Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Key and the Unlocked Door

“The Key and the Unlocked Door”

Pastor Tom Millner

Matthew 7:13-14; John 14:1-7

John 14:6 from our reading today states; “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This one verse has been a lightning rod for so many folks of this and past generations. Pantheists are revolted by the notion that there is only one true way to God…in their view there are many gods, but each has a unique way to get to that god. Many people in our community are swayed by the erroneous belief that this statement is too narrow, too limiting, or too old fashioned. What in fact most of those who embrace that stance are asserting is their objection to the god of condemnation that is so readily promoted in the fundamentalist community. This verse is not about condemnation, it is about good news that the way to God, (what we’ve always dreamed of) is present, ready, available, and completed through and by the person, Jesus! He is the truth, He is the way, and He is the life and there is no need for any other way, since no other way is possible. The rift between us and God was made by our ancestors and we re-open that separation wound every day. The only one who can heal that wound is God Himself! The only thing we are asked to do is to accept that God has done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves and then live in our “healed” state. Simple, isn’t it? Then why is it that everyone’s trying to find “the key” when the door is already unlocked?

1. God’s act of grace through Jesus Christ doesn’t magically make us perfect. There is a damaging misperception that Christians are supposed to be perfect. The only perfect human we’ve ever heard or read about is not Super Man or Super Woman, but Jesus. There’s only one of Him. He doesn’t need a stand in while He takes a rest to get His nails done. He’s perfectly human and perfectly divine 24/7. When Jesus answered “I am the way and the truth and the life…No one comes to the Father except through me…” He wasn’t asking for His replica to come forth. When we believe that we must be perfect as Christians, we develop all sorts of little defensive behaviors to guard against others seeing anything other than our perfect Christian character. The moment we believe we are or even need to be perfect is the moment our imperfection is in full bloom. The Pharisees believed that they too must be perfect in holding up the Law. Jesus challenged them with the truth of who He was. The Pharisee response was to kill that which showed their failures and threatened their grip on people’s perception. We live in a nation full of modern day Pharisees who strive to project perfection while ultimately sowing seeds of deception and rejection. There is no path to perfection. There is no “perfect way.” There is Jesus who is the way the truth and the life…that’s perfectly divine! He is the way to the Father, with whom we were created to relate.

2. Relationship is the door that opens to life. We look for keys to life; keys to success; keys to happiness and keys to relationship when no keys are necessary. Keys open doors, open chests, open cabinets and jewelry boxes. We believe that the secrets of the universe are locked away somewhere and all we need to do is to find them. We seek to practice prayers, attend meetings or worship services, read daily from inspirational sources as we strive to unlock the door to health, wellness, and prosperity, not to mention peace, love, and joy. When one key doesn’t work, we seek to find another key, then another key, then another key until we’ve collected a treasure trove of keys. Sometimes we go back and pick up a key discarded and try it again believing we didn’t hold it just right the first time. A key, my friends, not only unlocks, it also locks! Each time we’ve tried a “key” that didn’t work for us, we’ve locked ourselves out of understanding there is no key and locked ourselves into the need of finding the right one. There’s no lock on the door we seek. Therefore no key is needed. The wide gate and the broad road are loaded with fabricated locked doors and shiny keys. They are all so attractive because they hold promise of fulfillment, peace, acceptance, power, and love. Tell me, how’s that key to the one night stand working out for you? How’s that key to peace through Gray Goose working to build your character? How’s that last article of clothing or other trinket you compulsively bought doing with everlasting peace? How’s that last juicy bit of gossip you shared working in your quest for everlasting respect for knowledge and power you possess? Anybody here getting the picture? None of these build relationship with Christ. Unless you’re willing to lay them down at His feet and start relating with Him as a grateful grace recipient ready to be stripped of all your keys, you’re not in a relationship with Him. C.S. Lewis said “The doors of hell are locked from the inside.” Simply because you choose to live with your own key doesn’t change the fact that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that WHOSOEVER believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” Drop the keys and knock on His door of everlasting life!

