Thursday, May 23, 2013

Keep Unity

And the Devotions keep going today. From Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado

Keep Unity
May the Lord lead your hearts into God's love and Christ's patience. -2 Thessalonians 3:5

   "All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other" (John 13:35). Stop and think about this verse for a minute. Could it be that unity is the key to reaching the world for Christ?
   If unity is the key to evangelism, shouldn't it have precedence in our prayers? Should we, as Paul said, "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3 NIV)? If unity matters to God, then shouldn't unity matter to us? If unity is a priority in heaven, then shouldn't it be a priority on earth?
   Nowhere, by the way, are we told to build unity. We are told simply to keep unity. From God's perspective there is but "one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16). Unity does not need to be created; it simply needs to be protected.
    How do we do that? ... Does that mean we compromise our convictions? No. Does it mean we abandon the truths we cherish? No. But it does mean we look long and hard at the attitudes we carry.

Tomorrow's Pharisee

I am amazed when God puts lessons together. Today's devotional from the Upper Room goes along so well with what I have planned to preach on Sunday.

Luke 11:37-44 (ESV)
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those thing that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you out to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.

Luke 11: 42 (NIV)
Jesus said, "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.

A pastor of mine once said, "The Christians of one generation tend to become the Pharisees of the next." The Pharisees had started out on the right track; they wanted to live for God. But keeping the law became an end in itself. They forget that the law was meant to draw them closer to God.
Today's reading shows what happens when our focus on outward cleanliness becomes an obsession, blocking out the more important part of the inner life. Jesus' words cause us to step back and look carefully at what we're doing and why we're doing it. The three "woes" in today's reading remind us not to focus on appearances while the inner life is in disrepair.
The first tells us that if we love God, we will desire justice and give to the poor. Then Jesus says that if we are humble, we will not care about having the "important" seats. Finally, if we neglect the inner life, Jesus tells us, we will become like an unmarked grave, trampled underfoot. But if we nurture it, we will be vital and spiritually alive.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to remain focused on living and serving you. Amen

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Open for Healing

From The Upper Room: Your Place to Meet God
May-June 2013 Tuesday May 21st by Gale Richards (Iowa)

Psalm 51:1-7 (ESV)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)
If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

   Friends told me that my sudden illness was an allergic reaction, but I didn't really believe them because I'd never had allergies. Finally, with a high fever and barely able to move, I begged my wife to take me to the hospital. I remember saying, "I guess I must have some sort of allergy."
   The hospital staff isolated the problem and took corrective measures that relieved my physical distress. Later it struck me that until I admitted my problem, little could be done to save me from it. I had to be open to the remedy for my condition.
   Something similar is true for us as sinners. Until we admit that we have sinned, we can never open our hearts to accept God's forgiving grace that is the remedy for sin. I heard a minister say one time, "The hardest step in the act of redemption is the step where the sinner accepts the need for it." Only after we admit that we are sinners can we accept God's grace offered as a remedy for our sinfulness.

Prayer: Dear Father, we have sinned, and we fear that you will reject us because of it. Help us to accept your grace and draw close to you. Amen.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Steadfast Love, Justice and Righteousness

From The Upper Room: Your Place to Meet God May-June 2013 Friday May 17th by Karenn Voorhees (Kansas)

Measuring Up

Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in the wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and know me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD." Jeremiah 9:23-24 (ESV)

   The Lord has blessed me, enabling me to be a wife, a mom, and a grandmother. However, I have struggled from time to time with low self-esteem. Because I do not have a college education or a career outside my home, sometimes I see myself as not having anything to offer the world. Other people have much more to offer, it seems.
    Recently, as I read Jeremiah 9:23-24, I experienced an epiphany; I grasped a new perspective on how we should evaluate ourselves. God said we are not to boast in the wisdom we possess, the strength we have, or the riches we've accumulated. Our education and whatever career or job we have are included as part of our wisdom and possessions. Just as we are not to boast, we are not to be ashamed for our lack of a college education or a high-status job or career. If our value to the body of Christ could be measured, it should be measured according to our service to others.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, you came and served the world. Help us to see the ways we can follow your example in serving others. Amen

I have met some incredible people over the past seven weeks. Many who never went to college, and many who never went to high school. While they may not have an education to boast in, they can certainly boast in the things that matter. Steadfast Love. Justice. Righteousness. These are the things that delight our LORD. These are the things we should boast in.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Time to Speak

