Tag Archives: Lifestyle

Surprising times challenge faith, Redefine today’s lifestyle, goals

How many times do we experience something in our lives and we cannot believe what just happened?  Maybe it was a near accident, maybe it was a health issue, maybe it was a work achievement.  Afterwards, we just walk away and marvel at the outcome.

Maybe we are in the midst of another amazing experience.  I know that the coronavirus has forced our daily lives to come grinding to a halt, wait a bit, and now we are trying to restart.  And that restarting process is almost more frightening than the shutdown has been.

None of us can predict what the future will look like, but one thing for sure it is will never be the same.  And I am not sure, but I am betting we have learned valuable lessons and should not even consider returning to life as usual.

As an observer, I am witnessing major lifestyle changes that I believe demonstrate a hunger for healthier balances in our priorities.  In my neighborhood, I watch families out walking together.  Not just one family, but a variety of families, some walking through the neighborhood just to add more steps in their walk.   I see pets with their owners that I never recognized before.  

Having been an at-risk teacher, I knew broken family units and the resulting damage more than I saw family units who supported one another in all types of endeavors.  Watching the family units join together for time outdoors without all the fanfare associated with sports is a heart-warming experience.

This pandemic is forcing family units to redefine themselves.  The stay-at-home orders have made the decision for many that society seemed to want but battled against due to the cultural expectations of two adults working away from the home while the kids were in school or in a day-care setting.

A spinoff adjustment has been to the work force.  Maybe the first evidence of needed/forced change was in education.  All the sudden schools closed their doors.  With many schools that literally closed down the school year after just three quarters, not the typical four.

This abrupt change not only forced the students to stay home, but it forced schools to rethink how to teach.  It placed the onus on the parents to see that their children continued in their studies while the teachers scrambled to find ways to provide instruction away from the classroom.

Education must place the needs of the students before anything else.  I will never forget attending an ASCD regional meeting and listening to the head of Iowa’s state education department.  Instead of worrying about how to hold teachers and districts accountable to a process or a set of standards, he said they had only one guideline:  What is best for the student?

Notice, it is student, not studentS.  Education as we know it is education for the masses.  If a student could not fit into the norm, then they failed.  If they were excelling and failing, they likely were bored with school and needed to accelerate rather than ‘fit into the norm.’  

The stay-at-home directive has shifted the methods of education to one-on-one instruction.  The Zoom meetings can be refined to individual tutorials or small groups or to a full class.  The younger students seem to be adapting well as they sit in front of the camera and talk one-to-one with the teacher.  They are learning.

And between the Zoom sessions, the parents are there tutoring the kids.  They are providing the encouragement, connecting with the teachers right alongside their children.  Many parents are learning their students interests and talents for the first time and discovering ways to enrich their educational experience on their own.

Granted, for many young people, the stay-at-home directive has had the complete opposite.  They are forced into a home where abuse, addictions, and hunger exist.  For these students, there is no education, there is only fear and danger.

How does our culture handle the pandemic crisis for these at-risk students?  These are the students who need the daily sanctuary of school so now is the time to redesign the educational system to meet the critical needs of the at-risk who cannot depend on a family structure to nurture them into adulthood.

Where does a society turn to find new direction?  

The pandemic protocols are forcing all institutions to reassess their basic foundational beliefs.  The hospitals are rewriting how they treat patients–and they are treating them in solitude without the very critical emotional support of family and friends. 

Business are learning that work can be more productive if workers are at home, away from the office.  Work weeks are being redefined by work production.  Priorities are readjusted to support the families with children in the home.

Hopefully businesses are learning that the almighty dollar is no longer the guiding principle.  Now the guiding principle is protecting the human assets of the company.  Valuing the employees above the profit margin will lead to a healthier society.

Our society was at-risk when the coronavirus started its race around the world.  Our sense of elitism blinded us to the reality and the risks that were stretching across the oceans to reach us.  We were so busy finding the easiest way to amass wealth.  We were sacrificing the foundational principles that created our culture.

The one constant in my life, and I expect in many lives is my faith.  I know that the history of mankind has experienced pandemics before.  I know that change is a guarantee.  But as I have lived, experienced, and studied history, the one common thread throughout all cultures is faith.

My faith system is based on the principles of Jesus Christ who as the son of man and the son of God walked among the human race demonstrating and teaching how to live in harmony with one another.

One simple rule:  Love on another as we want to be loved.

