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!


Amen.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Beyond All Understanding


First day of school.
First baseball game.
First dance.
First kiss.
First job interview.
First day on the job.
First new car.
Big test.
Performance evaluations.
Big game.
Bills.
College.
Layoffs.
Drought.
Snow and Ice.

What do these have in common?  These are things or events that might cause us to be a bit anxious.  They might cause us to worry somewhat. There could be a little stress.

Of course, these things can also be cause for excitement and anticipation.  Snow and ice may lead us to worry about road conditions, but the kids are thinking, “Snow Day!”

What makes us worry sometimes and get excited others?

Why did we grow up approaching Christmas morning with anticipation and excitement?  Why did we dread the spelling test?

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Do not be afraid.

Is this not counsel for every situation?  Should we not have peace in every circumstance?  Why must we worry?

Does God not intend good for us?  He has good plans for us.  His plans are to prosper us and not to harm us.  Why do we worry?

Jesus said that we would have trouble in the world.  That’s a given.  It’s going to happen.  This is no surprise to most of us.  We will have trouble in the world, but Jesus said to take heart, to take courage.  He had overcome the world.

Are we still afraid?  Are we still worried?  Do we not remember that God did not give us a spirit of fear?  Instead, he gave us power, love, and a sound mind.  A sound mind is not a frantic mind.  A sound mind does not give us answers to the pop quiz over the chapter that we didn’t read. 

It is the mind of Christ anchored firmly within us when the world wants to take hold and give us its mind—one of fear, selfishness, and worry about everything.

Are we people of fear.  I hope not.  Are we not to be strong and courageous?  Have we not kicked discouragement to the curb?  Because of the cross, discouragement and despair have no purchase in our lives.  Do we not know that God is with us everywhere that we go to the end of the age?

Why do we still worry?  We know the answer to what Jesus asked his disciples.  We cannot add a single hour to our lives by worry.  But many still worry.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we just read the Bible verse and it was instantly who we were and what we did?

And Judas hanged himself.

Let’s just say, the words of Jesus.  What if we just automatically did everything he said?

If you eye offends you, pluck it out.

What if instead of asking the word to do all of the work, we studied it and put it into practice after having internalized the message from God.  What if that was easier, more natural?

We are to be a new creation. We should have a new nature.  We are born of the Spirit and filled with the Spirit.  Why do I still wrestle with my old nature?

Why is it that trusting in the Lord with all of my heart and leaning on my own understanding is an ongoing wrestling match?

Maybe, we are still in the transformation process.  Really?  If I was a caterpillar, I would be a butterfly by now.  That’s correct.  You would be a beautiful butterfly but not the crown of God’s creation.

You would not be undergoing a process of being made in the image and likeness of Christ Jesus.

