Thursday, December 10, 2009

Grace & Truth

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,
(and we beheld his glory,
the glory of the only begotten of the Father,)
full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 (KJV)

It is a difficult combination to find.

Some people easily speak the truth.

"That's an ugly tie."

"I hate that music."

"That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard."

It may be true. But it sure isn't gracious.

Others display grace and generously give it to all who are around them.

I think of 1 Corinthians 13:7. It says love "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

I know a few folks like that. "Defenders of the world" a friend of mine calls them. And the world could use more of them.

They are always willing to give the benefit of the doubt to someone else.

Always willing to go the second mile when the rest of us are done.

Always have something kind to say about the person everyone else is ready to trash.

They are full of grace.

The first set of people often speak the truth. The second set of people extend grace.

But it is the rare person who is able to do both.

John describes Jesus, the Word of God, as being "full of grace and truth".

Not just a little grace. FULL of grace. Not mostly true. Full of truth. In fact, later in his Gospel, John will quote Jesus who said, "I am the truth."

Jesus is grace incarnate. Jesus is truth in the flesh.

Most of us tend to lean more toward one than the other. We may have an easy time speaking the truth, as we understand it. But grace is nowhere to be found.

Some of us are very comfortable extending grace but stepping up to speak the necessary, difficult word is...well, difficult for us, even though it may be necessary.

Only when we are "full" of the One who was full of grace and truth, can we hope to express that perfect, Christ-like balance. This season seems like a great time to seek the Spirit's work and presence in our lives. To become filled with the One who is grace and truth.

When shopping "to do" lists become overwhelming, when noise and distractions give us a migraine, when sitting in a meeting with people who completely disagree with us raises our blood pressure and lowers our verbal self-control, that is when we most need to be "full of grace and truth". Becoming walking, talking expressions of grace and truth. That's what this season needs. What a great gift we could give to the people in our lives.

Grace (and truth) and peace to you

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Life You Save...

John Wesley was known to tell people that he gave, not simply so others would be saved, but so that he himself would not be lost! What did he mean by that?

Check out Luke 16:19-31. It is the story often referred to as "The Rich Man and Lazarus".

The story goes like this. There was a rich man who had it all, food and clothing beyond what he could have ever needed. (Notice the way "luxury" is defined? Not by all the things you and I consider to be required. Simply having food and clothing meant he was wealthy.)

And there was a poor man, a beggar, named Lazarus. (Apparently he didn't have food or much in the way of clothing to call his own.)

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. (What a way to go! God's messengers came and personally escorted the poor beggar into eternity!)

The rich man also died and was buried. Not so good, in comparison. No angels. No Abraham. No such luck. As a matter of fact, the next line reads, "In hell (Hades), where he was in torment..." Ugh. Not so good to be the rich man, I guess.

You may be wondering, "What was the difference maker for each of them? What sent the rich man to torment while the beggar went to Abraham's side?"

...Abraham replied, 'Son, remember in your lifetime you received good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.'

We have been given good things, not simply to enjoy them or hoard them but to share them with others and to bless others; to honor God with our wealth and use it the way He chooses for it to be used.

THIS COMING SUNDAY we will be receiving an offering for Nazarene World Missions. It is our opportunity to reach around the world and touch some of the beggars and those who are in need with the good things you have received: the Good News and financial blessings (medical care, food & clothing).

Every penny that the church is given this Sunday for missions will go out of our church and be sent to those who support missionaries around the world in over 160 countries. Not one cent of money given for missions will stay here.

Will you join me and my family as we plan to set aside something beyond our normal tithe? One of the lives you save may be your own.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Don't Forget to Remember

I wonder if other parents fight the same fights with their kids that we fight with ours. I can only assume you have the same conversations in your home that we have in ours.

Do you ever tell your kids to remember to do something? And when you tell them that, do they ever respond, "Yeah. I know"? And after they have told you that they know, do they fail to do it anyway?!

Maddening, isn't it?

As every parent knows, sometimes "Remember" doesn't simply mean to not forget or to know you've heard it before. Sometimes "remember" means to act. Pick up your shoes. Put your dishes into the dishwasher. Hang up your clothes. Do your homework. "Yeah, I know."

One of my favorite passages in all of the Bible is in Exodus 2:24. The Hebrew people have been enslaved. Generation after generation is born into captivity. They must have begun to feel like this was their lot in life forever. They cried out to God. And nothing seems to be happening. He was like the teen ager: They told Him, but he wasn't responding.

Amidst years and years of inactivity, one little, seemingly harmless verse shows up.

God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

"Big deal!"

You ask, "Who cares if God simply remembers?!"

Oh, but that isn't the end. The remembering means God is getting ready to act. Things are about to change.

And God isn't the only one who is called to remember. In the Book of Ecclesiastes we read...

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them".
Remember him - before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
or the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
(Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6-7)

What does all that mean? Read what one scholar writes about this passage:

"Solomon urged people to live responsibly before death comes. He refers to two common figures of light ('golden lamp') and water (see Ps. 36:8-9 for a similar use of those two figures). The dissolution of the body is suggested by light being extinguished: the silver cord holding a golden bowl (in which the light burns) snaps and the bowl is broken. Death is also referred to by water being unavailable: the pitcher which holds water is shattered and the wheel by which it is drawn from the well is broken." (Donald Glenn)

Someday your life will end. Don't wait till the silver cord breaks and the bowl shatters. Remember your Creator now. Learn who your Creator is. Discover what your Creator is like. Begin to reflect your Creator's character in the world. Begin to live out the destiny for which you were born. Don't forget to remember.

One day the spirit will return to God who gave it. I want to plan ahead and be ready for the day I'll give an account for this life I've been given. How 'bout you?

