Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prayer.411: How Do We Pray?

Sermon March 27, 2011 on Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4.  This week we look at how to pray as we observe how the Teacher taught his disciples to pray.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Questions of Heaven and Hell

When I hear people who are up in arms over the potential of a Christian pastor and author saying there is no hell, I wonder, “What is the problem?”  I mean, if Rob Bell wants to believe that, then what’s the problem?  It isn’t like he would ever be pastor at one of their churches.  This post is not about whether I agree with Rob Bell's theology, but what makes his detractors so cranky.    I believe they feel, maybe deep down, that they have something to lose.

I have no problem with people who differ theologically from me, that is, if they aren’t being virulent about it.  My faith and belief is not dependent upon someone else agreeing with me.  As far as being virulent about it, I just don’t like being around nasty people.  People have different experiences, understandings, convictions and interpretations of God.  If people try to say there is only one interpretation of Scripture, then they are arrogantly saying that they can definitively speak on behalf of God, which I believe to be truly what it means to take God’s name in vain.  They are placing themselves in place of God and worshiping their own beliefs as an idol.  Tsk tsk, I’m sure that is frowned upon in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But then I realized that many of these same people cannot handle anyone disagreeing with them.  To me it speaks of insecurity in their own convictions.  I once heard a remark about some people know what they stand for; others only know what they stand against.  I think standing for our own convictions without having to challenge another’s to shore up our self-esteem is important as we profess openly our faith in Jesus of Nazareth.  If we who are called Christian can’t come up with a unified statement of belief amongst us, yet, we as followers of Christ are known by our love for one another; then we have a very powerful witness in the world.  If we who are called Christian cannot come up with a unified statement of belief, and war against and fight each other all in the name of the same Christ, well then all we have to do is look around us to see what the world will look like.  To me, I don't think this is what the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus was talking about looks like.

I am more concerned with Christians who bad mouth other Christians, than if Rob Bell wants to entertain the thought that there is no eternal damnation.  I mean, what a great thought if we can truly look around and understand we are all God’s children and God wants us to quit fighting.  Regardless of your theology, don't we all want "peace on earth?"  That's what we say on our Christmas cards which celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.  Jesus even speaks to this when his disciples were behaving like children.

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. John 9:38-41

Jesus would say that if Rob Bell is not against you, then don’t worry about it.  And believe it or not, Rob Bell is not against you.  He is just sharing his own faith journey and voicing his own convictions.

As to the debate about hell, I have no public opinion. Like many Christians, I have wrestled with this ideology.  I think our continuing to wrestle and seek answers brings us closer to God and more humble in our own assumptions.  It appears that the people who are so vocal about Rob Bell have lost their humility.

If you disagree with me, I am not particularly concerned.  I still believe that you are loved by God, and therefore, me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

And lead me NOT into temptation...

So, as I have shared, I have given up complaining for Lent. However, I am not necessarily succeeding in this very well.  At the church, we have been dealing with a company [name not to be mentioned] to get our church directory made.  I will not go into the long, long, long, story of the frustrations we have faced working with this company, but I will say, in dealing with them I have not only been tested with my fasting from complaining, but I have been tested in my being an example of Christ as well.  (I do, however, think Jesus would have turned over this company's proverbial tables.)

I have found a Lenten Prayer, and if you look it up on line you will find several different versions, but this is a modified version of one a colleague of mine used at her church:

A Lenten Prayer
Fast from worry; feast on relying on God.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from hostility; feast on tenderness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ within them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on optimism.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that encourage.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on trust.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Gentle God, during this season of fasting and feasting, gift us with your presence
so we can be a gift to others in carrying out your work. Amen.

As you can see, we fast from complaining, and feast on appreciation.  So in the midst of all this frustration with this company, I have found that there is one person in that company who was truly gracious, apologetic for any inconveniences, and worked to make sure we got the problems fixed.  I truly do appreciate him.

May we continue to fast from those things which tear down and feast on those things which are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and praise-worthy (Philippians 4:8) as we continue our Lenten journey together.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prayer.411: Why Pray?

We begin a new sermon series for Lent on Prayer.  Sermon March 13, 2011, on the text Philippians 4:4-9.

There is a weekly study guide that accompanies the sermon series.  It is called Compass Points.

Audio Only

Friday, March 11, 2011


Sermon from Ash Wednesday Service (March 9, 201), on the biblical text Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

We have improved the sound quality, but are still working on the video quality.  Bear with us as we make these adjustments.

Audio Only Version

...a holy Lent...

Each year the conversation comes up.  It is a serious conversation, and yet, it is taken so casually.  I have been asked my opinion; I can count on the occurrence, like counting on the world turning and the sun coming up.  It all revolves around, "what are you giving up for Lent?"  Of course this question is right up there with, "why do you give up something for Lent:?"

