the country, with two different attitudes toward life and toward Jesus. One healing is solicited by a father. The other healing is unsolicited. One healing leads to belief of a whole household. Another healing leads to doubt of the religious leaders. One healing is in close proximity. The other healing is from miles away. One healing is of an older man with a chronic health problem. The other healing is of a young man with a recent and aggressive illness. The paraplegic man is poor. The nobleman's child is from a rich family. There are so many differences between them.









The differences with these healings tell us something. They tell us that Jesus wants to heal us, no matter who we. Whether we are near or far away, Jesus wants to make us whole. Whether we are seeking Him, or sense that he is seeking us out, Jesus makes an effort to renew, to heal. Whether we are old or young, whether we are rich or poor, whether we have suffered a little or a lot, it does not matter. Jesus is a healer. He reaches out his hand to renew his creation that has been beaten and mangled, battered and bruised by this destructive world we live it. God does not play favorites, is not captive to anyone's agenda.


In spite of the many differences, between the two healings, there are some similarities. Both signs have an accompanying conflict. With the nobleman's son, Jesus addresses the crowd (the "you" in the sentence is plural) about their demands for signs and wonders. In the healing of the paralytic Jesus has to deal with people that are hostile with him because the healing was performed on the Sabbath. In both cases we can see that Jesus does not do his signs as parlor tricks. He does not heal to become famous or to get rich. Jesus does not heal people in order to impress people or draw crowds. He knows that the more people know what he is really about, the more they will want to push him down, belittle and mock Him, and crucify Him. He heals because he comes to earth to heal US. As the Scripture on the top of your bulliten says, "He has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly".


You will also see that neither person who was healed asked to be healed. Jesus is Lord. These signs are a Christ's initiative, they are through His power, as he wills to do them. He is sovereign. He is in control. The healing power is in His hands. He goes and heals at His pace. Nobody forces his hand. Nobody manipulates Him into healing somebody. He is God and we are not. He heals who he sees fit when he sees fit. And he does it as a sign of something HE wants to do in each of us.







The next thing that we notice is that he performs these healings by the power of his Word. In other gospels Jesus is touching people to make them whole. Or people are touching him in faith and being healed. In John's gospel, John is sharing about Jesus being present in creation from the start, and telling the gospel events as a part of God's creation work. And this power of his word hearkens back to the first couple chapters of Genesis. God spoke and things were created. Jesus speaks and things are healed. Recreated if you will. He heals on the Sabbath. What does the Sabbath refer to? Creation! God is setting things that are broken to wholeness again. He is setting thing to rights.


This re-creative word brings us back to what we said at the beginning. God wants to heal all of us. He wants to heal our souls. He wants to bind up our wounds. He wants to heal our heartaches and our heartbreaks. He wants to take those things that are festering deep inside us, and bring them under the power of his healing light.


Many of us in this congregation have physical ailments. We are cancer survivors and accident survivors. We are diabetics and we have MS. We are asthmatics and anemics. We have lung trouble and heart trouble. Our backs hurt, our knees hurt, our shoulders hurt, and our arms hurt. Our bodies are tired, they are at points worn out. They cry out for healing. God may heal some of us of our sickness and diseases. He probably won't heal all of our physical maladies. Even Paul had his "thorn in the flesh" that he had to live with.


God may not heal all of our physical maladies, but he does want to heal all of our souls. There are pockets of anger and bitterness he wants to clean up. There are addictions that are rotting us away from the inside out. God wants to heal our souls. There are wounds deep down inside us that have been festering and untreated for years. A parent that abused us, physically or sexually. A parent that left our family or abandoned us. A friend that betrayed us. An enemy that belittled and mocked us until we felt hopeless and helpless. A loss of someone we have still yet to recover from losing. A loved one who so wounded themselves that it left your heart in shambles. Whatever it is you have carried that wound around with you for months or years. It has crippled you from being the person you want to be. It has infected your soul in such a way that you wonder if you could feel right again. I have news for you, God wants to heal your soul.

The question is the same question that is set before the paralyzed man. The question set before you this morning is, "Do you want to be made well?" You see there are a lot of times where we talk like we want God to work in us, we talk like we want Jesus to heal our hurts and our pains, our heartaches and our broken relationships, but deep down we don't. Deep down we are comfortable with our grudges. We are cozy with those things that poison us and hurt us the most. We don't want to change looking at others around us with hatred, suspicion, and distrust. We don't want to be vulnerable. We say we want God to work in our lives, but we do not want it to hurt. We do not want God to get deep down in the mess of our lives, treating our wounds, and making us stronger again. But that is exactly what God wants to do. God wants to heal our souls. But before he does that he looks at us in the eyes and says to us like he said to the paralyzed man, "Are you willing to be made well".

When Tony Campolo was in a church in Oregon, he prayed for a man who had cancer. In the middle of the week, he received a telephone call from the man's wife. She said, "You prayed for my husband. He had cancer." I said, "Had?" Whoa, he thought, it's happened.She said, "He died." Campolo felt terrible.

