Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Reminder for the Anxious

God loves you.
God values you.
God believes in you.

Slow down!

Receive God's breath.
Refresh and renew your soul.

God is with you.
Lean on God.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

She is Valuable

She is valuable. She is unique. She is precious. While she may wonder, she is always beautiful. She is God’s creation—a rare celebration of God’s heart. God formed her. God breathed life into her. God clothed her in the image of God. With every smile, laugh, and cry she blesses us. She offers us a rare glimpse of God. We celebrate her. God celebrates her. Whoever she might be, she is valuable.

On Easter Sunday we read Matthew 28:1-10. One of the most interesting aspects of this narrative is the role of women in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (more women are identified in Luke) are the first to return to Jesus’ tomb following the Sabbath. As they approach the tomb, an angel of the Lord appears. The angel testifies to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and then invites the women into the tomb to witness it for themselves. The angel sends forth the women to carry this message to the disciples. The women receive this responsibility and carry it with fear and great joy. During their return, though, Jesus Christ reveals himself to these women. Instantly, these women take his feet and begin to worship him. Jesus, then, instructs these women to carry the message to the disciples. Just as they had done before, the women receive this responsibility and carry it with fear and great joy. The responsibility and privilege of proclaiming the resurrection was given to a group of women. And, we celebrate these women for responding and carrying this message with fear and great joy.

She is unique, precious, and beautiful, but she is valuable for more than these reasons. She is valuable because she is capable. She is no different from the women in this narrative. She is capable of taking the feet of Jesus Christ. She is capable of worshipping Jesus Christ. And, she is capable of carrying the message of the resurrection with fear and great joy. She is valuable, because God values her. God formed her, God purposed her, and God works through her.

This Mother’s Day take a moment and celebrate the women in your life. Celebrate their value: they are unique, precious, and beautiful, but they are also capable. Whoever she is, God values her. God formed her, purposed her, and God is at work through her. Celebrate her, because she is a blessing. She is the only one capable of revealing God to you in this unique, precious, and beautiful way.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Righteousness for Tomorrow

In the last few weeks a couple of people have asked me, "What is righteousness?" Their question is reasonable. After all, I spent five weeks delivering a string of sermons encouraging our congregations to embrace righteousness. While we learned a lot from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), righteousness was never defined. Neglecting to define righteousness was not an oversight. I intentionally left righteousness undefined.

Our study of the Sermon on the Mount drifted slightly from conventional interpretation. Matthew 5-7 is best understood as Jesus’ first discourse on discipleship. Our study was a bit more specific. Focusing our attention on Matthew 5:1-20, we studied these teachings of Jesus in search of words that would encourage us to embrace righteousness—an essential characteristic of discipleship. We learned that Jesus taught with divine authority (5:1-2). Comfort came to us to learn God offers the promise of blessing to those who embrace traits of righteousness (5:3-11). And, we realized that a sense of purpose (5:13-16) and a life of meaning (5:17-20) could be experienced by individuals who follow Jesus Christ towards the righteousness that glorifies God and builds the kingdom of heaven.

In a recent interview in Relevant, comedian Zack Galifianakis said, "I don’t necessarily live for the future, and I find that for those who live in the past, their best days are already over." Galifianakis may not model righteousness, but his words are applicable. We follow Jesus Christ because our hope is in him. Our best days are not in the past; our best days are yet to come. The lives we once lived do not distract us; rather, our hope is the eternal life that Jesus Christ makes available to us today—a life that will be fully realized in the future. And, so, we find encouragement in the teachings of Jesus Christ and we are motivated to embrace the righteousness that he taught knowing that he leads us to a better tomorrow where we will rest in the presence of God.

What is righteousness? Follow Jesus Christ, for righteousness can only be realized in him.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Seizing Opportunities

Seizing Opportunities:
A Reflection on "Outliers: the Story of Success," by Malcolm Gladwell

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Galdwell writes, “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” This statement serves as a conclusion to Gladwell’s argument. He refutes the notion that “successful people” have a natural or superb quality that enables them to succeed. While natural ability is significant, Gladwell argues there are other factors that are just as significant to an individual’s success. In particular, he shows that unique opportunities resulting from a person’s month or year of birth, age, culture background, and social status allow people with natural ability to emerge as “outliers.” Those individuals who are “most” successful are innately gifted, privileged with unique opportunities, but most importantly, they have the strength and the presence of mind to seize the opportunities that suit their gifts.

I just finished reading Outliers. I believe it is a good book because I was engaged by it. Gladwell persuaded me to reconsider not only my understanding of success, but also how an individual achieves success. While Gladwell suggests that success is contingent upon uncontrolled opportunities, an individual will not be successful if he or she fails to seize those opportunities. There is a responsibility that falls upon the individual. He or she has to be willing to work. An individual must put forth effort, invest a considerable amount of time, and nurture their talents if they hope to turn their opportunities into success stories.

I do not think you have to search too far into Scripture for support of Gladwell’s argument. For example, consider Paul. Paul was born at just the right time; he was already in his early adult years at the time of Jesus’ death. Somehow or another, he acquired sound knowledge of the Hebrew scripture and possessed a keen understanding of Hebrew tradition (after all, he was a Hebrew among Hebrews). Unlike anyone else, Paul experienced a unique encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Yet, the success of Paul’s ministry is not wholly contingent upon the opportunities specific to him. By the grace of God, Paul was effective as a minister because he was willing to put forth effort, to invest a lifetime into his work, and to nurture the talents God gave him. His willingness to respond to the opportunities God presented to him and his faith that God would supply him with strength that enabled Paul to emerge as an “outlier.”