3. Everlasting life IS a relationship! Everlasting life is not an event to happen, a time to come when we are no longer breathing, nor a continuation of the same thing we’ve experienced, but without all the negative influences (bothersome people) in our lives. Everlasting life is not just the absence of bills to pay, tweets to return, people to unfriend, or nights feeling alone and rejected. Everlasting life is not just that place where we experience perfect peace some day being who He created us to be without all of the religious condemnation. Everlasting life is a relationship with life Himself, with the way Himself, with the truth Himself. That relationship is not some distant time and place; that relationship is right now. That relationship is what He talks about in the “whosoever” of John 3:16. That relationship is the one He describes in Matthew as a small gate. It’s the gate everyone desires, but not the one that the world around us paints as open to all and available right now. Relationship is the way, the truth, and the life…the relationship is Jesus. We cannot be in relationship if we insist on always having everything as we see fit, when we see it, as it is convenient for us. Fortunately, the relationship to which we are called is with the perfect lover. The lover, who is full of grace and mercy, always patient, always kind, does not envy or act boastful or prideful. A lover who is not rude or self-seeking and keeps no records of wrongs. One who does not delight in anything evil, but rejoices in the truth. A lover, who always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. We seek a lover whose love never fails. That’s our dream of a perfect relationship. His name is Jesus…why do we call Him by other names or put other characteristics on Him that He neither needs nor deserves? He’s the perfect lover for our imperfections, our shortcomings, and our visions of grandeur. He’s the perfect lover for learning how to let go of our key chain. We just have to remember that the way to the relationship with Him is running to Him, not away from Him. He gave His life for this relationship with Him. That life given is life for us, with us, in us – relating intimately with Him and practicing what we’ve learned in Him with each other. Relationship with Him is not at a time and a place; relationship with Him IS time and place. Relationship with Him is not the map to the kingdom; it is the kingdom. Relationship with Him is not the key to peace and prosperity; it is peace in the presence with the owner of the universe.

It’s time to deposit our keys in the eternal key drop and open the door which is relationship with God. He doesn’t expect us to arrive at our first date with Him driving our U-Haul; He wants to arrive with our dump truck because He knows there are many more loads to come. He’s fit for the journey. Are you willing to unleash the first load and fall into the arms of Love Himself?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Getting Your Feet Wet

“Getting Your Feet Wet”

Pastor Tom Millner

Matthew 14:22-33

February 20, 2011

 

 

Several years ago at a training center near the Pecos River in New Mexico, I participated in an “executive” outward bound program designed to teach us through experiences the power of excelling. There were two life changing experiences that I have recalled over and over since then.  The first is that living life to “win” is different than living life “not to lose.” That notion was reinforced by numerous exercises, but none like the cliff dive. We climbed to the top of a huge granite outcrop several hundred feet above the Pecos River. There was a heavy gauge cable that ran from a large telephone type pole atop the rock to a location not visible through the trees about one and a half football fields away. The exercise instructions were that we were to secure ourselves into the harness tethered to the cable and launch ourselves out over the cliff, above the river, to the unknown location on the other side. I eagerly volunteered to be first. My eagerness arose not so much from confidence as from the desire to not procrastinate in waiting a turn for who knew how long. Some of you are shouting “amen” to my truthful declaration! God has gifted me patience with many things, but waiting in line is not one of them. Nevertheless, when I stepped to the edge of the cliff tethered to the harness and looked down past my toes, my heart sank and my stomach rose. I recalled our scripture verse from today about Peter keeping his eyes on Jesus, stretched my arms wide and leapt from the edge of the cliff, sailing at a rapid pace across the Pecos. The thrill was exhilarating, the wind was refreshing, and the sight of the landing position with three “catchers” at the ready was reassuring. It seemed to happen so fast I was eager to do it again to experience it without the original apprehension. The learning had already occurred, however. My reflection on this as I read Peter’s experience of stepping out of the boat serves as food for thought today.

