Breakthrough Prayer

October 2, 2017

Do you believe prayer makes a difference?  Most church people would answer, “Yes”.  If you have gone to church for a while, you are probably used to hearing prayers said in a worship service, a Bible study, and a small group.  You are probably used to church meetings that open and close with prayer.  You are probably used to praying before you eat a meal.  You are probably used to praying for loved ones who are sick or for families whose loved ones have died.  But, do you really believe that prayer makes a difference?  Do you remember a prayer that you prayed that was answered?  Do you remember a person or a situation that changed because of prayer?

In the most popular devotional book of all time, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “Prayer is not a normal part of the life of the natural man.  We hear it said that a person’s life will suffer if he doesn’t pray, but I question that.  What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer.  When a person is born again from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve or nourish that life.  Prayer is the way that the life of God in us is nourished.”  So, do we treat prayer as a snack – something small that we take every now and then when we feel like it?  Or do we treat prayer as a meal – something we have to have a couple of times a day, so that our bodies won’t break down, but can become stronger?

Sue Kibbey writes about a kind of prayer called Breakthrough Prayer in her book Floodgates.  Breakthrough Prayer is not just a prayer class, a prayer committee, a prayer meeting, or a sermon series on prayer.  It is when God’s people join together in an intentional prayer movement across all ages to simply and repeatedly pray, asking God to break through in new and miraculous ways.  We pray for breakthroughs in our personal lives, in the lives of our fellow church people, in our church as a whole, for God to use us in unimagined new ways for Christ, and to break through anything that has been holding us back, including resistant thinking and negative attitudes.

The simple focus is to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to break through anything that is holding us captive, so that we can boldly move forward and fulfill God’s intention for why we exist as part of Christ’s Body on earth.  Breakthrough prayer is asking God to do new works and new miracles we cannot do ourselves.  It is a prayer to ask God to open our hearts and our minds to what we do not expect, and move us beyond what we tend to resist and close ourselves off from.  It is a prayer for God to open a door to transform us and our church without any limits or restrictions.

Sometimes when we pray, we feel that God is present.  We sense His Spirit and we know He is there listening to us and speaking to us.  Other times when we pray, we feel nothing.  We ask God to speak to us, and all we hear is silence.  We ask God for a sign, and we don’t see anything.  We listen for God, but we don’t hear anything.  The truth is that God is equally present and responsive to us in both situations.  God is with us when we realize it and when we don’t.  God is present whether we can feel Him or not.

So, this month, we want to encourage everyone to try praying a Breakthrough Prayer.  What is one area where you would like to see God breakthrough in your life?  What is one area in our church life where you would like to see God breakthrough?  What is one part of our community where you would like to see God breakthrough?  Let’s pray expecting to see God do something.  When you see something happen, don’t keep it to yourself.  Tell someone else.  We don’t pray in order to control God or manipulate God, but in order for us to be open and responsive to what God might want to do in us and through us.  Let’s make ourselves available to God.  Let’s open our eyes to see if God might choose to do something new.

 

 

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The Blessings of Difficulties

September 1, 2017

When we read about the creation of the heavens and the earth in the first two chapters in the Bible, and when we read about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we read about a perfect world that sounds fabulous.  But, then it all seems to unravel very quickly.  It not only becomes bad, but it goes from bad to worse.  From Adam and Eve, to Cain and Abel, to Lamech and the other descendants, the condition of our world kept going down and down and down.  It got so bad, that God decided to flood the world and start over.  It’s a pretty bleak picture.

This is our family tree.  This is our family history.  It is not a history to be proud of.  We have descended from a long line of rascals, scoundrels, robbers, thieves, murderers, and selfish narcissists.  The Bible is not revisionist history that tries to show us only the best side of our ancestors.  It puts all of their faults and sins front and center for all to see.  The stories show us as much about how not to respond to tough situations as they do about how to respond.  We learn from other people’s mistakes and sins as much as we learn from their accomplishments and achievements.  We learn from their failures as much as we learn from their successes.

In his book Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, he writes that the way up is often the way down, and the way down is often the way up.  Sometimes we have to fall down, to learn something valuable, before we can get up and move forward.  He says that loss comes before renewal.  He says that losing, falling, failing, and suffering are necessary experiences of the human journey.  We grow more through pain than through joy.

