Saturday, August 11, 2018

A chance to do better this time

Read Psalm 85

Does anyone ever have more than one thing going on at the same time?  Does anyone not?

Does anyone ever forget the thing they started out to do and move on to something else and then remember what it was and go back to it only to be distracted by someone or something else?

I have been on a mission this year to sharpen my focus…  Popcorn, who made popcorn?

I have put all of my effort in to avoiding distractions… Look who posted pictures from the beach.  Man I love the ocean and beach.

Paying attention to the task at hand is so…Oh, I need to add that to my grocery list or my bucket list, I can’t remember which.  Man, I sure hope that my grocery list doesn’t become my bucket list.  That would not be good.

 Is this not the age in which we live?  Have we ever been more distracted and subject to being overwhelmed by information and disinformation and fully engulfed in the conundrum of discerning between the two?

There was a term that came into usage over half a century ago.  It was narcotizing dysfunction.  It was an attempt to put a word to what was happening in western society.  The volume of information then was overwhelming and it has progressed to near exponential measures.

Television, internet, podcasts, downloads, texts, emails can lead us to be stressed out beyond measure or drugged to dysfunction.  Many are enslaved in both camps.

Life has always had trials, trouble, temptation, and turmoil, but this century, this new millennium, seems out of control

Humankind couldn’t deal with the trials of the world when things moved at a snail’s pace.  We are high-maintenance creatures.  We take a lot of attention.

Within his love is his peace.  It is peace that comes from his strength.  It is peace that goes beyond our human understanding.  It is peace that overwhelms our trials in this overwhelming world.

God’s peace transcends the world’s turmoil.  Maybe you like our president or you can’t stand him.  Maybe you think marijuana should be legal for people who have a medical need for it or for recreational purposes or classified as a harmful drug and illegal to use or sell or grow as a cash crop or for personal use.

Maybe you think that North Korea really wants to be a responsible nation or that they are just looking for an opportunity to launch a nuke or two at us.

Maybe you think that there is a vast agricultural conspiracy when the price of corn goes from ten cents to seventy-five cents overnight, then back to six ears for a dollar.  We seek the rhyme and reason of a thing and sometimes find neither.

When I was in the Marine Corps, I frequently went to our base at 29 Palms, California.  It is in the middle of the Mojave Desert and there is not much to the town. It did have one taco fast food joint. One time it had a special:  3 tacos for a dollar; limit 8.

If making sense of the world was a jigsaw puzzle, it would be one of those round ones, so you couldn’t even look for the straight edges to make the border.

I have told many of you this story a couple of times; perhaps it will be new to some of you, or long enough that some of you have forgotten.  Speaking of forgetting things, if that gets really bad with me, don’t worry.  I have hard copy notes of all my sermons.  I’ll just preach them all again and they will be new to me.

At the end of the Gulf War, I was assigned as a United Nations Observer in Iraq and Kuwait.  Damage was quickly being repaired in Kuwait City and construction equipment was everywhere.  At the end of one 10-15 day period in the DMZ, I was driving 3 other officers back to Kuwait City for a 2-day break.  I asked the Indian Officer who had just arrived in country and was seated next to me where his contingent stayed in Kuwait City and he said, “Next to the big crane.”

 I said, “I think that’s Rumaithia.”  The Russian Officer in the back seat immediately disagreed and said he thought it was Salmiya.  The Polish Officer added that it was near the end of Third and Fourth Ring roads.   All of these areas were very close to each other and as none of us were native to the area, we didn’t know where one suburb began and another ended; but they were all in the same vicinity.

The Indian Officer was very uncomfortable with not knowing the names of Kuwait City’s suburbs and he emphatically repeated, “Just go to the big crane!”  Realizing we had made him feel uncomfortable, we dropped the subject and continued our drive in an uneasy silence for about ten minutes.  That is, until the Indian Officer realized the temporary nature of his landmark and blurted out, “I HOPE THEY DIDN’T MOVE THAT CRANE!”

Sometimes things make perfect sense and at other times they are completely out of sync.

In June of 1994, I was at a San Diego Padres game.  Fans in San Diego are pretty laid back, but at the same time will do the wave for ten minutes straight without missing a beat in any seating section.  The Padre players have come to expect a different breed of fan at their home games.    On this summer evening, however, the fans were extremely distant.  The Padres were making some good plays on defense without much response from the stands.  There was a good crowd in attendance, but few had their minds on the game.  Again, the culprit was the portable radio and people were listening attentively to a slow speed chase of a Ford Bronco some 50 miles to the north.