1.       Stepping out of the boat requires a leap of faith. When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water he was in somewhat disbelief that it truly was Jesus. He called out the figure in the mist who had identified himself as Jesus, to command him to walk on the water toward Him as proof of who he was. Apparently Peter had faith that the voice calling him forth was indeed Jesus; otherwise Peter would have never stepped out of the boat. Everyone has a place of comfort and safety. It will vary for each one. Some find it in a favorite chair, a location by the sea, a special position between the sheets or a place of fantasy to which one travels during moments of quiet or over excitement. Still others find it in surroundings that are familiar, even though those surroundings may not be completely emotionally, physically or even spiritually safe. How many people have we known who seem to find greater comfort in remaining in the familiarity of an abusive relationship rather than taking the steps to walk away to a saner and safer place? There are those who would rather hold onto the familiar place of religious rejection from the broader church than to take the steps to reconcile with whom God has created them to be in love and acceptance. Some say “well, Pastor, I just can’t seem to reconcile those clobber passages with going to the bars, having one night stands, or drinking and drugging.” Well that’s good because there’s no reconciling self abuse and using others as self-gratification or self-medication with the clobber passages or with the great command to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love others as you would yourself. If you’re stepping out of the boat, make sure it’s the water you’re stepping onto and not someone else’s mess. Simply because your feet are wet doesn’t mean you’re walking on water! Accepting who God has made you to be and living to honor Him in and through that does not mean you have to emulate Rue Paul or Margaret Cho or the “A” list! Neither does it mean you have to emulate Ted Haggard or Fred Phelps.  God created us first and foremost to be in relationship with Him. It is only in that relationship that all other purposes for our creation come to life. If you’re trying to live someone else’s life, you’re not having a relationship with God. Stepping out of the boat of self-centeredness onto the waters of relationship with Him requires a leap of faith. To get the most out of your relationship with Him, you have to stop spinning your wheels!

2.      Spinning your wheels revs your engine, but you don’t get anywhere. Three days a week I go next door to the gym, sit on a stationary bike and spin my wheels for at least eight minutes to get my muscles warmed up for some exercise. I can peddle fast or slow; it doesn’t matter; I’m still not going anywhere. The faster I peddle my bike the faster my heart, but at the end, I’m still at the same location I was when I started. If I really want to get somewhere I have to get on a different contraption. Many of us have either in the past or are now sitting on the stationary bike spinning our wheels and wondering why we’re not getting anywhere. Does life seem to be falling into the same routine? Doing the same old things? What’s the old recovery quote: “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result is insanity?” Doing the same ministry work, perhaps but not enjoying it as much? Going to the same old hangouts and not meeting the right people? Going through the same routine each day searching for a job? I remember the old adage: “when you’re hip deep in alligators it’s hard to remember that your goal was to drain the swamp.” Peter experienced something similar as he was walking on the water. His focus was taken away from the purpose and he went back to doing what he had always done – worry about what’s happening around him!  Isn’t it amazing how we avoid making changes in our lives and then complain about having to deal with the same old thing? So often it’s not the doing that is the root issue but rather the thinking behind the doing.  Jesus took on death for us because that’s where each of us is headed eternally on our own. When He calls us to relationship, He calls us into a place of life. Relationship with Him is living. Relationship with self or others without Him is wheel spinning – getting nowhere! Want new life in your life? Want a different outcome than what you’re getting? Want a greater sense of peace, calm, or even more excitement? The place to find it is planting your feet solidly in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  As long as Peter had his eyes on Jesus, he was walking on the water. When Peter took his eyes off their focus and was distracted by the wind, he sank.

3.      Keep your eyes on the prize and not on the wind. The greatest motivational speakers in the world will tell you that accomplishing what you want in life requires single-mindedness of purpose – a strong sense of focus. We all have that to varying degrees, however, so why aren’t we as a nation and a world happy with accomplishments? Why are so many of our brothers and sisters living a life filled with condemnation because of who they are rather than a life of joy and grace because of Who Christ is? Why do some see yet another day of defeat while others see another moment of victory? – it’s the same 24 hours! Depression, disappointment, heartache, and emotional pain are real. There are treatments available that help with the physiological components of these attacks. The majority of us ignore the key element to fulfilling our purpose, however; namely a relationship with the God who created us for the very purpose of relationship! That purpose is fulfilled in relationship with Him, because of Jesus. Often we spend two minutes in prayer that seem like an hour, babbling on and on about “I want,” “I need,” and we miss the opportunity to be in His presence. That’s not a relationship with Him any more than the cat’s relationship with the litter box. We reach out to God (like Peter), God says come on – “trust me,” and then we look the other way, sink, and scream out “save me!” He removes the litter from our box and we go back just to make another deposit! Pretty soon the only relationship we’re having is with our own litter. That’s a distraction from the relationship to which He calls us. That’s no more than spinning our wheels again. When we step out of the boat of all that’s dear to ME onto the waters of relationship with He who has given His all for that relationship to exist, we get our feet wet. We may experience some discomfort with the newness of wet feet, but if we stay there, He’ll lead us to a walk that is ever so refreshing. When looking at the lake of life, the surest way to the other side is a walk on the water! Staying in the boat or trying to find the path around is approaching life with the desire not to lose. In the end, we discover that we never had what we thought we were trying to avoid losing – namely safety, security and acceptance. When we take the step out of the boat onto the waters of faith in relationship with Him, we live the life that He has already won for us – the one we’ve truly been seeking, but never seemed to find.   