But we are being changed—transformed.  Some fight it and cling to things of this world and its ideas.  Some are ready to move this process along quickly and are engaged in the renewing of our minds.  Either way, we are being transformed and there are growing pains.
So, what are we take for the pain?  What do we do?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
The directive is don’t be anxious.  The scope is about anything or situation.  The logistics are that in everything and every situation, we come to God with:
·      Prayer
·      Petition
·      Thanksgiving
I will start with thanksgiving because for me, when I begin my conversation with God and give him thanks, somehow the worry evaporates much more quickly.
I thank God for my life—a miracle that we take for granted all too often.  This sacred gift that the world around us values less and less, is cause for thanksgiving to flow from my heart across my lips.
I thank God for his promise of life eternal—God wants me to share eternity with him.  My mental and physical settings automatically go to their cool beans setting. 
In similar thought, I thank God again for the blood of Jesus.  I thank God that he loved and loves me enough to shed his own blood for me so that I could be in right standing with him forever.
I haven’t asked God for anything yet and I am already feeling better.
I thank God for life abundant.  This part is more of an adventure.  Abundance often comes in the midst of struggle and hardship.
I thank God for purpose.  I thank him that I will never live a day without purpose.  I will never wake up wondering, just what is my life all about.
I haven’t asked God for anything yet and I am already feeling better.
I thank God for those who serve him that I know well.  I sing, though none go with me, I still will follow, but it’s much better in the company of the saints instead of going it alone.  For that, those saints who serve so faithfully, I give God thanks.
And then I thank God for whomever and whatever is on my heart.  It could just be a sunrise or sunset. It could be healing.  It could be the completion of safe travels.  If my heart tells me to say, thank you, then I give thanks to God.
And then I come to my prayer.  It’s what’s going on in my life.  Sometimes when I’m in the middle of my thoughts about what’s happening with me, I stop and give thanks again, that’s just how it works out sometimes.
My prayer is my conversation with God and much of it comes with just listening.
And then I come to my requests, my petitions.  It seems like there is always something that we need from God.  Some of these things might be what we are worried about.  Some of these things might have us a little anxious.
God tells us to approach his throne of grace boldly.  Come to him with confidence.  So, I am bold in my requests.  I ask for what I think I need.
Sometimes, I get exactly what I ask for, and at other times, it’s something different.
Sometimes, I have to wait for what seems like a very long time to get my answer, but I always get one thing almost instantly.  Sometimes it comes upon me before I get through praying.  What is it?
Peace.  We are not orphaned in this world.  We have God’s Spirit and we have God’s peace.
I have come before the Creator of the universe and we have talked.  I usually spend a lot of time being still in his presence, and God gives me peace.
Mind you, the issue that I petitioned God to resolve for me might still be unresolved.  It might go a different way than I thought it would.  I might not like God’s answer; yet, I have peace.
It is a peace that I do not understand.  If I was worried before, I should still be worried now.  It seems that nothing has changed.  I’m still waiting on the answer to my petition.  The facts of the matter seem unchanged; yet, I have peace.
This is our promise:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Analytically, I should still be anxious.  The facts of the matter tell me that I had better be worried.  Logic dictates that my heart should be troubled, but I have peace.

It is peace that goes beyond understanding and we are told that it guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
That’s some cool verbiage—guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  What does that mean?

That means that even though we have not been fully transformed by the renewing of our mind, God gives us peace as if we had been.

Even though we still have weekly skirmishes between trusting in the Lord with all of your heart and leaning on our own understanding, God gives us assurance as if we had hit the 100% mark in trusting in the Lord.

He gives us peace that our own hearts and minds have not yet achieved.  He takes us to this place that we are destined to be forever but we are not really there yet.

We still have trouble in the world—that’s straight from the Master’s lips.  But we are to take heart—to take courage—that Jesus has overcome the world.  We can have peace in the middle of the troubles of this world.

The world says, you must figure everything out before you can have peace.  God says, no you don’t.

We have been discussing love for half a year.  Many of the lessons we have learned teach us that love compels us to action.  Love causes us to put into practice the words of our Master.  God’s love in action is very much a part of our identity.

But love also brings us to peace.  Love brings us to give thanks to God, talk with him, listen to him, and ask him for those things which we think we need, and receive his peace.

Jesus reminded his disciples that human fathers took good care of their own children.  If your son asked you for some bread, would you put a rock on a paper plate and say, Bon Appétit?  Of course not!

Jesus continued that if you who frequently make a mess of parenting still give your children good gifts, how much more will your Father in heaven give you?

God has good plans for us and wants to give us good things and prosper us.  He does not want to harm us.  While we are working through the troubles of this age, he is ever so ready to give us peace, peace that is beyond our comprehension.

Your car payment might still be due.  You might have a dentist appointment this Tuesday.  The first day of school is just around the corner.  Your boss is still a jerk.  The sermon might go on for another hour, but you have peace.

You have peace that doesn’t match the facts of the situation.

You have peace that you do not comprehend.

You have peace that guards your hearts and minds as if the transformation process was already completed.

You have peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this age of trouble and controversy and outright rebellion against God, you have the peace of God.  It is more that you can understand but exactly what you need.

Receive God’s peace and let him guard your hearts and minds in this troubled age.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen!