Now, in the midst of stay-at-home directives, of social distancing, of economic crisis, this one principle can guide us through the storm.  Love one another as you want to be loved.

True, the sudden changes in our society even affect the way we do church.  We cannot open the sanctuaries to host a worship service in the same manner we were accustomed to doing.  We cannot sing our hymns together; now we must don a mask.  We cannot pass the communion cup or break off a piece from the main loaf of bread.  We cannot find our favorite seat next a dear friend.  

What the church can do is to teach, to worship, to serve one another in any way that it can so all may know Jesus.  We can give whatever we can to assure that others have the basic necessities in life–food, clothing and shelter.  We can reach out to one another through phone calls, hand-written notes, texts, emails, or any other viral means of communication.

We do not know what tomorrow will look like, but I am confident that with faith in God and in living the life Jesus modeled for us, we will discover that life does not have to be what always has been.  We will find that being the church is doing all the good we can in any way we can for whomever we can, whenever we can.

Let’s keep the focus on the positives this pandemic can provide.  Let’s follow the recommendations of the scientists, the specialists, and the doctors.  Let’s allow families to be families first.  Let’s redesign our world so put God first, then we put loving one another like we want to be loved.

Schools will continue, but education will be different.  

Businesses will continue, but the design and the workforce will be different.

Government will remember that it is for the people and by the people.

And churches will be an active force meeting the needs of one another through one principle:  Love one another as you want to be loved.  

Let’s leave the past in the past and surge forward to a new and better world.

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Traveling the Spiritual Journey

After more than a year out of the pulpit, I returned this week to fill in for our senior pastor. So as the new year starts, I start a new phase, too. I pray this message helps you. Thank you for reading.

Remember playing hide & seek?  The rules are simple: one closes their eyes and counts while the others run to find hiding places.  Then when the count is finished, the counter must go off and find the hidden ones.  

Posssum with me on the Missouri River at Portland, MO.

Now my buddy Possum has a little twist to the game.  When we brought him home, he loved to be chased.  He would look at me, then take off running and I was supposed to run after him.  He ‘hides’ under the bed, but his tale always sticks out so it is easy to ‘find’ him.

The game continues when I tag him, and he takes off running again.  My job is to chase.  And to add to the picture, he likes to run with a toy or a plastic bottle.  If I throw it, he takes off, grabs it and heads right back under the bed where I ‘find’ him.  

Fortunately, Havanese puppies love to run and play in short spurts.  After about three or four times down the hall and up and down the stairs, he suddenly just stops.  Game over. 

Here is my question:  Is our spiritual journey like a hide and seek game with God?  

Let us begin with prayer:

Open our hearts, Lord, so that we see you in our faith journey and help others find you in their lives, too.  –Amen.ˆ

            We all have a story about our life journeys, and mine landed me in Warrensburg when the Johnson County school districts inaugurated an alternative education program.  This professional move dropped me into a new community where the one thing I knew would be familiar was the Methodist church.  I joined choir, something I had long missed.  I started attending Sunday school and gradually moved into teaching the MeMarCo class.

            The professional move did not begin my spiritual journey, but this church nurtured me and has been instrumental in God finding me.  You see, I had been playing hide and seek with God’s calling and it ended here when I was asked one simple questions: “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”

            Throughout my Methodist life, I have known many ministers, but I had never sat down and shared my story; but something sent me to sit down in this church’s office to share my story.   That conversation led to one simple question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”  I was startled and realized I had only one answer, “No one had ever asked me.”  

Each one of us has a story filled with people, circumstances, challenges and successes, but how many of us still are in a game of hide and seek with God.  My story is probably very similar to yours, and I have been blessed that I was raised in a faith-based family.   Still, I know that for years, I played hide and seek with God.

After completing the discernment process, my spiritual journey became more formalized attending the Course of Study.  And what I had suspected about spirituality developed into a clearer picture, especially in understanding John Wesley’s means of grace.

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Our spiritual journey begins with our birth; and for those raised in a Christian family we have the advantage of knowing that God loves us from the  very beginning.  We are born with the Holy Spirit drawing us to God; this is Wesley’s prevenient grace.

As we grow up, our spiritual journey begins.  For myself, I was nurtured by my family and I am thankful for the teaching because it helped me learn how God loves us and forgives us when we make mistakes.  For Wesley, the ability to understand that our sins are forgiven is the means of grace called justification.  

