Monday, February 25, 2019

Get Over It!

Next Wednesday we will begin Lent as John Riley brings us the Ash Wednesday message on (go figure?) Wednesday, March 6th.  I love all of the services of the Lenten Season including the service of repentance on Ash Wednesday.  By the way ... repent means to 1) turn around, 2) change directions, and 3) do life differently in areas that need God's work.  So I will begin this season with three words ... get over it!

Many of you might be saying, "Pastor ... what do I need to get over?"  My answer is found in that wonderful exhortation called The Sermon on the Mount.  The Biblical text is found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 and in Luke 6, 7, 11 and 12 (selected verses).  If I had to sum up the Sermon on the mount in 3 words it would be, "Get over it!"  So, to answer the question above, what do we need to get over?

There are at least four things we need to get over, expressed in this beautiful sermon preached by Jesus himself.  The first is, get over religion.  Matthew 5:21 uses a repeated phrase, "you have heard."  The phrase is repeated in verses 5:27, 5:31, 5:33, 5:38 and 5:43.  The idea of "you have heard" is embedded in the entire sermon.  Jesus is saying over and over again, "What you have heard misses the point of God's intent."  "Your 'religion' has taught you rules but not the heart of the matter." Adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge, loving, prayer, fasting, treasure and worry are all affairs of the heart.  Religion makes laws about these things "but I say [Jesus] get your heart in the right place."  If that doesn't happen, rules and religion won't guide you to do life differently.  Get over the idea that somehow your religion will keep you from violating the intent of God's calling.  Following Jesus is devoting your heart (the authority within yourself) to Him.  If we give Jesus the authority we will be able to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and love other people like we should.

The second thing we must get over is akin to the first.  Get over what you have heard.  Many of us are devoted to things we have heard ... traditions that we latch onto ... cliche' phrases that hem-in our faith walk ... even what others say about us.  The Sermon on the Mount shouts ... "Get over that stuff!"  Why are we worried about these things (Matthew 6:25-34)?  Why are we caught up in labeling other's intentions and demonizing them?  Why do we let tradition or church (Matthew 6:5-13) define your prayer life when Jesus tells us to pray God-focused?  Why do we let the world define what is 'treasure (Matthew 6:19-24).'  Is "what we have heard" our rule of life, or is Jesus saying "but I say" our guide?  These are the questions and challenges of the Sermon on the Mount.

Finally (and this is the hardest) we must get over ourselves!  Guess what percent of the time events and meetings at the church are about us?  Zero percent!  I often pray before meetings for God to guide us in those meetings.  I do this because I am reminding myself (and hopefully others) that none of our deliberations are about me or them.  This does two things.  It makes our work more important, more urgent and more transformational because we operate under God's power, grace and authority.  It also makes me focus on servanthood and on others.  I wonder if this is why Jesus ends the Sermon on the mount talking about building wisely.  When we do daily life ... when we do work in/for the church ... when we meet to proclaim Christ and be God's mission in the world ... when we have the great honor and responsibility to express (in God's context) our faith acting faithfully in a world of confusion ... Jesus says we have a rock to build upon (Matthew 7:24-27).  When we build on ourselves, our wits, our fears, our worries about what people think about us, the things we have heard, and OUR definition of religion, our hearts are invested in the things of this world.  When we build on what Jesus has said, we are building on the rock of truth, love and grace.  We must be all about Jesus.  We must get over ourselves.

Do we view Jesus like the crowds who were "amazed, because He taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law (Matthew 7:28-29)?"  I hope so!  Randy

Monday, February 18, 2019

Opposed but In Good Company

In the historical account of Jesus' last year the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible calls it "the year of opposition."  It is year of conflict and difficulty.  Ten lepers are healed in Samaria [Luke 17:12-16] but only one returns to say thanks (Goodness is not appreciated).  Jesus asks Peter, at Caesarea Philippi, "who do YOU say that I am?[Matthew 16:15]" (Goodness is misunderstood).  Jesus hears of the beheading of His cousin, John the Baptist [Matthew 14:12] (Evil seeks to destroy Goodness).  Jesus would have been 32 years old.

