Tag Archives: Bishop Robert Schnase

God’s Gifts: Baby Jesus

given on Sunday, December 29, after an ice storm canceled the Dec. 22 service 

            Journaling is a dying art, yet it is so important for sociologists in their studies of humanity.  It is also key to historians as they search for secrets of what happened in different time periods.  For families, discovering a journal from a previous generation is a rare and priceless gift.

Opening up the gospel of Luke, his own words show that this book is much like a journal incorporating his personal experience and study of Jesus’ ministry.  The audience is clearly defined as Theophilus, a personal friend whom he is trying to share the story in an honest, logical manner.

Imagine how his family, his grandchildren, and even generations later must have felt that their patriarch knew Jesus, had walked the paths where Jesus walked.  And imagine how we, over 2,000 years later, feel if Luke had not written his thoughts about Jesus.  Does this journal provide the foundation for lasting faith?

Personally, much of my understanding of who I am is based on the words of people who reported what their lives were.  Reading journals, biographies and autobiographies, paints a picture of the generations that preceded me.  I am a product of generations and reading their words shapes who I am.

Luke was educated, he had opportunities that others might never have had, still he had a story to tell.  The words we read today are the words translated generation after generation as his story continues to reach out to others like Theophilus.  The question we must each ask ourselves is whether or not we have shared the first Christmas story with our family and friends.

Luke said it so clearly:

1 Many people have attempted to write about the things that have taken place among us.  . . .  I myself have carefully looked into everything from the beginning. So it seemed good also to me to write down an orderly report of exactly what happened. I am doing this for you, most excellent Theophilus. I want you to know that the things you have been taught are true.

Are we able to say we have done the same thing?  Have we felt driven to provide those in our lives The Story?

Over the past 25 years, I have struggled to continue the faith story of my parents.  I never questioned our weekly schedule of church on Sunday, choir on Wednesday, or even the daily grace given at the table every time we sat down as a family meal whether breakfast, lunch or supper.  My parents simply placed God in our lives almost like He was a physical family member.

Luke writes The Story in a manner that reaches out to me.  He makes the story come alive and his arguments convinces readers of the reality of Jesus, of the lessons Jesus taught, and the historical record of this man’s life—born, lived, and destroyed—alongside the Israelites and the Gentiles, not to mention world citizens traveling and moving around a vital economic center during that time period.

Who has written The Story since Luke’s gospel?  Are there journals to read since that time that continues teaching the generations about Jesus, about the New Covenant God made through the life of Jesus?  Can we continue to see the effect of The Story has made on humanity?

The research continues, but the answer is yes.  Sometimes the horror created by un-Christian decisions crowds out the story of God’s love, but even when humanity is at it worst, God’s love remains.  The only way is to study, to seek out the Christian story and learn how it continues to sustain humanity.

Luke’s story shares an eloquent narrative of the Messiah’s birth.  It is artfully written, has been translated and preserved as closely as possible to its original language.  And even the most gifted historians, linguists, sociologists, anthropologists, and authors continue to weave The Story through the generations, the centuries, or even the millenniums.

Today we have a responsibility—to continue telling the story.  Not only do we have to live our faith privately and publically, we have to tell the story.

Telling the story does not have to be difficult, but we need to step it up.  The results are worth it.

First, live your faith openly.  I was shocked this month to hear myself wishing family, friends, and even store clerks and others a “happy holiday.”  I realized that for over 30 years, I had trained myself to say “Happy Holiday” rather than “Merry Christmas.”

Why?  I actually had to face the fact that as a teacher, I had lost Christmas because I was told to be politically correct.  Once I realized it, I had to consciously work on changing it.  I would off-handedly respond “Happy Holiday” and then as I said it, stumbled and shifted to “Merry Christmas.”

Secondly, establish a weekly routine that places God first.  Think about scheduling church attendance, Bible study, or additional faith appointments before other time commitments.  Our culture is reflecting the lack of prioritizing faith by the scheduling of sporting events before church events.  No longer do school systems or other family events schedule around church.  Now church is scheduled around personal time choices.  We do not stand up and refuse to participate just because something is scheduled at a faith related commitment.

Thirdly, on a daily basis, do we live our faith 24 hours seven days a week?  Do we wake up and hear the verse echoing in our minds:  “Today is the day that the Lord has made, be glad and rejoice in it!”  Do we offer a table grace when we sit down to a meal—or do we skip the table and go straight to the couch potato position with the television blaring?  Do we close our day with an evening prayer asking forgiveness, for healing, for supplication or just thanks for the day.