Our spiritual journey develops through the four levels of grace.  For those raised in a Christian environment, the transition from one phase to the next is logical, but for others God uses his disciples (which can be us) or experiences to reach out to them.  Yet we do learn that God is beside us through all the earthly challenges that confront us.  We learn that even when we make a mistake, God is there waiting for us to ask for his forgiveness and return to a faithful relationship with him.

Still, life keeps racing forward and we have a tendency to return to that game of hide and seek with God.  We may walk through the practices of being faithful, but we may not consciously seek him.  Learning to ‘hear’ God speaking to us is often difficult.

            Despite how different our spiritual journeys began–whether born into it, married into it, or forced into it by life experiences bringing–we find God and discover he is speaking to us.  

            When we reach the third level of Wesley’s means of grace, we hear God more clearly.  Sanctification is the point in our spiritual journey that we know God personally and have a love for him that translates into love, unconditional love, for one another, our neighbors. We reach a new level of spirituality that sends us seeking God rather than hiding from him.

            When I was asked that one question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”, I had to stop and examine my own spiritual journey.  Hear Paul speaking to the Corinthians in his second letter:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed. But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. –2 Corinthians 13:5-8 (NRSV)

I challenge you to examine yourself.  Are you still playing hide and seek, or are you in the process of growing in love with God and one another?  The spiritual journey never stops; there is no retirement or aging out along one’s spiritual journey.  We must continue to grow in faith moving toward the final level of grace:  perfection.  Wesley defines perfection as “growing in love for God and our neighbors, and he believed that the kingdom of Heaven could be reached even before death. 

Our earthly journey can challenge us in so many ways that our spiritual journey gets sidetracked or overpowered.  At those times, we need a support system or spiritual practices to weather the storms along the journey.  A Christ-like life takes discipline.  

God challenges us to use our gifts to serve one another in love, unconditional love:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  –1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NRSV)

            God gives us these gifts so that we can serve as his hands and feet.  It takes all of us using these gifts to help each other along the spiritual journey support ing one another through relationships, experiences, and learning.  We help discipline each other.

Through my spiritual journey, I can list the people who have guided me in developing my faith.  I can also list experiences that filled my developing years:  the 3rd-grade gift of a mustard seed necklace, a summer youth minister, the United Methodist Women sending me to their mission school, and even being assigned to the religion page in journalism school.  The landmarks in my spiritual journey just kept popping up and I did not ‘see’ them.  I kept playing hide and seek with God.  

Consider the Magi, the wise men of the East.  They saw a star and it called them to follow it to find the baby Jesus in a manger.  They were not Israelites.  Yet they saw the star and decided to go and see what it was calling them to learn.  They were ‘seeking’ God, no longer ‘hiding’ from his call.  They listened; and they followed what God told them, leaving and not returning to Herod with their new knowledge.  

Preparing to lead Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose campaignI came to that one chapter, the one I call the Wesley chapter (I believe it was chapter 33.).  There was the quote from John Wesley:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. 

The words stopped me cold.  I was a cradle Methodist and I was so surprised that Warren was using it because he was a Baptist minister!  I was preparing to lead the church’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign, and there I sat on the front porch in awe of what God was telling me.

            I knew the scriptures, I attended church regularly, I felt like I was doing what I was called to do—teach alternative education.  I was doing all the good that I could—or least I thought I was.  And then came that question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”

Each one of us has a spiritual journey.  We live our lives growing up in families who do or do not attend church.  We go to work at jobs that may or may not be fulfilling.  We go in and out of relationships with family and friends that can be hurtful or enriching.  We can get in our cars and drive from one destination to another without incident or we become entangled in an accident.  

Our lives are journeys, but how we live them makes such a difference in the quality of that journey.  When I finally had to stop and review the journey that I was living, I had to realize that I had been playing hide and seek with God.  He had been calling and I had not heard him.

Today we are closing out the Christmas holiday season with Epiphany tomorrow, January 6.  Our journey continues much like the Magi.  They chose to return to their homes knowing they had met the Messiah.  They listened to God’s direction, not to Herod’s.  

As we continue our own journeys, we must make sure that we no longer play hide and seek with God.  We need to turn around and realize God sees us and is asking us to follow him.  I challenge each of you to seek God rather than hide from him. Examine your practices to see what needs improving in order to move from one type of grace to the next. 

Today, make the decision to improve your spiritual journey.  Decide what you can do so your spiritual journey moves you on to perfection?  Are you able to use your gifts to help others along their spiritual journey as part of sanctification?  Or do you want to improve your own understanding of God’s grace through study and Christian conversation?  

