By: Randy Hyde
Downloading a new operating system to your computer mirrors church life. Our old way of doing things is comfortable and familiar, but doing God's work requires time, effort and exploring the unfamiliar.
Jesus, in other words, taught his followers how to “talk to God in a different way.”2 Has he done that for you? When the storms of life rear their ugly heads, are you prepared to meet Jesus because he has taught you to pray? That doesn’t mean the storms won’t come up. They most assuredly will. But it does mean, I think, as Vivian Greene has said, that “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
To live amongst the weeds is to acknowledge that God is in control, and to understand that this is what he has called us to do: live simply, do our best to follow Jesus, and leave the rest to God. It is indeed the way of the kingdom, letting the wheat and the weeds grow together. After all, is it beyond God’s ability to eventually turn the weeds into wheat? I’ll leave you to answer that question for yourself.
So this is not advice that Jesus offers us, it is news... good news. When life is burdened, for whatever reason, Jesus encourages us to walk with him. The yoke he offers is not a single yoke but a double one. When we accept it, we cannot walk our own way, but must go in the direction he determines. We need to understand that.
It is here [at the table] we remember why... why we are who we are, why following Jesus is so important, why our relationship with Christ offers over and over again the newness of life.
You never know who you might sit down next to on an airplane. You never know what conversation you might have with someone that changes that person’s life. You never know who is observing what you are doing at any given moment. You never know who is accepting that cup of water from you, and what impact it might be having on them. You never know what circumstance, or perhaps even a tragedy, that comes to you will shape your destiny and that of others you encounter. You just never know.
No one can take God from anything that God himself does not want to abandon. Still, the very best act of stewardship and patriotism that we can exercise is our willingness to give back to our country what belongs to it, and to God what belongs to God. In fact, that is the very meaning of the word that is translated “render.” It means to give back again.
We have been created, you and I, in partnership with our Creator-Redeemer God, to help bring our world into right relationship with God. That has to do with more than just getting to heaven. Far more. It speaks to how we take care of the earth God has created and given us, it determines how we relate to others, especially those who are different from us. It expresses itself in every facet of our being. We live – right now, you and I – in God’s faith story.
But let’s go back to that fateful night when the Risen Christ appears to his frightened disciples in the upper room. There is rejoicing then as well, but a different kind of joy... a joy that comes more in the form of relief, like when it appears that all is lost and suddenly the Cavalry comes to the rescue. It wasn’t with the force of a wind that would knock them off their feet, but with a soft puff of the cheek that Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
[W]e can entrust ourselves to God as a child to a loving father. A child cannot do that unless first the father has let it be known that this kind of relationship is possible. Again, that was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. He hadn’t just come on the scene as yet another in a long line of would-be spokesmen for God. God had sent him on a particular mission, and at the very center of it was the need for Jesus to give his people a different picture of their God.
Let’s take another look at what Jesus said. Of these three phrases – “I am in my Father, you are in me, I am in you” – if you had to reduce it down to the one that means the most to you, which one would it be? “I am in you,” Jesus said to his disciples, and to you and me, “I am in you.” Isn’t that the phrase you would choose? “I am in you.” What does it mean – not theologically, not analytically – but personally, inwardly, to have the Spirit of Jesus in you? Not what it means to the person sitting next to you in that pew, but to you, that the Spirit of Jesus is in you?
Now, here’s the question... how can you have abundant life – joyful, jubilant, triumphal, exhilarating life (after all, that’s what the word abundant means) – when your days are spent just getting by – laboring, sweating, working, worrying – under such an oppressive system? What did Jesus mean and how does he provide such a thing? And how does what he said – “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” – translate from his world to ours?
John has come to know and believe that faith is not an easily-packaged reality. It is not the same, exactly, for everybody... no one-size-fits-all. There are different levels and types of faith, different layers, if you will, to one’s understanding and ability to believe... which, I would imagine, is just as true of us who are gathered here today.[John} wants his readers to be encouraged in knowing that whatever level of faith is theirs, it is still regarded as true faith in the eyes of the kingdom of heaven. He wants them to believe that their faith has validity, no matter how deep or wide it may be, because they have believed even when they haven’t seen the Risen Christ.