 

 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Good Fruit or Sour Grapes

“Good Fruit or Sour Grapes?”

Pastor Tom Millner

Luke 6:43-46; John 15:1-8

February 13, 2011

 

When our son went off to college in Chicago he was confronted with some interesting responses from folks when he told them he grew up with two dads. The most frequent response was “well are you gay?” When he responded that he indeed was not the second question most often followed: “Are they upset that you’re not?” I was at first puzzled by their response. Then the premise behind the assumption occurred to me; one kind produces the same kind. There was the belief that because heterosexuals expect to produce heterosexuals, homosexuals must also expect to produce homosexuals. Interesting reasoning, but why would homosexuals desire to produce homosexuals when heterosexuals are doing such a fine job of it? Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the kind of fruit to which our scripture is referring today.

When training new managers for a major pharmaceutical company some years ago, I used the borrowed line that “the best predictor of future performance is past performance.” Job resumes emphasize previous accomplishments in the hopes that the one reviewing will extrapolate a person’s past accomplishment into future potential for the job being sought.  Seasoned interviewers can readily spot inconsistencies between what is written and what is said in an interview. Experiences can easily be recalled, but lies are hard to remember. Even the most qualified may be passed over for a job because of the perceived need to embellish what is already sound experience for the job. We tend to take the same tactics into our spiritual lives and wind up with sour grapes instead of good fruit! God’s grace is not contingent upon our impressive performance; it is in its fullest in the face of our honestly depicted performance. More than that, God’s grace seeks the heart behind the performance even more than the performance itself. God seeks the grossly unqualified for therein lies the greatest potential to learn and grow with Him. Let’s look at some things we need to keep clear in our minds as we bend our hearts toward Him.

 

1.       The problem you have with everybody else is you! Now, that’s a loaded statement. Some of you may have already checked out to “ain’t going there land.” Stick with me here for a few and see what might pop up. Let’s talk about that preacher from the past that told his congregation that all gay folks who stay gay are going to hell for choosing to live the “gay lifestyle.” Now, who had the problem with what he said? If the preacher is straight, he didn’t have a problem…not being gay was a piece of cake for him. In fact, it probably wasn’t a problem for over 90% of the congregation. For a few of us, this presented a problem. We look at the preacher and call him a bigot. We extrapolate his words as though he were the mouthpiece for the broader church and summarily cancel our membership. Suddenly we are at emotional war. God has now become the enemy and our judge and we turn in anger from Him. For many, the next steps are numerous one night stands, seeking affirmation through medication (whether alcohol or drugs) and building of defenses around the name Jesus. Get the picture of who has really been bothered by the statement of an ignorant and possibly na├»ve preacher? The problem is not what has been said or with who has said it. The problem is with the person who heard it as being an indictment of self and BELIEVED it. If the person didn’t believe it, it wouldn’t in itself be a problem. If I told Pastor Les that her nose had grown into an elephant’s trunk she would laugh and brush it off because she knows her nose. There are other things I might say to her, however, about which she is insecure, and she would sit sobbing and later let me have it! We are most bothered by others when we believe their actions or words say something about us. The slow poke in front of me is annoying me! No…I am worshipping the god of my agenda and I believe that someone else is responsible for my interrupted worship. Believing a lie leads me to a place of anxiety, rather than to a place of recognition that I’m a sapling about to squeeze away from the vine! Anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, rejection and hurt are signals to us. In our human state we see them as fight or flight signals. In God’s Kingdom these are a call to the vine…where we get our nurturing to grow and bear fruit. We can’t turn anxiety into peace of mind, anger into loving sacrifice or fear into a bold confidence worshiping at the god of self-righteousness.  We may make some progress by rational interventions, but lasting change comes only from and in His presence... (Or better stated; our presence with Him).  He desires for us a juicy harvest, not sour grapes.