As Paul told the Philippians, in chapter 4 verse 13:

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (NRSV) 

Do not be afraid because God will make sure you can do all that you can for all you can in any way you can.  God has loved you, loves you, and always will love you.  It is your turn to seek him.

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Teaming for God, with God

Sermon for Sunday, August 13, 2017

Scripture connections:

 

Opening: Psalm 105:1-5, NLT

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
his miracles, and the rulings he has given,

 

Sermon: I Corinthians 12:4-11, 29-31, NLT

    4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord.God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

     A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[a]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[b] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[c] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

     29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

 

Reflection: Teaming for God, with God

What a week this has been! As Missouri residents, we have watched just about every kind of teaming effort one can imagine. The week began with the horrible news of the murder of Clinton’s young police officer Gary Michael.

As the days unfolded in the search for the suspect, we witnessed, even first hand, how the law enforcement community worked as a team to search all the area even in our own town. Frightening, yes, but the end result was successful as the professionals and the local citizens worked together to a successful conclusion and the search ended.

On a much lighter note, the week was filled with the Interstate Series between the KC Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royal fans have been sorely disappointed, but the Cardinals are thrilled. In the midst of it even a bold kitten joined in the competition, now nicknamed Rally Cat, he stole the show from the disappointment of the Royals and to the thrill of the Cardinals.

All the events of the week, though, exemplified teamwork. We all live in community one way or another, and when one lives in community, teamwork is essential in order to keep order in our lives and to meet the wide range of needs that develop in almost every facet of our lives.

Consider the need for a team of healthcare providers when we are challenged with an illness or injury. Think about how a broken down car needs some teamwork to get back into working order. Consider the grocery stores and all the other retail stores that demand a team to fill the shelves, maintain the business, and then even to check out the customers and get them on with their lives.

Why should we not realize the value of teamwork in our spiritual journey as well? As Paul wrote his letters to the young churches throughout the region, he was emphasizing the need for teamwork even then. His letters are filled with encouraging members to work together to fix problems and to keep their focus on the final outcome—lasting faith in Jesus Christ.

Do we, right here in this church family, really work as a team? Do we capitalize on each other’s various strengths and gifts to carry out the commission God has given us? Do we work as a team to keep our own faith strong and growing?

Paul’s first letter to Corinthians is filled with advice on how to live and to work as a team in order to develop one’s faith, to carry God’s message out to others, and to withstand the challenges of living among non-believers. His message is just as important today as it was 2,000 years ago. We must pay attention to his words as we struggle to survive in our own community today.

Paul’s chapter 12 in I Corinthians begins with a caution:

Now, dear brothers and sisters,[a] regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this.You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

 

Paul was answering their question and it was obvious they were struggling with leadership. He knows that to begin the conversation, he must establish the ground rules and to remind them how each one has special skills. He goes on to outline how each one’s spiritual gifts are important and that each gift has an important role in the life of the church.

All organizations can fall into disarray when one or more individuals try to do everything whether or not they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to do it all. We live in community with each other, so it stands to reason that we must learn to use all of the strengths of each other to provide the successful outcomes that are desired.

Paul outlines the various gifts that are found among the community. Yes, he was focusing on the needs of the church itself, but the point is that all types of gifts are needed and all have been given special gifts:

 

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.

 

The list of skills needed to make any community perform at its maximum potential certainly goes beyond what Paul was listing, but the principle remains the same: each person is given special skills, talents, energy, and insights that can be teamed up with others to create the most successful team in any setting.

If Paul were writing to our church today, would he be so concerned that we were failing to team together that we are losing sight of the ultimate goal to share God’s love with others in any way that we can? Would Paul write to our church to encourage us to stop and reassess what our purpose is and then to revamp our methods to continue serving the community in love, demonstrating how faith in God can defend us from the evils that surround us?

In today’s culture that emphasizes success at all cost, the faith community struggles. Faith communities that are showing growth are those who focus on prayer, service, and teaming in the name of God. Every organization that finds itself in a downward spiral must stop and review the matter. Churches are no different.

Paul’s letter to our church might sound very much like his letter to the Corinthians. He might want us to stop and review whether or not we are using each other’s strengths in a loving manner. He might want us to resist the urge to establish blame in one way or another. He might want us to look beyond our own doors and find others with skills to keep God’s work moving forward.

