Tag Archives: Methodists

Going home . . .

 

Over the weekend, we made a trip back to my hometown, Montgomery City, where the annual Old Threshers was the drawing card.

 

Old Threshers is a trip back to the past.  The old steam engines were on display working like they did when they first joined farmers in the hard work that had to be done—harvesting, cutting logs into boards, and more.

 

And that is not all.  The tractors of my childhood and even before all line up for everybody to review and remember.  I always look for the Oliver 66, which is the tractor Dad taught me to drive and the one I like the best.

 

There are other displays and activities, but there is something about seeing that Oliver 66 and the others from my past.  There is a magic that occurs when the steam whistles sound, the steam puffs up toward the clouds, and not to mention the smell of the freshly cut cedar planks.

 

But Old Threshers, this year, was special.  I visited with old church members, cousins, and neighbors. Recognition had to be awakened. Stories had to be shared.  But most important was sharing the past with the future.

 

For the first time, my grandchildren walked the fair grounds with me.  They saw the equipment for the first time.  They heard some of the stories of my parents and my childhood.  And I felt my heart soar.

 

And the day expanded as we returned to the farm.  I got to share the house with my daughter-in-law for the first time.  I watched the awe as she and her son/my grandson looked at Mom’s piano.  It continues to sit there waiting even though the keys are in bad shape and tuning has not been done in decades.

 

And the grands met their cousins!  Yes, the next generation met for the first time.  My kids with their cousins.  My grandkids with their cousins.  My brother, too, along with me and our cousins.  Wow!

 

I know, the experience was everything to me and not so everything for everybody else. But I am reminded that family is family. I am reminded that when we expand our family by joining in new families, home never really changes.

 

For years, I have thought about why I was so eager to leave home after college.  I have wondered why home always stays with you.  I went home regularly.  I really did not divorce myself from home.

 

But life divorced me from home.  Life circumstances can distance us from the very foundation of our lives. True, I became distanced from home; but I never became distanced from the foundations taught me at home.

 

My parents came from different faith backgrounds.  True they were both Protestants, Mom a Presbyterian and Dad a Methodist.  But when they married, the decision was to be a Methodist family.

 

My faith journey began with their faith journey.  And my faith home remained Methodist, even with a brief visit with a Presbyterian congregation.

 

When I returned home over the weekend, the first face I recognized was a member of that Montgomery City Methodist church.  How warming it was to feel that sense of recognition and to glory in that relationship.

 

The recognition reminded me that we are all of one family.  We may have different parents, different genetics, but the common ground of faith makes us so close to one another regardless of location or distance defined by years.

I find myself thinking about Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son:

  • How many times do we walk away from the foundations of our lives thinking we could do better?
  • How many times do we avoid going home?
  • How many times do we ignore what we are taught, esp. about God?
  • How many times does our life decisions risk poisoning our lives?
  • How many times do we think we cannot go home?

 

The parable shared in Luke , speaks to all of us at so many different levels.

 

As a parent, we do our best to raise our children so they know they are loved and will always be loved.  We know we have to discipline them at times.  We know we have to let them grow up.  We know we have to accept their decisions even if we disagree. Yet, we pray they succeed and that they come home; not permanently but emotionally.

 

As a child, we all know that as we grow up, we look forward to living as independently.  We grow up and move on.  Maybe like me, I never wanted to be labeled a teacher, marry a farmer, and stay in my childhood community.  But, I also never expected to face some of the challenges I did.

 

Thank goodness my parents laid the foundation for me life that included God and church.  I fled that farm life, but I never left the church.  My life challenges certainly knocked me down, but with my faith in God, I kept going.

 

The story of the Prodigal Son is as much a story of me leaving and returning as it is as a parent who watches children leave.  God provides unconditional love to all always.  It is us who must find our way home.

 

Going home is tough, true.  But going home warms the heart and the benefits are immeasurable.