So let us hear this and hear it plainly and hear it clearly... This is not a table for the perfect, or for those who have their spiritual act together (despite what some people think when they try to interpret Paul’s version of this event). It is not for those who have all the answers. This table, and the invitation to come to it and partake of the bread and the cup, is for those who have it in their hearts to betray Jesus too.[ ]Why? Because it is the only place where we can hear Jesus say to us, “It is you who have stood by me through my trials.”
“My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus tells Pilate. “You’ve no cause for worry or for fear. I do not plan to overcome the kingdom of Caesar.” But he did, didn’t he? Not right away, perhaps, but it did happen. And guess what? Because he was willing to die on the cross, that kingdom – not of this world – is still in this world. And in you and me, in our hearts. Jesus thought it worth dying for. Isn’t it true that the least we can do is live in such a way that others can see it in us?
So let’s consider this... During these past six weeks, as we’ve made the Lenten journey with Jesus, we have heard what he said about temptation and thirst and birth and sight and the resurrection and the life and servanthood and betrayal and the kingdom. Today, we hear what he said about fear. And what did he say? Are you ready for this? He said, “Do not be afraid; go and tell...”
Think of it... the resurrected Christ, the Light of the World, has gotten on his knees and made a fire so he can prepare breakfast for his friends![ ]Don’t try to analyze it. Feel it! Feel the early morning dampness. Listen to the water lapping against the shore. Look at the fire with the fish roasting on the makeshift grill. Smell it. Sense the moment, take it all in. The greatest person who ever walked on this earth – the very Son of God, by the testimony of these men in that boat – and he chose to do the smallest and simplest of things; not just to symbolize what he wanted his followers to do and be, but because that was his Spirit, his purpose in life. That’s who he was and who he is... the Giver, the Servant. Now... how could you and I possibly want do otherwise?
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says to Martha. [ ]Martha thinks resurrection comes only “on the last day,” some time out in the future when God chooses to culminate life on this earth as we know it. But Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Resurrection begins now for those who believe... now! That is what this sign, the raising of Lazarus, points to. It points to Jesus... now! It points to life in Jesus... now!
Those of us who can see often take such a wonderful gift for granted. But have you ever considered that it might be a hindrance as well... when it gives us, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, the “cheap confidence that one quick glance at things” can tell us fully what they are, when it distracts us from the light that God gives us inwardly in our hearts, when it fools us into thinking that we have a clear view of how things really are, of where the road takes us, of who is right and who is wrong.2
Does this fascinating story still have something for us?[ ]I think it has, and offer this to you for your consideration. Continuing to drink from the well we call Jesus is to be the presence of Christ to others and to offer them the same water he has given us. And how do we do that? We can’t see in someone else’s heart and know what is there. Not like Jesus can. But we can know that everyone we meet – everyone we meet – is struggling to some degree. And we can accept others as Jesus does, and give him the opportunity to do for them what he did for that unnamed Samaritan woman so long ago. The water is already there. All we have to do is show someone else where to drink.
But we’ve already entered into temptation, haven’t we? Why, we’ve invited it in, closed the door behind us, locked it, and thrown away the key. Temptation, you see, is inevitable. Again, it’s in our DNA. But so is the promise of the One who shows us how to overcome it. Trust in him, and regardless of what temptation comes your way, he will have the final word. And Jesus’ final word is always one of redemption and grace.
Being born anew, or from above, is beginning the journey toward such a place and experiencing at least a part of it right here and right now. It is understanding earthly things from a heavenly perspective. It is to live in opposition, counter-intuitively, to the way most of the world operates. Look at Jesus’ life – what he said and what he did – and you’ll find that this is who he was.
I think it means that while in that garden, hearing nothing from his Father, Jesus could look back on this moment, this epiphany, this transfiguration, and remember. In the silence of that desperate, desperate moment, Jesus could know that if God had been there with him and for him before, God would – even in his silence – be there with him at the cross.
By: Randy Hyde
When a church exists in survival mode, it won't have the energy and ability to engage in visionary thinking. And that's the place where a church is able to change lives. So where are you?
Living faithfully, living truthfully, is a reflection of the very nature of God, and when we do that, we are most like the One who has created and saved us. Jesus carried that truth to the cross and embodied it in ways no other person has ever done. But before he did that, he brought it to the table.