I'm sure that the players involved in both of these events eventually figured out what had occurred.  But for those brief moments, thousands of people sitting the stands had unknowingly transported them to the Twilight Zone.

Sometimes, everything just goes perfectly.  Sometimes it seems as if we are out of sync with everything we know and do and try to do again.

We are high maintenance creatures.  What are we to do?  What are we to do to please God?

Be the salt of the earth.  Let people taste God’s goodness every time they come across us.

We know these things and try to do these things and still sometimes it seems as if we are swimming in a whirlpool.  The maelstrom doesn’t seem to let us make any headway.  The vortex of events that we call our lives seems to overwhelm us.
What do we do?  We have decided to follow Jesus but things are still a mess.

We accept God’s peace that transcends our understanding.
We accept God’s peace and do better today that we did yesterday.
We accept God’s peace and do better this month that we did last month.
We accept God’s peace and do better this year that we did last year.
We accept God’s peace and do better this time than last time.
We accept God’s peace and do not return to our folly of yesterday.  We do not return to the folly of yesterday.  We get better.

We can only live this day.  We can’t relive yesterday, though many try.  We can’t jump a week ahead and live those days, though that’s all some can think about.

We can live today.  God want’s us to live today in his peace, doing better than we did before.  He wants us to learn from our mistakes.

Today can be a repeat of yesterday’s mistakes or a chance to get better.

Today can be a repeat of yesterday’s struggles or a chance to be an overcomer.

Today can be a repeat of yesterday’s missed opportunities or a chance to make the most of every opportunity.

God says, Take my peace and learn from your mistakes
Jesus said, My yoke is easy and my burden is light.  He wants us to learn from him, but he will not heap heavy burdens on us.

 We are high maintenance people, but it’s not a 75,000-mile overhaul.  It’s more like brushing your teeth every day.  It’s like washing the dishes.  It’s making the bed.
What are we to do?

Accept the Lord's peace.  Don’t make yesterday’s mistakes.  Get better.

Will we make new mistakes?  I am sure that we will, but we will not return to the folly of yesterday.  We will grow in God’s grace.

We are called to carry our own load, ask for help if we need it, and give help where we can.

I don’t know if this world will ever make sense in this age.  I don’t know that I will get everything right today.  

But, I have a chance to not make yesterday’s mistakes.  I have a chance to do better today than yesterday.

I have been given today—a day not promisedbut this day has been delivered to me and I have a chance, an opportunity, to make this day better than yesterday.

And if I am out of sync with the world because I am in sync with God, that’s a good thing even if the days seem contrary to our path.  The world still wants to have a grip on us, but this world is not our home.  Things will always be a little out of sync as we continue to grow in God’s peace and his grace.

We take a lot of effort and maintenance.  That’s who we are.  God has invested so much in us.  He is love and grants us peace—his peace—not the peace that the world knows.

This is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it and do my best to make this day better than the one before.

This is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it and do my best not to return to the folly of yesterday.

This is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it, and I will receive the Lord’s peace.


Friday, August 3, 2018

I have come to bring a sword

We have been on a track of proclaiming God’s love, love in action, and love and peace.  Last Sunday, we talked about peace through strength—through God’s strength.  Before that, it was peace that goes beyond what we can understand.  It was peace that actually brought us to a place that we have yet to arrive.  Peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And now, nothing says peace more than Jesus saying I didn’t come to bring peace.

Jesus told his disciples that he came bringing a sword.  This was not a sword to shed Roman blood—which would have met their expectations of the Messiah—but a sword to divide families.  If you are visiting today and normally go to a church that keeps it warm and fuzzy, you will never hear this verse.

This is not the Jesus we put on the marquee.  This is not the quote we put on the church tee shirt. 



When I am preaching abundant life and the blessings of the Lord, what do I do with this verse?  There are two things that should be done.  First, consider it in the context of the pericope.  Second, consider it in the context of the full biblical witness.

In the immediate context, Jesus has told his disciples that he is sending them out as sheep among the wolves.  He is sending them only to the lost sheep of Israel; yet he knows they will not be well received in many places.

