Monday, June 10, 2024

Always Monkeys!

I have learned, in life, that when you are in an exciting situation with opportunities, momentum and imminent success, there is always a monkey!  It seems that obstacles and difficulties are both normal and inevitable.  It is just life, I guess!

You might ask, what kind of monkeys are you talking about?  When I visited Brazil, we were taken out into a beautiful rain forest of trees older than America.  There were beautiful birds, stunning flowers, and we had to catch our breath at the lushness of what we saw.  But, true to form, there were monkeys.  These trashy creatures gathered in the trees, chattering and leaping around, very upset with our presence.  When this didn't cause us to leave, the nasty things started throwing fruit at us.  So much for pristine and quiet beauty!  There are always monkeys!

John 4 recounts a story of ministry success.  Jesus' disciples were baptizing and leading many people to the faith, much to the dismay of the Pharisees, the church leaders of Jesus' day.  Monkeys!  To add complication to the situation, Jesus and the disciples were rerouted through Samaria.  The Jews viewed the Samaritans as monkeys (bad actors in the play of life), and the Samaritans viewed the Jews as monkeys.  And one more complication.  As Jesus comes into town, he meets a Samaritan woman, and one of notorious ill repute.  Another monkey!  Even for Jesus, no good deed goes unchallenged!

In life there are always those monkeys, trying to impede or stop things that are both good and right.  What do we do?  Jesus embraced the situation.  He took the trip through Samaria in stride, and (recounting the birth story of Jesus) it is likely his parents, Mary and Joseph, elected to travel through Samaria, ignoring the bad name of this hated place.  He looked for an opportunity to announce the Kingdom of God.

Jesus used the situation (and this woman) to make several theological points we can grasp and apply today.  The Kingdom of God welcomes those that society casts out (women, those who are sinners, those who don't have their act together, those who are not popular with the in crowd).  Jesus doesn't just embrace these folks ... He converts and redeems them!  The Kingdom of God is for all people willing to listen, believe and allow the Gospel to make its way into their hearts.  The Kingdom of God goes everywhere ... even into places the "elite, proud, popular" people avoid.

Jesus used the situation to ask this untrained, spiritually-unprepared woman to go to, tell, and bring others to the feet of their Savior.  Jesus ends this story with both promise and one more "monkey."  The promise is that the harvest is plentiful.  The "monkey" is the lack of workers.  Matthew 9:37-38 says, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."

We often avoid, abandon or just stop ministries that present obstacles.  It is our nature.  But, what if we 1) embrace the situation, 2) use the situation, and (doing what Jesus did in Matthew 9) 3) pray to the Lord of the Harvest for guidance, solutions and power over those nasty monkeys?

Monday, June 3, 2024

Out Of The Box?

You all know how much I dislike cliche's, especially the politically-correct buzzwords of our time.  But I am breaking from my pattern and using the phrase, Out Of The Box. This is sort of appropriate for me, since using cliche's is "out of the box" for me.

The Acts Church was, truly, a group of dedicated believers that had chosen to leave the structure and norms of their Jewish roots.  They broke away from the Law of Stone and embraced the Law of Grace.  They deferred to God's calling through God's Spirit, leaving the control of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  They understood that God was FOR them but was not ABOUT them.  Their center was Jesus.  Their power was from God's Spirit.  They were out of the box!

Last week the Alabama Supreme Court denied the standing of 45 congregations to have their case heard in a court of law.  These 45 congregations had cited unlawful and inconsistent behavior by the United Methodist Church in relation to property and financial practices.  Without dwelling on the case, and the merits thereof, I am thinking that this decision should cause these "churches" to make some hard, and possibly freeing, decisions.  Here is my advice.

I would advise them to "just walk away."  Paul said, "I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (Philippians 3:13-14)."  That is a mouthful, but Paul is saying what my friend Karl Stegall shared in a message to our recent Annual Conference ... remember that the windshield is far larger than the side view mirror for a reason.

In Acts, the new Church, People of the Way (Acts 9:2), were disenfranchised and persecuted by the Jewish leadership, the Roman authorities, and those with economic interest in the "status quo."  There is an almost exact Scriptural parallel to the conflict inside the United Methodist Church and their member congregations.  It is found in Acts 5, where the apostles are basically told (by Jewish leaders) "Follow us, our reconstruction of Scripture and our control over what and where you can preach/teach."  Here is what the apostles did (Acts 5:41-42) ... "The apostles left the high council, rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.  And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: "Jesus is the Messiah."

They left the box.  They taught about Jesus and the Kingdom of God.  They followed their leader, Jesus.  They were led by the Holy Spirit.  And they (by their radical message that "left the box") changed the world.  AMEN!

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Alarms

OK ... it is Tuesday morning in a hotel in Atlanta.  Lee and I are on an anniversary trip and are seeing 2 Atlanta Braves games.  And here I am ... sitting on the patio of an ice cream shop, after being evacuated from the hotel at 7am (6am Central).  A fire alarm sounded because of a fire system leak in the parking deck.  So everyone is now out on the street.  Here is one observation about alarms.

