Tag Archives: Religion

Teach, Preach, Heal: I can only imagine. . .

given on Sunday, September 29, 2013

Scripture base:  Matthew 4:23-25

Can you imagine what the side of the mountain looked like as Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount?  I can only imagine what it must have been like:

  • First, there was this man traveling along the road with a group.  They appeared to be in a deep discussion as they walked.  Apparently the walking made it difficult to finish the discussion, so the leader decided to go up on the mountain, sit down on a protruding rocks and the men gathered around him.
  • Secondly, as these men are discussing, other travelers noticed them and are curious.  These individuals begin collecting behind the original group, listening in.
  • Then someone starts whispering that this must be that guy Jesus who keeps talking in all the temples telling people to follow one law rather than all the ancient Hebrew laws.
  • Pretty soon, a younger kid jumps up and takes off to tell his parents whom he just saw and they should come listen.
  • Slowly the crowd just keeps growing, but the man and his friends keep talking until Jesus, the main speaker, realizes how large the crowd has become.  He shifts his talk to include all those sitting there on the side of the mountain.

What a scenario!  I can only imagine what the day was like and in today’s world the closest thing I have to compare it to are the crowds that swarm to the sports fields all over the countryside or maybe to the music venues when a star comes into the area for a concert.

I can only imagine!

The Sermon on the Mount is legendary as one of the most important life events of Jesus’ ministry.  Repeatedly the verses, the parables, the stories are referenced by almost anybody—preacher, parishioner, lay speakers, musicians, business speakers, writers, parents, and grandparents.  I can only imagine the number of references this sermon has had over the thousands of years in virtually every setting imaginable.

Why did this particular man and his message create so much attention?  I can only imagine what it must have been to sit in his presence and listen to him speak.  There must have been a sense of assuredness that he provided, a sense of authority, too.  His mannerisms and his body language must have invited anyone to listen.

I can only imagine these things because we have no evidence like we would today—no video records, no audio records, not even still photographs.  Yet in my mind, I have very distinct images recorded and preserved simply based on my own Christian upbringing and my own reading of scriptures, lyrics and study materials.  I have a pretty graphic set of images that are the base of my understanding, but it continues to be adjusted as I add more readings, more discussions, and more study.

As I began reading Matthew 5, I realized I needed to back it up a bit and read into the Sermon on the Mount.  The record of this event actually starts about Matthew 4:12 which explains his reason for traveling out of Nazareth and back towards Capernaum, his official residence:

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.  13Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—14to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah.  . . . 17From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

This may not seem to be important, but remember that John was Jesus’ cousin who had been preaching that Jesus was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy.  John’s arrest signals that the authorities were beginning to pay attention to the subtle or not so subtle changes in the area.

Jesus was clearly a person to watch closely.  He was teaching, preaching and healing.  The talk was drawing so much attention that whenever he came into a village, the commotion disrupted normal daily activities.  He was calling men to drop everything they were doing and even leave their families.  These community pillars were suddenly changing their entire lives simply to follow this man.

Yet, the Bible leaves the reader a picture of how low keyed the movement was while creating the most dramatic story ever told.  In Matthew 4:23-25, the first phase of Jesus’ ministry is summarized:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.  Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Three verses is all it takes to explain what a tremendous following Jesus developed in a short amount of time, possibly just a few months to a year.

I can only imagine how one individual without the assistance of the 21st century audio and visual communication techniques, could totally disrupt thousands of years.  The pattern of life was challenged and it was creating an entirely new life pattern.

Jesus stops along this journey on the side of a mount trying to explain to this group of handpicked leaders how to carry the message of change forward.  The methods really are no different than those we use today.  One leader emerges, a group gathers around him, and he begins teaching, preaching and healing: three methods to convey his message as well as prepare others to carry on without him.

I can only imagine Jesus as a teacher, a preacher, and a healer.  In my Life Application Bible’s study notes the scholars write:

Jesus was teaching, preaching, and healing.  These were the three main aspects of his ministry.  Teaching shows Jesus’ concern for understanding, preaching shows his concern for commitment; and healing shows his concern for wholeness.  His miracles of healing authenticated his teaching and preaching, proving that he truly was from God.  [the NIV, p.1651]

My personal view strongly aligns to Jesus the teacher simply because of my own teaching career.  But I can also imagine Jesus the preacher, too.  The profession is familiar to me; it is something I know.  Then there is the healer role.  My perception is based on experience with today’s medical profession—doctors, nurses and therapists.  How can we even come close to fully understanding the power that Jesus had?