Our choice may be to determine what our portal, our door – maybe even our river – is that connects us between the world in which we live and the place in which we worship. And, he would tell us that there can be no real difference between the two.[ ]The world is our church, and the church is our world. And the only real choice before us, wherever we are and whatever we do, is to choose life.
We are the salt of the earth, from Jesus’ perspective, and the light of the world. And he says “are”... “You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world.” Not will be, not might be, not even “I want you to be or should be.” The verb is not future tense, it is present. Nor is it dependent on our ability to be good. It is a God-given reality, a matter of divine grace, and there is no way we can get around it. We cannot escape it, we cannot avoid it or try to slip around it, explain it away or certainly deny it. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Still, what does it mean?
There is only one thing that will please God and start the wheels churning toward reconciliation. What does the Lord require? Three things, that when sifted down, are really just one thing: the Lord requires that you do justice, that you love kindness, and that you walk humbly with your God.
So let us mark it and mark it well: we are bound together by our devotion to Christ. Nothing else – nothing else – matters. The light of Jesus’ presence illuminates our deeds and encourages us to unite in him, even when we disagree. It is the only way to be church. It is the only way to be followers of the One who gave his life for us. It is the only way to live out the promise of our baptism, to be united in Christ.
Oddly enough, it was when Isaiah gave up in his despair – essentially calling a spade a spade when he said that he had no clue as to what to do next – when his own ideas of what was needed were given over, and his own sense of purpose was shredded and put away, that he then found room in his heart for God to give him a new vision for his people.
What does all this mean? It means to me that the first deacons, though they were told they should be seen only and not heard, refused to be boxed in by such limitations. They had things to do, to be sure, but they also had a story to tell.
When we were living in Baltimore back in the mid-80's, a sculptor created quite a controversy in nearby Washington, D.C. He depicted the holy family, not in the relatively warm confines of a stable, but as homeless, trying to take comfort from the warmth of a sewer grate in one of the city’s streets. Many people thought it unseemly to portray Jesus and his family that way. But it was probably more realistic than you might think. It just goes to show that traveling isn’t easy, especially when you have no home to which you might return. It just goes to show that there’s a dark side to Christmas because, despite all the Christmases that have come and gone, there is still not enough peace on earth.
Until... until, centuries later, God in his heaven finally agreed with those ancient tribal leaders... not that they needed a king who could muster an army or even build temples, but one they could see and touch and hear and believe in and follow. And what happened? They put him on a cross. But it is that very cross that leads to the kingdom, that brings us to eternity... because what we have is a king who would not save himself in order that you and I might indeed be saved. What we have is the King of kings and Lord of lords, forever and ever. Now that is a king worth following.
Jesus may not yet be interested in a birthday party, but I do think he is definitely interested in coming to meet you... that what he wants to do is come to you in ways he has never done so before. Whether Jesus has come to you once or twice, or many times over, he’s waiting yet again for an invitation from you to accept him into your heart. I do believe he is interested in that[...]
What we must do is move into the future with the hope and faith that God will be with us and will guide our steps. We may not appreciate this, but it is true. From a biblical perspective, God has always done his best work with just a remnant of the faithful. If we are to be that, we can do nothing better than place ourselves in the hands of the One who has come and given us the gift of life...
Instead, [Solomon] was intent solely on building a kingdom. What his wisdom didn’t teach him was that kingdoms aren’t built, they are given as a matter of the heart. And to receive that kingdom, one must open one’s heart to the loving presence of God. Of that, there is no limit.
We are told that David was a man after God’s own heart, but what exactly does that mean? It is when Samuel anoints David that the spirit of the Lord, as the Bible says, “came mightily upon David from that day forward.” Could it be that God made certain, on that momentous day, that his heart was entwined with the heart of this young shepherd boy? We can’t really say for sure. The only thing that is of certainty here is that David is God’s chosen... for whatever reason.
You see, we’re the rich ones – each one of us – even those of us who don’t know how we’re going to have enough money at the end of the month to pay the bills, even those of us who may be laboring at two jobs in order just to get by. By all earthly standards, we are the rich. We all live with, as Walter Breueggemann says, an “imagined scarcity.”2 So I’m not going to presume to tell you how to respond to all this, except to say that it really is true: we have nothing – nothing – that belongs to us that we cannot and should not give back to God. Then, God will give everything back to us again so we might share it with others. If that is the definition of contentment, then so be it.