 

Going home this weekend was a delight.  My family that remains in Montgomery were there.  My family who live outside of Montgomery, were there. My heart was warmed by all the memories, all the relationships, and all the promises of the future.

 

My prayer is that all of my family and friends from my childhood, from today, and from the future know that they are loved.  There is enough unconditional love from God to accept all the mistakes we make, but we may not know it until we stray away.

 

Thank you, God, for all the love and all the grace and all the forgiveness that you provide.  I hope I model it for others, too.  –Amen.

 

Luke 15:11-32:  Parable of the Lost Son

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

 

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

 

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

 

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]

 

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

 

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on.27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

 

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him,29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

 

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

 

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Know What You Believe: John Wesley’s church

given on Sunday, September 25, 2016

Knowing what one believes certainly is not easy. The demands of our daily lives tend to eat up so much time that careful reflection on who we are or what we believe just seems impractical. Yet, who we are and what we believe are evident to others around us, so we should try to figure it out. Psychologists make careers out of it when life clashes with one’s personal identity.

Why is it important for Christians to know what they believe? Basically what one believes is the very operating system one uses in all the various relationships, work settings, home environments and even recreational times. The choices we make are connected and controlled by the belief system we live. Sometimes what we say we believe and what we do are not aligned causing friction within one’s self as well as friction within personal, professional, or casual relationships.

The relationship we maintain with God is the most critical one we have during our earthly lifetimes. A healthy relationship with God places us in an excellent position to develop and to maintain healthy human relationships. Plus life challenges are handled with less destructive force when God is part of one’s operating system.

United Methodists follow John Wesley’s inadvertently developed theology that could be termed ‘practical theology’ for his followers in order to take the Bible and move it into action. Wesley modeled how religion was a lifestyle rather than a Sunday-worship event. He delivered the Story to the unchurched, the poor, and the laborers in any way he could—even though he was raised in the Anglican Church attended by affluent and influential people.

Reviewing the various types of theology, I discovered how creation theology seemed be a positive fit for me; but knowledge not implemented fails God. Certainly knowing what one believes establishes one’s foundation, and God asks us to use faith knowledge as our operating system. We are to be God’s presence in this real world and that means we need a method to do God’s work. Wesley provides that structure.

Wesley was born into a faith-filled world. The son of an Anglican priest, the family environment placed Wesley in direct connection to religion. His family also struggled with the structure of the Church of England. Wesley saw the world around him and coupled that with Jesus’ model of living to develop the methods that put scripture into real life application. No easy task, for certain, but as he refined his faith and his methods, he demonstrated how the Holy Spirit works through God’s faithful.

Wesley lived what he read in scriptures, but he struggled with many of the same issues that Christians today do. How does God work in our lives? My perception of Wesley’s own story is that one simply must begin by living in the world as best as one can. He was fortunate that his parents were educated and determined that all their children were, too, despite the financial stress it placed upon the family. This history is repeated in Christian families throughout time.

Yet, Wesley struggled to understand God. He saw the poverty and the injustices in the world around him. As Wesley continued developing his faith, he could not ignore that world. He saw the people who were suffering and were unable to manage due to harsh work conditions, poor economic situations, and even deplorable health situations.

Wesley took God to the people. Not only did Wesley live his faith personally and actively within the community, he took God’s story to the people. He preached the Word. He demonstrated how to live faith actively and he studied struggling to fully comprehend God.

The practices that Wesley used became the structures of the Methodist denomination. Using small group study structures and the acts of piety and acts of mercy, he established the methods that put God’s words into action.

The Methodist denomination developed from Wesley’s disciplined approach to living his faith. The personal struggles Wesley experienced to discover what God’s grace means and how to live in a faithful relationship with God provides a model of holiness that continues to lead others to Christ and to transform the world one person at a time. In fact, God’s grace reaches out exponentially when Wesley’s model is implemented individually and corporately. This is a structure I want to follow.