If you have the time and if you are interested I encourage you to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. Even if you are unable to read it, I hope you are encouraged by his insight: An individual’s success is contingent upon many factors. Some factors cannot be controlled, but there is one factor wholly depended upon us. If we ever hope to turn our opportunities into stories of success we must be willing to seize them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

First Response

One of the most well known Biblical stories is Israel's flight from Egypt. A series of crazy, unexplainable, and bizarre events, the story begins with Moses encountering God in the form of a burning bush. God calls Moses to be a leader among Israel; their calls to God have been heard and God intends to deliver them.

The story's intensity escalates as God delivers a series of plagues upon Pharaoh and his people. At the same time, the drama nature of the story evolves as God further reveals Himself with each action God takes. After failing to acknowledge God, Pharaoh finally wises up and releases Israel from slavery. Israel begins their flight from Egypt when Pharaoh has a change of heart. He sends his army to retrieve the weary nation. With Pharaoh's army on their heels, Israel's hurries to escape their past when their route dead ends at the Red Sea. They nearly give themselves up when Moses stands before them and exclaims, "Do not be afraid, but stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still." (Ex. 14:13-14) What amazing words! All of have similar moments when we need to be reminded that "The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still." After speaking these words, Moses is instructed by God to lift his staff in the air, to spread his arms wide, and to command the sea be parted. We all know what happened next-- Israel passed through the parted sea on dry ground just before the waters returned crashing upon Pharaoh's army.

What a miraculous story. Not only is it dramatic and suspenseful, but it is one of the most significant events in story of God. This historic event is one of the first times that God was made known to the world. God revealed Himself to be merciful and loving, but also present and active. We all would be changed by this event, because with this special moment in history God was made known in a new, meaningful, and personal way.

There is a reason I remind you of this story today, beyond its significance as a divine act of self-revelation. Following the drama of their escape from Egypt, we hear "Then Moses and the Israelites sang (a) song to the Lord." (Ex. 15:1) Their first response to God's mercy and love, His presence in their lives, and to the divine-self revelation they had encountered was to sing a song of praise to the Lord. Their first response was to acknowledge God...something the Pharaoh struggled to do.

Throughout our lives we all experience blessings. Some of the time we experience God's mercy and love, other times we are aware that God is acting on our behalf, and then there are those very special moments when God reveals Himself to us in a unique and meaningful way. No matter what those times may be, I hope we can be bold enough to acknowledge God. I pray we will admit that our blessings have come from the hands of the Lord. This does not mean you have to always sing a song. Simply, our first response should be to praise the source of all blessings; we should acknowledge God.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Evangelism: Mission or Education?

I've been doing some work on the church budgets recently. While forming one of the budgets I decided a good first step would be to categorize the different areas of the church's ministry. I figured this would give us a clearer understanding of where we were spending out money. I came up with five categories: 1) Worship, 2) Program, 3) Mission, 4) Operating, and 5) Other. The reason for "other" is because we are United Methodist, which means we have to place "apportionment" somewhere.

With my categories formed, I began sifting through the different line items and expenses putting everything in what I believed to be their rightful place. Utilities...that goes in operating. Children Ministry...that goes in program. And, so it continued for a while until I got to "evangelism." I paused for a moment. I was confused. I could not figure out which category "evangelism" should fall under! So, I've begun to think a little on evangelism.

While I do have some sarcastic thoughts as to "why" we evangelize, I currently have two competing views:

1) Evangelism should go in the "Mission" category- We evangelize because we want to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others so that might come to inherit salvation. It is a selfless act that we perform to serve God by serving others.

2) Evangelism should go in the "Program" category- Evangelism is a service to others, but at the core of evangelism is the spreading of message. In other words, evangelism is educational. The aim is to promote/share a message that we believe to be the truth. It is, therefore, educational and should be categorized "program."

Okay, the real issue is not where the money should come from to support evangelism. The real issue is misunderstanding why we evangelize. Are we serving others? Are we promoting our belief by educating others? Is it the both or something else?

Where does "evangelism" belong?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Done and, umm, Done!

Completing a sermon with time to spare gives me such a great sense of satisfaction. It is Thursday, not even 5PM, and I'm like, "What's up, sermon? I just owned you! I wrote you 2 hours." Of course, the real satisfaction comes from the realization that I have not done much of anything except allow the HS to do its thing. When the words do come to you it is amazing because it feels like God is breathing on you.

This sermon is the last of a five week series. And, in a way, writing these sermons has been the same. I keep seeing God revealed a little more with each word I write on my notes.

For those of you who don't know I have been preaching a series on Matthew 4:1-11, "The Temptation of Jesus." We have been learning to apply Jesus' responses to our own lives. Here is the spoiler: "If you ever feel you have wandered into the wilderness Jesus urges you to respond in three ways. First, listen for God's Word in prayer and through scripture. Second, choose to remain faithful and ask God for strengthened faith not an outward sign of God's presence. Finally, continue to worship God alone and serve God always. The Good News is that there is another side to the wilderness where you will find God awaiting you."

You know what I mean?