Friday, July 13, 2018

We are the people of Whosoever Will not Whatsoever Goes

Let’s talk about this homosexual question.  Today the practice of homosexual relations is accepted as normal in many cultures around the world.  The world will be the world that’s nothing new.  What is new is the position that many churches take on this issue, namely that homosexual relations is no longer a sin.

We could start in Leviticus with a couple instances directly aimed at this matter.  In fact, such homosexual relations were deemed worthy of the death penalty, but in fairness so were many other transgressions. 

But let’s start a little farther back by jumping forward to the gospels.  In Mark, Jesus states:

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The original design was for a man and a woman to be united as husband and wife.  Two become one.  One man and one woman. 


The world might say that this whole one man and one-woman thing was to populate the world, and the world has more than 7 billion people.  So what does a little same-sex sex, no chance of having kids, matter to God now that he has a whole bunch of people?

The world might say, if it doesn’t hurt anyone, who cares?

The world might say, you guys never seem to get it right, why bother us when we try something different.

The world might say, what I do in the confines of my own home or my own stall in a restroom is nobody’s business.

That’s the world.  What is the church to say?  Are some of the 613 laws not applicable anymore?  Not all of the decrees and laws really impacted everyone to begin with.  If you didn’t’ raise livestock or grow crops, some of the laws were just nice to know.  If you were not a priest, you could just say, “I hope he does everything right when I bring my sacrifice.”

Here is the first and foremost thing that the church must say:  Love one another.  That statement is made without qualification.  That means we love those whom we like and agree with, those who disagree with us, strangers and aliens, the poor and homeless, those in prison, even our enemies, and those who just come across our path.  Our mission is love.

Yes, that includes showing God’s love for the homosexual.

But we also show God’s love for the thief and the adulterer. We love the guy whose language is filthier than two sailors in a cussing contest.  We even love the murderer.  Jesus said love your enemy.

The key factor in all of this is us and our love not the condition of everyone else.  We who are in the body of Christ have an extra special love for each other, but no one is excluded from our love.  Love one another comes without qualification.

So, is it no longer a sin to engage in same-sex sex?  Nothing in God’s decrees has changed.  Jesus said that not one pen stroke of the law would disappear.  These decrees still convict our hearts.  They still point us to our need for a Savior.  They still lead us to Jesus.

The heart of Leviticus is to be holy as God is holy.  This mindset continues into the New Testament.  Be holy as God is holy.  God gave his people these laws for their own good.  He told them that the people in the land that they were promised and would soon take possession of, had practiced these things.  His own people were to be different.  They were special to the Lord.

Their charge, and it’s ours now too, is to be holy as God is holy.  Do we practice everything in the law?  No.  We are counseled that living a life governed by love fulfills the law.  Such a life does no harm to others and brings glory to God.

We live by love.  What does that mean in our relationships with homosexual people?

We love you but won’t lie to you.  As we grow in God’s grace, we are called to speak the truth in love.  So what is the truth in this situation?


If a person told us that they were about to murder someone, would we say, “That’s OK, there’s plenty of other people in the world?”

If someone was about to embezzle several thousand dollars from their employer, would we say, “That’s OK, she has plenty of money?”

If someone came to us and said that she had committed adultery, would we say, “That’s OK, everybody does it these days?”

So why would we say, “Same sex relations—sexual relations not friendships—are OK.  Everybody is OK with that these days.  It’s not really a sin anymore.”  Why would we make this the exception?

We share something with every other human on the planet.  We all fall short of the glory of God and Christ died for all of us.

So, if the law indeed points us to or leads us to salvation in Christ, why would we deceive others?  If the law shows us our brokenness and makes us receptive to the wonderful gift of grace, why would we tell others that their transgressions are no longer transgressions?  Are we empowered to say: “God wasn’t serious.”

Why would we try to lead people away from grace instead of speaking the truth in love and bringing them to this wonderful gift of God?

So that’s the reason why we shouldn’t tell people that homosexuality is no longer a sin; but how do we truly love our neighbor when we know they are sinning?  I think we already know.