Let's break down these three stories.  First, you have heard that "no good deed goes unpunished."  I think this is unfortunately true most of the time.  I have 'loaned' stuff (large things) to people as their pastor.  In my ministry it seems that each time I have done this a pattern follows.  First, I see a need.  Then I work on trying to meet the need either individually or with the help of others in the church.  I extend the help to the people.  Generally, the people are thankful, but eventually begin to believe the item is actually theirs.  I usually never see the item again.  I have taken the attitude that I loan stuff away that I am willing to live without.  In the story of Jesus and the ten lepers, Jesus asks, "Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?"  Jesus sees the lack of appropriate appreciation for what has been done.  The moral of this story? ... if you are not appreciated for doing good or if your good deed gets you in trouble, you are in the great company of Jesus!  That is fine with me!

Second, good things and good intentions are often misunderstood.  Jesus has been going about the entire region doing great things and healing people.  As He sits down at the campfire outside of Caesarea Philippi Jesus asks two questions.  To all the disciples He asks, "Who do people say that I am?"  Their response (John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Elijah) indicates a lack of understanding of who Jesus is and a lack of watching/listening to the activity of Jesus.  Then Jesus asks Peter, "But who do YOU say that I am?"  Peter's correct response is great ("You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!").  But with all the miracles, signs, wonders, sermons, and teaching, only one in twelve gets it right.  I guess education was as hard then as it is now!  So ... when my poor attempt at teaching and leading falls way short (as it often does), I can take heart.  Yet again, I am in good company!

Finally, we come to the realization that doing good things is a dangerous business.  People who do good things are scrutinized and vetted in oft-cruel ways.  Tim Tebow is treated viciously by many in sports media.  Why?  Because he is a good person doing mostly good things.  Being human, I am sure he lacks perfection, and when that happens, people are quick to pile on.  I wonder if we try to destroy the good because we want to bring goodness down to our level of mediocrity?  What I do know for sure is ... the prophets brought truth, and they were killed.  David loved, fought for and was faithful to Saul, and Saul sought to kill him.  John the Baptist proclaimed a message of repentance and life, and he was beheaded.  Jesus was the way, the truth and life itself (pretty good things I believe) and He was crucified.  As I remember these events, I think of Jesus' words from the Beatitudes ... "God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things about you because you are my followers ... for great reward awaits you in heaven!" [Matthew 5:11-12b].  We must decide ... do we stand with the flawed but striving 'do-gooders' who try to make a difference or do we join the masses who shout "crucify Him?"  I hope I can count you in the good company of those hypocrites who still believe that "hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue" (La Rochefoucauld). Randy

Monday, February 11, 2019


Last week I shared my thoughts about the nature of the parables.  My thoughts are summed-up in three ways.  First, the parables talk of God's kingdom as a gift, "on earth as it is in heaven."  One of God's loving gifts to us is that God wants to bring His kingdom to us today ... now.  Second, we place ourselves as the main characters in the parables, but God is really the lead actor/player.  Third, the parables are stories about us being alert to the things God is doing in the world.  I want to dwell on this last one for this week.

Most of us view our jobs as struggle.  That is why we call it our 'work.'  In Ecclesiastes 3 God sees this 'work' from a positive viewpoint saying ... " that each of them (us) may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil ... this is the gift of God."  I love that!  God gives us work so that we may find fulfillment and satisfaction in that work.  And God views all of it as a gift to us.  So I want to speculate with a few 'what ifs."