2.      For the best fruit, you have to go out on a limb! On our pear tree in the front yard at our farm, we gather each year an abundance of luscious pears. Many of the best ones are out on the branches where it has been recipient of full sun while still connected to the richness of nutrients from the trunk of the tree. More than one pear may be on a limb, but often the best one is out on the limb. That fruit is sometimes the hardest to pick because it is out on the limb. If you shake it loose, it falls and is bruised. If you pick it, you have to go out on the limb. Some of the greatest achievements many have ever made have been those done at great risk. The astronauts heading to the space station on the next space shuttle journey will do so at great personal risk. Technology has advanced so much since the Challenger, but it has not moved to zero on the risk scale. You took great risk in getting here this morning by driving or riding in a motor vehicle. Last year, thousands of people died in such vehicles, believing they were safe from harm. Some folks have a fear that relationship will not work out, that only hurt will result because of this, that, or the other fears that reality will fall short of fantasy. God calls us into relationship with Him. It’s the safest place to be, but to discover that means we have to risk letting go of the familiar defenses, pre-conceived ideas of who He is or is not, strap ourselves in with the seatbelt of faith and discover the ride of our life! It’s no easy task. Not a single one of us, if we’re honest, has planted ourselves in His “glory shuttle” and not bailed when the god of self-defense or the god of self-righteousness raises its ugly head. Don’t believe it? Check out Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Live there all the time? When not living there, we are not in our right mind!

3.      Your right mind is in the Vine! Jesus was not just whistling Dixie or a version of the Star Spangled Banner when He stated “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.” He also tells us through His Word that the kingdom is within. Jesus is serious about our relationship with Him. We so want to believe that He meets us where we are, as we are, for who we are. Yet, because we aren’t surrendered in our minds to where that is, how we are, or even who we really are, we try to have a relationship with a fantasy Jesus who turns out to be no Jesus at all and cynically say “well, that didn’t do it for me.” People turn to Jesus for all sorts of reasons. There’s the “feel better” reason, the “higher power” recovery reason, the “be the greatest me- how great I art” reason, the “everything’s gonna be all right” reason, and the “I can do all things” reason. Whatever the reason we turn to Him, relationship with Him means we take up different and more eternally meaningful reasoning as a result of the relationship. I am not the same person who at the age of 6 baffled the pastor with my knowledge of what it meant to accept Christ as my savior. His relationship with me and my relationship with Him has changed me. I have fought Him, I have defied Him, I have denied Him, I have avoided Him, and I have abused our relationship by trying to convince Him that I was some place other than where I was. Each time I regained my right mind, it was in a place stripped of expectation, devoid of defenses, laid bare before Him and covered in the grace of His presence. Each time I came to Him with pre-conceived notions, requests for him to take away my anger, bitterness, or hurt as a condition of our continued relationship, I went away lacking. We yearn to believe that He accepts us and forgives us, and loves us just as we really are (forgetting that we aren’t even fully clear about ourselves) yet, we aren’t open to accepting Him as He is, where He is, as He is. He calls us to a meeting of the minds – His, where we are defenseless, vulnerable, trusting, naive, truly desiring to turn away from our self-rule.  He calls us to our right mind – His. Paul urges the believers in Rome to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) His will lies not in our wants; it lies in our relationship with Him. Each time we approach the relationship with the insistence upon our wants, we wear the fig leaf that surely tells Him the real story behind our hearts.  We’re not fooling Him. He wants US – the real, honest, defenseless, unpretentious, trusting, and vulnerable us. To the degree that you can bring yourself to that place with Him, you’re closest to your right mind. How do you get there? One moment, one dismantled defense, one step of faith and one thought at a time.

 

Folks, it’s time to stop playing God and start relating to the real Jesus. He died for a relationship with you. Are you willing to let your prejudices die for a relationship with Him? Are you willing to invest with no promise of a return as you desire it? Are you willing to give your all without knowledge of from where any more will come, like the widow and her mite? That’s the heart that Jesus desires to meet Him. That’s the heart that can relate to Him and be enriched by Him. That’s where the best fruit grows, even on Wilton Drive! All else is sour grapes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Seeds of Faith

“Seeds of Faith”

Pastor Tom Millner

Mark 4:1-20

February 6, 2011

 

