Sunday, February 21, 2021

Likewise?

I was trying to describe the meaning of Biblical love to a child once.  The child immediately gave me their 'love proverb' saying, "Love everybody you like."  She didn't know how close she came to what Jesus was criticizing in the parable of the Good Samaritan!

Over the rest of 2021 we will be doing something challenging, at least to me.  Our children are following a specific and structured process to learn and apply Scripture.  The process is a three-year plan that uses stories, principles and applications to build a bridge between God's living word and the lives of God's people.  I will use the same passages as I preach to our adults, and I hope for some family discussions over meals, car rides and other times these discussions are appropriate.

Back to our parable.  Jesus uses a story to illustrate God's wise and perfect view of people ... a view we seem to miss more than we grasp.  Jesus spends some time defining exactly what a neighbor is.  The Jews viewed neighbor as part of the Hebrew national clan.  It was the little girl's "love everybody you like," or maybe "love everybody like you."  Jesus seems to define neighbor differently, and He starts with a person clearly different than his audience.  Jesus' example of a neighbor is a hated Samaritan.  An injured man is neglected by the people who call themselves his neighbors.  They have their reasons for the neglect.  But in the end, even the audience of Jews must admit that the Samaritan is the one who is neighborly to the injured man.  Jesus ends the story with one of His annoyingly-perfect statements ... "Go thou and do likewise."  What does He mean by that?

Does he mean for us to act like the Samaritan?  Definitely!  But ... does He also call us to view the Samaritan (and those we place in the "they" category) as our neighbor?  That would mean "they" have value!  It would mean "they" are more like us than we would like to think.  It would mean we should love "them" rather than just loving everybody "like me."

These lessons that we and Jesus are teaching our children are just plain difficult.  Personally, I think Jesus is meddling!  What do you think?  Randy

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Extra Mile

Going beyond.  It really is what the entire Sermon on the Mount is all about.  Jesus repeatedly uses this phrase "The law says ___ but I say ___ ."  What do you think this means?  I meet people every day that say things like "I'm an Old Testament Christian!"  It is difficult to even find a jumping off point to appeal to theological logic when I hear this!  Jesus came to fulfill and complete the law (also from the Sermon on the Mount).  But I will just leave my argument on this point here ... do you think that if you want to know the true application of the law, you might ask the Son of God who was present when the law was handed down and present with the crowd gathered to hear his preaching.  Are WE gathered to hear and follow His preaching?  I hope so!

That brings us to a simple passage.  Matthew 5:41, "If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles!"  Counter intuitive, isn't it?  Contra to our human reaction, isn't it?  Different than what you want to do, isn't it?

Here are some truths from this troubling passage:

1.  Make good out of bad -  God has been doing this for a long time.  God took the persecution and hurtfulness of Joseph's brothers, and made it into a great good!  Joseph saved his people, his brothers included.  Joseph forgave.  Joseph saw past his oppression and allowed God to do something great!

2.  Submit to authority - We really hate this phrase right now.  Jeremiah told his people to fight, complain and draw swords if they wanted to ... but they would not have any success opposing what God was allowing to take place.  The soldier's demand was unfair and unreasonable.  We (and I am sure the people of Jesus' time) hate to be told what to do.  We hate to lose our right to choose.  We get bent out of shape when we are told anything!  But ... here is that passage, clear as a bell!  Paul said, in Romans 12:21 "Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."  Maybe overcoming evil with good entails putting our pride and our self-righteousness on the shelf and doing something good, in spite of whether it is appreciated or not.  I have had to learn this as I have helped (personally and through the church) people who discard the church with a wave of their hand, even when that help was both significant and life-changing.  But, we help anyway because it is who we are and who God is.

3.  Jesus' way is right, even if it rubs us the wrong way - I have had many friends complain that our society is all caught up in conditional truth, situational ethics and a non-Biblical worldview.  The same people argue over this passage and other non-reactionary things said by Jesus (especially in the Sermon on the Mount).  But I am sticking with my point above ... Jesus is right and we (me included) are wrong.  If we followed my "Old Testament Christians" who say "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" we would (as Gandhi said) all be one-eyed and toothless.  So I will try to grit my teeth and carry those bags that extra mile.

In the end (and God is totally in control of that end), God is right.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the way to life.  If you believe that I have some advice ... listen to Him.  Nuff said!  Randy

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Pursuit

 I love the story of Ruth and Boaz.  It is a beautiful love story, appropriate for today (Valentine's Day), but as I read the story I thought of another word ... the word pursuit.

I hear people talk about God.  They say things like "be all in!" ... "love God with all your heart!" These are both really good things.  But when we say those things we are often singing Sunday songs but forgetting the words during the week.  I am so guilty of this!  Maybe you are too?  It is easy to say the cliché' and sing the words, but it is much harder to really follow God.

In the story of Ruth, Boaz teaches us some useful things about how to pursue something you really want.  It is clear that Boaz is quickly smitten with Ruth.  But his actions go far beyond mere infatuation.  Boaz realizes that if you desire a relationship with someone it involves intentionality, especially in knocking down walls.  In Ruth's case, there were many walls.  She was a foreigner.  She was poor and needy.  She was a widow.  She wasn't a youngster, having been married to one of Naomi's sons for 10 years.  And there were cultural barriers regarding a possible relationship with Boaz, including age and family obligations.  Boaz had obstacles too.  He was an older man.  He was a leader to his clan.  There was another with the right to claim Ruth.  But Boaz knew something about pursuit.

Boaz, after seeing Ruth and realizing her beauty and the quality of her character, started tearing down walls.  1) Boaz saw Ruth for the amazing person she was and he found out everything about her, 2) He helped her but allowed her the dignity of working for the help, 3)  He protected her from other workers in the field, 4)  He made sure she was successful in her work.  In short, Boaz' pursuit of Ruth built her up, gave her dignity and offered her the hope of a better life.

When I think of Boaz, I realize something about my pursuit of God.  1) I want to know all I can about God and see God as worthy of love and worship, 2) I want to help in God's work in the world, even if I realize my work is meager and flawed, 3) I realize that any good thing I do is really God working through me, and 4) I want to do what I can to help God's plan happen in this world.  For if I love God, I pursue him by my actions.  I allow the walls between me and God to be torn down.

   And in the Bible, we see what God can do with pursuit and love.  From the Gospel of Matthew 1:5-6, we find these words ... "Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz the father of Obed whose mother was Ruth.  Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse, the father of King David."   This amazing family tree (just one family in Hebrew history) shows how God can do a lot with love, obedience and pursuit!  Randy

Monday, February 1, 2021

Getting Dressed

There's something we do every day.  Most of us, even if we are staying at home, get up and put on some semblance of clothing.  Some of us take longer than others.  Some of us are more picky about what we wear.  But we get dressed.

Paul talked a lot about getting dressed.  In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul says to put on the full armor of God.  In Galatians 3:27 Paul says, "Put on Christ."  But my favorite passage is this one (Colossians 3:12-15) ... "So chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.  Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.  It is your basic, all purpose garment.  Never be without it!"  I read this passage at weddings.  I read this passage when I am about to say something I shouldn't.  I think about this passage often, because it reminds me that if I wear love (and God is love) I am allowing myself to represent the image of God in a world that doesn't seem to know much about love.

This passage is the memory passage for our children this February.  The concept for the children is  ... "Be kind to others because God has been kind to you."  I guess that part of love is simple, like everything else Christian ... follow Jesus and you will end up in the right place!  But all of you know love is fleeting, complex, puzzling and lot's of other descriptive words.  There's an old Conway Twitty song that is about a conversation with the Man In The Moon.  The moon says, "I can move oceans when I get the notion, or make mountains tremble and rivers run dry, but in all matters human, remember there's someone, in charge of those things way above you and I."  Wise words I think!

So Colossians 3 gives us some wisdom about love.  1) We are chosen to love ... chosen by God "for this new life of love."  2) Our wardrobe (what we wear) has been laid out for us by God, 3) The wardrobe has some difficult things to wear ... kindness, compassion, quiet-strength, humility, discipline, 4) The wardrobe always includes forgiveness (the kind that mirrors Jesus), 5) The wardrobe should always be worn, 6) The wardrobe works for everything.  Now me ... I don't know much about love ... but God knows everything there is to know!  And if Jesus is your Master (the word is right there in the passage) and (in the song) is in charge of those things "way above you and I", then maybe we should appropriate God's wisdom here.

Put on love ... it is your all purpose garment ... NEVER be without it!  Randy

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Great Chasm

There is a harrowing parable from Luke 16 that is often preached by those "hellfire" orators that want to scare all of us into heaven.  While that isn't my cup of tea, I will acknowledge that if a message brings someone to repentance and salvation, I am all for it.  So, I don't preach from this passage to focus our attention on the subjects of heaven and hell, one obvious point of this parable.  My focus will be on the ending of the parable ... the real thing that separates us from God, paradise and a close relationship with our loving heavenly father.

We've all heard the parable.  Lazarus was poor and essentially had nothing.  He died outside of a rich man's gate and is carried to 'the bosom' (close proximity) of Abraham at God's banquet table.  God makes sure Lazarus was fed and comforted in eternity, unlike his poverty in temporary life.  The rich man, who ignored the plight of Lazarus, dies and was in eternal torment.  The parable recounts the conversation between the rich man and Abraham.  The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus on errands, including bringing him some cold water and warning his brothers about the reality/horror of eternal hell.  Abraham tells Lazarus several things.

Lazarus is reminded of the great, impassable chasm that exists between paradise and hell.  Abraham says it cannot be crossed by anyone.  Then Abraham tells Lazarus about another chasm.

The point of the parable is brought out in the punchline. In this parable, Abraham describes how God has endeavored to inform and enlighten us about who He is, the realities of life and God's truth that has been offered to all of us (including Lazarus' brothers).  God has sent His truth through Moses (the Pentateuch) and the Prophets.  Abraham says, "Your brothers can read them!"  Abraham also reminds Lazarus that his brothers shouldn't hold their breath looking for someone to come back from the dead to warn them ... he says, "if they won't listen to Moses, they won't listen even if someone rises from the dead."  That statement should lead us to see clearly the third point.  Jesus, who has told us what the prophets said and who has completed (fulfilled) the law, is telling us this parable.  Jesus will be tortured, crucified and will rise from the dead on the third day, continuing to proclaim the truth of the law, the prophets and God's true word.  Jesus is the third part of this warning.  He is the last and only way that this great chasm can be crossed.

In a world filled with lies, half-truths, false teachers and politicized religion, Jesus cuts to the chase.  Know the Scriptures and read them.  And if someone returns from the dead to warn us to care for the poor, know God's word and stop worshiping our lifestyles, we had better listen!  What say you?  Randy

Monday, January 18, 2021

Listening

Listening and waiting.  It is the overarching theme of Psalm 130.  David says, "Out of the depths I cry to you!"  "Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy!"  David's plea would mirror our plea today.  We truly do speak out of depths of anxiety, despair, uncertainty and maybe fear.  We are crying out!

Over the last two weeks I have done two funerals.  One of them was a beautiful man who had lived 94 years and was known for his goodness, grace and patience.  Another was a close friend who I had known for 14 years.  My friend Bill was a golfing companion who was a consistent friend and a person known for some stellar phrases.  Both funerals became times for me and the family to do something we (individually and corporately) have difficulty with.  We all looked up, cried to the Lord and listened.

In my twenty plus years of ministry I have observed that most people (yes, I am grouping us together) have difficulty listening.  We listen to a sermon with an analytical mind, culling out either what we want to hear or what to critique.  We analyze, parse and are impressed when the speaker 'didn't use a note.'  But we fall short on taking in meaning, content and any wisdom that might be offered.  But, at a funeral, we stop, cry out, and we do something out of our nature ... we listen.  John, in the Revelation, shocks us with penning Jesus' words to seven churches, pronouncing that without changes, most of these churches will lose something important.  It is funeral-talk, and when that loss is perceived and grasped, they listen.

In Psalm 130, David enters the presence of God.  He asks for God's attention.  He acknowledges his sinfulness.  He praises God's forgiveness.  He waits for God, and he does this with his whole being.  He remembers that Israel, and David, have only one hope ... the Lord.  And he looks ahead to God's sure redemption, even of sinful Israel.  David listens ... for he realizes that when we approach God reverently, openly and patiently, God will redeem our situation.

Are you listening for God?  Or, as many of my friends and associates, is your listening clouded with anger, sword-rattling, drama, gloating, vengeful remarks, warrior-talk and all of the feelings that swirl around inside the human spirit?  David acknowledges that if we want God's solutions to our human messes, we must lay it all down before God.  David says ... "my whole being waits, and in His word I will put my hope (Psalm 130:5)."

That is the kind of God we have!  A God that we can trust.  A God with a good word for difficult times.  The God that comes to us when we have lost something or are lost ourselves.  The God that will change, if we let Him, how we see the world.  The God who says the truth (not perception) will set you free by God's word (John 8:32).  I, for one, am listening to THAT God!  My whole being waits!  How is it with you?  Randy

Monday, January 11, 2021

What Is Your Anchor?