In the book of Genesis, the wrestling and the wounding of Jacob are necessary for him to become Israel.  In the book of Exodus, Moses discovers that experiencing God involves being burned without burning up.  In the gospels, Peter denies even knowing Christ before he can become the leader of the early church.  Jesus has to go through crucifixion, pain, and death, before He can experience the resurrection.  Paul has to become blinded and confused before he can regain his eyesight, understand the error of his ways, and become one of the greatest church leaders in the first century.

Richard Rohr says that there will always be at least one situation in your life that you cannot fix, control, explain, change, or even understand.  He says before the truth will set you free, it will make you miserable.  But eventually, it will change you.  Jesus said that anyone who wants to save their life will lose it (Matthew 16:25-26).  Paul says that when we are weak, then we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

The good news of these stories is always the grace of God.  Time after time, when we read about people failing, we see that God continues to reach out to them in grace.  God passionately pursues a confused and disobedient humanity, offering us love and grace and redemption.  He gives second chances where they are not deserved.  He doesn’t kick us when we are down.  He helps us get up, dusts us off, and helps us move forward.  This is the good news of the Bible.  The Stories from the Beginning of Time describe a God who lives in the midst of our awful, sinful world, but it doesn’t scare Him off.  He doesn’t get fed up and walk away.  He doesn’t get so frustrated with us that He gives up on us.  He stays connected with us, always close at hand, always ready to respond to our calls for help.  He offers us His Son Jesus, as a way for us to be forgiven and always stay connected to Him.

Whatever you are going through, God is with you.  Whatever you have done, God wants to help you through it.  No matter how bad you have been, God is extending His grace to you through Jesus, with an offer for a second chance.  Take it.

 

Where Did We Come From?

August 7, 2017

Do you ever remember a time when you were little and you went to your parents and asked, “Where did I come from?”  If you are a parent, have you ever had one of your kids come to you and ask, “Where did I come from?”  If so, what kind of answer did you get?  What kind of answer did you give?

A lot of us have asked this question.  We start asking this question when we are little, and some of us keep asking it after we grow up.  It is basically a question of identity.  Behind this question, we are asking, “Who am I?  What am I like?  Who are my parents?  How did my parents get together?  What kind of people are we?  What are we known for?  Where did we come from?”  There is a whole avalanche of questions that comes as we try to figure where we belong, where we fit, and what our place is in the world.  These questions are foundational for our identity and self-image.

Many people who have been adopted, struggle with this.  Even when their adopted parents are great people, even when they get adopted into a loving family, there is still something inside of us that wants to know who we are, who our parents are, and what that means for our lives.

I think these are the same questions that the Hebrew people were asking 6000 years ago.  I think the reason that the Book of Genesis was written was to answer these questions:  Where did we come from?  Who are we?  What is our identity?  The Book of Genesis is one of the most important books in the Bible.  As the first book in the Bible, so many of the themes that run throughout the scriptures begin in Genesis.  People often say, “If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you are going.”  There is a lot of truth to that.  Knowing where we have been, knowing our history, and knowing how the world began, are key to knowing where we are going.

The Book of Genesis provides us with the pictures and the stories that are foundational to our lives and to our faith.  These are stories that shape us, that make us ask hard questions, and that stimulate our imagination.  If we can understand what the true stories of Genesis are trying to teach us, we can be strong people of character, with a mature faith, that can weather the storms of life.

This month, we are beginning a new message series, at the Northside Community Church in Terre Haute, and at the Emmanuel Methodist Church in West Terre Haute, called “Stories from the Beginning of Time”.  We are going to take nine weeks to look at these important, foundational stories from Genesis 1-11.  What are they really saying?  What do they mean?  And what difference does this make for us today?  I would like to invite you to join us as we take a look at these old, old stories in a fresh, new way.

Genesis is where it all begins.  It’s where the story of earth and outer space begin.  It’s the story where the plants and the animals begin.  It’s the story of where human beings begin.  It’s the story of where our relationship with God begins.  Once we have a good understanding our how we began, a lot of other things will begin to fall into place.