Last spring at our farm in NC we planted a row of fast growing trees along the edge of a field on the side of the road. Our desire in planting the trees was to enhance our view from our yard and to reduce the noise from a metal recycling plant about a mile away on the next hill over. Some of the trees seemed to take root quickly where others began to turn brown during the steaming hot summer. We replanted about one third of the trees, anticipating a strong root system to take hold in the more moderate temperatures of the fall. It appears now that we will have to plant about one quarter of them again this spring. There’s nothing wrong with the trees. They arrived from the nursery healthy and green. The soil is the issue! Much of the farm is red clay that could easily be used for bricks if exposed to the heat of a kiln. Even so, that soil seems to host healthy trees and grasses. The problem with the soil where we planted the trees is that it is void of nutrients, steeped in mica and dries out too rapidly in the sun. Plants have always been challenged along that section of the field, as I have recalled. New plantings will have to be made, but this time we have to prepare the soil in a different way than before. We will need to mix a generous helping of rich and fertile soil to the area being planted. Jesus was familiar with the planting of seeds and the readiness of soil to nurture the seeds to germinate and grow. The seeds are from the same plant – the Spirit of God, but the soils into which they are planted vary greatly. That seed that is so graciously planted is the seed of relationship with God that is intended to multiply in relationship with others.

We are no longer an agricultural society. Let’s look at this parable from the perspective of today’s experience and see if we can gain any insight into the living WORD of God.

Several years ago we were meeting as a men’s Bible Study in an old garage room off the former GLCC. Someone who was preparing for the study arrived without the key and went to the office to see if someone would let them in. The otherwise cordial fellow with the key blurted out as he was opening the door: “don’t know why you’re bothering with a Bible study; we’re all going to hell anyway!” Here’s a fellow who had obviously heard the message of God’s love before, but because of all the condemnation and damnation he had heard from our potentially well-meaning but not so well informed so called Christian neighbors, the seed of a grace filled relationship was snatched from his grasp. You see, God calls us into relationship with Him that is made possible by His grace and mercy. When we are told that His grace and mercy extends only to those who experience the world differently than we, Satan scores big in his super bowl! Spreading the lies of conditional grace produces no grace at all. I’m amazed at the level of rhetoric and time invested by so many self-professed Christian in seeing that those who have been created differently believe they, by virtue of their creation, are inherently unacceptable to the grace of God, just as they are. There are many more examples we could use of this hideous practice that produces a whole constellation of grace snatching that renders people seemingly without hope. Just think of the thousands of people who believe that just because of who they are, they are fundamentally not a candidate for relationship with Jesus Christ! And, who can blame them? Who would want a relationship with someone who fundamentally hates you for the very nature you possess and who you believe will only accept you on condition that you change everything about you? Folks that is not the Jesus of grace, of redemption, of justification, of mercy – that is the work of Satan!

Then there’s the message of God’s grace that falls on eager ears, but is packaged in a shell of health, wealth, and prosperity. Who doesn’t want to have good health, be endowed with at least adequate wealth, and enjoy prosperity in all our endeavors? Such ideas are enticing and there is some truth to the message. You’ve heard the statement: “a half truth is still a lie”? When Jesus said  in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” He wasn’t addressing the sure fire return on the 401K, the assurance of an ever growing economy or the promise of a love life that never ceases to thrill. He was talking about a life of relationship with Him that sustains and fulfills through the good times and the not so good times. The kind of relationship that was described in the garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was betrayed – that anything was possible and could the cup of suffering He was about to endure be taken away. “yet not my will but yours be done.” We see in this scripture a glimpse of the intimacy of trust and relationship between the Father and the Son. Jesus didn’t surrender to the cross to ensure our good mood. He surrendered to the cross for sake of our relationship with the Father that is as intimate and precious as the one He has. This scenario is similar to the rocky soil. So many of us come to Christ and receive the seed of faith at a time when God is speaking to our hearts in a moving fashion. We welcome Him in by the message of grace and love that so deeply touches the core of our being. Then the circumstances and pains and challenges of life come our way. We cry out “Lord, why me?” We build up anger and hostility toward God for not making us feel good about life right now. We question even the goodness of God in the presence such evil and harshness to one another that exists in today’s world. Because things are not going our contrived way, we throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, declaring God to be the great disappointment, rather than the great healer. Upon examination we discover that the god we’ve come to worship is not the God the creator, but the counterfeit of our own creation. How can the seeds of faith grow in a place where there isn’t room?