This is the sending of the disciples during the earthly ministry of Jesus. Jesus obviously knew educational and training models:  Lecture, discussion, and then application.  This was application.

He told them to equip themselves, not with extra clothing or money, but with his authority by which people should know that they are on a godly mission.  Heal and drive out demons.  Grant peace where it is deserved, and where it is not, keep your peace for another place and let it rest there.

If the community does not welcome you, go elsewhere noting that this bunch of people has not chosen wisely.  In that day you would have shaken the dust of that place off of your sandals.

Jesus told his followers that they should expect to be hated in many places, but they should not worry for God’s own Spirit will be with them.  Proclaim repentance and the kingdom of God that is so close.  Speak as the Master spoke to you.  Be led by God’s Spirit who is with you.

These disciples got a dose of what would follow at Pentecost.

Stand firm.  Many households that you will visit have made peace with the world.  They don’t want to hear what you have to say, even though your very words came from the Creator of this world and everything that was created.

There are some tough days in this discipleship business.  You cannot be a friend of the world and a friend of God.  Our God is a jealous God.

There are some tough days in this discipleship business.  We are called to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness before anything and everything else.  God is always first.

There are some tough days in this discipleship business.  They are tougher when we insist on our own ways.  Consider the words of Isaiah.

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.

Have we not learned from the lessons of God’s Chosen People?  Do we really understand that God is always first?  Do you have experience with God being first and other days where we just tried to work him in where we could?  Do we understand that our very identity lies in God?

Our very identity is in God.  It is ἐγώ εἰμί (eg-o' i-mee') in the Greek.  It is  הָיָה (haw-yaw) in Hebrew.

If I were to ask you a simple question, how would you answer?  I’m asking for a complete sentence in your reply.

Who are you?  More specifically, what is your name?

You would likely say, I am Joe or Bill or Betty or Rose.

Our language itself recognizes that God is first, even when we don’t.  What?

Before we speak our name, we speak God’s name.  When God sent Moses to liberate his people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses ask God, “How will they know that it was you who sent me?  How will they know that I’m not just making this up for my own amusement?”

God told Moses to tell the people that I Am sent you.

When I asked your name, your reply came with I am…

Our language even recognizes that God is named first when we identify ourselves. God must be first for us to enjoy harmony and peace.  This extends to our very basic human unit—the family.

When God is first in the family, harmony and peace are at home there.  When there is dissension and rebellion, God’s peace shakes the dust off of its sandals and departs.  Harmony is in search of a new dwelling.  It is as if a sword ripped through the family.

In a family where God is not first, peace is tenuous.  Harmony is temporary.  Both are built upon false premises.  When the world rules in part of the family, the family does not know peace. 

Members of that family may receive God’s peace as they might receive it in the middle of an ungodly world, but the family will not know the true peace and rest that God longs to give us.

The word of God cuts through the family as it did through the lost sheep of Israel.  There is no fence sitting.  There is no détente. There are no half measures.  You are with God or against him.  God must be first.

I am following Jesus or I am not.

Understand, that the God who must be first is a God of love.  He is a God who did everything required for you and everyone that you know to come home and abound in the peace and rest of his family. 

And he is a jealous God.  He plays second fiddle to no one. You can’t expect blessings when you just work him in.  You can’t expect harmony in a family that has three votes for and two against putting God first.

Discipleship is tough.  Discipleship begins in our own families.  We reach out to our communities.  We reach out across the world.  We are God’s love in action but some wrestle with harmony at home.  For some, a sword has come and divided the family.

Jesus did not come to bring a peace that conforms to the model of the world.  He brought a sword to divide the living and the dead.  What will come when Jesus comes again has begun now.  He has brought a sword to separate those who love God and put him first from those who love the world.

For some, God is first in the family.  God reigns in all decisions.  God’s sovereignty is evident in the lives of family members.  That family is blessed with peace and harmony. 

Let’s continue in this same chapter with the words of Jesus.

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

Only when God is first—when we have given up our claim on our life and give it fully to God—are we ready to truly live. 

Only when God’s way is not just the best choice, but the only choice as his disciple will we know peace.

Only when all in the family put God first will the family enjoy peace and harmony.