In this first letter to Corinth, Paul ends chapter 12 with a key statement: But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

And with that statement he begins the 13th chapter that is known as the love chapter. In the context of the letter, he takes the reader from thinking about each person’s special gifts into how to apply those gifts in the way Jesus Christ demonstrated—through love.

The words are so familiar; yet remember that the lesson Paul is sharing with the Corinthians is about the work of the church:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels. . . . If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

Those words reveal the glue that makes everything work: but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

The words of chapter 13 continue to develop what love really is: patient and kind. And he continues to share that love is not jealous nor boastful nor proud nor rude. Love is not demanding nor makes one irritable. Love wins over all negative attitudes as long as one never gives up loving one another as one wants to be loved themselves.

Our church is no different than so many other churches. We struggle to fulfill God’s commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the reformation of the world. This is no small task. We are a small church, so it is important that we read Paul’s letters and hear the message he shares of how to live in a world filled with evil. And when the job seems overwhelming, then it is critical that we evaluate how we are using our strengths, skills and talents in a loving manner.

A team focuses on the a clearly defined goal, using all the spiritual gifts God provides, and then begins its operation with prayer calling for God’s help in carrying out the job he asks us to do for the transformation of the world. We are God’s team right here in our community and we must lead with love for each other and love for all in our area. If we are going to team for God, we must team with God.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You are all-knowing and loving.

You task us to make disciples of Jesus Christ

In order to transform this world.

 

You provide the leaders, the prophets,

The teachers, the physicians, and the workers

To serve as a team for you.

 

You provide the knowledge and skills

To be a spirit-driven team

fueled with love in your name.

 

Give us the wisdom to discern

What Paul’s ancient words tell us

As we work to team with you.

 

May the words of this prayer

And the work of our hands

Show we team for you, with you.

–Amen

 

Closing: I Corinthians 13:11-13, NLT

     11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[a] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

     13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

 

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How Do Christians Vacation?

given on Sunday, June 1, 2014

 

The Word from the NIV . . .

Old Testament: Exodus 20:8-10—Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord our God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

 

New Testament: Mark 2:23-28—One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for the priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath”

. . . and Thoughts:  How do Christians vacation?

Summer vacation is here! The schools are closed for the year, the sun shines, the bags are packed, and everybody is ready to leave town.

Just the words ‘summer vacation’ creates those pre-packaged images in our mind. In our culture summer and vacation are almost synonymous; but that really is not the case. Just how does that phrase develop as a paradigm in a community or a culture that has long been based on agriculture?

One would expect that summer vacation would translate into images: sweat running down the face, staining shirts, sun-tanned arms and foreheads (remember the farmer’s cap line), hay bales piled up, tractors pushing through the fields, and that cold, sweating glass of ice tea while standing outside for the one break in the afternoon—anywhere from 2-6 pm. Supper would not be ready until the chores were done.

Nowhere in those images of summer vacation on the farm is the picture of light-heartedness families with suitcases swinging beside them, sunglasses on their face, swimsuits on, and fancy drinks with little umbrellas in them. Summer vacation is an idea, a marketing creation to bring a society together and believe that summer vacation is the common thread among all members of a society.

What a fallacy!   And as a Christian, these images should be alarming as there is no reminder of God or even the lifestyle we develop that shows our relationship with God or the selfless side of service. The mental pictures we create of summer vacation are painted by the media rather than by our Christian principles. So . . . how do Christians vacation?

The starting point is God. With God beside us, everything we do should reflect the Christian lifestyle that we say we follow. There should be no difference in how you live out your faith on any one day of the year. The Christian lifestyle is the very core of who you are. Loving one another whether within your immediate family or whether a stranger met along the road, a Christian operates on unconditional love for all first and foremost.

Granted the decisions of others concerning un-Christian behaviors or decisions forces us to use common sense and caution today. The warnings are everywhere: do not pick up hitchhikers; do not feed the bears; do not stop to help someone along side the road; do not share your drink or food with others; do not share information. The list seems to grow out of control to the point that living a Christian lifestyle seems impossible.

Another point to consider is timing. Christians are expected to maintain a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. For the faithful, even during Moses’ time, that means maintaining healthy diet, healthy practices from hygiene to monogamy, and to observe a time of rest. The ancient Jewish traditions around the Sabbath forced all to take a break and to make a priority of worshiping God. That same structure is expected today from all Christians even though some adjustments have been made.

During the earlier agrarian cultures, Sabbath—now our Sundays—meant that the tools of farming were put down and not picked up until Monday morning. The only exception was for the care of the livestock. Cows still had to be milked, chickens fed, pigs watered. The principle of being good stewards of God’s world did force some flexibility on Sundays.