Wesleyan scholar Hal Knight shares how God’s grace interacts in our lives: “Grace is relational, an encounter with the transforming presence of God’s love, eliciting our response.” The four levels of grace makes faith an active process, even developmental, which for an educator provides more clarity how growth in one’s faith leads to the Kingdom of God. Wesley outlines the four levels of grace as a map for our lives.

Born we are granted prevenient grace even before we can cognitively recognize it. As we grow, we become conscious of God’s presence in our lives. Educationally this might mean that the rote learning that attempts to develop an awareness of God’s presence begins to become an internalized knowledge, and with that new understanding the comprehension of God’s presence—justification.

Developing knowledge begins with introduction of an idea, which is then practiced and/or committed to memory one way or another. Once a knowledge base is in place, practice moves to different frameworks as the student sees the knowledge in different settings. For instance, number facts must be learned, but until the student begins using number facts in calculations the new knowledge is still unused. Now the student must begin applying the knowledge in real-life settings—sanctification when talking about one’s faith.

Sanctification moves the Christian into action. Developmentally the Christian is now able to take the awareness of God’s presence in one’s own life and aid others in the discovery of God, too. Sanctification, as Knight states, transforms Christians “. . . to be a loving person.” This leads the Christian to the final state of grace known as perfection. Knight states:

Christian perfection comes when the holy tempers of love for God and neighbor fill our hearts and govern our lives. While we never entirely do God’s will (“involuntary transgressions” remain), we can be freed from intentional sin and motivated by love. Wesley believed Christian perfection was a promise of God that could be attained before death, followed y continued growth.

 

Wesley articulated the developmental process of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven and argues that reaching such an internalized relationship with God is possible even within the confines of an earthly existence. This is a religion that makes sense in a world that battles evil continually. This is a religion that provides hope to those in the worst of circumstances. This is a religion that puts theory into action. This is a denomination that works now as much as it did in the past and will in the future. This what I believe faith is in my life.

As part of our community, knowing what you believe transforms you into the Christ-like figure you are. Knowing what you believe defines the quality of your life regardless of life’s challenges. Living what you believe draws others to God as they strive to be more like you and that is how we share God’s story and bring others to Christ transforming the world one person at a time.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

How easy it is to live our lives with little thought about our faith.

We can become numb to the needs of others if we ignore You.

We fail to practice what we believe,

so we fail to fulfill your commandment.

 

Help us, Lord, to follow Wesley’s model of faithful disciplines.

Help us to see those in need, sick, lonely, and lost.

Help us to find ways to share what we believe

so others may discover your saving grace.

 

Thank you for loving us despite our failures.

Thank you for teaching us how to love one another.

Thank you for granting us the presence of the Holy Spirit

so we may serve as your disciples in our own community.

 

In the name of the Jesus Christ, amen.

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How dusty is your Bible?

I have not preached for two weeks prior to August 4.  Therefore, this is the first sermon to post in almost three weeks.  I gave this one on Sunday, August 4.

            The preacher was Rev. Longstreth, a rather legalistic style preacher.  He was known as Rev. Longstreth and no one considered calling him Pastor or using his first name.  His presence just seemed to hinge on his proper title.

The sermon was about—well, I am unsure as it was in the 60’s—but it did have one question that I cannot forget:  How often do you use your Bible?  At least it was something like that, but remembering that part of the sermon is not the story.  The story centers on my brother.

My guess is that he was about six years old, and I think Mom was sitting with us, which was unusual as she and Dad typically sang in the choir.  Gary and I sat on the right side of the sanctuary about four rows back, directly in front of the pulpit.

When Rev. Longstreth asked that question, Gary raised his hand and piped up.  He said Mom only picks it up when it she dusts it.  He even explained where it was sitting—on a shelf in the dining room closet.  If my memory is correct, Mom quickly reached over and put her white-gloved hand over his mouth!