As we begin looking at the Sermon on the Mount, keep in mind the three methods Jesus used to spread the Word.  I can only imagine the power he demonstrated because I see each of these methods in today’s world in a variety of settings with a wide range of individuals filling the role.  Never have I witnessed one person providing all three methods successfully.  The study notes unlocked the mystery of Jesus by connecting them.

First, I can imagine Jesus the teacher because I know that he was a student of the Jewish law.  He studied, he asked questions, he worked with the rabbis, and he had that innate quality of being a lifelong student but also of being able to share the ideas with others in a convincing manner.  He knew how to prove the message so that it was relevant to the listener of his time.

Can you imagine the best teacher you ever had, whether in school or out of school?  Can you identify the skills they had that made learning easier for you?  Did you notice that throughout your life, you have remembered the lessons from that teacher’s class better than any other teacher’s class?

Now, try identifying teachers today who are able to share new ideas with you in ways that you will remember them and use them.  I can go back in my memory and pick out a variety of teachers who really knew how to teach to me.  I picked up on their enthusiasm, I followed their demanding routines, I practiced over and over, I found places to apply the new information.  And now, I turn around and teach others.

I also can review the history found in textbooks to locate other teachers of note.  Sometimes they are quieter than others, but still the teachers I recognize as making a difference do have die-hard fans who pass on the knowledge to new generations of teachers.

And today there are still teachers who are making dramatic statements about how to live Christian lives (as well as how to teach).  For instance, I have referenced Howard Gardner, the Harvard professor known for his multiple intelligence theory, or Robert Marzano who demonstrates how to implement rigor and relevance into the classroom.  Teachers do flock to hear them teach the teachers.

Now, I can imagine Jesus as a preacher because I have listened to different preachers speak.  The typical pastor/preacher demands attention simply from the authority of the pulpit.  Jesus did not need a sanctuary with a pulpit, he preached from the side of a mountain because that was simply where he was.  He preached so the lessons could be preserved.

In today’s world, we do have profound preachers who use the latest communication techniques available to spread the word.  Auditoriums fill by the draw of their personal style.  The words used are not as new as some might think, they are from the Bible; but the message inspires the crowds as they have for thousands of years.

Finally, I can imagine Jesus as healer only because I believe he is God.  The healing is the proof that Jesus is God.  Certainly we know that our medical personnel can aid in healing, but all too often we discover that the doctors do not know all.  Humans have limits; God does not.

This week the Vatican sent an emissary to Kansas to research Father Emil Kapaun.  First appointed to the Diocese of Wichita, he was a military chaplain whose stories of healing may validate his nomination into sainthood.  Jesus’ healings are recorded also as proof that he is God who is concerned for the wellbeing of all.

Today, right now, we need Jesus!  We need teaching, preaching, and healing in a world that ignores God.  We need teachers who know how to share the message with rigor and relevance.  We need preachers who bring the Word of God alive in our drained, worn out lives.  We need healing:  the kind only God can do.  Healing of our bodies, our minds, and our souls.

I can only imagine the profound impact the Sermon on the Mount can make on us today.  We do have teachers who impact learning, we have preachers who change the paradigm of religion, and we do experience healing through ministry of the medical profession.  Still none of them can compare to Jesus who did all three:  teach, preach, and heal.

Closing prayer:

Dear Omnipotent God,

Guide us to understanding as we strive to learn

Jesus’ lessons for living a faith-centered life.

Guide us to listen and to comprehend the sermons

through which Jesus shared his concerns.

Guide us to accept the stories of Jesus’ healing

as evidence of Your love for all Your children.

May we find new meanings, new ideas, and new hope

in the Bible’s scriptures.

May we grow in our own Christian faith

as we discuss and use the ideas each and every day.

May we share our understanding with others

so they may find the joy of living with You in their lives.

Bless each and every one present here today

as students, as followers, and leaders for You, dear God.

Bless those who cannot be present today

so they may heal whether physically, mentally or soulfully.

Bless those who have yet to meet You personally,

that they may find us serving as Your loving arms.  Amen.

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Are you a worrywart?

given on Sunday, September 22, 2013

How many times have we come together on Sunday morning bemoaning what has happened during the week?  Monday I stopped at the dentist office and started watching the news report about the shooting in Washington D.C.  The report was another horrendous violent act by one forlorn man shooting lunch-eating workers.  Why?

As I was getting the answer for my own question, I chatted with the receptionist about the horror of the day and even more.  The flooding in Colorado has been unbelievable.  The pictures and reports caused flashbacks to the 1993 flood here in Missouri, but this flooding was along the Rocky Mountains and its valleys.  The news said it was a 1,000-year flood—1993 was called a 500-year flood.

Let’s begin with a word of caution, though.  The events that we see on our nightly news are brought directly into our homes and can feel overwhelming.  The urge is to say the world is coming apart and God is about to destroy everything.  For many, the anxiety brought on by these news events creates a lifestyle of worry.  Individuals cannot look at the world without fear, and they become the worrywarts.

Another caution is also about reading the Bible too literally.  In the conversation I had at the dentist’s office, the receptionist wrote down a Bible scripture she wanted me to read:  2 Timothy 3.  She went on to suggest I should then read Titus.  I was curious, so when I got home lat, I opened up the Bible and read these scriptures:

3 You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! [the NLT]

Those words could easily send fear through the hearts of Christians around this world, but Paul was warning the earliest Christians.  In fact, this book is the last letter Paul was able to write before his death, not Titus.  Reading through the study helps, 1 Timothy and Titus were written in 64 AD, during a brief time out of jail.  The second letter to Timothy was written in 66 AD, while in jail and shortly before he was executed.

The words from this scripture seem to parallel much of what we are witnessing in our 21st century world right now.  The list in this book sounds all too familiar.  In fact it would be so easy to create a list that was as unchristian or even worse right now in 2013.  For so many of us we could easily be lured to believe the end of the world was coming soon.

Those are the concerns, and that is why so many are becoming worrywarts.  Maybe I unintentionally fed worrywarts last Sunday when I talked about looking at how we serve.  With all these concerns, I looked for answers—again in scripture.   Reading on in 2 Timothy and Titus does improve the understanding; but turning back to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” (Matthew 6:28-30) worrywarts can find some assurance that as bad as things get, God is there to take care of everything:

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

What a relief!  Worrywarts all over the world need to hear Jesus’ words of assurance.

Granted, saying we have nothing to worry about is somewhat a ‘Pollyanna’ view.  We certainly cannot just sit back and not do anything, not try to do the right things, to live a Christian lifestyle, or work to help others.  Paul spoke to Timothy trying to assure him, to prepare him for his continued ministry once he was gone.  Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for handling the evils of the world in which they were living.  The masses following him were hungry for his teaching.

The words from Matthew 6:25-34 sound like a guarantee for a life when times were extremely difficult.  Hear those words of promise:

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

Can you just imagine how those words sounded to the people crowding around Jesus there on a mountainside?

Do these words provide us the very same sense of relief?  If we sit down to the nightly news and hear of one more tragedy, can we turn to the words in Matthew and experience a release from worry?  Can we share these words with the other worrywarts we know in our own world in an effort to relieve them?

Our role in today’s world is no different than it was for the earliest Christians who were taught by Jesus himself.  Our role in today’s world is to lead others to know that with God nothing can be against us.  We do not have to feel as though all the bad things happening are because God is missing in our lives.  Or even more, the bad things are not because God is punishing us.

The entire Sermon on the Mount provides Christians today as much training as it did the first Christians, the ones who were still Jews or Gentiles not realizing the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy had happened.  We need to take some time to focus on those very basic lessons for us in an effort to lesson the worry that seems to consume us.

I am one of the biggest worrywarts I know.  I have struggled to keep my life moving forward rather than give in to the negative experiences I have confronted.  And, just like eating too many sweets, when I try to change my bad habits, I can make mistakes.  But, I never give up.  Jesus tells us that we simply must believe and to turn over our worries to God.

Turning over our worries is not turning our backs on the causes of worry.  God asks us to follow the one commandment: to love one another.  Anything we can do to maintain that one law is our responsibility.  For every single human we can reach and turn into a believer, we take one more step to transform the world.

We may not be able to prevent all the evil in the world, but we can wrap up the evil in prayer, turn it over to God, and do what we can to keep the evil away from our Christian foundation.

When we begin to feel the negatives in the world wearing us down, we need to look around us carefully and see the good that still exists right there along with the bad.  We are to look for the proverbial silver lining in the clouds, and then reveal that silver lining to others.  If we share the good with others, we can defend ourselves from evil.

Each one of us has the potential of being a Christian leader.  Each one of us can model the lessons Jesus taught us from the mountainside.  Each one of us can read the scripture to renew our own understanding of God’s grace.  There is nothing to stop us from talking with others, just like the receptionist at the office, and sharing the confidence we have in God.

In casual conversations, rather than dwell on the negative, look for the positives.  We do not have to take the evil reports and accept them as today’s new standards.  We have a job to do:  share!  Share the good news with others you meet along the way.  Be prepared with a verse or two to share with others.  Model a worry-free life to family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers.  Use the words without guilt.

Look at Paul’s words to Timothy as he concludes his warning of all the trials that may confront him in his ministry–2 Timothy 3:10-11, 13-14

10 But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance. 11 You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured.  . . . 13 But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.  . . . 14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught.

Worrywarts, let those worries go!  Christians, remain faithful to God.  Then watch carefully as evil looses its control over our world.

Closing prayer:

Dear Master Teacher,

Over and over we are challenged by evil.

We feel our joyful selves draining dry.

Open our memories to the words Jesus taught.

Remind us that worry is an enemy, too.

Help us keep worry from controlling our lives.

Help us defend ourselves while helping others, too.

Help us to see God’s glory amongst the troubles.

Then fill us with joy as we release our worries.

Then let us share with others the wonder of God’s grace.

May we all do all we can for other worrywarts

so they can find the excitement of living

in God’s world now and forever.  –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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Do you need a hug? Jeremiah did.

given on Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jeremiah 29:10-13

     10-11 This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

     12 “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.

     13-14 “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.

“Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” God’s Decree.

“I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you”—God’s Decree—“bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.

No one listens,

No one understands.

I need a HUG!  Do you?

         Every once and a while, life seems to hand you more than you can handle.  The job has demands, the house needs cleaning, the family calls for one thing or another, and the calendar just keeps filling up.  Frustrations add up and suddenly all you want to do is go hide.  No one seems to listen, no one seems to understand, and no one even cares that you are caught up in a whirlpool and are beginning to lose the battle.

Part of the dilemma is the season.  January, February and March can be the longest months of the year.   The weather forces us inside more often than not.  We are financially challenged since Christmas is over and tax season looms over us.  The flu season begins, especially this year as reports indicate record numbers being affected.

Surely this craziness cannot continue!  There must be some way to put life back in order.  What do we need?  A hug sure is nice when you are feeling lost and overwhelmed.  Such a simple gesture that makes us feel safe, secure, and loved.  I know I certainly can use them, and I bet you do, too.

Listening to the radio this week has given me a few audio hugs.  First I stumbled into a new rendition of “Halleluiah.”  A few years ago I head it sung at the Olympics by K.D. Lang.  It literally caused my heart to soar.  I listened to it over and over, realizing it told the story of Samson and Delilah.  The new rendition is by Cloverton.

When those first few notes floated out of the speakers, I instantly recognized them.  Then the voice joined in—it was different, not K.D. Lang, it was a male voice.  But I listened; I listened carefully to the words.  These words were different, not the story of Samson and Delilah.  The words told the Christmas story.  Again, I felt that same of joy as I listened—another audio hug.

Reading about Jeremiah, I realized that no matter how difficult life becomes, it certainly couldn’t be as difficult as Jeremiah’s.  Here was one of God’s chosen prophets living in Judah, the southern part of the Israeli kingdom, who was trying to get the people to understand that God was not happy with what they were doing and that they were going to be destroyed if they did not change.  The people did not listen nor did they understand the full meaning of his prophecies.