The third scenario is also a common one. The seeds of faith are planted, received and nurtured. Strong spiritual growth seems evident. Eager to serve, this person takes on more and more “responsibilities” that help promote the faith through the message of grace and mercy. Challenges arise through demanding schedules, difficult people, disappointing relationships and the joy of service becomes the burden of service. Overwhelmed by what was previously a joy and an honor, the thorns of expectation and “duty” overtake the fundamental of relationship and choke out much of what was so vibrantly growing. What was previously felt as spiritual gain is reduced to the level of physical and emotional drain. Joy turns to resentment, resentment ignites withdrawal, and relationships wane or disintegrate. God’s call is first to relationship with Him. Without that fundamental, all else is futile. He wants even or experiences with the thistles and thorns, the demands of life and the false hopes and expectations of others to meet our ideals to be laid down before Him with the supplication “not my will, but yours be done.” He’s eager to hear your expectations of where others ought to be if they are good Christians. He’s even more eager to hear your version of what you ought to look like as a good Christian. In the intimacy of relationship with Him, He’s eager to help you dismantle both of these false expectations as you learn what He really has in mind for you!

Now, let’s look at some fertile soil. From the agricultural perspective, this is a soil that has a good mixture of sand, decaying or decayed organic matter, and a touch of fertilizer, preferably from an animal source (recycled organic waste, bovine fecal matter). This, folks, is the soil in which seeds can take hold and thrive. Imagine that; a picture not of perfectly pristine proportions, but a picture of death, decay and manure. God calls us to relationship with Himself. He calls us as we are, for who we are, where we are – not for as we’d like to think we need to be, or who we believe we need to be, or even where we think we need to be. He wants the real, rotten, rubbish that He can turn into a rich field of faith where the harvest can be greater than all our expectations. The folks of the beatitudes are blessed not for their lack of position, but for their mind set to a willingness of relationship without pretense or pre-condition. We revel in the good news that God gives us grace and mercy by meeting as where we are, as we are, for who we are and then break off the relationship when He’s not meeting our “humble” expectations. God has called us each here because a seed has been planted or because He desires to plant that seed of faith in you today. His call to relationship is just as you are. He can’t have that relationship with you if you’re ranting about the stink from the presence of others or the demands of perfection you’ve idolatrously placed on yourself and your church. He calls us to ask not why this, that, or the other, but rather “how” can I grow deeper in relationship with You, God, through all of my life’s trials, joys, and challenges? The call to Christ is the call to fall into His grace. To leap from the mountain of should ah, would ah, could ah, into the rich soil that is the mess of all we’ve digested and produced so that He can begin to grow in us as we were designed from the beginning of the universe.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

When You Have a Friend in Need

When You Have a Friend in Need

Pastor Leslie Tipton

January 30, 2011


Mark 2:1-12

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . ." He said to the paralytic, 11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"


Mark 12:28-31
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

We’ve been listening to sermons here for sometime now about God’s greatest commandment, To love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. We’ve been told that we cannot love our neighbor correctly if we don’t do the first. That’s true, so true. And today we are going to look at a story about four friends who knew the truth, and knew that the Truth would set their friend free.

Some friends, very devoted friends, take matters into their own hands when they see that they have a friend in need. As the story goes, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and he is found in this particular story teaching in a home. It is obvious that his teaching had become quite popular, because, as the Bible intimates with us, “So many had gathered there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.” There are many things that we do not know about these friends. We don’t know their names, we don’t know their nation of origin, we don’t know their skin color, we don’t know how long their paralyzed friend has known them.

However, even though we don’t know these things about his friends, there are a few things we do know. And that’s what we are going to talk about today.

The first thing we know is that they knew where to take their friend. They didn’t take him to a doctor, they took him to THE GREAT PHYSICIAN. They didn’t take him for a prescription, they took him for the WORD. Instead of giving up on him, thinking that they wouldn’t be able to help him because he couldn’t walk, they CARRIED him to the ONE, the ONLY ONE who could help him.

Mark 2:3 indicates to us that there were several friends that came with their friend, but only four of them carried him. These men were on a mission, and they were SURE of where their friend needed to be.

In our calling to fulfill the second greatest command, to love our neighbor as ourselves, we have got to know where to take our friends, and even just acquaintances, when they need help. It is a must! There is no better place to take them than to Jesus.

Hebrews 10:24 says “Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.”

This man, this paralyzed man, needed someone to care enough to take him to Jesus. That’s us, folks. God has placed people around us, in our lives, for us to take to Jesus. Our coworkers, our relatives, our neighbors, our friends....WE have the opportunity to take them to Jesus. Even when it negatively impacts our schedules, even when it is inconvenient, when it is something we don’t feel like doing, when it is with someone we aren’t particularly fond of.....we are called to take them to Jesus.

