Monday, April 19, 2021

Winds and Seas

This month our kids are learning about choosing peace over conflict.  It is a good series of lessons, but this Sunday I want to talk about a different kind of peace.  In John 14 Jesus said "Peace I leave with you ... My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."  Let's speak about a supernatural kind of peace!

In 1933, just before the Hindenburg government fell and Hitler came to power, the Germans were fearful.  Always a pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached and proclaimed God's power to a people who felt powerless over what was happening.  The people feared "the red tide from the East (communism)."  The people saw fighting in the streets.  Rumors, theories and misinformation abounded.  Bonhoeffer made 2 points to his people.

First, after reminding people to set their eyes on the things above (a sermon preached in June of 1932) he reminds the people that God is above all things.  This message is consistently preached and penned in God's Word.  The 1st Chapter of Ezekiel shows a vision of a wheel within a wheel and 4 living creatures spinning near the earth.  There was a vault above the living creatures and above the vault was a man on a throne.  Ezekiel is (Chapter 2) directed by the man to go out and speak to a rebellious Israel, rebellious because they have followed false Gods, false teachings, idols and all of the things worshipped by their neighbors (rivers, animals, wooden and metal statues, and ideas that did not come from God).  The image in Ezekiel 1 is there for a specific purpose ... to say, "I (God) am above all of the things petty people choose to worship!"  Jesus said, "I have been given all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18)."  God is constantly and consistently proclaiming His power over all things!  Bonhoeffer's message is ... "Observe, make positive changes, work with each other, don't join in with evil and be 'as shrewd as serpents but as gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16)' but do not succomb to fear."  God will set things right!

The second part of Bonhoeffer's message is from Matthew 8:23-27.  Never forget that Jesus is IN the boat!  God is above all things and Jesus has authority over all things, but Christ has chosen to get into the boat!  We fear that God might be asleep as we face the things that Germany faced in 1933.  Yes, we are divided!  Yes, there is fighting in the streets!  Yes, some people are following false-gospel cults!  Yes, governments struggle to follow the principles our founding leaders cast in stone!  But our lives, our world, our church and our community does not need to fall to fear and chaos.  "For God is with us.  His rod and His staff are comforts to us!"  And, as in Matthew 8, Jesus still rebukes the winds and the waves.  God is with us in the boat!  This is the same God we invoke when we say, "With God nothing is impossible!"  This is the same God that has shown us His ability to overcome darkness with light!

In our children's message this morning, there is a story of Abigail bringing peace to a testerone-driven situation.  David was headed to destroy the minions of a bad actor named Nabal.  David accepts Abigail's offer of peace, relents in his quest to kill Nabal, and God handles the matter in His perfect way.  I wonder if David, after he sees God's plan unfold, said what the disciples say in Matthew 8 ... "Who is this God that even the winds and the waves obey Him?"


Monday, April 12, 2021

Doors, Windows and Opportunities

Did you ever hear the cliche' "When God closes a door He opens a window?"  It sounds good, like many cliche's, but I have always thought that leaping out of that window didn't sound so appealing.  Like many of our Christian cliche's, this one leaves a lot to be desired.  So, what do we do when we hit obstacles in the path of our journey in life?  What is the Biblical way to move forward?

Isaac had a door, window, opportunity situation in Genesis 26:18-26.  Isaac needed water for his flocks and his people.  As he became more and more prosperous, the Philistines became more and more envious.  So they filled the wells that had been dug by Abraham with dirt and they told Isaac ... "You have become too prosperous!  There is not enough room for all of us, so you need to move away."  Isaac moved to the Valley of Gerar and set up shop there.  He, again, dug wells, reopening wells dug by Abraham, but the local residents said ... "Not so fast ... that water belongs to us!"  Isaac dug another well and, again, the locals quarreled over the water.  Finally, Isaac dug a well that offered no opposition and he named it Rehoboth because he said, "God has given us room."  There are many facets to this story but we will dwell on just a few today.

The first, and I think most obvious, point is that life (including for the chosen people of God) presents obstacles.  If you listen to prosperity gospel messages, please stop!  They are untrue and false teachings.  Every person in Scripture faces obstacles ... and so do we!  While it is natural to want to avoid obstacles, it is also natural that we expect, prepare for and endure obstacles.  In our world bad things do happen.  Some are part of corporate evil (WOW!!!, we have seen that in our political systems, our corporations, our governments and even our churches).  Corporate evil is real.  Bad people are also real!  Some people mean us harm.  Even in our local community we hear people talking down good people and even our churches.  Sometimes people choose evil and disunity as their agenda ... and we all suffer!  And sometimes bad things happen even when we are trying to do good.  A horrific example of this is the apparent accident of the Minneapolis police officer pulling their gun instead of their taser, firing once and killing a young man.  Not one person desired this outcome, yet it happened.  Isaac faced all of these evils that plague us even today.