When a fire alarm sounds, most of us follow the other lemmings to a place of perceived safety.  We have been trained this way since grade school.  So the walking slow, exiting the building, and following the stream of humanity comes pretty natural.  Here is the irony.  Other alarms are happening all around us, and we don't seem to perceive them.

The prophet Haggai sounds an alarm.  The temple is not completed, and is in disrepair.  The people are in a season of false prosperity, yet they can't seem to get ahead.  Haggai 1:6 says, "Your wages disappear, as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes."  Haggai goes on to describe the people as "spinning their wheels" but getting nowhere economically, physically, spiritually.  The alarm from Haggai is, like most alarms from prophets, ignored.

Last week we celebrated the graduating seniors, and we sent them out with some advice.  At the 2nd service Sunday, I gave these amazing young people some advice I hope we all will take.  Because the world around us is sounding alarms.  Most of us see something wrong, but we wander through each day like those evacuating the hotel alarm here ... doing the rote thing we have been taught, but not thinking there might be another way.  It there a way to break the societal chain of brokenness we see all around us?  Is there a way to stop spinning our wheels in emptiness and lostness?  Yes!  So I will tell you what I told those seniors.

1. Worship Passionately - Make worship both a priority and a lifestyle.  Listen to and follow God's word.  Give God the best place in your life.

2. Love Extravagantly - With love, we are either all-in or not-in.  We teach our children to love or not love by the way we love or fail to love.  The greatest commandment is ... "Love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."  God's love and our love is expressed in how we love. God is an all-in kind of love and an all-in kind of relationship.

3. Witness Boldly - I saw a video of an altar in Africa.  It was filled with people ... all of them.  The world is an altar where we express who God is to us.  We witness at work, at play and in all of life.

Sunday, come to the altar, hearing the alarm sounding.  Come to the altar actively, willing to lay down burdens and allow God to break down walls.  Worship, Love and Witness as if lives depend on it.  Because they do!

Monday, May 20, 2024

Blessing

Several overreaching and eternal concepts permeate the pages of Scripture.  These include love, redemption, salvation, presence, and power, all manifested in God.  But there is an attribute, also Godly, that God passes on to us.  This attribute allows God to show Himself to the world through God's people, the Church.  That attribute is "blessing."

In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham, "All people on earth will be blessed through you."  God sends David as Israel's greatest king to bless the nation of Israel through his leadership.  God sends the prophets to inform, warn, and guide His people as a blessing.  God sends Jesus into the world as "God with us" as a blessing.  God sends the 12 apostles to teach and act as part of God's blessing to the nations.  God sends His Spirit at Pentecost to indwell and bless His Church so that they will go out into all nations to bless the world.  That responsibility (and true blessing) is now sent to us, so that we can, as the body of Christ, go out and bless the world.  We stand on the shoulders of God's great messengers, as we interpret God's character and salvation to all we see.  It is an awesome and beautiful responsibility!

Sunday, we will send our seniors into a broken world.  Their call and responsibility is to become a blessing that fulfills God's plan and purpose.  One of these young ladies, Anna Grace Blalock, has been raised-up in our congregation and has been a blessing to all of us.  This week we will shed tears of joy, hope, and love, as we sing Anna Grace into the next step of her young life.  And we, as the verse from Numbers 6:24-26 perfectly conveys a blessing God has sent us, calling us to pass it along, will say, "The Lord bless and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace."  Go with our blessing to be a blessing!  AMEN 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Joy in the House

Paul said, "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say rejoice (Phil. 4:4)!"  This seems clear, but it also seems difficult.  Paul had been through lots of joyless circumstances.  Shipwrecked, snake bitten, stoned, dragged through the streets, and dealing with difficult people are just a few of these circumstances.  As I write this blog, I just heard of the death of a friend.  Last week my son had a close friend take his own life.  But there it is ... crystal clear ... "Rejoice in the Lord, ALWAYS!"  It seems impossible.  How can Paul say this!

Here is Paul's recipe in Philippians 4:

1. Let everyone observe you being considerate in all you do (v.5).  Being kind doesn't just make others joyful ... it makes YOU joyful.

2. Don't worry (v. 6)!  Worry is like the old song ... "Worry is a rocking chair, it goes back and forth and it goes nowhere." 

3. Pray about everything (v. 6)!  Cast your cares upon a God who listens and has done/is doing great things on your behalf.

4. Experience God's peace (v. 7).  God gives us peace, but we need to consider 1,2,3 above, and then let God's peace enter our minds and our attitudes.

5. Get your mind in the right place (v. 8).  How do we do this when all we see and hear points to the "rat hole" of negativity swirling all around us?  Paul says, stop focusing on the rat hole.  Instead, focus on what is at the top of the rat hole ... light.  "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (v. 8)."