We value our families so much.  Most people would say that, but not all live that sentiment, for that is all it is without action.  I see so many people who want help, so they can maintain a lifestyle where God is not first.  So many want help to remain a friend of the world and not have to make God first.  In some cases, he is not even on the top ten list.

I can talk and talk and point people to Bible verses all day long or until they can’t take any more and suddenly realize that they are going to miss their flight to Kalamazoo.  This ministry of leading families to harmony and peace is mostly in your hands.

People listen to me for as long as they can stand it, but ministry is most effective when they can see it and touch it and know a thing to be true by relating to others.

People who struggle with putting God first, need to see godly examples.

People who struggle with putting God first, need to talk to people who have done just that.

People who struggle with putting God first, need a place to go where they can be encouraged.

People who struggle with putting God first, need you—the body of Christ.  They need to be a part of a group where God is always first.

Some of you may still not understand my passion and perseverance in connecting the disconnected, and once connected, bringing them into the family of faith.  Some may not comprehend the premise that I have promoted for a decade, that abundance in this new century must be built upon inclusion in the body of Christ.

We need this family.  So do others.

Some do not understand my insistence upon being people of transformation and not people of transaction.  Connections and inclusion are what we are about in this life where God is first in everything.

If we feed someone for a week but never seek to connect them with the One who will feed their soul for all eternity, we have not put God first.  That comfort zone needs a sword slicing through it.

If people are not interested in hearing the truth but we keep them comfortable in the ways of the world, we have not put God first.  We need a sword to disrupt that comfort zone for we are helping people be a friend of the world.

Sometimes, discipleship is tough business.  Sometimes, the truth cuts through the family like a sharpened sword.  Sometimes it cuts between our family and our neighbors.  But as long as it is called Today, we can do something about this.

The simple truth that I ask you to consider this week is:  We are with God, following Jesus, and putting God’s kingdom and righteousness first in our lives and in our families and in our ministries, or we are not.

I told you that we should also consider the full biblical witness.  Here it is.  God is first or he is not.  It is a very simple dichotomy.  There is no fence-sitting in this matter.

God doesn’t do gray areas.  He is first or he is not.  He has called us friend, why would we forsake him and be a friend of the world instead?  Why would we leave a family member in this condition?  Why would we leave a neighbor on the wrong side of the sword?

Our discipleship begins first at home and with our relatives.  Harmony and peace in our own families comes with putting God first in everything. 

This is a blessing for us and an example to those who struggle breaking away from putting the world first.

This is a blessing for us and a witness to those who struggle with the god of this age, who can’t seem to break the chains of oppression that the enemy disguises as self-gratification.

Knowing that God is first in our family gives us peace in a turbulent world.  It is a paradox that those who do not know the Lord cannot understand.
God is first or he is not.

Many of your families are blessed because there is no doubt and no dissension.  God is first.

There is a sword that is swift and sharp and divides those who put God first from those who do not.  We know this sword best as the word of God.  It divides soul and spirit, joint and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 

Because we know this and live by God’s holy word, we have peace.  There is peace for those who seek God first and his kingdom and his righteousness.  And there is peace and harmony for the family that truly seeks the Lord in all things.

My prayer for you this morning is that you have peace in your families and share that peace with those who remain captive to the world.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Peace Through Strength

Read Psalm 29

I went into the United States Marine Corps when the United States was not very strong.  Once they got me, things started looking up.  I’d like to say that but shortly after I was commissioned in 1979, Iran overran the United States Embassy in Tehran.

I was pretty sure that Armageddon was just around the corner, but it wasn’t.  We—the United States—did try a rescue that went terribly wrong.  It was indicative of the state of our armed forces at that time.  Every unit was short people.  Equipment that was broken could not be repaired as there was nothing in the supply line.  Budgets were nearly non-existent and ammunition for training was scarce.

When I went to Africa in 2013, I saw training aids made out of feed sacks hanging in the orphanage schools.  I had a flashback to using C-Ration cardboard to make my training aids while at the expeditionary camp at the base of Mount Fuji.

It was a strange feeling to know that the nation’s finest had diddly squat to train and prepare for war.  I had some first-hand experience with the saying that the Marines have done so much with so little for so long, they now believe they can do anything with nothing.

It’s a nice saying and reflects mostly upon the attitudes of initiative and industry and ingenuity.  But being the cutting edge of the world's premier superpower and being ill-equipped for the task was not a good feeling.  It got better in the 1980s.