Still, the question is how do Christians vacation? The habits we live 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year should reflect God at all times. There is no vacation from being Christian, the question is what choices do we make as we vacation. Remember that our behaviors should always reflect our beliefs. The activities we choose for vacation do not excuse us from our Christian principles. The amount of food and types of drinks do not excuse us from what we believe. Our relationships must preserve the very commitments we made in our marriage vows, our children’s baptism, and even the friendships we maintain.

Vacation should not be a break any of our Christian principles—ever! Vacation is a form of Sabbath away from our work world and a time of rest for our bodies and minds.   Vacations allow us to step away from our own environment and explore what else is available in God’s world. We can meet new people, we can taste different foods, and we can see sites unfamiliar around our own communities.

And what does one do come Sunday morning? A vacation does not mean step away from God. Vacation offers opportunities that are not typically available in our hometown. If vacation time includes that typical time you are attending worship, why not look for different worship options. Maybe you take time to read a devotional privately at the ocean’s side with sand between your toes and waves creating the music for your ears.

Look around you and consider what worship opportunities are available. Maybe there is a Methodist church close by you could attend. Vacation may offer an opportunity to visit a different denomination, maybe even experience a Catholic or Greek Orthodox service. Even visiting a Jewish synagogue on Saturday evening would be worship.   Check out different styles of worship or different times even. Vacation does not mean vacate church on vacation Sundays.

During John Wesley’s lifetime, he worked hard to establish solid Christian lifestyles in his parishes. He asked for commitment and accountability. He would insist that members be part of a covenant group that had rigid practices of studying scripture, sharing concerns, and holding each other accountable to God.

From Wesley’s class meetings, a covenant format was established that has returned in many Methodist churches over the past 20 years. Some churches even hold an annual covenant Sunday to reconnect members with their commitment to God and to the church while asking members to be accountable. From this practice, the church’s discipline has outlined the standard that a church member in good standing would honor their commitment of attendance by not being absent more than four Sundays a year.

Four Sundays a year! Just how many of us could honestly report that our Sunday attendance—or worship attendance—is that good or better. One of the ways to maintain that commitment over summer vacation is to visit other churches. Share in the worship of other Christians wherever you may be. Maybe even try visiting a different church during the summer while at home. Bring back new ideas to your home church. Share your worship experiences with your family and friends.

Summer vacation is all about renewal. Certainly we love the sunshine, the warm temperatures, and the fun times that accompany vacations, but as Christians we never, never must step away from our God-based principles. Christians can vacation and do all that they can for renewing their own lives, but vacation with God, not away from God.

 

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Our summer has arrived and we are ready for vacation time.

Sometimes temptation creeps in,

and we give in to the world’s decadence.

Sometimes we make decisions

that demonstrate our human weaknesses.

Sometimes we fail,

and our Christian foundations shake.

Thank you for your grace

when we splurge with food and drink.

Thank you for your forgiveness

when we make mistakes.

Thank you for Christians’ unconditional love

welcoming us home.

May we learn from our mistakes,

from our harmful indulgences,

from our poor performances.

Let us vacation as you would have us vacation,

whether it be for personal renewal,

for new experiences,

for learning new ideas, or

for strengthening our faith foundations.

Guide us as summer begins,

vacations are taken,

and we follow Jesus’ example

wherever we are. –Amen

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Meet the Maccabees

given on Sunday, April 28, 2013:  Sometimes we get so involved in the world about us, that we do not see how our Christian lifestyle is slipping away.  Here is my question, are we like the Maccabees or are we succumbing to the secular world?

April’s Apocrypha Lesson:  Meet the Maccabees

         Why in the world do we need to meet the Maccabees?  Reviewing the books in the apocrypha, I could not understand why there are four books of the Maccabees.  True, in the New Testament there are the first, second and third letters of John, but they are letters and each one has a specific purpose.  But the four books of the Maccabees simply do not follow any recognizable style or purpose that connects them.  The connection appears to be found in history.

The Maccabees were a priestly tribe.  As the Greek or Hellenistic Empire grew through the ancient world surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, cultures clashed.  The Maccabees struggled to maintain their Judean culture under the Greek rule.  The Greeks struggled to supersede the Jewish culture.  The story, as outlined in the four books of the apocrypha, is filled with the details of these clashes.

