Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mysterious God

The Mysterious God?
You know the old saying; God works in mysterious ways. As I continue to walk my journey in faith, I am beginning to believe and understand the falsehood of that statement. God is not as mysterious as we would like to think, rather the opposite holds more truth for me these days. God is obvious, what is mysterious is our reaction to God’s active presence in our lives. It seems easier that way, to explain or rationalize why things either happen or don’t when we do not take responsibility or participate in world events and world affairs. God does what is right, always has and always will. It is our responsibility to either believe and follow or oppose and let someone (if anyone) else do the work.
I believe people fear the responsibility that is entrusted on us when we accept the obvious and rightness of that which God offers to the world. So, we prefer to close our eyes to the reality and thereby create a false reality, our reality (not God’s). Where is the mystery in the dawn of a new day? Where is the mystery in having family and friends? And where is the mystery in food and sustenance for our bodies? God has provided all of these and freely gives them to all.
Surely, there are those who will say, look at the disasters of the world, the death and destruction surrounding many, the famine and starving peoples of the world. Although these things exist, it would be inaccurate to draw conclusion that they are the result of God’s desire for His creation. Certainly, these things exist and occur each and every day. The mystery is not in the why or how they have come to be, but in the what. The, what becomes of them once they are disclosed and we know the reality of their existence is then the question. We need to focus, not on the why of God ways, but on His expectations for our actions and on what are we doing to improve, prevent and change the course of events. We are created in the likeness of God and it is by that very essence that we, armed with the awareness of God within us, can solve the mystery. We then can look to dissolve the barriers that keep us from our calling and illuminate the opportunity for all to demonstrate the true nature of God and come to accept our role in the world.
When we take that one last look at events and issues, we know in our hearts what is right and what is wrong. We know that deep within us is an urge and an understanding of when, how and why we should act. Unfortunately, we more often take the less complicated, less frightening, less accountable and finally the less demanding of paths. Even when we choose to the right thing, often we choose to jump in only up to our ankles and not submerge ourselves and commit to total resolution. In short, we hold back. We may freely give or ourselves, but what we give, often is only a portion of our total capabilities.
What would the world look like if we all contributed to the extent of our abilities? The full use our unique talents and gifts in support of others could have a very dramatic impact not only in the lives of others, but just as important, on our relationship with our creator, the Living God. If you will, image the inventor of the world’s most powerful engine only then to install it in a vehicle whose purpose is to transport a person to and from church on Sunday mornings. All that potential but never given the opportunity to used for the purpose of it’s design. Such it is with us. We were created in the likeness of God, to be in relationship with Him, to serve His purposes, to care for His creation and to build His church on earth.
There is no mystery to it. God created us for a purpose. He created the world for a purpose. As for the mystery surrounding the question of why, we only need to look at our neighbors to recognize the obviousness of God’s creation. We were not created to be a solitary people. We are design to interact and to support one another. No one person has the gifts, talent and ability to thrive without the support of others. By our design we need others in order to grow and live with contentment. The only mystery is then, when will we discover what God has already fashioned in us and when will we release the power of His Spirit and build the Body of Christ. Amen.

Fuel the Fire

Fuel for the Fire
As I look out on to the sea of opportunity and hope, I see with increasing clarity a growing need to find the fuel that feeds the fire of our ministry within the Church. Years, if not decades of effort to relocate the physical framework of our ministry have taken it’s toll and drained the church body of the essential energy that makes ministry work possible. For years our leadership has been focused on financial and facility related issues as our top priorities if not our only priorities. On the surface, this attention to the tangible world of building and finance seem appropriate, but upon further inspection, it becomes evident that disproportionate attention is harmful to fulfilling our mission as a Church of Christ.
Within the membership of our congregation we are blessed to have many individuals and several groups whose ministry keep our hope and faith alive. The problem and the potential solution for our financial woes rest in our attention to ministry. The value, time and effort of these groups and individuals bring stability, care and growth opportunities for the church. These actions are rarely recognized and affirmed among the congregation and demonstrated through the leadership of all members.
An unscientific survey conducted with several members recently, gave indication that one of the most significant values that we bring as a congregation to our community of faith is LOVE. Love, demonstrated for our genuine care for each other is our strength and it is our single largest opportunity. Unfortunately, the awareness of our love for each other stands in the shadow of discussions over finance, facility and sound issues. Because of this, our priorities and focus are on our weakness rather than on our strength. We have been blessed with the ability to truly support, care and love one another and I suggest that as a congregation we commit to using God’s creation and our God given talents to the best of our abilities. We need to lead and demonstrate to our members, neighbors, visitor and community at large that we care deeply for their faith formation and the development of their relationship with our Lord and Savior. We can not change the future nor can we change lives of others, but we are placed here to create the opportunity to learn from one another, support each other and affirm the future that is given to all through the gift of God’s grace.
Grace is the fuel that feeds our ministry and our service in God’s creation. How do we tap into this life sustaining source of energy? The answer is, focus and attention to spiritual development and discipleship. Pursuit of finding God’s active presence in all that we do and seek the purpose for which we as individuals have been created, should be our priority. As we align our talents and activities around the pursuit and understanding of our spiritual calling, we will see that our future is secure and in the best hands possible, God’s.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sermon June 2010