As a kid, we were taught that the Bible was holy.  We were not to sit anything on top of it.  We were to be extremely careful when holding it, and we certainly were not to write in it.  The Bible was often a coffee table book that had to be dusted, especially when living on a gravel road.  It was sacred.

Maybe my memory of the incident is not 100% accurate, but I assure you that my brother did speak out in answer to the preacher’s question about using the Bible regularly.  I also know Mom was horrified, but I knew there was that one Bible that never left the shelf.

If I asked the same question today, what would your answer be?

How dusty is your Bible?

Or maybe the question is, when was the last time you sat down with your Bible to read it?  To study it?  To share it?

All too often the days get busy and we struggle to get even the basic chores done.  Sometimes we add in appointments, special projects, yard work, or even volunteer work at/for the church.  Suddenly we are exhausted, ready to call it a day, and sit down for a little TV.  The Bible remains closed and sitting on the shelf.

John Wesley considered reading and studying the Bible as one of the acts of piety.  He proposed specific guidelines for reading and studying the scripture.

But Wesley was not the first one to encourage Christians to read the Bible.  In fact, the first New Testament reference to scriptures is found in Matthew 4 according to the Life Application Study Bible concordance.  Jesus is in the desert for 40 days and he answers the Devil’s dares with quotes from Hebrew Scripture:

  • Challenged to change rocks into bread, Jesus answered:  “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
  • When the Devil tells him to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, he answered:  “Again it is written.  ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
  • Even the Devil’s third test is answered with the same words:  “Again it is written. ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
  • A final test from the Devil challenging Jesus to worship him was answered:  “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

And Jesus, himself, was not the first to refer to Holy Scriptures.  From the beginning, God is The Word as we learn in the gospel John.  The earliest Israelites knew God spoke through The Word.  The earliest scriptures were recorded in Aramaic and Hebrew, the native language of the ancient tribes.  As Peter began his work after the crucifixion of Christ, he wrote in Greek.  The Word has been a critical element in the spiritual formation of all believers.

So how dusty is your Bible?  Have you incorporated reading the Bible as part of your spiritual discipline?  Have you found a translation of the Bible that speaks to you?  How do you read the Bible?

Wesley had six recommendations for reading the scripture:

  1. Set a little time aside each morning and evening to read the scripture.
  2. Read some from the Old Testament and some from the New Testament during your study time—not just one or the other.
  3. Read to learn the will of God and reflect on how you can make it happen.
  4. Pay attention to the fundamental doctrines:  Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth, Inward and Outward Holiness.
  5. Use prayer before, during, and after reading scripture.
  6. While reading, pause, reflect, and praise when you see the connection between scripture, self, and paradise.

 

These six recommendations are challenging to us in the 21st century.  We have lives that race ahead of us to a point we experience a sense of hopelessness.  How do we manage the time to open our Bibles?  How do we know we are reading it accurately and the message we perceive is what God wants us to hear?

Reading the Bible is a discipline and it takes a commitment to follow it.  As Christians we are responsible for knowing the Bible.  We are responsible for listening to God sharing his wisdom through scripture.  Comprehending the Bible has not been easy and has met quite a battery of tests and arguments.  The Catholic Church continues to use a translation referred to as the Vulgate.

The Vulgate was translated from Latin, not the primary sources written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  With all the scholarly work done through the millenniums (thousands) of years, the Vulgate does not match other translations.

During the last few weeks, my COS study group attended a Catholic mass.  The scriptures were directly from the Common Lectionary and seemed familiar until two shared a reading based on Mary’s and Martha’s story.  It did not match the story I knew.

I was shocked and discussed it with the others once we got into the car.  They explained the difference is due to the Vulgate translation from Latin rather than the primary Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages.  Protestant churches use translations from the primary sources, not just Latin.

Back to today’s question, though:  How dusty is your Bible?  Are you reading it at least once daily, whether through a daily devotional or a reading plan?  Have you found a translation that is easy for you to read and speaks to you?  Have you used study notes or interpretative materials?  Have you turned to the internet for additional help? Have you read it alone or with others?