This week is Pentecost.  Amid the rat hole of uncertainty, waiting, and open persecution of early believers, God does something that infuses the early Church with something that is fire, light, fresh wind, and truth.  God sends His Spirit into the believers gathered in a little room.  Acts 2 tells the story of the Church bursting out of that room, filled with the Spirit and the Good News of the Gospel.  Sunday we will sing these words ... "There's joy in the house of the Lord, there's joy in the house of the Lord today, we won't be quiet.  We shout out your praise."  Come, see and sing!  AMEN

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

All The Colors

There is a line in Stevie Nicks' song Edge of 17.  The line says, "The sea changes colors, but the sea does not change." While not a Christian song, there is a profoundness to the poetry here.  And, there is a paradox.

We follow and worship an unchanging God who requires one thing from every person who wants to be part of His kingdom ... change!  And, another paradox is that the unchanging God, by nature, changes appearance in Scripture while His nature remains constant.  Like God's concept of time, these things are beyond our comprehension and beyond our ability to really gain solid purchase on the mountain that is God.  God is infinite in possibilities, yet is consistent in character.  Wow!

In John 21, Jesus has a conversation that might be considered snarky if it wasn't the Son of God talking.  I have wondered about the point of Jesus' attitude here.  True to form, Peter is caught up in Jesus' relationship with John.  But Peter should be focused on his relationship with Jesus.  Still, Peter blurts out his self-centered statement.  "What about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive till I return, what is that to you?  You must follow Me (John 21:21-22)!"  I guess Jesus could have said, "Peter ... mind your own business!"  But let's take this conversation apart.

Jesus is, on one hand, saying, "Peter ... you are not in charge of the infinite possibilities I have at my disposal."  What does Peter know of the mind of God?  For that matter, what do I know of the mind of God?  God is like the sea ... changing colors all the time, in the vastness of who He is!  Jesus is saying to John ... "I have every color available to me ... and I will choose what is best.  Trust me!"

But Jesus is also saying, "Peter ... you have one thing to do from here on out.  You must follow me."  "Not your emotional outbursts!  Not your hurt feelings when someone gets more attention than you!  Not the valleys of what you see as failure (I will be in charge of that)!"  "And not your plans, schedules, or time expectations."  "You must follow me."

To Peter, to me, and to you, Jesus is asking, "Who colors in the picture of your faith?"  I remember, as a kid, when I got a new box of crayons.  They were a delight, especially when I got the "mega-box" with 24 crayons!  I thought, with that mega-box (now called "64 Ultra -Clean Washable Crayons"), I had every color imaginable.  I would color for hours.  Peter thinks Jesus has some obligation to fit things into Peter's little box of crayons.  Jesus says, "Let me be in charge of John, and of you.  I have all the colors of the rainbow, and every color in between.  My plan is vast and beyond your understanding.  I'll do the coloring.  You do your job and follow me, and I will take you to colors and places you can't even imagine!"

Monday, April 29, 2024

Greater Things ... Connected

One of the many things that gets lost in modern Christianity is a very real and expected connection to the supernatural world.  We sing about it (When We All Get To Heaven, I Want Jesus to Walk With Me, etc.) and we say we believe in it, but when it comes to daily life, we either 1) place it in the future, or 2) consider it an idea vs reality.  Jesus speaks to this early in His ministry as he calls the 1st disciples in John 1.  ""You will see greater things than that" and then added "Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:50-51).""  This is a rather strange saying, that can be interpreted in many ways.  Today I am going to stick to just one.

The first thing Jesus addresses involves what was said earlier in John.  John is clear that the Word (Jesus) has become flesh and is physically present.  God, in the person of Jesus, is what He said He would be ... Emmanuel, God with us.  God has connected with people by coming in the womb of a virgin.  God has connected with us as He asks Jesus to live out a human life ... all of it!  This is a supernatural event so that God can connect directly to His creation for the purpose of redeeming it!

The second thing Jesus addresses is the connection between the Elohim (the created realm of angels and the divine counsel) and the Creation (the things spoken about in Genesis 1 and 2).  We ignore the Elohim, and consign it to movies and books.  Jesus tells us it is both real and connected to earth.

The third thing Jesus tells us is that what we see and experience in this realm isn't the be-all-end-all.  Jesus has greater things for us to see, and those things are closer than we think.  

Let's play out a few things that are evidence for what I said above.  How about our prayer ... "On earth as it is in heaven?"  Isn't that Jesus telling us these two things are both connected?  Heaven is not some land that is "over yonder" ... it is close.  In this statement from John 1, Jesus reminds us that both heaven and earth are close, and that He has the power to open heaven to us.  All of Biblical history tells us that these two realms intersect, overlap, and are connected.

On Sunday evening of next week, the second Annual Conference of the Alabama Emerald Coast Conference of the Global Methodist Church will begin.  The Conference theme is Greater Things.  So here is my challenge ... how will your service to Jesus "open the heavens" and allow God to show Greater Things through you and your church?  Do you want to read about angels, or do you want to invite them?  Do you believe what John the Baptist said ... "The Kingdom of Heaven is near?"  Do you believe in only what you see, or do you look past the seen and grasp the God that is over the seen, the unseen, and the entirety of creation?