Fasting is an ancient ritual and it spans many different religions including Buddhism, Bahá'í, and Christianity.  Of course, at this time of year, Christians observe a "fast" for Lent.  Fast means to abstain from all or some food, drink, or both.  People who seriously fast will eat nothing and drink only water for a set length of time.  At this point, I would like to interject that before you decide to fast at all, you should consult with your physician, especially if you have other health concerns.

But the fasting that many Christians do for Lent, is nothing like truly fasting as it known in many cultures.  Some will give up meat, which is probably the greatest sacrifice people will make, unless of course they are vegetarians and do not really care much for meat anyway.  No, most people I know will "fast" from sodas or candy.  There is even the fasting from facebook or other social networking sites.  Then there is the fasting from various other activities.  For those who strictly observe this type of fast, it may be giving up video games or television.

Now, if you relate to the above style of fasting, please do not take offense at what I am about to write.  I believe many people give up such things with pure hearts and good intentions.  For many, this is easing into a practice they may not be familiar with, but if you have given up sodas for Lent for the past ten years, I feel like I must ask...why?  The time spent on social networking sites can be time that is given to God.  I know if we give up something we consume every day, like sodas, we are reminded to identify with the sacrifice of Christ for us.  If it prompts you to remember this, then that is good, but of many of the people who will give up something for Lent never fully connect it to growing in the Christian faith.

I personally, however, cannot identify giving up chocolate or facebook as even remotely equivalent to recognizing the pain, suffering, and sacrificial love of Christ.  Maybe it's just me.  I tend to not "give up" stuff, preferring to add something that will bring me closer to God.  Adding an additional devotional time, adding acts of service or charitable giving, these things I feel bring me closer to God, keeps me looking toward Christ as an example, and growing in my discipleship.

I told a confirmation class one year that they should give up whatever they placed in priority before God.  They very honestly told me they couldn't do that.  Many things get in the way of kids relationship with God, not the least of which are well-meaning parents who do not think about what time they give to God, let alone what they allow for their children.  I think this is the question we must ask ourselves..."does this act of sacrifice, whatever it may be, bring me closer to God, keep me looking toward the example of Christ, and help me grow in my discipleship."

This year, however, when asked what I was "giving up" for Lent, in a very rushed way I jokingly replied, "complaining."  It was after all a very busy Ash Wednesday, with complications and frustration, so it seemed to be a good thing to say, and got the desired chuckle from whomever I was speaking to.  But then I thought about it.  And I really began to think about it.  The kind of contemplation that works its way into your heart and soul much like an annoying grass burr works its way into your life by infesting your yard, getting attached to your clothes, and burying into your skin and hair.  That doesn't sound like I liked that thought very much, does it?

It was definitely persistent, and I began to believe that giving up complaining was exactly what I needed to do.  Then every time I turned around I was thinking about what I had just said, or if I were really paying attention, what I was saying at the time.  I kept thinking to myself, "was that complaining?"  I didn't think prior to this exercise that I complained any more than the average person, still don't.  I believe we complain much more than we think we do.  But this Lenten exercise has made me much more aware of my thoughts and words.

It is day two of Lent 2011, and I must confess that this is actually probably one of those exercises that I will look at for the whole 40 days and wrestle with each and every day.  I don't think I have perfected giving up complaining, especially when there seems to be an inordinate amount of activity that would tend to lend itself to some whining in any event.  Many things in our lives can be frustrating and we complain to blow off steam, but I have found that this exercise prompts me to pray, at the very least, that I might not complain.

I pray that whatever exercise you do whether it is giving up something, adding something, or taking stock of your attitude, you will do with a sense of self-examination, and prayer.  It isn't supposed to be easy, and it isn't supposed to be something that doesn't have any application to bettering ourselves spiritually.  The act of fasting is supposed to be something (at least in my belief) you wrestle with.  Perfection isn't required before hand, but more of the target you are moving toward.  It comes with the practice.

I think the prayer for everyone should be, "Lord, what barrier to faithful discipleship do I need your help to remove."  I pray that you will observe a Lent that is holy and pleasing to God.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Through Thick and Thin

Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  The day of mountain top moments and dazzling visions.  Today's sermon (March 6, 2011) is on the Hebrew Scriptures Exodus 24:12-18 and Gospel passage Matthew 17:1-9.

When have you experienced the presence of God in your life?  When have you wished you could feel God's presence?

The Cox Family sings Be Thou My Vision following the sermon.

Below is the video version of today's sermon.  We are working with audio quality still, please bear with us.