The Greeks outlawed the practice of circumcision.  The Jewish parents continued to practice it.  Defying the Greek law lead to the death of many Jewish parents.  Yet the Maccabees persisted and even when one leader died, the task of maintaining the faith continued:

1 Maccabees 2:49-50:  Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he said to his sons:  “Arrogance and scorn have now become strong; it is a time of ruin and furious anger.  Now, my children, show zeal for the law and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors.”  the NRSV

The apocrypha includes the works written during that time between the prophecy of Malachi and the birth of Jesus.  The stories continue to demonstrate how the Jewish people struggled to maintain their faith in God despite all the cultural challenges to their beliefs.

The first book of Maccabees includes the story of the Greek rulers taking over even the temples.  The Greeks forced themselves into the temples to put their own pagan gods into place.  They defiled the altars by placing the very types of sacrifices forbidden by the Jewish priests.  Greeks demanded taxes from the temple in order to have more money for themselves.  The stories continue to demonstrate how the Hellenistic culture was forced upon the Jewish culture.

Consider this:  How is our Christian faith being challenged by the secular world?  Are we able to demonstrate as much determination as the Maccabees did to protect our standards?  Are we able to withstand the constant pressure to give up our Christian practices?  Are we determined to protect our faith practices over the secular practices swirling around us?

The four books of the Maccabees shares how the faithful fought back.  The Jewish people refused to give in to the Gentiles now practicing the pagan religions or following the Greek culture.  The story turns into one of rebellion as outlined in the second book.

When the Greek leaders decided to enter the temple and confiscate the treasury, the Maccabees resisted.  The story of this family and all the sons who stood up against the Hellenistic demands and influences demonstrates faithfulness to a degree I cannot comprehend.  The brothers were tortured and killed before their mother, but even she defied the authorities encouraging her sons throughout the horrific ordeal and even through her own death.  These are the words she spoke to her seventh son as he was tortured and killed:

2 Maccabees 7: 27-29:  But, leaning close to him [her 7th son], she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant:  “My son have pity on me.  I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you.  I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.  And in the same way the human race came into being.  Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers.  Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.”  the NKJV

I cannot imagine having the strength of faith, of character, to conduct myself so faithfully.

In the testimony of the seven sons and their mother, as recorded in 2 Maccabees, also brings to light two theological points that continue to be discussed today:  (a) the creation of the world from nothing, and (b) the possibility of life after death.  I was not surprised to learn this about the Jewish stand on creation, but I was surprised to hear the reference to eternal life.

Yet, the Maccabees’ stories continue.  After the death of the Priest Eleazar and his family, the next Jewish leader Judas, also called Maccabeus, continues the story further.  He becomes a strategic leader, gathering up the faithful secretly, creating an army that takes back the temple and purifies it for the Jewish people.  The historical record of Judas is considered proof that God listened to the Jewish faithful and guided them through the conflict successfully.

So why should we meet the Maccabees?  Today, as we find ourselves challenged to protect our own Christian beliefs and practices, the stories can give us models.  Hopefully no one will ever have to endure the horrendous forms of torture and death as Eleazar’s family, but we need to identify the challenges to our faith and find ways to strengthen our faith.

Humanity sees behaviors repeated in cultures worldwide, in all the different time periods, and yet today.  Just in the course of the last decade, stop and consider what secular changes challenge the Christian practices.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the simply the attitude to maintaining a day of worship, a day of rest.  First blue laws were written, then loop holes developed (such as how alcohol can be sold on Sundays).

A second one which is much more recent, that is filling up Sundays with athletic competitions.  Even if one is accustomed to practicing worship each Sunday, now kids athletic competitions are schedule throughout the day.  The importance of worship is lost.

In reading through the various study materials concerning the Maccabees, I stumbled across this little piece of history:  When the Greek were trying to instill their culture, after capturing the temple, they built an arena for athletic competition.  It was built in a position that placed it above the temple.  This clearly demonstrated the attitude the Greeks held toward the Jewish faith—athletics first, faith comes lower in the priority list.

I could not help but see the parallel in today’s secular world.  Athletic competition and even the practices for it seem to have more value in our society than our faith does.  Consider how much players are paid versus how much the religious leaders are paid.  Figure out how much money fans spend on tickets, parking passes, clothing and even food in order to attend a sporting event and compare that to what happens tithing in our churches.

Meeting the Maccabees in the first two books is different from meeting them in the third and fourth book.  The last two books have entirely different writing styles and purposes.  The third book is a novel.  This is surprising since it is published as though it were part of the historical narrative.