From Heart of a Shepherd: Meditations for Pastorsby Angie Best-Boss

So then, each of us will be accountable to God. Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.
-Romans 14:12-13
   "They say death always comes in threes," explained the older woman.
   "Surely you don't think there will be another death, do you?" I asked incredulously. "We have had five deaths in as many weeks. How much worse could it be? Besides," I pointed out, "we've already had our third death."
   She looked at me as if I couldn't count. "It starts over again. Didn't you know?" She shook her head. "I just wonder who it will be."
   Seeing myself as a bearer of light into darkness, I tried to explain how superstitions were just that and there was no need to worry. She nodded politely and ignored me completely. "Comes in threes, you just wait and see," she said. "That's what my mama used to say and her mama before her." She shook her head at my youthful naiveté and stubbornness. I left the house wondering how anyone in the twentieth century could believe in such an old wives' tale.
   That very night, that woman's grandson died in his sleep from an illness no one had known about. Comes in threes, indeed. Our conversation came back to me as I sat in her living room early the next morning. In the larger scheme of things, did it matter if whether she believed the gospel. I wished that I had spent less time debating the validity of a superstition and more time addressing the anxiety she obviously felt.
   Just because we have an opinion doesn't mean that we, as pastors, have to share it. What a bitter pill to swallow- because we have so many good opinions! Yet as I discovered for myself, getting into discussions and even arguments about things that are eternally irrelevant may hinder us when we try to present the gospel.
   Pray the Lord would guide you in your discussions with your members. May you enjoy your time with them, learn to read between the lines of conversations, and discern when to be silent and when to speak.
This devotion spoke to me a bit this morning.
First the superstition of three got me. Just last Wednesday after spending the morning in the school, I asked myself: "My mom always says it comes in threes. Will it this time?" As many of you know tomorrow morning will be the third death and grieving that I have experienced in three weeks. First was Landon, then Kathie, and now Doris Carey. I certainly don't believe in superstitions. Sometimes I find it interesting when they do take place.
The second thing that spoke to me is that I have been guilty of sharing my opinion on things with little eternal relevancy. If this has been with you, I am sorry. I do not mean to dismiss what you are really saying to me. I haven't been listening when I should be. Please forgive me.
The third thing is that this devotional is not just for pastors. It is for all of us who call ourselves followers of Christ. Why do we worry about the discussions and arguments of eternal irrelevance? Do we listen for the underlying current of what is being said? What is really the reason behind what someone is saying? May be we quick to listen and slow to speak.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Praying to Die Well

From the Henri Nouwen Society's daily e-mail devotional:

Praying to Die Well
Many people say, "I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying."  This is quite understandable, since dying often means illness, pain, dependency, and loneliness.
The fear of dying is nothing to be ashamed of.  It is the most human of all human fears. Jesus himself entered into that fear.  In his anguish "sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood" (Luke 22:44).  How must we deal with our fear of dying?  Like Jesus we must pray that we may receive special strength to make the great passage to new life.  Then we can trust that God will send us an angel to comfort us, as he sent an angel to Jesus.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Today I am Bitter

Job 23: 1-6 (ESV)

Then Job answered and said:
"Today also my complaint is bitter;
my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me."

Job 23:1-6 (The Message)

Job replied:
"I'm not letting up- I'm standing my ground.
My complaint is legitimate.
God has no right to treat me like this-it isn't fair!
If I knew where on earth to find him, I'd go straight to him.
I'd lay my case before him face-to-face,
give him all my arguments firsthand.
I'd find out exactly what he's thinking,
discover what's going on in his head.
Do you think he'd dismiss me or bully me?
No, he'd take me seriously."

I shared this piece of scripture last Tuesday with a family, but I am really feeling it today. Why God? Why has all of this happened in this town, to this town in such a short amount of time? Why did it have to happen at all? Do you really want us to suffer like this?

I like what Job says here. If I knew where I could find God (in his physical presence), I would march right up to him and give him a piece of my mind. Would he send me away without listening? NO... he would listen to me.

Are you as angry, frustrated, hurt, sad as I am? Good! Take that to God. God can't honor things when we hide them from Him or from each other. He takes us seriously. He pays attention to us. As a pastor I know puts it... "God can't bless BS"

Let your emotions hang out. Let them be out there. Scripture tells us "In your anger do not sin. (Ephesians 4:26)" It does not say bottle your anger (bitterness, frustration, hurt, sadness) up so tightly that one day the cork will pop off. What is saying that you can be angry. Just don't let your anger cause you to sin. Let it propel you to something of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." This is where the Spirit is working.

So today, I admit I am bitter. I am owning that. I lay it out before the Lord Almighty. He hears my cry and takes me seriously.

Matthew 20: 1-16

From the ESV (English Standard Version)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

What sort of emotion does this bring up in you?
Do you identify more with the first set of laborers, second set, or the last set?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Landon Bueber

Landon Bueber died Tuesday evening in his home, surrounded by his family.

I didn't know Landon. I never met Landon. I've been praying for Landon because of my friend Bobbi, and her request a few months ago to pray for a little boy and his family from her home town (months before I was called here as the pastor). So I prayed.

Tim met Kristie on Sunday night, and passed on the message that she would like to meet me. Tuesday afternoon/night I sat alone on the couch struggling with how to go over to their house, and then I got an e-mail telling me what had happened. I knew that I needed to be there, but I had no idea how.

You may think that is weird. How can a pastor not know how to walk over to someone's house when tragedy happens? We are human. We feel emotion. We ask "Why?" just like everyone else. We get scared. We are afraid to say or do the wrong thing.

I am so glad I went. I am SO thankful that a member from the church was willing to go with me. I think he would say he is glad he went too. 

If you've stopped by the church this week, you know that I haven't been there. I've been at the Elementary School. Wednesday morning, I joined the principle and school counselor as we went to every class and explained that Landon had died. We've then offered a room where students could go to express their grief and ask their questions. Some have even found a new friend or two who feel the same things as they do.

Our kids ask Why? They are beginning to understand the finality of death. They wonder how Landon's mommy and daddy are doing. They color pictures and write letters to a brother who may not fully understand yet. They miss their friend and classmate.

Sunday night there will be a viewing from 5-7pm with a wake/prayer service at 7pm. Monday the funeral will be at 10:30am. All of this will be at the Armory. Students will be allowed to go if their parents are available to take them.

I will be there. I will grieve. I will stand with the community as we say good-bye.