 

Spiritual Obesity

June 30, 2017

Kelly McFadden wrote about an experience she had with her husband, where they went on a backpacking trip in January through the Rocky Mountains.  On their trip, they hiked six miles into the wilderness and stopped at a hut that was not accessible by car or motorized vehicles.  They set out carrying enough supplies for three days, hiking uphill at zero degrees Fahrenheit.  About three miles into their trip, her husband said, “You know, it is a lot easier to get fatter than to stay in shape!”  He was struggling to get up the mountain and was bringing up the rear of their hiking group.

Isn’t that true?  It’s easier to stay in shape, than it is to try to get back in to shape.  It’s easier to keep the weight off in the first place, than to try to take off pounds after they have already been added to your body.  Ever since book best-seller lists were invented, there have always been dieting books on them.  Losing weight is hard.  If we knew the secret that would work for everybody, we would have figured it out by now.  Losing weight is an adaptive challenge.  It requires us to change how we think, how we act, and what our habits are.  It requires us to learn new ways to respond to stress and pressure and anxiety.  And that is not easy.  Obesity has become one of our biggest health issues today.  Obesity has a correlation with a sedentary lifestyle – too much sitting in a recliner or on a couch, eating too much food, and not getting enough exercise.

Another big concern is something called Spiritual Obesity.  Spiritual Obesity refers to churchgoers who live a spiritually sedentary lifestyle – too much sitting in a worship service, being fed spiritual food, but not getting enough exercise.  It’s too much eating, but not enough exercise.  It’s too much spiritual consumption, but not enough spiritual service.  It’s always taking in more spiritual food, without going out and sharing what has been given to us.  It results from a lot of “inflow” and not enough “outflow”.  We know about physical obesity, but we also have to watch out for spiritual obesity.

Physical obesity is epidemic in our country and is considered one of the top preventable killers of our time.  In fact, a new study has found that the government could help stop the growing epidemic with more regulations.  They could pass laws to keep fatty foods off the market, or tax them so high that nobody would want to buy them.  I suppose God could do that for spiritual obesity too.  God could force us into service, giving back to our communities, caring for others, and sharing our faith.  But, then it wouldn’t come from our hearts.  It wouldn’t be what we wanted to do.  And we would quickly resent having to do it.  God has given us free will.  God allows us to choose to the right things, just as He allows us to choose to do the wrong things.  He could force us to do what is right, but He wants us to want to do what is right.

Kelly McFadden wrote that after their difficult hiking experience, her husband spent the next year getting in shape.  He changed some habits, exercised more, watched what he ate, and declared he would never be the last one up the mountain again.  The following year, he was among the first group to arrive at the top.

What does getting in spiritual shape look like?  Do we let ourselves get lazy and complacent in the summer?  Will we end up paying for it later?  Getting in spiritual shape might mean helping to feed the homeless or giving 10% or more of our financial resources away.  It might mean getting to know our neighbors or building relationships with our unchurched friends.  It might mean getting involved in meeting a need in a local school or somewhere in our community.  It might mean leading a small group or Sunday School class or visiting someone in the hospital.

As Christians, we don’t want to keep receiving all the time without giving anything away.  We don’t want to just go to church to receive, without sharing what we have learned with others.  We don’t want to ignore the spiritual gifts God has given us.  We need to exercise them and put them to use.  We don’t want to become spiritually obese.  We want to stay in spiritual shape.  We want our spirits and our souls to be strong and healthy.  We want to be people of good character.  The more we give away, the more we can live as Christ’s witnesses in our world.

 

Re-Framing Your Life

May 31, 2017

In their book Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans tell a story about a woman named Janine.  In her mid-30s, she was starting to reap the benefits of decades of dedication.  Her willpower and hard work had gained her a number of accomplishments.  She was the picture of success and achievement.  But, she had a secret.  Some nights, after driving home from work, she would sit out on her deck and cry.  She had everything she thought she should have, but she was profoundly unhappy.  Who wakes up every morning as the picture of success and goes to bed every night with a knot in her stomach, feeling as if she is missing something, and that she has lost her way?  In America, 66% of workers are unhappy with their jobs, and 15% actually hate their work.  Janine had a dysfunctional belief.  She believed if you are successful, you will be happy.  She needed to re-frame her thinking:  happiness comes from designing your life with God.