Mom did not just dust the Bible; she read it.  Now maybe she did not read it every day, but the Bible she typically used was well worn.  It had been given to her when she was a child.  During the months of her cancer treatment, you could often find her with a Bible close at hand.

My dad’s cousin came over one day and gave her a new Bible—the Life Application Study Bible.  There was/is a note on the inside of the Bible from Merle about how valuable she found this particular version.  Mom began using it.  Fighting cancer, she turned to the Bible for answers.

After she died, I went through the Bible.  I knew she wrote in it, but I found underlined passages, notes in the margin, and bookmarks here and there.  I learned how the Bible talked to her.  I also know that with that Bible she continues to share with others, too.  The Bible was for her, but now it is for others.

I ended up buying my own copy, so I could keep her notes separate from mine.  In fact I have many versions of the Bible in order to learn more, to hear from God in different ways.  In Acts, Luke reminds us to read, to study, and to live by the word.  Sometimes it is difficult, but the effort is rewarded eternally.

Closing Prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for your Words.

Guide us in the reading and the understanding

of the stories, the poems, the prayers, and the advice.

Help us to hear your answers to our questions.

Help us to learn how to handle life’s challenges.

Help us use the principles written in the scriptures.

Guide us in disciplining our lives

so we spend time with the Word.

Help us to read privately.

Help us with corporate study.

Help us find a covenant/small group to talk about your words.

Thank you for all the scholars

who work to share the wisdom in our languages.

Thank you for family and friends

who read, study, and discuss the scriptures.

Thank you for the Holy Spirit that dwells with us

so we may hear you speak to us.

–To the glory of God, amen.

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It’s Fathers Day: Whom are you honoring?

given on Sunday, June 17, 2011–Father’s Day

 

 

It’s Father’s Day:  Whom are you honoring?

 

            The question developed while discussing sermons and Father’s Day at Annual Conference.  I mentioned that I was beginning to see some sermon ideas that I could use and how I needed to set them up on my planning calendar.  Offhandedly I noted that Father’s Day was this weekend so I knew I would wait at least a week before getting started on the list of ideas.

“We don’t do Mother’s Day and Father’s Day sermons,” was the response I received.

I was startled.  How could any church simply ignore such long-held traditions!  How would the congregation feel if the preacher simply overlooked the holiday!

But the explanation and discussion made sense because it shared one more horrible truthes about our 21st century society.  When honoring Father’s Day publically, you are risking triggering major pain in those who . . .

  • do not have a father that they ever knew,
  • do not have a father due to death or divorce or deployment,
  • do not have a father to honor due to abuse or sexual misconduct or imprisonment,
  • do not have a father but a step-father who may or may not provide a parental role in their lives,
  • do not have a father who lived to be the grandfather of one’s children
  • do not have a father who provided time and attention and guidance worthy of honoring.

Who is to decide which individual sitting in the pews is going to feel hurt, anger, jealousy, or envy if the entire service is focused on glorifying all the traits we praise in good parents.  So, some churches simply do not focus on Father’s Day.

And thus sat in the quandary.   In our small congregations, parenting is really grand-parenting or even great-grand-parenting.  A few of us are still working through the process, and some of us are ones without fathers to honor.  Still, if our culture decides to ignore Father’s Day are we guilty of not encouraging such roles.  Are we ignoring those men in our lives who have guided us whether they are blood-related or just a positive influence in our lives.

Today is Father’s Day as noted on the calendar and in the stores all around us.  Yet no one has said we have to honor only one male, blood-kin parent.  Let’s look beyond that definition.

To begin, consider who you do call ‘Father.’  We all have one Father we talk to all the time.  We call him “Our Father, who art in heaven” every time we use the Lord’s Prayer.  We refer to him as our Father in many of the hymns, in our private prayers, and more.  We envision his qualities as those of our parent.  Yet, do we send God a card or buy him a gift.  No.