Another reason including a novel is surprising is that today typically novels would not be considered a reading for faith development.   Yet, when I read through Father Tim’s stories from Mitford, I found lessons in faith.  In fact, his favorite verse was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.”  the NKJV.  This is a verse that guides me through each and every day, and it was the basis for an entire series of novels.

Finally, there is the fourth book of Maccabees.  Another entirely different style of literature, this book is a series of biographical sketches on various martyrs or heroes in the Jewish culture.  In fact the New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha indicates that these stories are “part moral treatise, part funeral oration.”  Another words, they are like eulogies in today’s culture.

“The value?” you might ask.  Every culture has historical personalities that have led the people to understand how to live.  We have legends in our American culture like Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jane Adams, and the list goes on.  There are legends from other countries and cultures like Gandhi or Dr. Schweitzer.  And think of all the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestants who died during World War II, all have stories that guide us in our daily lives.

This week was the day to remember the holocaust victims.  Having just finished the movie and discussion over Schindler’s List, the examples of all the people who died helping one another explains one more time why providing literature like the fourth book of Maccabees can be inspirational.

Meeting the Maccabees may seem more like a history lesson, but knowing history helps us to prevent repeating the tragedies of the past and to encourage us to maintain our faith, our principles, and our Christian lifestyle.  Knowing the history of the Maccabees and the many other faith-based cultures can develop our personal resolve to live a God-centered, faith-disciplined life despite all the secular pressures in our culture today.  The stories provide us hope, too.  Hope that our lives serve as models for future generations wanting to transform the world into a Christian community where God’s grace reigns forever and ever.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Day after day we struggle.

We find ourselves challenged

by demands at work, at play and at home.

Sometimes we feel weak and tired

unable to fend off the secular influences.

 

Day after day we resolve to put our faith in you.

We wake up to grey skies

yet we know the sun still shines.

We feel so tired as the day fades,

but we know night’s rest renews.

 

Day after day we begin anew.

Thank you for your grace

when we tire or make mistakes.

Thank you for inspiring words

written generation after generation.

 

Guide us each and every day.

Be with us as we battle

challenges to our faith.

Help us to be models of faith

transformed by your love.         –Amen

 

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Lazy Day

As I grew up, Sunday afternoons had a specific structure. We would get home from church, eat a Sunday dinner (usually a roast cooked in the electric skillet with potatoes and carrots), and then go into a rest mode. Mom and Dad would go to the front room with the Sunday Post Dispatch, my brother and I would sit in the dining room with out homework.

We would work around the table getting the vocabulary done, reading our history, writing a paper, etc. Mom and Dad would start to read the paper. Before you knew it, Dad would be asleep in his rocker and Mom would be stretched out on the sofa. The television was off. That was the way the afternoon ran until about 5 p.m. when it was time to eat a quick supper and head back to church for youth group or an administrative council meeting. Church was in town, 8 miles away.

That Sunday afternoon structure is lost today. Now we have a full agenda on Sunday’s. For me, it is usually laundry, changing sheets, prepping for another school week (I never could get away from homework on Sunday afternoon). We do not rest. Actually, the entire Sunday routine is challenged as sports schedule their events on Sundays, as shopping becomes a day long activity, jobs schedule people for Sunday work, and the list continues to grow.

Recently I was asked to review the concept of Sabbath-keeping. Sabbath keeping refers to making time for the body to rest. No longer do we really maintain a day for rest. Now we have to make a concentrated effort to rest. Not only that, but we must now figure out how to schedule in rest. This is one of my worst skills. Today, I finally did sit down to rest. I had the evening to kick my feet up in the recliner, to read some of my materials, and to knit–all while watching tv and the fire in the fireplace. It was lovely.

Sabbath-keeping was a part of my upbringing: now as I review recommendations for a Christian lifestyle, I find I must conscientiously add sabbath-keeping back into my routines. As a member of the laity, I must remember that even our church’s staff must keep sabbath in order to serve our church successfully. My childhood routines need to be placed back into my life. Mom and Dad knew a life axiom that I should have kept. Hopefully others, too, will see the need to rest on a regular basis.

My hope for each of you is that you come to know the value of sabbath-keeping (rest and renewal) and decide to make it a priority for yourself, but also for your family. Let today’s children learn the importance of rest and renewal. We do not want to see a generation of burnouts who have no way of knowing how to live a healthy, Christian lifestyle.

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