Hebrews 6:19 says "we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."  The chapter is all about becoming mature Christians.  The gist of this passage is that we, who are heirs of the promises God has made, must learn to trust in things that are eternal, secure, sure and solid.  Wow, do we need these things now!

Over the past few weeks I have used the term "discernment" often.  For we, as God's people, as ambassadors of Christ, and as the Church must enter the days ahead as those people who are not "blown away by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14)".  We should be the people who show and live out the hope of Christ in the hopeless times we sometimes face.  So, how do we do this?

John Wesley had two very Methodist ways of discerning.  The first goes to the source of our knowledge about the nature of God ... Scripture.  Wesley said that revelation from God (something that we currently hear people invoking) comes primarily through Scripture and that all other sources are a "handmaiden" (subservient to) God's Word.  This is vital today as the internet is filled with claims of special knowledge (a Gnostic behavior), special revelation from God (a very dangerous path) and special insight.  Wesley says don't go there!  Jesus and God's word are the sources through which we sift the doctrines that are so readily offered by not-so-reliable sources!

The other Wesleyan method for discernment is based on the golden rule ... "Do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12)."  Wesley said there are 3 Methodist rules ... 1) do no harm, 2) do all the good that you can, and 3) stay in love with God!  As I read lots of the things you are reading I get a spirit of revenge, feelings that justice is unfair, people saying "I am/we are victims," and lots of "they" statements about demonizing other folks.  Maybe it is time to step back and try to do no harm, do good things and (especially) stay in love with God.  You might ask, "how do we stay in love with God?"  I think we follow Jesus in loving people, even the Samaritans, lepers and sinners of our day.  And by the way ... those "loved" people include all of us!  That's my take!  Randy

Monday, January 4, 2021

He Is!

In Revelation 5 there is great commotion in heaven!  A lot is happening.  There are 24 elders, 4 living creatures, the one seated on the throne, and a mighty angel asking a question (v. 2) ... "Who is worthy to break the seal and open the scroll?"  Everyone wants to know what will unfold next.  Sounds like the ending of 2020 and the beginning of 2021!  What will happen next?

It is interesting when I hear people talk about John's Revelation.  There are those that 'feel' it is totally symbolic, even though total symbolism allows folks to believe whatever they dream up (sounds like Facebook today!).  There are those that 'feel' it is totally literal, even though apocalyptic writing in John's day would have been filled with hyperbole and figurative language.  I am reminded that truth, facts, and solid study of John's Revelation are almost always trumped by people's feelings.  I am reminded of the harrowing phrase at the end of Judges ... "In those days Israel had no king and everyone did as they saw fit! (21:25)."  I hope my observation in this blog is solidly based on fact and the plain, true word of Scripture, appropriately held out for you inside the context of that good word.

So ... here it is.  The answer to the question.  Is anyone worthy to open the scroll and unveil the events of our future?  Is anyone worthy to both tell us and lead us through that future to our eternal destination?  Is anyone worthy to judge, proclaim and offer guidance as we turn the page on one year and look into the next?  Yes!  Jesus is!

In both services Sunday we will sing about this.  Methodists are rightly accused of singing our theology, and Sunday will be no exception.  The song is entitled "He Is Worthy" and it responds to the question posed by the angel with the mighty voice.  It is not feelings-based.  It is not opinion-based. It is not based on political happenings.  It is not based on Facebook falseness.  It is not based on cults who say follow or find your heart.  The song is based on the answered question in Revelation 5:9-10 ... the lamb who was slain is worthy because He "purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation."

My question to you today is ... "Who or what is turning your page?"  I am asking this because we who call ourselves Christians are seemingly confused by the scene in Revelation.  It is not presented because it is strange, attention-grabbing or edgy.  It is presented to show us a truth that will last through the generations all the way to the ending of the age.  That truth is (as Deuteronomy 30 expresses) not vague ... "it abides on your lips and resides in your heart."  God's truth is near ... it is told ... so why are we so dense that we look for our future in the patterns, places, politics, pleasures and prognostications of our time?  God's word and truth are near to us.  Who is worthy to turn our page and give us a hope and a future that is filled with God?  Jesus is.

That truth is affirmed in heaven.  John saw it and wrote it.  Now, it is time ... in this watershed year ... for Jesus-followers to live it out, following the one who is worthy to follow.  For there is another truth in Revelation 5.  Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea will say ... "be praise and power and glory and honor forever and ever."