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father to you this and everyday.
Today’s gospel from Luke marks the starting point of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. It is the first of many encounters that the author brings forward over the next 9 chapters. Jesus has set His sights on Jerusalem and intensifies His efforts to prepare the Disciples for the future. Jesus knows His destiny and at the very beginning of this passage we note that as Luke reflects back on this time, it has now become evident there were indicators of Jesus’ destiny for he writes “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem”.
In this passage, only 2 paragraphs long, I can quickly summarize to at least 5 talking points that can be discussed. With this in mind, I am draw to discuss the call to ministry and the guidance that Jesus provides for those who choose to follow Him. Over the last six verses, Jesus is describing the kind of life His followers should expect to encounter in their journey. In these verses, Jesus makes a very clear effort to warn those who choose to follow of the consequences and the difficulties of living a life in Christ. Jesus gives 3 examples of the kind of life one is to expect; the 1st is a nomadic life (homeless if you will). No place to call home, a safe harbor to find comfort and rest. Using the illustration that even the animals of the sky and land will have a place to call your own, but not for you. Not on earth and not now. The 2nd, seems to be the most cold hearted of the 3 statements in His instruction to let the dead bury the dead and to go forward and proclaim the kingdom of God. While the 3rd, to leave your family and friends without bidding farewell, is just as unsettling. In these examples, Jesus is setting the tone and establishing priority for those who will soon travel without him. It is as if he is saying, “decide now because it doesn’t get any easier from this point forward.”
Jesus is also, providing a sense of urgency, an indicator of the limited time that they have with Him. “keep moving, don’t look back and stay focused” may be more literal a translation for these verses. In verse 58, Jesus continues to point to the future; “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”. Here, Jesus is establishing that He now is on course to meet his destiny and fulfill His mission of God’s word. He is focused on getting to Jerusalem and will not look to set roots in any one place longer than required to complete His mission and establish His Church among the people and develop leaders to spread the word of God throughout the land. Jesus role as teacher and mentor moves into full swing. This is preparation work for the job that lies ahead. Just as He will suffer so will those who follow Him in this world. As scripture states, a prophet is not welcome in his own land, so too it is for us. Our home, our future, our eternity does not rest in the world as we now live, but with God our creator and with Jesus by our side. So, it is only expected that as He suffers, so too, it is likely that we will suffer.
As I read this, the image of Jesus as the ultimate mentor begins to form. Jesus is preparing the way. Good preparation helps us to keep us steady and on course of for us serve and be faithful in our service. A road without surprises is a road more easily traveled. Think back over your years and maybe more particularly, your younger developmental years. Can you recall a person who by their actions, words and leadership had a direct impact on your future or who had that ability to guide you through a variety of situations? I know there are several in my life, who I would identify as key influencers. As you look at these people, do you see any common traits or any patterns that bring relationship to them as a group, something that differentiates them from others? To assist us, let’s look at the word “mentor” and work our way through a definition.
Websters defines the term mentor this way – a trusted counselor; tutor or coach.
Wiki adds - … mentors provide expertise to less experienced individuals to help them advance their careers, enhance their education, and build their networks.
Exploring this further, as I recall those in my life, they were individuals who knew where they were going and had specific plans or ideas as to how they can accomplish their goal or follow the calling. My mentors all seemed to have a unique ability to envision the future while preparing and living today’s life in step with their future hopes. In other words, how to “do today so that tomorrow will be.” The specificity of their actions, reflect to an underlying philosophy that; one, our actions equal reactions and two that preparation works best when you anticipate all possible events, including those that could be deemed the “worst case scenario”.
This is why, Jesus can be considered the ultimate mentor. Jesus is very specific and very direct in his instruction for the work and difficult course that your life may take when following him. The best mentors in my life were the ones who quote “laid it on the line” unquote. Those whom made it clear in very specific and very direct terms as to what needs to be done. Mentors know, that life doesn’t just happen. Life is for ever changing and evolving, this is the beauty of Gods’ creation. God gives us, His creation, the freedom to decide the extent of our participation. God fully desires that we participate to the best of our ability and delights in us as we take on the challenges of living a life to its fullest and living life in Christ.
Looking out on life in our simplistic terms, we know that winning a Super Bowl is not an easy task, becoming a CEO does not happen by itself and surely caring for another person through their struggles takes emotional fortitude and requires personal sacrifice on our part to do it well. Almost every dream we may have for our life and or for the lives of our family members and friends, is worthy of our dedicated and undivided attention. And I would suggest that there were many mentors/teachers/coaches and parents that worked hard to guide those individuals to become the best that they can be in their particular field of endeavor. People, who painted a picture of possibilities for us. Who provided support and direction and maybe most of all, preparation for what to expect along the way. These things are not automatic, mentors, make special effort to shine as much light as possible on the pathway ahead in the hopes of avoiding a derailment. Mentors are people who put themselves on the line for the benefit of their students, athletes and children. What the best motivators know, is how far and how hard to push in order to get a persons attention. They know that at times, ice cold reality is important, so that you can gain clarity in your thought and drive your actions. They know that your focus needs to be acute and without interference or distraction.
Jesus is doing just that. He is letting His followers know that there is difficulty and there is pain to endure. But with his presence and through His example he shows that the reward we seek is readily at hand. Like all great leaders, Jesus goes one step further, by living the life and modeling the behavior that will lead us to the prize, eternity with our creator, redeemer and king. Jesus, ”lays it on the line” and tells us just what we are to expect so that the distractions remain just that distractions and never become barriers.
Little did the disciples know at the time that Jesus would set the ultimate example of a mentor. Total commitment and total release of Himslelf for the benefit of the world. This sacrificial act sets the tone and makes it clear that our future is an eternity with God. Through Jesus death on the cross and resurrection, the ultimate picture has been painted for us. This act of selflessness gives us not only the hope for our future but the knowledge of our future. Jesus death is the beginning and His resurrection is our future. Giving of ourselves for the benefit of others is the model that God has chosen through Christ Jesus. Jesus our mentor, will never ask us to die as He did, but He makes clear the expectation and the opportunity of living a life by His example. The choice to accept the role and challenge of leadership and to accept our God given calling, is left up to each of us. How we embrace and embody this framework for our lives today is the same choice that Jesus gave to the disciples in this passage of scripture.
Think of the sacrifices you make today in order to provide for your family that is stable and full of possibilities. How many of you have or are currently working 50-60 or more hours a week? How many of you are taking classes to advance your opportunities of employment? How many of you have worked 2 jobs so that your family may have enough income to sustain themselves? Look at your sacrifices, if it is anything like my life which I am certain for many there is a similarity you probably sacrificed too much of your life working on your career. As I now look back and I can see a familiarity to Jesus words and say that although I did not miss the funeral of my father, I missed many events and opportunities to support and be a part of the development of my sons. We all can relate to call of Jesus, although it seems strong, is it really that harsh? We unfortunately have made sacrifices that we would rather not have been forced to make which impacted our love ones. Life sometimes is a balancing act. We give a little here and take a little from there, but we all do it. Unfortunately, for many, we will be required to make difficult choices again in the future and weigh the risks of not being someplace we really want or should be and instead travel to that business appointment in order to preserve our job.
These statements about life as a follower of Christ are no different in that following Jesus, may require us to place priority in a direction we may rather not think about or discuss. Perhaps we have never framed the discussion or thought in the same hardened way that Jesus does for us in this lesson. Because of the finality of a funeral we see this statement in particular as too difficult, too hard, too sacrificial for us to live up to, but is it really? Jesus isn’t saying these things to scare His followers away. He is just calling it as it is and letting us know what to expect along the way. Dedication, focus and determination are all words that our parents, coaches and mentors have all used with us and we with our children. Preparation, knowing what to expect is more than half the battle. What good would it have been for us if Jesus said, follow me but if you must stay, then stay. I will be fine and maybe our paths will cross again. How miserable would that have been? Where would be able to place our hope if all could be given up so easily? Jesus knows that the best time to mentor and mold someone, is when you are face to face and in the company of one another. Once you separate yourself, the distance often continues to grow.
Who are your mentors today? Whether you are 7, 37 or 77 years old you should always look to have mentors in your life, people who share in your passion. We are never too old to seek help and support in our journey. Jesus is our living mentor. By overcoming death on the cross, He has secured His presence with us forever. He lives so that we may become His students, He lives so that we may find the path for our journey home. This is why I talk so much these days of Christ presence in our lives today. We should seek to grow in our relationship with Him through a continuous dialogue with Him. Talk to Him in prayer, through times of worry and through times of joy. Look for Him and when you find Him, stay close to Him. Let Him mentor and guide you. Listen to His words as He speaks to you. Watch the actions of those He places in front of you. Grab onto His hand don’t let go of Him. Keep Him close so that His strength will support you in the difficult journey that is life. Jesus is our mentor and much more than that. He is the source of our strength, the fulfillment of our needs and the comforter and healer of our wounds. His resurrection is the source of and the reason for our joy in life. Jesus makes Himself known to us and shows Himself to with us through the love and support we are given from others. He is alive in each of us. Let us learn to hear His voice and watch His actions so that we may be able to live a life as He did and as God desires. Let us go forward and proclaim God’s Kingdom and the gift of grace to the world by our actions and by our words as given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Our Responsibility