As Methodists, we often identify John Wesley as the father of our denomination.  We study his historical influence, we read his sermons, we study his expectations for our behaviors, and we sing his and his brother’s hymns.  He has been a father to us and continues to be a major influence in our service-oriented faith.  We work to demonstrate God’s grace to others along the same manner that Wesley did.  Yet, do we do something in his honor or buy him a gift.  No.

Throughout the Annual Conference, we watch and listen to the leaders in our church.   There is the Bishop, who has asked to stay in Missouri for another term.  There are the district superintendents, and there are all the clergy whether ordained or licensed or retired.  And that is not all, the laity is there, too.  The models and the guardians of our church are like our parents.  They are there to make sure we do not stray, that we live our faith honestly, that we are good Methodists—by God’s standards through Wesley’s church.

Whom do we celebrate as our fathers?  I can see a list of them in my own life and I know that each of you have your own list.  This Father’s Day open up the definition from the traditional, biological one to the definition of God, of our faith’s fathers, and our own living role models in our church.

In the process of surfing around the internet, I stumbled onto the image of Monk Bryan.  He was a bishop who was a pastor in one of the churches I attended in college.  He is also the grandfather of another pastor I had while attending First Church in Warrensburg.

I read through one of his obituaries.  Did you know he was one of seven generations of Methodist ministers?  He was a father in our church’s lineage and worthy of recognition.  I googled him and the second listing was from a familiar blog, Enter the Rainbow.  Rev. Andy Bryan, his grandson, wrote about his grandfather:

My relationship with my grandfather as a member of his family is nearly indistinguishable from my relationship with him as a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  That says more about him than it does about me.

Nobody loved the church more than Daddy Monk, and nobody since the Wesley brothers has been more Methodist than he was.  John Wesley’s “The Character of a Methodist” reads like a biography of Monk Bryan.

“He is therefore happy in God, yea, always happy . . . He cannot but rejoice.”

Andy goes on to outline the memories and the behaviors his grandfather practiced.  He lived the eight practices outlined by Wesley.  Consider his morning devotion:

Every morning, Daddy Monk did the Upper Room devotion with my Nana, then with Twila (his second wife during his widower stage of life), and always including anyone who was a guest and joined them for breakfast.  Reading the devotion’s title, the scripture passage, the devotion itself, and then the prayer was only half of the morning devotion time, though.  After the Upper Room was done, he got out his hymnal and found the bookmark he had left in it the previous morning.  Opening to the hymn, he would read (or invite someone else to) the hymn title and author, tune name and composer, along with the dates of both.  And then we would read the hymn aloud.

Andy referenced this practice with another quote from Wesley’s “The Character of a Methodist”:

“. . .his heart is ever lifted up to God, at all times and in all places.  In this he is never hindered, much less interrupted, by any person or thing.  In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord.  Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually, having the loving eye of his mind still fixed upon him and everywhere ’seeing Him that is invisible.’”

The blog continues and anybody reading it can see the value that Andy placed in his grandfather’s leadership as a Christian, a Methodist Christian.  Every personal connection was a direct connection to Wesley and therefore to God.

Here it is Father’s Day and I know that even Monk Bryan and Andy Bryan are two individuals to honor.  We have no reason to ignore Father’s Day; we just have to identify our personal fathers.

My dad lives day-by-day waiting to join God and all his faithful, but I cannot share the day like so many do.  I can’t take him to a ballgame or go fishing or even eat a dinner out.  Yet my dad is one of the special people who have demonstrated faith to me and to so many others.  Honoring our fathers includes honoring the fathers of our very own faith whether living or not, whether related or not.  This Father’s Day is for all those who have helped us in our faith journey.

Dear God, our heavenly Father,

Thank you for your grace, your love, and your words.

Help us to see those who have modeled them for us.

Let us strive to be fathers and mothers for others in need.