In their book, Bill and Dave also tell a story about a man named Donald.  He had worked for more than 30 years at the same job and had made a lot of money.  His home was almost paid off.  His kids had all graduated from college.  He had money for retirement.  He had a solid career and a solid life.  Get up, go to work, pay the bills, go home, go to bed.  Wake up the next day and do it all over again.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  But, for years he had carried the same question around inside of him as he went to coffee shops, dinner tables, church, and the bar.  The question would wake him up at 2:00 am.  He would look at himself in the bathroom mirror and ask, “Why am I doing this?”  Not once had the guy in the mirror had a good answer for him.  He had a dysfunctional belief.  He believed that a life of responsible and successful work should make him happy.  He felt stuck.  He thought he didn’t have any other options that to continue to struggle through an unfulfilling life.  He believed it was too late to change his life’s work.  But, he was wrong.

Many people today operate under the dysfunctional belief that they just need to find out what they are passionate about.  They think that once they know their passion, everything else will just magically fall into place.  But, most people don’t know their passion.  Only 20% of people between the ages of 12-26 have a clear vision of where they want to go and what they want to accomplish in life.  80% of people of all ages don’t really know what they are passionate about.  In the United States alone, there are more than 31 million people between the ages of 44-70 who want an “encore” career – work that combines personal meaning, continued income, and social impact.

Many people today struggle with dysfunctional beliefs and don’t know how to change them.  This is why we go to church.  This is why we read the Bible.  We all grow up with beliefs and ideas that we think are true, but really aren’t.  They shape who we are, what we do, and how we live.  But, we don’t realize they aren’t true.  And if we do discover they aren’t true, then we don’t know how to change them and how to re-frame them.  This is why we need Jesus in our lives.  This is why we need the Holy Spirit leading us through life:  because all of us need to re-frame our thinking in our major ways.  But, we don’t know how to do it.  And we can’t do it alone.

Your life cannot be perfectly planned.  None of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes.  There is no one single solution to your life.  If you keep looking for the one right answer, you’ll never find it.  Our God is a much more creative God than we realize.  When we surrender our lives to Him, He doesn’t just open one door of possibility for us.  He opens many doors for us.  He gives us choices we never had before.  The Holy Spirit leads us to design a life that makes sense.  Life is all about growth and change.  It’s not static.  It’s not about answering the big life question once and for all and then it’s done, never having to be re-visited ever again.  It’s about going on a journey with Jesus, with a Christian community, for the life of the world.  There will always be twists and turns, sunshine and rain, cold and heat.  There will always be signs and wonders, plants and animals, unexpected guests and new friends.

We need God’s help to think differently.  We need Jesus’ help to live differently.  We need the Holy Spirit’s help to dream differently.  We need the church’s help to focus our attention on the right things, to develop disciplines and practices that will pay off, and to help us get out of the rut we are stuck in.  We need to take off the blinders that keep us from seeing the possibilities God has waiting for us.  We need to understand where happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction really come from.  We carry around too many dysfunctional beliefs.  And we need the Bible and the church to re-frame our thinking and our lives.

God doesn’t want us to waste our lives.  God doesn’t want us to feel miserable or stuck.  God wants us to soar like eagles as we discover how He designed us, and how the Holy Spirit can help us design a life that makes sense.  But, we have to be willing to let go of our dysfunctional beliefs.  We need to let the Bible re-frame how we think and how we live.  And we need to be willing to follow Jesus down some life paths that we never thought we would walk down.

 

Your Questions

May 1, 2017

This month, we are taking a look at the questions that people are asking about God, faith, and life.  If you had one question you could ask God, what would it be?  What is the one question that keeps you awake at night?  We don’t have time on Sunday mornings to discuss all the questions that were submitted, so here are some responses to three others:

1.At what point does temptation become sin?  Or is temptation sinful?  What about Matthew 5:28 where Jesus says “If a man looks lustfully at a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart?

There is a difference between temptation and sin.  It is possible to be tempted and not sin.  Sin is giving in to the temptation, and acting inappropriately on what has been seen or heard or felt.  Hebrews 4:15 says “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  This verse is telling us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we have been, yet he never sinned.  The sin comes when we take action on the temptation.  When Jesus talks about lust in Matthew 5:28, this is more than just noticing an attractive person.  This is more than feeling drawn to someone you are not married to.  This is dwelling on someone in your heart and in your mind.  It is allowing your imagination to go down a road it shouldn’t.  While perhaps not acting physically inappropriately, it is an inappropriate mental action.  It allows your heart to stray and your mind to go to places it shouldn’t.