And finally, consider Luke’s method—he used written word to continue telling the story.  We can do the same thing, even if it is a simple entry into a personal journal that can be read and shared and read again.  Maybe it does not seem important, but it is.  Who knows who might find that journal and read a life-changing message from it.

And this is a task I need to train myself to do.  I used to journal, I encouraged my mother to journal, now I have an aunt who has used a journal/planner, and now I work to have others begin a journal too.  This is a simply way to account how faith works in your life.

Journaling may not be something you are comfortable doing, but stop and consider how you can preserve and share how faith works in your life.  Maybe it is a record of blessings, maybe the calendar can hold key words to trigger memories.  Maybe it is the camera whether on the phone you carry or the tablet you use, or the photos you place in a scrapbook or album.

Luke wrote his faith in two books, the Gospel of Luke and Acts.  Through the ages, others have written their faith, too.  John Wesley, Martin Luther, Charles Wesley—in his hymns, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Corrie ten Baum, Anne Frank, Billy Graham, Max Lucado, Adam Hamilton, Bishop Schnase, and more.  We might not be gifted authors, but we have a story to tell.  Who knows when the next generation will find the record of faith we each have to share.  Our faith is our life, and it is our responsibility to live it and to share it.  It is our gift to the future to share the story of God’s gift, the baby Jesus.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for Luke, for all the gospels, for the Bible

that tells the story of your gifts from creation to the birth of a baby.

Thank you for all those disciples who carried the story into action

modeling lives that were filled with love and compassion.

Thank you for all those early followers who carried the Story

into new generations, into new lands, and into the future.

Lead us to reading the Story over and over again

so our generations learn to love one another.

Lead us to tell the Story to our families, to our friends, and to others

in order to learn the way to live our faith openly.

Lead us to preserve the Story as our generations pass it on

to the generations ahead keeping faith alive.  –Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Easy or Hard?

given on Sunday, June 2, 2013–based on preparing for Annual Conference where the theme will be “Praying Hands and Dirty Fingernails

Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails:  Easy or Hard?

 

Five days from now Annual Conference convenes.  I recognize that the value of this meeting seems distant, unimportant, or maybe even detrimental in some ways.  Yet, as United Methodists, the Annual Conference is a time to review, to be accountable, to renew each church’s commitment to the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission.  The theme this year is “Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails.”

Stop and think about that combination of images for just a moment . . .(pause) . . .and now put yourself into the picture.  Do you have praying hands?  Do you have dirty fingernails?  Do you have both praying hands and dirty fingernails?  Or, sadly, do you have neither?

John Wesley did not separate these two images; he felt it was one in the same.  He also developed the structure to keep members accountable to their Christian responsibilities.

Annual Conference is all about God’s greatest commandment and his commission.  Annual conference is Wesley’s method of accountability to God.  Bishop Schnase’s leadership keeps our Missouri churches on task, and this year an added element of preparation appeared in our inboxes—“21 Days of Prayer.”

This three-week study came to my attention a little later than it should have because I was closing out the school year.  My focus was simply to make sure the students graduated and then to look forward.  My secular world collided with my spiritual world, even though I believe they work together to fulfill my Wesleyan purpose.

As school wound down and I cleaned up a room and moved into a new position, I began to let go of the school year and look ahead to the new church year—at least the conference’s church year.  I began reading the materials that are sent out and signing up for the various workshops and projects so I could be prepared.  And, I stopped to read the “21 Days of Prayer.”

First, I must apologize for my lack of pastoral responsibility.  The past two weeks, I should have shared this study with you and ready to introduce the final week of the study today.  But, with that aside, let me share some of the phenomenal words that are in this study.  Rev. Jenn Klein, from the Country Club United Methodist Church in Kansas City, wrote the study based on the Bishop’s book, Remember the Future:  Praying for the Church and Change.

All Christians are to follow one simple commandment that I have repeated over the last five years:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’  –Matthew 22:37-39, the Message

Following this commandment should make life so simple, but in our world, it seems nothing can be simple.  And Rev. Klein wrote it in just a slightly more expansive manner for the study:

“The Great Commandment tells us to love the Lord our God with our full selves; with our mind (intellect), heart (emotions), soul (intuition and divine instinct) and body (physical).  We are also to love others as ourselves.”