Going farther back in time—the early 1960s--and closer to home, my father once worked in the missile silos that peppered the countryside of western Oklahoma.  This was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I was too young to understand much about it then, but I knew it caused a lot of anxiety.

Some years later, my Dad revealed to me that we couldn’t have launched half of the missiles in those silos due to lack of repair parts.

I think that peace through strength is an effective national strategy for our nation, but I have known times when our strength was paper thin.  Worldly power and strength is always tenuous.  Worldly peace is ever so temporary.
Worldly peace is temporary.

We continue with Love and Peace.  Last week we invested some time in the peace that goes beyond our understanding.  This week let’s look at peace that comes from the strength of God.

The entire psalm is about the strength of the Lord. It is poetic in language, but it is about the power and might of God.  From this poetry we glean:
God is due glory and honor and worship.

His voice thunders and is powerful and majestic.

His voice breaks giant cedars and twists mighty oaks and make the nations giddy.

The voice of the Lord sends earthquakes through the desert.  The Lord is enthroned over his entire creation.  That’s a forever deal, not just for one or two terms.

In the temple of the Lord all cry out about his glory.

You might think that this would be a psalm about the fear of the Lord.  That it would conclude with how humankind should live in fear of being struck down by this mighty God.  We should be on the lookout for lightning bolts headed our way.

Instead, David wraps us this psalm by noting that the Lord gives strength to his people; moreover, he blesses them with peace. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom.  This is a good thing.  But the theme here is strength not fear.  The gift is peace not fear. This theme surfaces again in Psalm 121.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
 He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
 The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

The Lord is strong.  He is creator—the maker of heaven and earth—and yet he knows you and won’t let you slip.  He is not away taking a nap.  He shades you in the heat of the day and keeps you from harm.
Hear the last verse once again: 

the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

This is the God who numbers the very hairs on your head and he brings you strength, joy, and peace. He gives us hope.  He is taking care of us.  Why should we worry?

Consider these thoughts from Romans.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.  For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”
 Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”
 And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul tells us that as we trust in the Lord—how do we trust the Lord?  That’s right, will all of our hearts.  As we trust in the Lord, he fills us with joy and peace so that we may overflow with hope.  The Holy Spirit is at work in us.

God sits enthroned above all creation and lives within us.  I don’t know that we can truly comprehend that this is not a dichotomy but the fullness and completeness of our mighty God.  He is a God who grants us peace.

I think to the encounter of David and Goliath.  Everyone there saw this giant warrior and a ruddy boy with a slingshot and five smooth stones.  The odds makers were not even taking bets.  This was a done deal.

The giant warrior taunted David.  David replied that Goliath thought he had the finest weapons of the world; they were  in the hands of ungodly people and were no match for the God of Israel.  David would hit his target with one stone and cut off the Philistine’s head, but God delivered the victory.  The battle belonged to the Lord.

All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.

David had courage.  David had skill.  David had experience in other areas—you seldom show up to kill a giant warrior noting on your resume that you had done this before, but he had tested his mettle in other ways.

But his strength came from the Lord.  The battle belonged to the Lord.  David walked into a lopsided battle.  He was the only one who know that it was lopsided in his favor because his strength came from the Lord.  His peace in the middle of battle was from the Lord.

I have ventured to different scriptures—it could have been more—to bring us to one place. 

We serve a mighty God.  When we are weak, his strength is more than enough for us, better than our own strength at its best.

In a single word, God could remove us from existence and eternity.  God is that powerful.  God is that strong, but he created us with the best of intentions for us, and he has not changed course.  He still has good plans for us and is fully vested in seeing those plans through to complete us.

For God to discard us now, is not consistent with the God revealed to us in his holy word.  He has good plans for us!

The Lord is not only strong, he is the source of my strength.

The Lord crushes Satan under our feet.  He makes us victorious in himself.

The Lord desires us to live in peace.  Our peace comes from his strength.

Anxiety, hate, vitriol, acrimony have no place in our lives.  These come out of carnal quarrels.  Peace comes from God’s strength.  Our battle is won.  God has won the victory for us.

God has given us peace.

Live in God’s peace.  It is not a tenuous peace like the world knows.  It is an eternal peace for God is enthroned above all forever.

Receive the peace of God through Jesus Christ and his Spirit who is alive within us!