A blog from St. Mark's United Methodist Church. Wherever you are in life, there's a place for you at St. Mark's. We focus on the two most important things we are called to do: Love God & Love Our Neighbour.
Two authors met one time at a social function. They both had written books and were extremely jealous. One author said, "I read your latest book. It was quite good." The other was surprised but nodded and said quietly, "Thank you." Then the first added, "Who wrote it for you?" The other writer replied quickly, "I don't know, who read it to you?"
Sounds like each author was questioning the integrity of the other. Can we really believe what someone tells us? Are people being honest with us? These are some of the questions of integrity.
Some years ago 1300 senior executives across America were asked to list, in order of priority, what they thought was most important within the organization. Almost 90% placed integrity at the top of the list.
Jesus was teaching about the need of integrity while sharing the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said in Matthew 5:13, "You are the salt of the earth." In verse 14, Jesus said, "You are the light of the world…make your light shine so others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven."
Jesus summarizes the job description of his followers in a word—'influence'. We are to be people of influence. We are to be salt and light in our society. The world is in desperate need of salt and light. All you have to do is read the newspapers. When we are to be salt in our society, it means that we are to add flavor to the world. When we are encouraged to be a light it is to show the way to God.
It's hard to believe some sociologists tell us that the average person influences 10,000 people in his or her lifetime—10,000 people! What would happen if we would influence people positively for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
I love the story of the fellow by the name of Joe. He had been a drunk, but he was beautifully converted. This guy's life really changed. But he stayed right in the part of town where the community mission was. And he was always out there ministering and loving and caring for the people who were still having a hard time with alcohol problems.
Everybody loved Joe. He didn't condemn 'em. He was just there to love 'em. And his life was so wonderfully, beautifully changed that every drunk on skid row admired Joe.
One Sunday night at the mission, they were having an evangelistic service when a man came into the meeting and came forward to the altar. One of the altar counselors asked, "What can I do for you?" The man said, "Oh, I want to be like Joe, I want to be like Joe." The altar counselor knew Joe; everybody knew Joe and what a great, godly guy he was. The altar counselor said, "No, I think you have it wrong. You want to be like Jesus." The man looked up and said, "Well, is Jesus like Joe?" The counselor said, "Yes!"
Joe is the kind of person Jesus called the salt and light of the world. To us, I think Jesus is saying, go out and let your light shine. Get going! Get salty!
Prayer: Our Lord, how amazing to think we can be salt and light for the world. Help it to happen! Amen.
The increasing level of anger in America is alarming. Nearly sixty percent of all the murders in America are between people who know each other. Last year over four million women were beaten by their husbands, and more than ten million children were abused by their parents.
Incidents of "road rage" have been on the rise for many years, now. According to the American Automobile Association, they've been increasing by an average of 7% per year since 1990, and a study by Lex Research Corporation indicates that about 83% of us (83%!) will end up victims of some sort of road rage during our lifetime.
Psychologists tell us the way we express our anger is a learned response. Angry behavior has usually been modeled by a parent, a sibling, or some other family member in our life; or it might've been modeled by someone at school, or in our neighborhood, or on television, or in the movies. This is why I believe violence in the media is such a major problem for us, today. We end up with people (our young people, especially) seeing anger run-amuck in movies and videos, and then behaving the same way, themselves, at work or school.
But, the good news is: Since angry behavior is learned, it can be unlearned. The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 4:31-32, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you." Paul encourages us to get out of our old, unhealthy patterns of behavior and adopt new ones, as modeled by Christ.
Mother Teresa once said, "In the final analysis, it's all between you and God; it's never between you and them." When you respond to a situation (or a person) with anger, you are forgetting that it's really between you and GOD.
Remember the words of the apostle Paul: "be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you." We all do things worthy of God's wrath—yet he forgives us, again and again and again. And he calls us to forgive others.
So what if the person in front of you is driving too slow? So what if they cut you off in traffic? In the grand scheme of things, is it really that important? So what if your friend or loved-one or co-worker always needs to be right? Big deal. Is that any reason to get angry? It's not between you and them anyway; it's between you and GOD. How would God want you to respond? How would you want God to respond to you and your every single mistake?
Anger is always a choice. So is kindness, understanding, forgiveness, and peace.
Paul Tillich, a German-American Christian existentialist philosopher and Lutheran Protestant theologian who is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, wrote the following words about Grace in his work "You Are Accepted":
"Grace is the reunion of life within life, the reconciliation of the self with itself. Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful destiny; it changes guilt into confidence and courage. .... [The Apostle] Paul wrote, in Romans 5:20, 'Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.' He does not say these words because sentimental interests demand a happy ending for everything tragic. He says them because they describe the most overwhelming and determining experience of his life. In...Jesus Christ...he found himself accepted in spite of his being rejected. And when he found that he was accepted he was able to accept himself and be reconciled to others. The moment in which grace struck him and overwhelmed him, he was reunited with that to which he belonged."