Her expanded explanation for each element–mind, heart, soul, and body—makes the commandment more than a statement; it makes it an internalized, comprehensive action—a lifestyle.

Over the past several years, I have tried to describe how being a Christian is a lifestyle.  I know you recognize that idea, but I simply must state it again.  A lifestyle is a way of living that comes automatically; there is no need to write out a specific plan of action or to prepare for the day’s event consciously to live as a Christian.  A lifestyle reflects who you are down to your innermost living cell.

Of course, a Christian lifestyle appears out of sync in today’s society, at least on the surface.  We are living side by side with a secular world that demands more and more un-Christian like behaviors.  The demands from our work world push our ethical standards to a point we become bitter, angry, and stressed not only mentally but physically.  We reach a point that we want to just quit everything because it seems we are demanded to live in a manner that does not match our beliefs.

The Bishop’s book acknowledges this, and then provides a Wesleyan viewpoint to help us continue maintaining a Christian lifestyle:

John Wesley modeled acts of piety and acts of mercy and taught that both are essential to our life in Christ.  The words piety and mercy sound curiously quaint today, perhaps even stirring negative responses.  Piety brings to mind self righteous, sanctimonious arrogance.  And no one wants to be at the mercy of anyone else.  Mercy connotes weakness, dependence, surrender.

Personally, I agree with the Bishop.  Today’s world has twisted the concepts we were taught in the 20th century, even clear back to the 18th century when Wesley began his ministry.

Yet we are living in the 21st century.  We cannot change that fact and we seem to have made many adjustments to the secular lifestyle that suits us.  The problem is that we are not making the adjustments in our Christian world to maintain the Wesleyan standards for the disciples of Jesus Christ that we profess we are.

Quoting again from the Bishop’s book:

Sometimes we act as if our living in Christ and leading the church require us to emphasize piety to the exclusion of mercy or to choose ministries of mercy at the expense of congregational vitality.  This presents an unhealthy and dangerous dichotomy.  It forces us to ask ourselves.  “Which kind of Christians are we?”  Are we those who seek a deeper spirituality in the changed heart that comes through worship, sacraments, prayer, the Scriptures and fellowship?  Or those who pour ourselves out through ministries of service and justice, helping people to rebuild their lives, and offering hope to a hurting world?

Is not that true?  His words sting; and I want to feel better.  Unfortunately no one can force anyone else to do something they are unwilling to do.  It takes modeling.  It takes valuing.  It takes understanding.  It takes God to open our hearts, our minds, and our hands to maintain a Christian lifestyle.  It takes God to do the same in non-Christians, too.

Here again comes a quandary:  How can our dwindling, aging populations continue to develop vital congregations?  Acts of piety and acts of mercy may be the actions Wesley demanded, and those same two types of acts are still needed today.  The Bishop quotes Martyn Atkins, the general secretary of the British Methodist church who says,

“Acts of piety and acts of mercy are like two wings of a bird; without either one, we cannot fly.  . . .  Following Christ involves praying hands and dirty fingernails.”

Yes, there is the theme of annual conference.  The Bishop connects Wesley’s images of a Christian lifestyle with this explanation:

We can’t evangelize hungry people without giving them food, and offering food alone never completes the task God gives us.  . . . vital congregations include not only a focus on the means by which people grow in Christ together but also an emphasis on ministries that reach into the community and world to serve in Christ’s name.  We cannot separate the two.  These feed each other.  Every faithful and fruitful congregation practices both acts of piety and acts of mercy.

That last line sets up the accountability tools.  To remain a vital congregation, an honest evaluation needs to be completed.  The checklist is simply the acts of piety and the acts of mercy written down and then logged by the congregation.  What proof does the church right here, right now have to show God that his Commandment is being fulfilled and his Commission is the congregation’s driving force.

Over the next two weeks, I challenge each one of you to create such a document.  List the acts of piety and write down what you do regularly that Wesley would approve.  Follow that with the list of acts of mercy you support or do personally.  Be honest.  I know the economy is often a limiting force, or maybe it is physical health that creates some limit.  But unless we can demonstrate our Christian standards, we must admit we are not a vital congregation and we have work to do.

Here is the first step during the conference week:  Prayer.  Make a conscious decision to pray for the church.  One of the different types of prayers available to us is the Prayer Knots.  Most of us would equate this with the Catholics’ use of a rosary, but there are some differences.  With your bulletin, you have a set of 8 knots on a cord.  Each knot is for a specific question as listed in the bulletin.  Add this prayer format to what you typically do in order to be more focused in your talks with God.