Grace & peace

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Being Called

Sometimes I like being called. I like it when several of you "called" me last month either by phone, e-mail, Facebook, or card to say "happy birthday".

Sometimes I'd prefer not to be called. Like when telemarketers or political machines "call" to sell me or try and persuade me.

But did you know if you are part of the Church you have been called? The New Testament word we translate as "church" actually means "called out"? (More about that on Sunday!)

So we are probably right to think of "The Church" as a congregation (those people who have congregated or gathered together). And we are probably right to think of the "The Church" as an assembly of people (individuals who have been assembled or put together for a particular purpose).

But we probably miss the boat when we think of "The Church" primarily as a building or the place individuals go to fulfill a particular religious function.

We don't get the picture of brick and mortar places where Jesus (who instructs an offended person to "tell it to The Church") or Paul talk about "The Church" (see 1 Cor. 11:18 as an example).

Our "calling" is to something and SomeONE higher than a location or an edifice.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who CALLED you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Join me this Sunday as we unpack some of what it means to be the "Called out" ones. I trust you will have your sense of calling and belonging to the Church elevated and your passion and dedication increased.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stuff for My Mystery Bag

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,and through him to reconcile to himself all things,whether things on earth or things in heaven,by making peace through his blood,shed on a cross (Colossians 1:19-20 NIV).
I'll be the first to admit it. There are just some things I don't understand in life.

- Children who are abused.

- Politicians who abuse the trust they're given by constituents.

- Why one person dies early and another gets to live to a ripe old age.

- People who get disproportionately angry and end up hurting themselves because of their rage.

Just to name a few. (I've got a lot more and you probably do too.)

A friend of mine once told me that his mom took such oddities in her life and mentally dumped them into what she called her "Mystery Bag". "These are the things and the people I don't understand and figure I just never will."

I decided I need to get me one of those "mystery bags". I have people and situations that just don't make sense to me and after living for a little more than four decades, some of them will probably continue to puzzle me.

But as a person of faith, on days when I'm overwhelmed by those "mysteries" that can frustrate me, wound me, or leave me angry, I have to take a step back and be reminded that somehow, somewhere, in some way, God is reconciling all things to himself.

"All" is one of those funny words that sometimes seems to throw everything off. Think about it.

I can say some people are over seven feet tall and you'd probably agree with me.
But if I said, "All people are over seven feet tall" you'd be quick to point out such a statement is ludicrous.

Likewise, I could say "God works some things for our good" and that would be easy to believe. But if I said, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called, according to His purpose" that would be a little more difficult for us to stomach at times, right?

So there is this audacious statement: God is reconciling all things to himself.

All things? Really? I am tempted to ask God, "Do you know what I know? Do you STILL want to say 'all things'?" (Silly, huh? But be honest, there are times and there are days you wonder the same thing.)

I decided I needed a better understanding of the word "reconcile" so I looked it up. Webster's Dictionary says that "to reconcile" is to "Restore to a state of harmony after a break in relations."

Broken. A break. Maybe now we're getting somewhere.

It is certainly easy for me to slap the "broken" label on some of the things (and some of the people) I put in my mystery bag.

The economy: broken.

Angry people and foreclosed houses: broken.

Hopes of families who have lost their jobs: broken.

People who look for help in the wrong places, wrong things, and wrong people: broken.

People who seem to always see the worst, believe the worst, and react in the worst possible way: broken, broken, broken.

So for now it's like we're looking through a dark glass or window. We know things aren't quite right. But we trust, we hope, we believe that the Gospel is truly God's Good News for us. That God is reconciling all things to himself. Not just "some". Not even "most". All.

May it be so. And may you and I look at those difficult people and difficult situations a little differently today.

Grace & peace

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thank You! Yes! And Amen!

A big THANK YOU to all of you for the many kind words and generous acts to us in October.

Pastor Appreciation Month and my 42nd birthday give you excuses this month for the wonderful way you treat us all year long. My family and I greatly appreciate it!

I have told my children several times to notice the way you have treated us and that they should "go and do likewise" to their pastors as they become adults and attend churches of their own. Your faithfulness to Christ and those who seek to serve you will become replicated in the lives of our children. Keep up the great example!!

I've continued to mull over the idea of the word "amen" (which is also occasionally translated "verily" or "truly" in other contexts). One of the passages we looked at Sun. included 2 Cor. 1:20:

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.

God's "Yes" in Christ turns into a resounding "Amen" by us when we are obedient to the Spirit's nodding, prodding, prompting, and behooving (to quote Steven Curtis Chapman).

One song we sometimes sing was mentioned to me by Rene Eiseman after the sermon. It goes like this,

I'll say Yes! Lord, Yes!
To Your will and to Your way
I'll say Yes! Lord, Yes!
I will trust you and obey
When your Spirit speaks to me
With my whole heart I'll agree
And my answer will be
Yes! Lord, Yes!

Are you like me? I sometimes I say and sing better than I live.

Sometimes my response is less of a full-throated YES! and more of a half-hearted "maybe".

God asks:

Are you willing to turn the other cheek? I'm surprised at the question and respond, "I suppose".

Are you willing to bless those who curse you? "Sometimes."

Are you denying yourself, taking up your cross and following me? "I'm working on it."

It is at times like this I need to run back to scripture and see what God's promises are to you and me.

In the first letter to the church at Corinth we read that the all-surpassing treasure of the knowledge and presence of God has been deposited, not into superhuman, superholy, superstars.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (1 Co. 4:7)

The power of God's promises, God's YES! at work in my sorry, pitiful, little life. It's my only hope today. How 'bout you?

Grace & peace