Our Responsibility

Today as we look out at the landscape of our faith life and our participation in the body of Christ we have to remember that it is with our eyes and our ears by which we receive the word and accept the Holy Spirit. So, why is it, that, we work so hard to ensure that our worship time on Sundays is exactly the way we remember it to be and the way by which we feel comfortable? We have already found our faith and yet we continue to look for strength and the love of God from that which we most familiar. To that point, we then expect others and our youth in particular to find their faith in the same place and in the same way we found ours. As we read the bible we know that even among us Christians, there are those who believe that one translation is more accurate than another. One translation that rings truer to our hearts than others, yet we also know that there is only one Bible. The translations are just a means to help different people, who have different modes of learning be able to recognize the true word of God. So, why do we expect our children to learn and grow in understanding from the exact same means that we did?

It is our obligation, it is our responsibility and it is our calling to bring the word of God to our children and in doing so we need to look beyond our comfort zones and use the words, media and communication methodology that is easy for them to understand and accept. We can not allow worship to be our time. We need to make it their time. Our time is in hand, we already know the love of Christ and we already know where and how to find God in our lives. It is time that we shed our self centered perspective and desires and open up the opportunities for others, in particular our young to find God. We must open the gateway and give permission for them to seek Him on their own terms and to find Him in ways that only they may understand. It is not about us. It is for them, that we need to prepare a place to find refuge, mercy and forgiveness that is Christ Jesus. We are His children, He spoke to us on our own level. Now we need to let go of ourselves so that those who follow will have what we have found. That the may find the joy and simplicity of life that comes from God the Father through the love, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.