The soldier's first article of faith is summed up nowhere more eloquently than in an 1865 letter from William Tecumseh Sherman to U.S. Grant: "I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come--if alive."

I don’t think I’m stretching it by saying everyone of us in here is alive. We MUST be there for our friends, our neighbors.


2. The second thing we know about our friend’s friends is that they didn’t let the obstacle stop them from their goal. There was a huge crowd, so much so that they were unable to get him in through the front door. They couldn’t get him close to Jesus, where they knew he needed to be. But they didn’t let that stop them. They didn’t just lay him down at the door hoping that someone else would pick him up and take him into the house eventually.

The word says that when they saw that the house was too crowded for them to get in the front door, they went up on the roof. Houses in this particular era and area were made with stairs that led up to the roof. So when the four of a kind found a full house, they beat the odds and went up the stairs. Up they go, onto the roof. We don’t know if one had the idea and the others followed suit, but we do know they made their way to the roof.

We, too, are called to beat the odds and not let the obstacles get us down. Obstacles tend to frustrate me, how about you? Anybody else frustrated by obstacles? Sure we get frustrated, because we had an expectation that something was going to go a certain way, and when it didn’t, we got frustrated. That’s what makes us stop and give up. Obstacles are just opportunities for us to grow stronger in the Lord, amen? If we would just take a moment and pray when we hit an obstacle, ask for God’s guidance, we would get so much more done for Him.

What kinds of obstacles do we run into when we are helping others? Maybe we don’t know a certain Scripture that might help them, or perhaps we don’t make the time to be with them. Sometimes we simply just don’t know what to do. But none of those things should be able to stop us in our mission to follow God’s command to help and love our neighbor. We just give up too easily. Sometimes it’s easier to give up. I tried, I really did. They were too many people there, we couldn’t get you in......sorry dude.


3. The third thing we know about his friends is that they were innovative in obtaining their goal. Again, did one suggest and the others follow? I don’t know, but to think of this is brilliant. The house itself was made of stone, with a roof made of mud and straw. They dug a hole in the roof and lowered him down, mat and all, right in front of Jesus. Wow! Now that’s thinking!

Can you even imagine being the owner of that home. Here you are, Jesus is teaching the crowd in your home, and the ceiling starts to crumble. Then a hole develops, and you realize that someone or something is digging through your roof. I wonder if his goals were blocked?

Innovation is defined as something new or different that is introduced. I’d say digging through the roof to get to Jesus is innovative. But they knew they had to get their friend to him. They were so close, they knew they couldn’t give up, so they went another route.

Sometimes we have to go another route to help our neighbors and friends, eh?

We should consider thinking outside of the box a bit more. Who can tell me in this place that some folks outside that door DON’T NEED US to help them dig through some things in their lives so that they can get to Jesus. Just like the paralyzed man’s friends, we are there to help dig through that barrier in new and different ways, and get them right in front of Jesus. And sometimes all that means is doing something practical, being a servant, meeting a need in a new or thoughtful way.

Sandra and I have a new friend. She lives down the street from us. We’ve been saying hi for months as she passed by walking her dog or after a run. Last Wednesday, I was leaving for work, and she was coming in from a run. A conversation began, we met officially, exchanged names, got to know a bit about each other, and parted ways. The next day, two police officers were killed in the line of duty in Miami Dade....one of the officers was our new friend’s life partner. We had no idea until the funeral on Monday. They lived a very private life together.

What can we do for our new friend? We don’t know her very well. We’re really just getting to know her. But we can be innovative in meeting needs and showing God’s love. A cup of coffee yesterday, a hug here and there, taking Bella (the lab) for a ride in the jeep. There are many, many ways to show our friends the love of God, and they don’t all have to be text book strategies.

These friends knew where to take their friend, they didn’t let any obstacles stop them, and they were innovative in their thinking.

But that’s not the end of the story. That’s right, they had another friend there. He knew where to take his friend, for he came to show us the way to God. He didn’t let any obstacles deter him from doing what he came here to do. And lastly, he WAS INNOVATIVE in accomplishing his mission while here on earth....very innovative. He was born of a virgin, conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, lived a sinless life. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except THROUGH ME.” He is the WORD made flesh. And his name is Jesus.