We cannot truly understand Grace, because it is greater than our mind's ability to comprehend. But we feel the effects of Grace because through it everything in our lives has changed. Jesus' conquering death and breaking open the bonds holding us captive to our sin changes everything. Through Grace our sins are forgiven; through Grace our brokenness is made whole; through Grace our fears are conquered; and through Grace our lives are given meaning and purpose. This doesn't mean everything will be hunky-dory, because it won't. There will still be aches and pains in this world, but because of Grace they are redeemed by God. What that means is there is the promise that one day God will take away all our tears and heartache and we will be restored to the creatures God made us to be. And that is Grace. I pray that you will look for glimpses of Grace in your life. It is there, if we will only have eyes to see. May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, and remain with you, from this time forth and forevermore. Amen.
A man walked into a restaurant in a strange town. The waiter came and asked him for the order. Feeling lonely, he replied, "Meatloaf and a kind word." When the waiter returned with the meatloaf, the man said, "Where's the good word?" The waiter put down the meatloaf and sighed, bent down and whispered, "Don't eat the meatloaf."
The man asked for a good word or a kind word. Isn't that often what we need more than even the meatloaf? We need a word to encourage us. Have you said those words out loud lately? "Encourage me, Lord, please!" All too often we've found those words in short supply. Have you shaped those words in the deepest parts of your soul?
I could really relate to the words in a book I picked up recently. The author wrote, "Hibernating in the den of discouragement? Licking your wounds under some heavy dark clouds that won't blow away? Thinking seriously about quitting the human race? If so, you are undoubtedly running shy on reinforcement and affirmation these days. You are beginning to wonder not when relief is coming, but if it will ever come, right? Are you feeling riveted to the valley where the sun seldom shines and others seldom care?"
The author of these words then adds, "That's me more often than you might guess."
Who wrote those words? Charles R. Swindoll, in his book "Encourage Me." Chuck Swindoll is a gifted preacher, teacher and author. When I read those words, I was encouraged right on the spot. I figured if a solid Christian person like Chuck feels that way sometimes, then I'm just normal when I feel that way.
Jesus was so good at sensing when people needed a lift. On a number of occasions Jesus said, "Take courage, my son, my daughter, your sins are forgiven or you are healed." I'm sure as Jesus is walking with us; he is saying things like, "I have overcome the darkness. You are of much greater value than the sparrows and God knows when one of them falls."
We can be glad the Bible is so full of encouraging words. I look forward to sharing some of those in church with each of you.
Can you believe we're coming up on the last Sunday of August, already? Is it just me, or does this year seem to be flying by for you, as well? Where has the summer gone? Where has the past decade gone?
I remember watching television with my wife, Analise, as the year 2000 came in around the world. We were living in Scottsbluff at the time, and we sat glued to the TV as the New Year was celebrated in one world city after another. That was over 18 years ago. The terrorist attack of 9/11 was 17 years ago...my family and I came to St. Mark's 16 years ago...my daughter, Sarah, was 14 at the time, and my son, Peter, was 9. Sarah's now graduated from college, married, with two children of her own—and Peter will be 25 this December.
It's all a blur. In the blink of an eye, I've gone from being a young pastor fresh out of seminary to a seasoned pastor, in the autumn of my life. At least, I think it's still the autumn of my life...judging by the color of my hair, winter is coming.
About a year before his death, the renowned playwright, George Bernard Shaw granted one of his rare interviews to a journalist. The reporter questioned the old man at length, and finally asked, "Mr. Shaw, you have known some of the greatest men and women of our time: statesmen, artists, philosophers, writers, and musicians; if it were possible for you to call back one of them—who would it be? What person do you most miss?" Without hesitation, the old man answered, "The man I miss the most is the man I used to be!"
It's easy for me to relate to that. When I look in the mirror now, I see a man with gray hair and aging skin. I've inherited my parent's propensity for deep facial creases, and I don't have the athletic abilities I possessed even 5 or 10 years ago—let alone 20 to 30 years ago.
But Solomon was right: "Those who live many years should rejoice in them ALL." (Ecclesiastes 11:8)
Despite all I've lost with time, there's also much I've gained. I'm truly a blessed man. I'm married to a wonderful wife, I have two amazing children and two beautiful grandchildren, I'm the Senior Pastor of this amazing, loving, giving church—and I realize these things are only available to me at this age, and at this time in my life. So, rather than focus on and mourn what is past—like George Bernard Shaw—I choose to rejoice in what IS.