Jeremiah did not give up.  The study notes describes his life as a “miserable failure” if measured by our contemporary standards of success:

“. . . For 40 years he served as God’s spokesman to Judah; but when Jeremiah spoke, nobody listened.  Consistently and passionately her urged them to act, but nobody moved.  And he certainly did not attain material success.  He was poor and underwent severe deprivation to deliver his prophecies.  He was thrown into prison and into a cistern, and he was taken to Egypt against his will.  He was rejected by his neighbors, his family, the false priests and prophets, friends, his audience, and the kings.  Throughout his life, Jeremiah stood alone, declaring God’s messages of doom, announcing the new covenant, and weeping over the fate of his beloved country.” (Life Application Bible, NIV, p. 1283)

Jeremiah was a man in need of a hug.  And God never walked away from him, his success was not in man’s eyes, but in God’s eyes.

Jeremiah’s story is ancient.  He lived during the 70 years that Judah was controlled by Babylon.  Reportedly his ministry covered the years 627-586 B.C.  The description of those times sound uncomfortably familiar:

  • Society was deteriorating economically, politically, spiritually.
  • Wars and captivity.
  • God’s word was deemed offensive.  (Ibid. p. 1285)

Jeremiah was working diligently to warn that the people of Judah must repent from their sins, or God’s judgment would be destruction by Babylon.

Repeatedly Jeremiah was ignored.  Much less he was thrown into jail and rejected.  His story may seem completely unrelated to us today, but I know that we are living in a world in which many of the same descriptors apply.  We are living in a time when our society appears to be deteriorating economically, politically, and spiritually.  We have war and we are held captive by a secular world that puts monetary success above our faith’s principles.  And think how our country has tried to cover up God.

In these dark days of winter, the need for a hug can be overwhelming.  We need light, more and more light.  We need God’s light to wrap its arms around us and hug us tightly.  We need to live with confidence knowing that God determines our success by what we do and how we live, not by the dollars tucked into a bank account or by the size of our house and the make of our car.  God measures success through our lives loving one another.

Today’s scripture, Jeremiah 29:11-13, is included in Lisa Guest’s book of 100 Favorite Bible Verses.  Her comments equate these verses to a flashlight in the middle of a dark winter night when the power has gone out.  She states:

. . . There’s nothing like a hug when the world seems to have turned against you.  And there’s nothing like good news when the hurts of the past weigh you down, when the burdens of the present overwhelm, and when the future looks bleak.  Today’s passage was something like that flashlight, that hug, and that bit of good news for the Jews who were still being held captive to Babylon.”  (p. 207)

Jeremiah writes those verses in a letter he wrote to the surviving elders and priests who were living in exile.  The Babylonians had moved them from Jerusalem to Babylon.  In Babylon they were to continue living productive lives, raising families, and following God.  In the end, they would be freed.

Even in the shortest days of winter, when the sun is hidden, when the cold sets in, when flu hits, we are to remain with God.  We are not forgotten; God is still caring for us—even 2500 years later than Jeremiah was telling his peers.  God knows when our spirits are so deflated or when our lives are overloaded with demands.  He knows when we need a hug, a dependable light in the storm.

Never give up.  Remember God is with us at all times.  When we allow him to reside with us, to pay attention to him, and to live our lives under his one rule, then we will see the light grow in the dark.  We will see that the dreary, burdensome days do not control us, but the glory of God, his light, shines around us.  That light shining around us is God’s hug.  The hugs we share among us are also God’s hugs.

The last audio hug came when the DJ’s were talking about the latest quotes people were sharing.  One from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable, were KLUV’s morning DJs favorites:  “To love another person is to see the face of God.”  Hearing that discussion and thinking about that quote brought the morning’s sunlight into the car and gave me a hug.

Dear Loving God,

Our days may overwhelm us with a sense of darkness,

   but we listen for your wisdom and guidance.

Days may fill with frustrations that clutter our lives,

   but show us solutions and keep your light around us.

Illness may spread from home to home,

   but wrap us up in healthy practices to keep us protected.

When we fail to keep our lives centered on You,

   send word through our prayers together, through family and friends.

Guide us with words like those of Jeremiah,

   with music like Lang and Cloverton, and discussions like the DJs.

Let us experience the hugs you send in so many ways,

   so difficult days are diminished by our love for one another.  –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.



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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.


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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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