"Don't feel bad," the woman said. "When he came into church that Sunday, he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to be dead in a short period of time, and he hated God. He was fifty-eight years old, and he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow up.

"He was angry that this all-powerful God didn't take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew toward God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to be in his presence.

"After you prayed for him, a peace came over him and a joy came into him. The last three days have been the best days of our lives. We've sung. We've laughed. We've read Scripture. We've prayed. Oh, they've been wonderful days. And I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing."Then she said something incredibly profound: "He wasn't cured, but he was healed."

God is about giving us life. Abundant life. Three times in the story of the son being healed the word life is mentioned. Specifically the phrase "Your son lives!" The second healing God comes up to the man he healed and tells him to go forward and to stop sinning. He is not just concerned with his physical life, but his entire life. God want all of us. He wants to heal us as whole persons. He wants to make us healthy physically, yes, but also spiritually and emotionally. God wants to heal your soul. Are you willing to be made well? I hope you are!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Quotes from Gilead p. 200-END

It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor grey ember of creation an it turns to radiance--for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire or light (p. 245)

There are a thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient (p. 243)

I woke up this morning thinking this town might as well be standing on the absolute floor of hell for all the truth there is in it (p. 233)

Light is constant. We just turn over in it (p. 210)

If you want to inform yourself of the nature of hell, don't hold your hand over a candle flame, just ponder the meanest, most desolate place in your soul (p. 208)

I blame the radio for a good deal of the confusion where theology is concerned. And television is worse. You can spend forty years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and them some fellow with no more theological sense than a jackrabbit gets himself a radio ministryand all your work is forgotten. I do wonder where it will end (p. 208)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Respecting Your Elders

I knew it was going to happen. "You are LATE," they yelled at me. I was in fact not late based on the time I committed to be there, but I was later than they wanted me to arrive.

The day before I had talked to the man's daughter. Pastor Darrell and his wife were moving into a nursing home, and their daughter had come down from Seattle to help them move. "So you will be here at 8:30am on Saturday," she said.

"Well, I don't think I will make it by 8:30 I said, but I will get there on Saturday morning," I replied

"We need to be moved out by Saturday night, so I will be glad to see you here at 8:30 sharp," she said

"I don't know if I will make it by then, but I will get there sometime in the morning,"I replied

"See you then!" she said.

I knew I would be in trouble with them the minute I walked in the door. It was a little after 10 a.m. He continued to tell me I was late. I said I had not committed to make it by 8:30. He said he heard our phone conversation and knew I had. "Of course if you heard her half of the conversation you would think that," I thought.

Darrell was a retired pastor. He had made his living pastoring small churches, especially in Colorado and Wyoming. He had been an interim here in Fowler for a year and a half, but I did not know about Fowler then.

At that point Darrell was a retired pastor and Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church of Colorado Springs. He was kind and caring, surly and mean, all wrapped up in the same old man. He came to church alone. It seems like his wife had, in her old age, retired from her pastor's wife duties and church altogether. Rumor was that he had a son and a daughter. His son, however, had passed away. I think.

He knew he did not have much time left, and he had all of these sermons downstairs. All in these little manila envelopes. Some outlines. Some manuscripts. All handwritten. He wanted me, the young preacher, to have them. He thought I would find them useful. In order for me to have them I needed to lug this large file cabinet full of sermons up some steep stairs from their basement.

The sermons were, in my opinion, difficult to read and not always that well put togehter. Somehow with the dolly I lugged them upstairs and threw them with the file cabinet in the back of my Aztek. "Be careful with those sermons," he bragged, "many of them are still too hot to preach. If you use them you never know what could happen."

"Thanks," I said, "I am sure they are. Looks like you have quite a bit of them."

"Decades worth," he said.

He made a comment about the fancy cars preachers have these days. Darrel irked me. My car wasn't fancy, and to be honest I couldn't get a loan on something older or cheaper or I would have bought it. Then I waved goodbye and left.

To be honest I did not want the sermons. Darrel Rhodes and I were too different. But I knew I was the only one who would take him. I knew that it would please him to pass on his messages to a young preacher, and that he would imagine them living on past his years. Despite his consistent grumpiness with me, I knew that he was a faithful servant of God, and needed to feel like his years of service would continue to live on. So I took those sermons. I put those sermons in rubbermaid containers. After he passed away, I waited a year. When nobody asked about the sermons I threw them away. I chose to love Darrell. I did not love his sermons.

I took the sermons, dealtt with the surly attitudes they had with me that day because I felt it important to honor my elders. And nothing was more honoring to Darrell than taking his sermons. He thought he was helping me and doing me a favor. I was choosing to minister to him by allowing him to feel useful and important. I lugged that file cabinet up the stairs, I put up with their lies and their name-calling because I believe it is important to love people in a way that honors them. And that is the best I could do with Darrell.

Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is not help people, or give them something, but find ways to allow them to feel honored and useful. I think this is something we should all keep in mind, especially with our elders.


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