Do we have neighbors who lust in their heart or cheat on their taxes?  Do we have neighbors who use the name of God in vain?  Do we have neighbors who neglect the tithe and greater offerings?  Do we have neighbors who covet our new boat or motorcycle?

I’m sure we do.  This is a covetous world.  It is a world that tells us it is all about you.  Why don’t we tell them that those things no longer displease God?  If we could do that then the preacher could just tell us fun stories and show cool videos.  He could preach to our itching ears.

Part of the problem in churches wanting to say that same-sex sex is OK now, is that many churches have gone to the other extreme.  Their main message is just how bad homosexuals are.  They have signs and rant against their conduct.  They want to make sure that everybody knows they are going to hell.

They feel an obligation to condemn sin.  When I see preachers that do nothing but fill their messages with the condemnation of sin and the judgment of sinners, I must wonder:  Did God not do a good enough job?  Were his decrees insufficient?  Why must some groups gather with signs telling homosexuals that they are going to hell.  The sign is not enough.  They must yell at those who pass near them.

Nothing quite says that God is love and he loved you so much that he gave his one and only Son to die for you like a Go to hell sign.  Do not pass go and do not collect $200.

The tendency of many churches is to swing the pendulum the other way and declare that same-sex sex is not a sin.  This is a natural human tendency.  But God’s law does not sway with our infidelity.  It is human nature to say, “that’s not really a sin anymore,” but it is not God’s nature.

God’s nature is mercy and forgiveness that we don’t deserve.  There is no need for either if we get to decide what misses the mark and what does not.

It’s like a marksman that hits the edge of the target, perhaps a deuce too high to mark for the marksmen among us.  By any standard, the shooter gets a 2 instead of a 10.  But if by his own desire and the consent of some others who really don’t like practicing, they declare that a hit anywhere on or near the entire target to be worth the same as hitting dead center, then there is no transgression.  Everyone hits the target and receives full credit whether they get close to the center or not.

So some churches seem to rail against the depravity of this one act and others have taken it to the highest court of public opinion and overturned God’s law.

So, what about us?  What about those who do not want to take matters into our own hands to vent our anger against a single transgression or retreat to the apathy and ambivalence of the world and just say whatever goes?  What about us who want to be a faithful disciple of our Lord, Jesus Christ?  What about those of us who want to be equipped for every good work?  What about us?

The Lord commissioned us to share good news.  Sin is not the end for usThe blood of Jesus took away our sin.  Now we should want to be holy as God is holy and we don’t have to worry that we are going to mess up something so badly that our get out of hell ticket will be voided.

God is faithful and just to forgive.  We who have professed Jesus as Lord are to confess.  He is faithful and just to forgive.

So, preacher, if a homosexual person comes to worship, what will you do?  Welcome him or her and preach good news.

So, if a homosexual couple—they might even be married—come to worship, what will you do?  Welcome them and preach the good news.

So, if two men or two women come to you to join them in holy matrimony, what will you do?  Direct them to a secular venue.  To join the two together is to participate in a commitment to go on sinning.  We don’t conscript people into Christ’s service.  If people choose to live in the world by the ways of the world, that is their choice.  I will speak the truth in love to them, and thus not subsidize their worldly choices by providing a godly blessing on an ungodly act.

We welcome people in whatever their state of brokenness they arrive.  The world would counter that these people are not broken.  That’s just the way that they are.

Some say, that’s just their nature.  If God made them that way, why would he make it against the rules to live that way?

My human nature is to live by an eye for an eye.  Actually, I would rather live by two eyes for and eye and throw in a couple broken bones on top of that if you wrong me.  But God calls me to live by love and forgive.  That’s not my human nature, but that carnal man has given way to the new creation that I became when professed Jesus is Lord!  I don’t always get it right the first time, but I am without excuse to just say, that’s my nature.

We preach good news about forgiveness of sin and life abundant and everlasting in Jesus Christ.  Everything that we do should bring them closer to God, to holiness, and to real life in Jesus Christ, and not to help anyone deny their sin by telling them that it’s not a sin any more.

So, how is this different from an alcoholic who wants to join the church?  I don’t help the alcoholic continue drinking to excess with the blessings of the church.  I don’t add legitimacy to sin.  He or she may relapse.  They may never fully recover.  With God they can but so many struggle to accept his way.  But the alcoholic or drug addict or divorced person or thief or even the murderer who comes to follow Christ will be welcomed.

To marry same sex couples is to participate in solemnizing a commitment to turn away from God and turn towards the world.  It’s like blessing reverse repentance.  It is to give legitimacy to sin.  That does not help anyone.  It is not kindness.  It is deceit.

We must not only speak the truth in love but live the truth in love.  We love without condition.  Sometimes that means speaking the truth in love that something acceptable to the world is a sin before God.  We must not condemn but must be ready to help those who want to turn away from sin and seek the one true God whom we know in Christ Jesus.

If we say that a sin is not a sin because the world accepts it, we help people remain in the world.  We subsidize their sinful state.  We become a willing partner in the deceit brought forth by the enemy.  We make it harder to receive the grace of God.  We become a stumbling block for those who need God’s grace. 


If we who follow Jesus as Lord speak the truth to the world, we will be declared to be a stranger and an outcast in this world.  Jesus tells us not to worry about that part.  We are keeping company with the prophets.

Unfortunately, we now face the same treatment within parts of the church that have conformed to the patterns of the world despite very direct counsel not to do so.  We do not belong to the world.  We belong to the Christ.  We lead people to the Christ.  The law helps us fulfill our commission.

Deceit is as old as the Garden of Eden, but is not our way, even if it makes things easier in this age.  What the world is selling as kindness—that homosexuality is not a sin—is deceit.  It is not kindness.  It is apathy and ambivalence and we should have none of it.

Our heart must be like God’s heart.  We desire none to perish.  We long for all to turn away from sin and receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

To do this, we must be ever so truthful.  We do not condemn. We love and love helps us take the good news to everyone because we all fall short of the glory of God.

We are the people of Whosoever Will not Whatsoever Goes.  Knowing that we fall short of the glory of God helps us realize how much we need the atonement that comes through Jesus and we have become people of hope.

Let’s not cheat anyone out of what we hold so dearly.  Let’s not get in the way by doing what the world expects.  Let the law do its work so all may come to know the glory of God through Christ Jesus.


Amen!



Transformed

Who are you?

The world says that you are 5’10” with blonde hair, slightly overweight, sunburned, and well dressed.

Maybe 6’1”, bald, but in need of a haircut, skinny as a rail, and dressed for winter as a homeless person.

Maybe you’re the guy with the 2019 Porsche.  Can’t remember what you look like, but you’ve got a nice car.

The world will size you up by the world’s measures and standards.  So is that who you are?  If I have to describe you to the police sketch artist, that’s probably how it will come out.

If I do have to describe you to the sketch artist, I might just go a different route.  

She is fearfully and wonderfully made.

He is completely loved by God.  I’m not talking 99 and 44/100ths loved.  I am talking 100% loved by God.

She is the salt of the earth.  He is the light of the world.

These people were worth dying for.  The blood of Jesus was shed for them.  God created in him a pure heart. 

These are the people who don’t’ stumble because they have God’s word as a lamp unto their feet.

She is created in the image of God and being made into the image and likeness of Christ.

When the police sketch artists asks me if I could give them something more useful, I’ll reply:  Well, I could give you their name and address, but where’s the fun in that?

Who are we?  Does it depend on whether we throw on a shave that day?  Are we the clothes we wear?  Are we our intellect or our physique?
Are we the degrees and titles that we hold?  Are we the cars that we drive or the investments that we own?

Anyone every try Kimchi? It’s fermented cabbage.  The traditional stuff is put into a container in the ground and taken out just when the Kimchi Master decides it’s fit for human consumption.  If you have never tried, don’t’ be afraid.

It will give you a new identity.  For the two weeks following your Kimchi meal, you will become known as Kimchi Breath.  No amount of mouthwash can change that.  No breath mint can alter your new identity.