What if the struggle we call work is actually something that is good for us?  A friend recently got a new job.  In deciding on that job my friend posed that this was a opportunity to provide for his family both long and short term.  He seemed that even before accepting the job he was feeling a bit of satisfaction and blessing from the very thought of 'bringing home the bacon."  Deep inside this 'what if?', what if this sense of accomplishment in doing our jobs well is something God is doing in the world?  It would explain Paul's words in Colossians 3:23, "work willingly at whatever you do as though you were working for the Lord rather than man."  This passage would be even more amplified if we viewed work as something God is doing in the world!

Another 'what if?'  What if God is struggling with the effort of leading, teaching and growing us?  In the parables the main character is doing something akin to work.  The sower is sowing seed.  I remember that task growing up in North Carolina as work.  The mustard seed is also planted.  A woman is kneading and baking bread.  Merchants buy and sell stuff to acquire a treasure and a pearl.  fishermen pull in a net.  Maybe these are images of God struggling with the task of getting stubborn, stiff-necked people to His place.  And after watching about 10-minutes of the Grammy awards last night, God's work is a massive undertaking!

A third 'what if?'  What if God thinks we are worth the effort?  All of us have our perspective on the wrongs and problems of this world.  They are too many to name here, but it is obvious to me that we have lost our direction in many ways.  We are arrogant.  We devalue life itself.  We hang on to prejudice as if it were a virtue.  We love our pet projects but are not able to see and love those of others.  We ignore the needy.  We fail to see the good in our neighbors, yet we lift people we have never met onto pedestals.  Yet ... God plants, kneads the dough, fishes for people, and sells His very best, His only Son, to purchase our redemption.  Maybe God sees past all of our mistakes and keeps working because we are worth saving ... worth the work.  Now that's something worth living for!  Randy

Monday, February 4, 2019


This morning I was re-reading the parables from Matthew 13.  They are beautiful and relevant and, sometimes, challenging.  Here are a few thoughts.

Knowledge of God's Kingdom is a gift (Matthew 13:11).  When we read the words ... "The knowledge of the Kingdom of God has been given to you but not to them."  It almost seems gnostic and elitist.  But if you read on you find that this knowledge comes through seeing and hearing.  Seeing and hearing require the intentionality of watching and listening.  Is a gift that requires intentionality and effort a real gift?  I wonder if other gifts are like that?  I have a gift of loving music but I have found that the more I work at it the better the gift seems to operate.  Sally has a gift for preparing great food, but I wonder how much that gift has been developed by reading recipes, trial and error and just plain hard work?  When I read the real intent of the parables I find something a bit disturbing ... they are sent to cull, separate and identify the faithful.  Those willing to search, seek, study, listen, watch, wait and work are the ones who will receive the gift of the parables teaching.

God is the lead actor in the little vignettes we call parables.  God is the sower who plants seed in the world.  God sowed good seed.  God planted the mustard seed.  God is presented as the woman who worked yeast into the flour.  God sit all to find His treasured possession ... His fine pearls (there is nothing we could sell to buy salvation ... only God deals in currency that will pay our penalty, give us forgiveness, lead us to His place.  God is the only one qualified to separate the weeds from the good plants and the bad fish from the good fish.  That brings the parables into a new light, doesn't it?

So ... what is god trying to say to the disciples and me?  1) Be persistent!  One of the churches I served had a short statement printed on the weekly newsletter.  Know God, Love God, Serve God.  None of these things are easy.  When I sat in my little office in Kentucky, with frozen feet, 11:30 PM and still working (knowing 5 AM was on the way), wading intentionally through a 2 Peter passage I was reminded that this 'gift' of learning, knowing, serving and expressing love in seeking God was hard. But one of the Super Bowl coaches said, "if you're any good at all, you know you can be better."  Working, striving and seeking are part of how we "get" the parables or any other Bible passage.  2) Be watching/listening!  The implication of Matthew 13:15 is that God's people have become calloused, not hearing or seeing.  But if they "see with their eyes and hear with their ears" something astounding will happen ... they will "understand with their hearts" and be healed.

THAT is the final point here.  Jesus gives us this gift so we can be made whole, well and complete.  And that is great news!  Randy