Help us to keep the lessons taught us by the generations

so we may see this world through your eyes.

Let us shine as a guiding light to others, too.

Help us to serve one another so others may learn of your love.

Let fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and enemies

find the value of loving one another despite their differences.

Thank you for letting us count so many fathers in our lives

who help us develop a faith to join in your own eternal home.

–Amen.

 

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The Big E(vangelism): What is the good news that we are to share?

given on Sunday, March 4, 2012:  the second in a series about evangelizing in the 21st century

Okay, last week we tackled what the word evangelism is and why it makes us so uncomfortable.  Evangelism is the good news that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, Jesus Christ, so that we could have eternal life, John 3:16.

That one verse serves as the foundation for almost all conversations concerning ‘the good news.’  Yet how in the world can the birth and death of one individual—man and God—be good news?  If we are to spread the good news, we need to know the good news in words that make sense to us and to others who are skeptical or non-believing.

Face it.  We have all heard the same platitudes repeated throughout our life.  Parents scold their kids that if they continue doing wrong they will not get to heaven.  Schoolteachers ominously tell us that we are being bad and that will lead us down the wrong path.  The older generation shakes their heads and says what is this world coming to.  Everybody seems to know what happens if evil wins, but nobody is able to give a concrete account of what happens next—next being after our bodies die here on earth.

Is that the good news?  We have to live a good life here on earth to reach heaven after death?  The skeptics ask how do we know.  We have no concrete proof.  We have the promises of the Bible.  We have the teachings of the disciples and theologians who have used all the methods that Jesus demonstrated while he was living.  Yet, we do not seem to have the words that are needed to convince or to assure others just what the good news is.

Surprisingly, though, I think we do have the answers.  We just have never been able to confidently state exactly what the good news is.  The Apologetics’ Bible article, “If There is Such Good Evidence for God, then Why Don’t More People Believe?” convinces me that I should be able to define the good news in ways that people can understand.

The article uses the contemporary arguments against smoking as a metaphor for understanding the good news.  Scientists have researched the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and even complications of pregnancy and are overwhelmingly convinced that smoking is directly related to these life-threatening conditions.

Researchers have tried to confirm the existence of Jesus throughout the last 2,000 plus years.  The evidence continues to prove that this man did exist.  The analysis of the scripture—Old and New Testaments—connects and reconnects with the secular evidence of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and theologians.  The more in-depth I search for answers, the more solid my understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The article poses the question, “Why don’t more people believe?”  The next statement is “The basic cause of all unbelief is a sinful heart.”  The article continues:

One reason may be ignorance of the evidence.  This is why it is important for Christians to study the evidence and be prepared to present it in a logical, gracious way.  The Bible commands us to “always be ready to give a defense” (I Peter 3:15) as you “go . . . and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)

Therefore, we must study the Bible in order to be comfortable in discussing it confidently with others why may not know it so well.  This is a lifelong process.

Yet the article continues:

. . . When told about the gospel, some people realize that a life given to Christ will result in sacrifice and serving others.  The idea that they have to give up their sin compels them to reject God no matter how good the evidence is.  Still others say they reject God because they’ve seen Christians act sinfully.  This amounts to using the sins of others to justify your own sins and unbelief.

These descriptors sound familiar to me.  Others have talked abou them before.  I have felt inadequate to address their disbelief.  And, I have also used the sins of others to justify my poor decisions.  Now I must focus on God and not fall from grace.

Here is the clencher in the article:

Belief is like a two-sided coin:  on one side the evidence; the other side is the will.  Just as some people continue to smoke despite the evidence, some refuse to believe in God even when they know the evidence.  Others remain skeptical, because they are steeped in a worldview that does not allow them to evaluate the evidence properly.

A two-sided coin:  you can believe or not.  As one who does believe, I think telling the good news, or evangelizing, is primarily living a God-centered life.  We live a life that models the behaviors that Jesus taught us.  We see this world through God’s eyes.   What better way to learn the concrete proof needed so unbelievers can see God in our lives!