  • Knot One:           The first is this,
  • Knot Two:           You shall love the Lord your God
  • Knot Three:         with all your heart,
  • Knot Four:                  and with all your soul,
  • Knot Five:                  and with all your mind,
  • Knit Six:                  and with all your strength,
  • Knot Seven:         The second is this,
  • Knot Eight:         you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Rev. Klein offers a few other questions to consider after repeating this prayer twice:

  1. What word or image grasps your attention?  This is God’s word for you this week.
  2. What response, thoughts, insights were stirred within?
  3. How have you experienced the love of God?
  4. How might you be able to help another experience God’s love?

For five years, the one concern voiced over and over is how can we do that when we are so tired and so few.  Over these five years, I have seen the congregation’s attendance go up and down.  I know some swells are seasonal, as are some drops.  Some are temporary; some are not.

Over these five years, the acts of piety are maintained during worship, but seldom outside of that one hour.  The acts of mercy follow traditions primarily, but the traditions change.  New acts tried may fail first, but tried again may thrive.  The old acts continue, but do they grow?

During the next two weeks, use the prayer knots or cord and evaluate the vitality of your own faith, but also the vitality of our congregation.  It is not easy, but it is necessary.  In two weeks, let’s have an honest conversation that identifies a purpose and a goal for keeping the healthy balance of the past with the present.  A purpose and a goal that create a vital congregation.

Dear God,

Thank you for providing our congregation

the strength of history and the durability of now.

Guide us as we pray for our congregation,

our community, and our members.

Help us to be honest with our evaluations.

Help us to reflect upon the words

from the Bishop, Rev. Klein, Wesley,

and so many of your other disciples.

Use our time apart to build us up

so we can continue to keep your commandment

and to carry out your commission.  –Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Breaking Sin’s Code Part 4: DONE.

 

Okay, done.  Sin’s code is broken.  Malachi never really mentioned the word ‘sin,’ but he certainly told the people of Israel that they failed to keep the commandments, especially the first one—have no other God before me.  True he outlined how the priests had failed and then how the people failed, but the major points boil down to two:

1.    Have no other God before me.

2.    Return to God and God will return to you.

The faithful simply must stay focused.

Staying focused on God is not difficult unless you are susceptible to other influences.  Yet there are methods to use that provide strength against those sinful influences—worship together with other faithfuls, serve God, study the Word, give your best to God, and listen to God.  (If those sound slightly familiar, remember the Bishop Schnase’s five fruitful practices:  radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, extravagant generosity, and risk-taking mission.)

The parallel cannot be ignored between Malachi and the Bishop’s advice.  We must practice following the commandments in a manner that demonstrates that we are God’s children.  This unlocks the mystery as to why Malachi was the last prophet before John the Baptist arrived.

The faithful were few in number, but they were still faithful.  Malachi’s prophecy was for everybody, but who followed his advice was heeded by such a few.  God told the people that they must return to God if they wanted God to return to them.

For 400 years, God did not speak to the people.  400 years!  That is almost five lifetimes, two American histories, four centennial celebrations, eight golden anniversaries, 16 silver anniversaries, or 40 decades.  Humans measure time; God’s time has no boundaries.  Still, he was quiet for 400 years.

Malachi’s closing words were meant to encourage the few faithful who were indeed listening.  The first two verses certainly show a division between the faithful and the unfaithful:

“You can be sure the day of the LORD is coming. My anger will burn like a furnace. All those who are proud will be like straw. So will all those who do what is evil. The day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD who rules over all. “Not even a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 “But here is what will happen for you who have respect for me. The sun that brings life will rise. Its rays will bring healing to my people. You will go out and leap like calves that have just been let out of the barn.

Two very different images are shown, but images the people who lived in a farming-based culture could clearly understand.  As faithful followers in today’s world, the farming-based images continue to work.  There is little doubt what Malachi was saying, even to us today, nearly 2,500 years later!

Reading Malachi’s prophecy today is just as relevant to us as it was in 430 BC.  We are still to follow God’s commandments.  True, Jesus brought the Greatest Commandment:  Love God, love one another.  Is that not what Malachi is saying?  Doesn’t the Greatest Commandment supersede or incorporate all the Ten Commandments?

For 400 years, the faithful hung on to God’s words.  The faithful did all they could to maintain the commandments.  For them, Malachi was sharing a prophecy filled with hope, with the promise of life eternal and to meet God face to face.  For those who did not follow the warnings, there was no hope for eternal life, for seeing God’s face.  All there was to look forward to, according to Malachi, was the furnace and they would burn like straw burns.