God has brought each one of us to this particular place and this particular moment in life. Entering a new season of life is not a curse; it's a blessing. As we say good-bye to who we've been, we can say hello to who we are now, and embrace the myriad opportunities God still has in store for us, no matter what limitations we may face.
Music feeds my soul. There is something profoundly powerful about how music connects with us—and at a depth we cannot fully understand. One of my favorite contemporary Christian songs is entitled, "No Longer Slaves" by Bethel Music. Even if you're not a fan of contemporary music, I invite you to find it on your computer and listen to it. Here are some of the lyrics: "You split the sea so I could walk right through it, My fears were drowned in perfect love; You rescued me and I will stand and sing, 'I am a child of God.'" The immediate image, of course, is of God parting the waters of the Red Sea for Moses and His people to walk through in their escape from Egypt and slavery. But let's take it to a deeper level. If it's true that God continues to split seas so we can walk right through them—and I believe He does—how is this manifested in our lives? What road blocks has He split wide open in your life? What dead ends has he turned into new beginnings? Because that's what God does. He has demonstrated time and time again, when His people were up against dead ends, that His power to restore was greater. We see it with Daniel in the lion's den; with Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace; with Hagar in the wilderness; and on and on, until finally we see the ultimate "overcoming of dead ends" with Jesus' resurrection. So surely—SURELY—God continues to overcome dead ends in our own lives too.
I have seen it in my own life: dead ends that have led to resurrections. I'm here at St. Mark's only because I found myself in a toxic work environment and decided to leave it. Unemployed, searching for God's direction in my life, I had my house up for sale and was packed and ready to move out of Lincoln when Pastor Wayne (with whom I was serving on the Samaritan Counseling Center's board of directors) called me and offered me this position. It only happened because I had reached a dead end and God gave me a new beginning, a resurrection. There have been many other examples. I haven't always understood, at the time, that God was working in my life, but upon looking back I have seen God's hand at work in marvelous ways. I hope you can see this in your own life. God, who is faithful, is the master of surprises. When we reach a dead end, our prayer should be, "Lord, I don't see a way forward, but I trust that you can and that you'll bring new life out of this dead end." And then wait. He will not fail. The new beginning might not look like what we had expected, and it might not be what we thought we wanted, but it will be there, in God's good time.
I'll see you in church, and in the meantime have a blessed week.
Last week there was an article by columnist, Leonard Pitts, about prayer of all things. A woman was in the back of a Trader Joe's store in California. She requested prayers for herself and others who were being held by a gunman. "Elizabeth Post", a self-described, "Australian who is sickened by hypocrites." She sent out a series of tweets in response to the request for prayer. She said, "Has that worked in other shootings?" "No, prayer does nothing. If prayer worked, there would be no shootings. It only makes you feel good. You only ask others to pray on Twitter and Facebook to gain popularity for yourself." And: "It gives people's egos a huge boost to believe they have the power to influence 'Almighty God'…"
Leonard Pitts defended the request for prayer and made some good points about the importance prayer.
Prayer is always a good idea anyhow. When we're tired, sleepy and low on strength, many have found prayer to be the means of a new source of energy. I often think of the advice of Jesus when he said, "Pray and don't faint." When we're tired and weak, fainting sounds like a good way to go. Many times I'd rather faint and give up and give in to the world. Jesus was reminding us that prayer is an option that is better than any other.
Through prayer we are hooked up with a person and power who created the universe. Prayer is health giving to the soul and the mind and the body. Prayer helps us to see the world differently. Prayer gives us guidance and peace of mind. Even as much as God is trying to help us through our prayers, we still have to do all that we can. In Ethiopia many years ago there was a tremendous individual named Joe Houghton who built telephone lines in some of the most remote sections of Ethiopia. These lines were strung on tall steel poles-tall, to prevent giraffes breaking the wires with their long necks—steel, because termites consumed wooden poles in the night. Houghton contended that he owed his success to prayer. He said, "I pray, then wrestle."
"Wrestle?" he was asked. He answered "Like Stanislaus Zabysco, the time he was sentenced to be shot by the Russians."
"Zabysco was a Polish physician." He continued, "who became a world champion wrestler. During World War I he was captured by Russian soldiers, and sentenced to death. Thinking to have fun with him, the Russians offered to free him if he could defeat their wrestling champion. In telling me about it, Zabysco said, "so I prayed that God would give me strength and good judgment. Then I dug in and wrestled and won."
Don't give up on your prayers. God does hear and does answer. Sometimes the answer is "be patient." Sometimes the answer is no. But always the answer will be for our own best good.
Prayer: Our Lord, help us to go on in prayer, even when the answer doesn't come, and the ball doesn't bounce our way and the world is crumbling in, help us to pray, dig in and wrestle. Amen