It is hard for us to say “no” to temptation in American society today, because so much of our advertising and our cultural philosophy encourages us to give in to temptation.  We are told that all of our desires are good.  They are not.  We are told that all of our feelings are healthy.  They are not.  We are told to indulge every emotion we have.  We shouldn’t.  Hebrews 2:18 says,

“18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  And James 1:13 says, “13 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”  God will never tempt you to disobey God.  He will never lure you towards evil or to act vs. your original design.  Because Jesus was tempted too, He is available to help you whenever you ask.

2.What does God say about drinking?  Should we drink or not?

We know that drinking alcohol is not a sin because Jesus drank wine.  Some people will argue that the wine is Jesus day did not have as high of a level of fermentation as our alcohol has today.  That may be true.  But, there is nothing wrong with one or two drinks.  What the Bible says is a sin is getting drunk.  Ephesians 5:18 says, “18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”  In other words, instead of being filled with alcohol, be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Drinking too much is a problem.  Some people get addicted to getting drunk.  Some people are in denial about it.  Getting drunk can ruin your life.  But, if you don’t get drunk, having a beer or a glass of wine is fine.

In Romans 14:1-15, Paul was addressing a controversy in his day around eating meat that had been offered to idols.  Some people thought it was OK to eat the meat, because they didn’t believe in the idols.  Others thought it was a sin, because it had been offered to idols.  Who was right?  Paul’s answer was that there is nothing wrong with eating meat offered to idols.  It was not a sin.  However, if you cause a weaker Christian to sin because you are eating meat, then you shouldn’t do it.  Don’t put a stumbling block in someone’s way.   This verse can be applied to our present day concerns about alcohol.  Having a drink is not a sin.  But, if it causes a weaker Christian to sin, then give up your freedom to drink, for their sake.

3.What does the Bible say about Christian values for families?

Colossians 3:20-21says, “Children obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”  Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

 These verses remind us that parents need to teach their kids to obey.  Parents should not give their kids everything they ask for.  Parents need to discipline their kids and teach them right from wrong.  Parents who always praise their kids are not doing them any favors.  This teaches them the world revolves around them when it doesn’t.  They will raise kids who are brats that nobody wants to be around.  On the other hand, these verses also tell us not to embitter our children.  Parents should not expect perfection from their kids.  They should not be the kind of parents who are never satisfied.  You can crush a child’s spirit if don’t notice their accomplishments and tell them when they are doing a good job.

The Bible gives us a pattern in Luke 2:52 when it tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”  These are the four key areas we need to help our children grow in.  They need to grow mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally.  We need encourage our kids to grow mentally by letting them know the importance of an education.  We need to teach them the value of reading, writing, doing their homework, turning in their work on time, and getting good grades.  We need to encourage our kids to grow physically.  Less than 1% of kids will grow up to be professional athletes, but we can teach them how to take care of their bodies, how to eat healthy, how to exercise, and the values of good sportsmanship and working with a team.  Kids need to learn how to win and how to lose.  We need to let our kids lose.  We need to let them fail.  They need to experience failure if they are going to become mature, healthy adults.

We need to help our kids grow spiritually.  We need to read stories to them from the Bible.  We need to teach them to pray at meal time and at bed time.  They need to see that faith is important to their parents, and that we don’t skip church for less important matters.  And, we need to help our kids grow relationally.  They need to learn how to make friends and be a friend to others.  They need to learn how to share and how to care for others.  Social skills are important, and kids need to see their parents modeling healthy relationships.

I hope you will join us on Sunday mornings this month as we continue to reflect on people’s questions, how to think about our faith, and how the Bible relates to the everyday, practical realities of our world.  Don’t be afraid to ask any question.  That’s how we learn.  God wants us to keep learning all the time.  Asking questions is what helps keep our faith growing.

 

The Easter Ragman

March 31, 2017

A number of years ago, Walter Wangerin wrote a story called “The Ragman” to help us understand the message of Easter.  The Ragman is a picture of Jesus and what He has done for us on Good Friday and Easter.  Here’s the story:

“One Friday morning, I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking in the alleys of the

city. He was pulling an old cart, filled with clothes; and he was calling in a clear,

resonant voice, “Rags! New rags for old, I’ll take your tired, old rags. Rags!” Now

this is a wonder, I thought, for the man stood six feet-four, with arms like tree limbs,

hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed with brightness. Could he find no better job

than this, to be a ragman in one of the rougher areas of the city?

Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into her

handkerchief, shedding thousands of tears. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was

breaking. The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly he walked to the woman and asked,

“Will you give me your rag; I’ll give you another.” He slipped the handkerchief from

her eyes, and laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. Then

as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing. He put her tear-

stained handkerchief to his own face; and began to weep, to sob as grievously as she

had done. Yet she was left behind without a tear. “Rags! Rags! New rags for old!”

 

In a little while the Ragman came across a little girl whose head was wrapped in a

bandage. Her eyes were blank and empty. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.

Now that tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely bonnet

from his cart. “Give me your rag, and I’ll give you mine.” He loosened the bandage,

removed it and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. I gasped at what I

saw, for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow ran a darker, richer

flow of his own blood! “Rags, rags! I take old rags!” cried the sobbing, bleeding

Ragman.

The sun was at its height by now, and the Ragman seemed more and more in a hurry.

“Do you have a job?” the Ragman inquired of a man leaning against a telephone

pole. “Are you crazy?” the man sneered, pulling away from the pole and revealing

that the right sleeve of his jacket was empty. “So give me your jacket, and I’ll give

you mine.” The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman. I trembled at

what I saw. For the Ragman’s arm stayed in his jacket, and when the other put it on,

he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.

 

By now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping

uncontrollably and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling the cart with one arm,

stumbling with exhaustion, he still ran on ahead faster. I wept to see the change in

this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such

a hurry, perhaps to discover what drove him so. The little old Ragman came upon a

landfill, a garbage dump. He climbed the hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little

space on the hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a

handkerchief. He covered his bones with a jacket; and he died.

Oh, how I cried to witness his death! I slumped in a car and wailed and mourned,

because I had come to love that Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of

this man. When I saw that he was dead, I couldn’t keep from crying. I cried myself to

sleep. I slept all the way through Saturday to Sunday. But then on Sunday morning, I

was awakened by a violent light, a pure, hard, demanding light shining against my

face. I looked up, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the

Ragman, folding his clothes, a scar on his face, but alive! And besides that, healthy!

 

There was no sign of sorrow, nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined

with a clean sheen! I was in awe of the transformation, but humbled by the sorry

state of my own ordinary sameness. I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I

had seen, I walked into the Ragman’s presence. I told him my name, and that I felt

like a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes, and I said with dear

yearning in my voice, “Dress me. Dress me with your rags.” He dressed me. My Lord

dressed me. He dressed my feet, my body; he dressed all of me. He put new rags on and

now I glow in the sight of the Ragman, this Ragman, my Christ.”

 

We Still Need Easter

March 1, 2017

A recent survey by the American Psychological Association that was released last week found that:

66% of Americans feel stress about the future of our country

57% feel stress about the current political climate

49% feel stress about the results of the 2016 election.

I think people have always felt some level of stress and worry about what is going to happen in the future, but these anxieties seem to be stronger and more widespread today than they have been in a while.

Part of what I think is contributing to this is our diminishing level of confidence in our leaders and institutions to address the challenges of our times.  People seem to have a decreasing level of trust that our leaders can focus on the big issues, have the competence to handle complex challenges in compassionate ways, and can bring people together to find solutions for complicated problems.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we have destroyed ourselves.”  The old cliché is “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”  As much as we worry about terrorists coming in to our country from outside and attacking us, our biggest problems actually come from ourselves.

This is what we learn from the Bible.  The Bible teaches us that sin lives in every one of our hearts.  In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus says that evil flows out of every human heart.  In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:3, Jesus said, “Why are you worried about the speck in someone else’s eye, when you have a log in your own?”  We don’t have to look far to find evil.  All we have to do is look in the mirror, and there it is.

In 1933, Simone Weil wrote about the suffering we experience in a world that seems to be falling apart.  She said that one of the most disorienting perplexities is that evil isn’t always recognizable.  Sometimes it is incognito.  She wrote, “Never react to evil in such a way as to augment it.”  That is one of the challenges of our current times.  How do we not throw gas on the fire?  How do we not make the situation worse?  How do we act so that evil decreases rather than increases?

When Hannah Arendt wrote about the evil that was experienced under the Nazi leadership in Germany, she talked about the deliberate disconnect from reality that she called “holes of oblivion.” (Today, we call them “alternative facts.”)  She said that one of the key ways to confront evil, and the lies that it keeps telling, is for simple, ordinary people to keep standing up and speaking the truth.  Evil will try to suppress the truth.  Evil will try to shut people up by firing them, putting them out of work, or trying to discredit them.  But, there will always be a few who will speak up and tell the truth, even in spite of the consequences.  While people worry that the evils of the Nazi way of thinking could happen anywhere, the truth is that it did not happen everywhere.  That is what gives us hope.

The presence of evil in the world, even the growing presence of evil in the world, continues to show us our ongoing need for Easter.  This month, we begin the season of Lent.  Lent is the 40 days (plus Sundays) leading up to Easter.  It has traditionally been a time for reflection and contemplation on the meaning of Easter, the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf, and our utter dependence upon God.  Easter was the day that Jesus defeated evil in the world.  Yes, evil still exists, and evil continues to flail around as much as it can.  But, it has already been defeated.  The game is over even though the time has not run out yet.  Evil doesn’t want to admit that it is losing, and it will lose, but it will.  Easter is our assurance of that.

Easter reminds us that evil is real, that we do not have the power to stop evil by ourselves, and that we are dependent upon Jesus to defeat evil for us.  We will continue to battle it the rest of our lives.  Evil is like a boxer that has already been knocked out.   But, he continues to get up off the mat and flail his arms around, trying to inflict a little more harm on us, before he completely collapses, totally defeated, never to get up again.  Without Jesus, evil would win.  Without Jesus, we would lose.  Without Easter, we would be without hope.

Because of Easter, evil has width, but not depth.  Evil is like a bad weed that grows and grows and takes over the topsoil.  It looks like it is everywhere.  But, it has no roots. It has no depth.  It can kill off the grass and the plants on the surface, but it can’t go deep, which means that it won’t last.  Only good has the roots to go deep.  Because of its roots, good will outlast evil.  Good will conquer evil in the end.  Good has the depth that evil lacks.

That is what we learn from Easter.  That is why we look forward to Easter.  That is why we have hope.  The evil that we see now will not last.  Evil was defeated on the cross.  When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, he signed evil’s death sentence.  It’s only a matter of time, before He shuts it away completely.  Hang in there.  Easter’s coming.

 

You Get What You Are

January 31, 2017

Sometimes we think “You are what you do”.  But, the Bible says, “Do what you are”.  The things that we do, flow out who we are.  Our actions emerge out of our inner thoughts and feelings.  The condition of our hearts can be seen in the actions that we take.  When we see words and actions that don’t match who people are, we call them hypocrites.  We look for people whose lives are consistent.  These are people who don’t pretend to be someone they are not.  What you see is what you get.  Teenagers and young people seem to be really good at spotting people who are fake – people who are trying to pass themselves off as something they are not.  So, if we want to pass on our faith to our children, or share our faith in Christ with our family and friends, we will get what we are.

People watch how we live.  People will listen to what we say.  People are looking to see if we are authentic.  Does how we live and what we say actually match who we are.  Are we living a practical faith?  Does our faith make sense in the way we live?  Does it flow naturally from our hearts or does it seem fake and forced?

When we think about passing on our faith to our kids, we want to have a sticky faith.  We want who we are and what we believe to “stick” to other people.  One of the findings of the Sticky Faith research (www.stickyfaith.org) is that you get what you are.  After studying the faith development of more than 3000 young people nationwide from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Mormon families, they discovered that “the best general rule of thumb that parents might use to reckon their children’s most likely religious outcomes is this: ‘We’ll get what we are.’”  In general, the primary influence in a child’s faith trajectory is his or her parents.

There is no magic formula for developing sticky faith in our kids.  There is no money back guarantee that always works for every single person in every single situation.  But, the more that parents live who they really are, the more we are genuine and real and authentic, the more our kids will see that, and the more our faith will “stick” in their lives.

As important as our faith lives are in influencing our kids, multiple studies of teenagers indicate that more important than what parents believe is what teenagers perceive they believe.  If there is a difference between what we believe and what teenagers think we believe, they will be more influenced by what they think we believe.  So, it’s important to verbalize our faith and find ways to clarify what we believe, so that our kids get a clear picture of where we are coming from and why we do what we do.

The quality of our marriages also affects our family’s faith trajectories.  A nationwide study of more than 1,100 adults examining the effects of family of origin on church involvement found a modest association between the marital happiness of a person’s parents and that person’ religious involvement.  In other words, people whose parents had marriages that were more life-giving were also more likely to attend and be involved with a faith community.  But, even when our marriages are struggling, the relational glue of your extended family and the church can help compensate for what’s missing at home.

Some people think that Christianity focuses on a bunch of “do’s” and “don’ts”.  It doesn’t.  It focuses on shaping who you are at the core of your being.  It focuses on your soul, your spirit, your heart, and your mind.  The Holy Spirit is re-shaping who we are.  As this happens, it will eventually change how we live, what we do, and what we don’t do.  But, the re-shaping of our hearts comes first.

This reminds us to do what we are.  If we want our faith to “stick” to our kids, we will get what we are.  People will look at who we are more than what we say or what we do.  If we want to influence our kids towards Jesus, we will get what we are.

 

New Habits for a New Year

January 2, 2017

We have flipped the calendar.  We have celebrated the end of 2016.  We have celebrated the beginning of 2017.  We get a fresh start.  We get a chance to start over, to try again.  So, now, what will we do?  Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but half of those people give up on their resolutions by the end of January.  The key is to develop good habits.  The key is to break bad habits.  We are much more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to try to think our way into a new way of acting.  So, where do we begin acting differently?  As we start this New Year, I want to encourage us to begin 3 new habits:

1.This year, I will grow spiritually by ________________.

If you do not yet have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then look into this.  Read about Who Jesus is, what He said, and what He did.  Talk to people who believe in Jesus.  Explore it and check it out.

If you are already following Jesus, how can you grow spiritually this year?

Here are some habits to consider:

This year, I will read at least one chapter in the Bible every day.

This year, I will pray at least 5 minutes every day.

This year, I will attend church worship services 3-4 times a month.  (Research shows a significant difference in the strength of people’s faith who attend worship 3-4 times a month over those who only attend 1-2 times a month.)

This year, I will give ____% of my money to the church/missions/charity.

This year, I will take a Sabbath day every week.

These are called spiritual habits or spiritual practices.  If these become regular patterns in your life, you will grow stronger spiritually.

This is about Believing.

 

2.This year, I will grow relationally by ______________________.

Who are one or two people that you want to become better friends with this year?

This year, I will have coffee/lunch with someone once a week.

This year, I will invite someone over to my house to visit once a month.

This year, I will invite at least one unchurched person to come to church with me.  (The average Methodist invites a person to church once every 42 years.  What if all of us invited one person to church every year?)

This year, I will regularly attend a small group or a Sunday School class.

This year, I will call one person on the phone each week to ask them how they are doing or how I can pray for them.

This year, I will reconcile with one person I am estranged from.

This is about Belonging.

 

3.This year, I will grow missionally by __________________________.

How can you serve God in our community?

Where can you serve God in our community?

This year, I will share my faith with one person who does not yet believe in Jesus.

This year, I will talk to one neighbor a month.

This year, I will have a block party to get to know my neighbors.

This year, I will find a need in our community where I can help.

This year, I will participate in one mission effort with our church.

This year, I will donate clothes or food to a local school or mission.

This is about Blessing.

 

As we begin this New Year, I want you to think about 3 things you can do differently this year.  Think about 3 new habits you can start, or 3 current habits you can enhance and expand.  We are more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to think our way into a new way of acting.  The quality of our lives has a lot to do with our habits – breaking old bad habits and starting new good habits.  If you become consistent in doing what God wants you to do, and consistent in living in healthy ways, you can live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.