The prophecy ends with where chapter three began—with the promise of sending a messenger.  Everybody was familiar with Elijah and the relationship he had with God.  The promise from Malachi that the prophet Elijah would come before he himself would come.  The words are hopeful and fearful:

5 “I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will come before the day of the LORD arrives. It will be a great and terrifying day. 6 Elijah will teach parents how to love their children. He will also teach children how to honor their parents. If that does not happen, I will come. And I will put a curse on the land.”

The purpose of the messenger was to prepare even more faithful people to meet God.

Chronologically, we turn the page—we begin the New Testament story, another key to breaking sin’s code or hold. #

# # # #

Picture life now, 400 years after Malachi has spoken.  What has changed?  Not much, that is true.  The faithful are still faithful; they are still waiting for the next messenger or prophet.  Are they ready?

After studying Malachi and considering the chronological list of the books or stories of the New Testament, we see that both Matthew and Luke present the arrival of John, the Baptist, as the arrival of Elijah.  The timeline in Malachi is being revealed:  Return to God and God will return to you.

The faithful had broken sin’s code and had succeeded to stay focused on God to the extent that God was ready to return.   Halleluiah!

This is where we reach into the Greatest Story to be told.  We have the written report through two different sets of eyes as to what happened next.  Both Matthew and Luke begin with the birth and ministry of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus.  To follow the work of John the Baptist is to see the fulfillment of Malachi’s as well as Isaiah’s prophecy.

Listen to the story of John the Baptist in both Matthew and Luke: Matthew 3:1-12 In those days John the Baptist came and preached in the Desert of Judea.

2 He said, “Turn away from your sins! The kingdom of heaven is near.”  . . .

3 John is the one the prophet Isaiah had spoken about. He had said,  “A messenger is calling out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.    Make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

4 John’s clothes were made out of camel’s hair. He had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.

5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all of Judea. They also came from the whole area around the Jordan River.

6 When they admitted they had sinned, John baptized them in the Jordan. . . .

7 John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing. He said to them, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming of God’s anger?

8 Produce fruit that shows you have turned away from your sins.

9 Don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham even from these stones.

10 The ax is already lying at the roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down. They will be thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water, calling you to turn away from your sins. But after me, one will come who is more powerful than I am. And I’m not fit to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

12 His pitchfork is in his hand to clear the straw from his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the storeroom. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.”

Luke 3:3-18

3 He went into all the countryside around the Jordan River. There he preached that people should be baptized and turn away from their sins.  . . . Then God would forgive them.

4 Here is what is written in the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. It says, “A messenger is calling out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.     Make straight paths for him.

5 Every valley will be filled in.     Every mountain and hill will be made level. The crooked roads will become straight.     The rough ways will become smooth.

6 And everyone will see God’s salvation.’” (Isaiah 40:3–5)

7 John spoke to the crowds coming to be baptized by him. He said, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming of God’s anger?

8 Produce fruit that shows you have turned away from your sins. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham even from these stones.

9 The ax is already lying at the roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down. They will be thrown into the fire.”

10 “Then what should we do?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “If you have extra clothes, you should share with those who have none. And if you have extra food, you should do the same.”

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” John told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” John replied, “Don’t force people to give you money. Don’t bring false charges against people. Be happy with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting. They were expecting something. They were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ.

16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But One who is more powerful than I am will come. I’m not good enough to untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

17 His pitchfork is in his hand to toss the straw away from his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his storeroom. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.”

18 John said many other things to warn the people. He also preached the good news to them. The choice of words in both is so nearly alike one cannot argue their authenticity.  The message continues that of Malachi.

1.    Have no other God before me.

2.    Return to God and God will return to you.

What does this offer the faithful today?  The same message, only this time it is even simpler because there are not eleven rules and examples, there is one: Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher,” he asked, “which is the most important commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5) This is the first and most important commandment. …

Remember this commandment; follow the words of the prophets, the disciples, and the church leaders even today.  As long as they are following the words of God, sin’s code will be and is and will always be broken.

Dear Holy God,

Thank you for the words of your prophets,

for the teachers, for the leaders, and for your Son.

Thank you for the wisdom of simple laws

to guide us in our lives.

Thank you for the promise of eternal life

and of meeting you face to face.  –Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion