There is always a day after conflict. It doesn’t all end when one side wins and the other loses. Why does that matter to us? Because we have a big “day after” moment coming up in November.
2020 has been the year of unwelcome change. (That may be an understatement!)
Change can often produce anxiety, sadness, anger, apathy, listlessness and sleepless nights. I am sure we all have experienced at least one of those symptoms this year. I know I have.
This may be the most difficult year of my ministry because of the change that is beyond my control.
I mentioned the other day in our daily broadcast that this is a time of testing for the church. Let me be clear, God isn’t the one testing us, but it is a test none the less. We always have a choice to endure or to give up. I, for one, refuse to give up. The love of God will see us through if we don’t quit or walk away.
Life is obviously not normal right now. Tensions are high and frustration abounds. I feel it too.
In times like this I am reminded of what John Maxwell once said, “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.”
Most of us don’t like change, especially when we do not choose it. Yet, change happens all the time… even when there is not a pandemic! However, in 2020 we are inundated with daily reminders in our socially distanced and masked world that life has changed and there is not much we can do about it.
Between the moments of anxiety, I turn to Jesus to calm my fears and ask, “What do I need to learn to grow in my faith and grow as a person/pastor?”
What have I learned? I have learned to let go. I do not have control over much and that I can only do so much. I leave the rest to Jesus through prayer. I have come to greater trust that God is leading the way and I will continue to point to the One who is still out in front us.
I have taken many deep breaths in the past months and remind myself that Jesus is watching over us all and promises to lead us forward through this “sea change”. I remind myself that we haven’t gotten this far by chance.
In moments of uncertainty and anxiety I turn to this passage in Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” Isaiah 43:1-3
I believe that with my whole heart. Life may not be easy at times, but we are never without help and comfort. God is with us and we have each other.
God bless you,
We take a look at the next Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Faithfulness. I clear up some misconceptions about faith and how it is different than belief. Transformation begins with faith… not belief.
Who are you listening to? What are the voices in your life that are influencing you?
- 24 hour “news” channels?
Does Jesus even make the list? My guess is yes. But, to what extent?
There are voices all around telling us: what to believe, what to hate and what to fear. Often these same voices will tell you that only they can protect your family, your finances and your way of life.
I hear all the voices competing not just for our attention but for our heart, mind and soul. It is easy to be distracted by the opinions of others. The noise becomes dangerous when you are convinced these voices are compatible or in total agreement with our faith.
Pastor Paul wrote a letter to the church he started in Galatia. He saw that they were being influenced by others in an unfaithful way.
He cautioned them and he cautions us…
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” Galatians 5:7-8
Paul saw his fledging church diligently following Jesus and then they went off the proverbial rails. He asked the same question I asked earlier, “Who is influencing your thinking?”
Then Paul tells this church point blank, “The way you are thinking doesn’t come from Jesus.” Wow.
This isn’t the only place where we are cautioned to NOT listen to every voice that tickles our ears.
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, shares God’s heart with Jerusalem as they go down a path toward destruction (literally)…
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:16
Remember that old Sunday School Song?
O be careful little ears what you hear
O be careful little ears what you hear
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love
So, be careful little ears what you hear…
If you didn’t go to Sunday School as a kid, we sang lots of songs like this. Some good, some cheesy. But you get the point–be selective of what you give your attention to.
Jesus reminds us of this simple truth…
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27
Are you listening to the Great Shepherd? Don’t buy into the fear and hate. Listen for love. Everything else is just noise.
We take a look two fruits of the Spirit through the lens of ancient wisdom this week. Kindness and gentleness. We need them more than ever.
We are great at separating people. At a glance we can discern if someone is on our team or should be shunned and ridiculed. Humans are particularly good at drawing lines in the sand and then determining who belongs on which side.
We are really talented at breaking down community. We eagerly identify our foes so we can sling invectives and any verbal dirt we can scrounge up.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some very bad people in the world but those are the exception and not the rule. Yet, we want to ostracize a good portion of the population for any number of reasons. Our default is to surround ourselves with people who agree with us 95% of the time.
Those 95% are called friends. Often friendships are build upon our mutual affinities and those commonalities forge deep and lasting relationships. However, if you write off the rest of the world, you are missing an opportunity to serve, grow and love. (Yes, I know it is hard to love those you disagree with. Remember, I am a pastor.)
I believe it is time to resist our nature proclivity to only spend time with those who agree with us. Ministry happens when you build bridges and not throw bombs. The Kingdom of God grows when we are reconciled to each other and not estranged.
We are reminded of the importance of unity within the Bible. Let me give you a few examples.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity! Psalm 133:1
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12&14
God is all about unity. Clearly Jesus wants us to be one! Saint Paul reminds us that all believers form one body… the body of Christ.
Jesus once corrected the disciples about drawing lines in the sand…
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Mark 9:38-40
Wow. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” That is generous of Jesus to make that statement. He is willing to let a lot of things go to get to that position. I hope you see that too. Jesus could have said, “Unless thouest agree with me in the ninety-fifth percentile, thouest is against me.” Or he could have just as easily agreed with the disciples. “You are right, they aren’t with us, let’s be against them.” Jesus is looking to build unity and so should we.
Erase that line in the sand, walk across the aisle and build a relationship first. Not everything has to be a litmus test of acceptability. We worship an inclusive God who offers radical grace.
God bless you,
I ran across this news story that I want to share with you written by Michael Goonan from the Good News Network…
It seemed that life was finally giving her a break. A single mom down to her last $7 found a $1 bill in a grocery store parking lot. So she walked back into the store, bought a lottery ticket, and won $100.
Just like that, her luck began turning around.
Most of us in that position would probably keep the $100 and breathe a sigh of relief. But not Shetara Sims. At the urging of her 12-year old daughter Rakiya, she decided to donate all of her winnings to the family of a local Kansas City police officer wounded in the line of duty.
For the Sims family, the desire to pay it forward is personal. When Shetara’s eldest daughter was killed in 2012, Kansas City police officers went above and beyond to support her family as much as possible.
“The detectives were really there for us. They were there for us more than anyone I can imagine. They did things they didn’t have to do,” Shetara told CNN. “They came to see my kids. They did a lot. They were fathers, therapists. They were everything.”
Not wanting to make a fuss about her generosity, Shetara called the Kansas City Police Department and made her donation anonymously. She told the officers on the phone that she had been dealing with several hardships of her own, recently losing her job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It didn’t take long, though, until the local police precincts were abuzz, touched by Shetara’s kindness and gratitude. A group of officers became determined to find her to express their own thanks.
After finally locating Shetara, the Police Department decided to set up a GoFundMe page to help her family with their financial situation. They called the campaign, ‘Helping the Woman With a Heart of Gold,” and the response was overwhelming—with strangers and officers donating more than $145,000.
“People like her are hard to come by,” wrote Kansas City resident Chantale Childs on the police department’s Facebook post that announced the campaign. “A person that would give to a stranger and not eat for herself… she deserves support. It’s amazing to see my community come together for this person. Makes me proud!”
This story reminds me of something a lot of people have forgotten, the importance of kindness.
I hear how people will fight for their rights and go to war over this and that but all we need is kindness.
Kindness is glue that holds society together. It is not drawing lines in the sand or anything that fosters an “us vs. them” mentality.
When we extend ourselves to others, relationships are built. When everyone does it; cohesion happens. It is not hard to see that we are not unified. However, kindness can reverse this condition if we all invest in this rare commodity.
King Solomon reminds us of the importance of kindness…
Those who despise their neighbor sins, but blessed are those who are kind to the needy. Proverbs 14:21
Deep down we are all a little needy… needy for some kindness. Give a little and see if it comes back to you. We have to start somewhere.
We take a look at the second fruit of the Holy Spirit today through the lens of the wisdom of Proverbs. We find something quite surprising… joy is found in justice.
We begin a new sermon series called “How to Foolproof Your LIfe.” We will look at how to add wisdom to our lives focusing in on the Fruit of the Spirit. Wisdom is way better than knowledge. We begin today with love.
Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. Proverbs 12:19
History is not kind to those who peddle in ignorance or deceit. Not only does King Solomon say so but time has a way of exposing the truth even if it was obscured for a season… remember: truth endures.
Even Jesus talked about this when he met with Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3. Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” John 3:19-20
There are some who want hide what they are doing for obvious reasons. They don’t want anyone (let alone God) see what they are really up to. Some will discover a horrifying truth at the end of their lives, and it is this: There is a God and God saw everything. To quote Martin Luther, “This is most certainly true.”
Everything comes to light at some point and not only at the end! Lies, deception, half-truths, cruelty can’t be hidden even by the greatest magician. The truth will prevail because Jesus is true.
Yet, we seem to be struggling with the truth these days. In the past 30 years we have gone from truth being objective to completely subjective. What I mean by that is this, “What I hold as a truth may not be a truth for you.”
However, I am reminded of what God thinks of truth telling a few verses later in Proverbs…
The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are truthful. Proverbs 12:22
I don’t know about you, but that alone causes me to pause and think. I want to be one who tells the objective truth about everything and not some version of the truth that reflects my preferences and way of life.
Do you remember what God directly said about how we should talk about others? Let me give you a hint, it is found in God’s only top ten list in the Bible.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16 Us old school Christians often say, “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” God doesn’t want us lying about others.
Martin Luther expands this commandment in his explanation of it. Dr. Luther writes, “We should fear and love God, and so we should not tell lies about our neighbor, nor betray, slander, or defame him, but should apologize for him, speak well of him, and interpret charitably all that he does.”
God says, “Don’t tell lies about your neighbor.” Luther says, “Speak well of your neighbor or don’t say anything at all.”
If we could do this one thing in 2020, the world would be a better place. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be liars out there (Spoiler alert: there always will be). Let the liars speak for themselves. Remember: the truth will always reveal itself.
What does Jesus says about identifying people in this world?
Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:16-20
I’ve known some great liars in my life but I don’t talk about them because I can’t say anything nice about them. Their “fruit” gives them away anyway.
I am going to keep on following the truth wherever it may lead. Jesus hasn’t let me down yet and besides he is “the way and the truth and the life.”
God bless you,