We have an identity.  It is love.  We belong to the Christ and we are to be known by our love.  That’s from John’s gospel.  Paul very much parallels these thoughts on love.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Jesus said, “They will know you are Christians—my disciples—by your love.”  We have talked about love for half a year.  We have a church motto that is GOD’S LOVE IN ACTION.  We believe that we have great fidelity to that motto.  It’s not like we came up with it out of thin air.

In everything that we do, we must be motivated by love.  We must continue our journey to become love as Christ is Love.  If there is vengeance or retribution due to another person, we trust God with all of our hearts and do not lean on our own understanding that justice will be satisfied.

All of these things are so easy to do because that’s how we have always lived.  Well, not exactly!

Even if we were brought up in the way that we should go since birth, the world taught us a lot.  Hate and prejudice, selfishness and overindulgence, and of course the It’s all about me way of thinking came out of our worldly mentors.

But we are not content to remain that way.  God is not content to leave us that way.  His Spirit is always at work in us.

We are charged to move this transformation along as well.  We have a part.  This is discipleship.  We are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

We pray with much listening.  We read our Bibles anticipating that God’s own Spirit will illuminate these living and active words.  We put these words into action.

God’s Spirit is working with us as we listen, read, meditate upon God’s holy word, and take what is in our minds and put it into practice.

We are making our minds new.  Out with what the world says.  In with what God says.  It is surely a trust in the Lord with all of your heart exercise that we should engage in daily.  Our own understanding replaced with God’s wisdom and love.

We are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind; yet, this is not an academic exercise.  For our mind to be renewed we must put these words of our Master into practice.  Otherwise, we are just thinking about thinking his way.  We perform the finest functions of metacognition without the essential element of trusting fully in him and thereby never seem to get around to putting his words into practice.

We are hardly transformed if we can’t convince ourselves to do what the Lord requires.  But to the one who has been transformed by the renewing of the mind:

We trust fully in God when we set aside our own understanding and put his words into practice, and without hedging our bet.

Sometimes this is simply a cup of cold water or a meal for someone in need.

Sometimes it is speaking the truth in love.

Sometimes it is much more.

All the time we will know what we are to do.  How is this possible?

Listen to Paul’s words once again.

Do 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.

We will be able to know, and test, and embrace what God wants us to do—the good and pleasing and perfect things that he wants us to do.  And it is all so easy.  Well, sort of…

My yoke is easy and my burden is light does not mean that suddenly life becomes free of conflict.  It does mean that what Christ calls us to do is not such a heavy burden that we should be afraid of it.  And it does get easier the more we put his words into practice.  Which brings us to wind sprints.
I have shared this analogy with some of you before, but I had to run them so you get to hear about them again.

Once upon a time, I was going into my sophomore year in Mangum, Oklahoma.  We had arrived in the Mangum area from Texas about a week before, just in time for summer two-a-days.  Those were the days.  A gulp of water and 14 salt tablets and back to the practice field you went.  That was sports medicine in the 1970’s.

We lived out in the country on a farm that we had bought years before and now we had come to live on it,  and I was sure that nobody knew me except the guys on the football team, but out of the blue, I got a phone call from the girl that lived a quarter of a mile down the road asking me if I would go with her to the dance.

I didn’t even know there was a dance.  I had played baseball the summer before in Texas, didn’t have a summer job other than two-a-days, so I didn’t really have any money.  I didn’t have a license, was pretty sure I didn’t know how to dance, and did not have my own car.  Considering all of these things, I said yes!

I had to confess that I didn’t have a car.  Her reply was, “Oh my mother wouldn’t let you take me by yourself anyway.”  That part of the logistics was settled, and I was wondering if I had a reputation before I had my first date here in Oklahoma.

Her mother probably just didn’t want to see us as episode 15 on 13 Reasons Why some 40 years later.  In any case, I had a date for Friday.

Friday came and her mom got us to the dance.  When the music started, I looked around at the other people making strange contortions on the dance floor and decided I could dance too.  Here are some other facts of interest.