The second point is that life is often more complicated than we expect.  I have embarked on projects that, in my estimation, are easy.  We thought getting bids on a new HVAC system in the Family Life Center would be a simple process.  Many months after we started this project, we have endured reluctant bidders, long equipment delivery estimates, vendors who decide (in the middle of the process) they are not interested in bidding, and limited funds.  Roadblocks have risen up in every part of this process.  Each roadblock required an assessment and a decision.  I have learned almost nothing is simple.  Life is complicated!

The final point is that there are things we can do even if things are complicated and even if all sorts of obstacles rear their ugly heads.  The story of Isaac is a story that is filled with possible solutions.  Isaac tried to do what had worked before ... Abraham's wells.  But these wells were filled up by the Philistines.  Isaac still needed water and he tried to co-exist with his neighbors.  New opposition rose up ... he finds that the Philistines just don't want him or his people around!  Isaac had to move his entire operation elsewhere.  He had to adapt to current conditions.  His new plan was to dig wells at a new location, but that was opposed by the people in the new area who said, "That's our water!"  So Isaac dug yet another well.  That worked, and he rejoices that God provided!

Isaac tried the door, but it closed.  He tried the window and he fell flat on his face.  He tried diplomacy, relocation, old ideas.  It didn't work.  But what did work was 1) persistence, 2) focusing on the real goal and 3) trusting that God would provide.  God seems to honor our efforts when we truly seek and trust Him to lead us forward.  It worked for Isaac ... and I think it will work for us!  Randy

Monday, April 5, 2021

Passing the Peace

All of you, if you have been in the church as long as I have, have heard the phrase "passing the peace."  Most of us think of it as a greeting during, before or after worship, and it can surely be this.  Some of us might think it is part of the act of communion, and it surely fits in the communal aspect of the eucharist.  But I would like to think God's word leads this practice further and deeper.

Jesus speaks about the importance of peace as he weeps for Jerusalem saying (Luke 19), "How I wish today that you, of all people, would understand the way to peace!"  Paul tells us, in Colossians 3, to allow peace to "rule in our hearts."  He follows this calling with an admonition to teach, counsel and sing (I love he brings music into this!).  To Jesus and Paul this idea of peace is something that should not be an occasional choice or a spiritual "bone" we throw to God saying, "See ... I can choose peace when I want to!"  They see it as a way of doing life.  Maybe we should explore it more deeply!

Three words about peace.  Presence, persistence and power.  When we choose peace over conflict, we acknowledge the PRESENCE of Jesus.  There are lots of opportunities to practice this.  Just go through a normal day, and you will probably have a chance to choose peace over conflict.  I usually do this by asking a few questions.  "What are we trying to accomplish here?"  "How can this situation become a way to achieve the mission of Jesus?"  "How can I be Jesus and the Church to another person?"  When I ask these questions, Jesus is present in my thought process.

Peace also takes PERSISTENCE.  To live in an attitude of peace, I must continually put my natural tendencies down.  My natural attitude is to win, conquer, overcome, overpower and rule.  Colossians 3 says to allow peace to rule, so I must be persistent.  My natural habits and knee-jerk reactions are oppressively persistent, so my love for Jesus and my submission to Him must persistently be on my mind.  Peace must rule my actions!

Finally, peace has a POWER component.  Does Christ have power in your life?  Does He rule over your emotions?  Is Jesus dominant over your thought process?  These are the questions about allowing peace to "rule the roost" as the Message states Colossians 3.  I wonder?  We all say we want God to have power in our lives.  We say we seek the power of Christ, and even people like John Wesley were concerned that Jesus would cease to have power in the upstart Methodist church.  So, do we want God's power?  When Colossians 3 uses the word "rule" it is used in a governing sense.  The implication is that our hearts and our attitudes are governed by peace ... not emotions, not feelings and not reactions.  Feelings, emotions and reactions are natural, but we, as mature Christians, are called by Jesus Himself, to cede rule to our "higher authority."  In our world today we see Jesus losing presence and power in our world.  Maybe this is because the people called by His name have given up power to the wrong thing.  Maybe it is time for us to reassert the presence, persistence and power of Christ in our lives and in His Church!  "Oh, how I wish that you, (we) of ALL people, would understand the way to peace!"  Jesus' words ... not mine!  Randy