The Beatitudes describe the behaviors that God asks from us.  The first scripture reference for today is Matthews 5:3-5:

3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.  (the MSG)

These are the first verses of the beatitudes Jesus first shared in the Sermon on the Mount.  He outlines in the beatitudes the behaviors needed to reach the kingdom of heaven (which sound more familiar in the NIV translation):

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These behaviors are concrete.   These are ideas that are real to us in the 21st century.  Still there is that phrase again:  kingdom of heaven.  What makes that term so impossible for us to explain in a comfortable manner that others can understand?

One issue is we do not understand the concept of kingdom.  Since the colonies separated from England, kingdom has become an archaic word, an outdated word.  We do not use the term kingdom to mean a specific, geographical location on this earth.  Kingdom is not a word we use in casual conversation and to connect it to heaven creates a whirlwind of images in our minds.

During ancient times, kingdom was a common reference to a region that was ruled by a specific family.  The size widely varied, but the ruling family gave the people the law of that kingdom.  Today our society is not subject to one ruling family; rather we are all involved through the democratic principles of this republic.

With all the confusion over the term “kingdom of heaven” one can certainly understand how skeptics and non-believers are not convinced that the “kingdom of heaven” or the “good news” exists.  After reading a few articles, reading the scriptures referenced, and stopping to reflect and talk to God, I think I have some concrete evidence of the kingdom of heaven:

  • a baby’s hand automatically wraps around your finger,
  • the robins sing when snow is still in the air (not the ground this year),
  • the bite of the summer’s first tomato off your very own vine,
  • the peepers first song on a spring evening,
  • the smell of honeysuckle wafting through the breeze,
  • the sight of a small calf trying to stand for the first time,
  • the excitement of completing a crossword puzzle,
  • receiving that first paycheck,
  • the sound of a child calling for mom or dad,
  • the toe-tapping sensation when the music comes on,
  • the thrill of wind racing past your face on a bike or in a convertible,
  • the tug on the line as a fish takes the bait,
  • the thrill when pushing off for a downhill run on the skis
  • the sunset or the sunrise across the ocean,
  • the smell of supper when you open the door after a long day,
  • the joy of blowing bubbles and watching them float upwards,
  •  and …………………………. fill in the blank.

 

We have the proof of the kingdom of heaven.  It is right here with us and provides us with that inner joy that defeats the evil that exists around us.  It places good as the priority in our lives.  We see the world through God’s eyes.

The Big E, evangelism, is the gospel, the good news, and we are to spread the good news.  How many times do we react to some tiny little thing that gives us joy—these are the times we experience the kingdom of heaven.  How often do others say that it certainly does not take much to make us happy—we are modeling Christian life in the kingdom of heaven?  How many times do our thoughts turn to prayer when we hear a siren—we are part of the kingdom of heaven?

Evangelism is easy.  All we have to do is to see God in our lives today.  All we have to do is model God’s teachings.  All we have to do is accept God’s grace and find the joy it brings into our hearts.  Is not that easy to do and to share with others?  The good news is good living even when surrounded with evil.

Share the good news and you will be evangelizing.  In the last verses of our scripture, Jesus again tells the disciples how to reach the kingdom of heaven:

. . .  19-20“Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.   (the MSG)

Keep it simple, and you will know the kingdom of heaven.  Live it and others will soon know the kingdom of heaven, too.  The disciples did it, so can you.

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for such a sparkling day filled with hope and promises.

Thank you for making our lives much easier than it was in ancient times.

Thank you for loving us so much that you sent your own Son to guide us.

As we begin a new week, help us to keep centered on You.

Remind us to look at the world and all that we do through your eyes.

Help us to use the Lenten season to re-evaluate our lives.

Help us to make the corrections in our lives

So others may see the kingdom of heaven in their lives, too.

–Amen.

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