The dance ended at 11:30 pm
Football curfew was 11:00 pm
My football coach was also the faculty chaperone for the dance.
My date’s mom came to pick us up at midnight.

Come Monday, at the end practice which was always wind sprints and all the gut-wrenching sounds that go with that exercise, my coach called out, “All dancers back on the wind sprint line.”  Nobody knew what he was talking about, well, except for me.

So, while everyone else was getting some water and another dozen salt tabs, I was doing wind sprints.  I was exhausted before the regular winds sprints.  Now I had more.

After half a dozen 40-yard sprints, my coach imparted a little wisdom.  “A horse will run until it kills itself.  You will pass out first.”  Now there’s some reassurance.

I set my mind on finding out if I would die or pass out and ran the next sprint as hard as I could, and lived.  I did the next one the same way.  And the next one and the next one.

And at the next practice when it came time for regular wind sprints, I was yards ahead of everyone on the line.   I played tackle, end, and linebacker so that’s where I ran my sprints.  After a few sprints, I slyly switched over to running with the backs and outran all but one.

These were guys that half of them could outrun me before practice.  When we all had nothing left, I left them in the dust.  By the end of the week, I outran them all.

When the last sprint was done, I wanted one more!  Just one more, just one more wind sprint.

I had been transformed from a kid that dreaded these end of practice rituals to an athlete that looked for challenge after challenge.  A lot can happen when a girl asks you out on a date.

The prescribed analogies for transformation direct us to the root word of metamorphosis which is μεταμορφόω  (met-am-or-fo'-o) and the example of the caterpillar and butterfly.  It’s a good example, but we have example after example that we see in our own lives and the lives of our children and those in the community.

I was privileged to witness a type of large-scale metamorphosis as a series commander at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.  To watch a bunch of—I’m sure that even this term is politically incorrect in some circles now—a bunch of momma’s boys be transformed into United States Marines was a sight that I observed every 13 weeks for about 3 years.

I witnessed many a young man who didn’t have a clue what was happening in the moment much less in his life, be transformed into a person of character and purpose and selflessness.

I have observed many inmate clients come to my office door, knock, have a momentary epiphany, and say, “You are going to ask me if I get what I want, will it get me any closer to my goal?”  They walked away having counseled themselves.

I spent a lot of time talking to inmate clients about efficacy.  Efficacy is the power to effect desired change.  Self-efficacy is the power to effect desired change in ourselves.  Understanding efficacy is powerful in itself.

We have the ability to transform ourselves into something better.  With God, we can be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ Jesus.  By renewing our minds, we can accelerate the process.

God is already at work on us.  We are being transformed.  Some of us are fighting the process.  Once we accept that we grow in God’s grace and are being transformed, we begin to see God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Once upon a time, wind sprints didn’t seem as tough as they used to be.  In this time that we live in now, the more we seek this transformation, the more we desire the next step in the process.

Having embraced the transformation process, we are ready to serve God in everything that we do.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

We are ready to be who God wants us to be.  We offer ourselves—everything that makes us who we are—to be a living sacrifice to God.  Our very lives—how we live—is our sacrifice and service and pleasing offering to God.

We are being transformed.
We are growing in God’s grace.
We are being made into the image and likeness of Christ Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God.

We are turning away from the ways of sin and the ways of the world and sprinting towards the ways of God.

We do this trusting fully in him and not our own understanding.

Have you ever walked into one of those hair places where the styles are in pictures on the wall or they have a book that they give you to pick from?  All you have to do is say, “Make me look like that.”

I tried that once.  I was told, “Sir, you don’t have enough hair for any of these.”

But the God of all creation doesn’t care about my hairstyle, clothing, or the car that I drive.  He sees my heart and says, “Let’s make your heart just like mine.”

He says, let’s do this transformation thing!  Renew your mind.

Study my word.  Listen to me when you pray.  Put my words into practice.
Be transformed!

God loved us exactly where he found us, but he loves us so much he will not leave us there.

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!


Amen.