Are you using all your resources when it comes to your faith? Your time, your energy, your education, your money... to inform and determine how you follow Jesus? If not, think about those irregular verbs and dangling participles, and even if you forgot your grammar so long ago you don’t remember what they are, let this story encourage you to deepen your faith in the One who has given his all to you.
On one hand [Jesus] makes heavy demands, on the other he talks about God’s extravagant acceptance of sinners. Which is it? He can’t have it both ways, can he? He says that in order to follow him, his would-be disciples must do more than be found; they must be willing to give everything away and die with him. It’s a tough – and on the face of it – mixed up message. So what gives?
We – you and I, this church, this community, this city – can we say we have arrived, that we have reached our final destination? Of course not. We live each day in the midst of a divine promise. How we share that promise with those who come after us makes and forms the true essence of our faith and gives us the purpose for our living now. God’s promise has no expiration date.2 But now, for this period of time when you and I live and move and have our being, the fulfillment of that promise is in our hands.
Still... what do you do when the dance is done? I mean after you’ve had that good, long sigh. After the Sunday afternoon nap. With the afterglow of such a wonderful occasion still warming your heart, what do you do next? How in the world do you follow up? You go back to work, that’s what you do.
Maybe it comes down to this... following Jesus for his sake and not our own, trusting in him not just because of the promise of heaven and eternal life, but because his way of living right now is the only way that gives you fulfillment and changes the world around you. Perhaps that is what he meant by being ready.
I don’t know if we can say it any better than this... pray for what Jesus prayed for, try to live the way Jesus lived, continue to put one foot in front of the other in this journey we call life, and ask God to go with you. I don’t think you can do that without prayer, do you?
[Epaphras] begins telling Paul about the young church, the struggles and the successes, the people who fill the pews and the manner in which the gospel is being lived out and witnessed to in the city of Colossae. “He (Epaphras) is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,” Paul says to the church, “and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.” Epaphras has come to Paul, telling him the back stories that serve as the framework for Paul’s prayers. Stories of faith and courage are essential to the life of any church.
Simon invited Jesus into his home, but did not treat him with respect. This unnamed woman, without speaking a word, asked Jesus into her heart, and in doing so sought and found forgiveness. Where do you think Jesus would rather be, in Simon’s home or in the woman’s heart? And what does that teach you and me?
Jesus seems to turn everything into a lesson on the kingdom of heaven. It was one of his greatest abilities and gifts. The clue to this lesson is found in what Jesus says next. “For it is to such as these (the children) that the kingdom of God belongs. Amen, I tell you,” Jesus says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And then he takes the children into his arms, lays his hands on them, and blesses them. And all the while, his red-faced disciples just stand there in amazement at such a thing. As important as discussions on marriage and divorce and adultery may be, Jesus is saying that having the attitude of a child is just as much so, if not more, important and eternal. Jesus has this gift of taking the moment – whether it’s in the often unwelcomed presence of the Pharisees or the very welcomed presence of the children – and turning it into a lesson on the kingdom of God.
[I]nspiration can indeed come by hearing, not only through words but also in the art that is inspired by faith. And then, having heard, we are called to go out and share what we have learned. Sometimes, not hearing is the blessing. The noise of our world would have you give it all your attention, not to mention your devotion, and the life of faith becomes an exercise in tuning it all out. But more often that not, it is in the hearing that eternity can be found; especially when God chooses to speak to us in a still, small voice.
[M]emory is a wonderful gift from God, that when accepted and used redemptively enables us to live more faithfully to the One who walks beside us and bids us be like him. [M]emory is not just for remembering the past, it is a wonderful gift that enables us to cope with the present. After all, how would life be now if we didn’t have the benefit of remembering the past? What if you had to start every day from scratch, with no context of your previous experience to guide you?
The scriptures don’t even give her a name, but she will forever be etched in our minds as one of the greatest examples of motherhood we will have ever known... if for no other reason than she was willing to go toe-to-toe with Jesus over the needs of her sick daughter. She would do anything to help her sick daughter.
[W]e’re living in a time when everyone seems to be searching for certainty. There are no question marks with certainty, no room for searching and finding. The 23rd Psalm, I do believe, would tell us that trusting in the One who saves us is far more valuable than knowing without doubt how He does it.
So don’t be satisfied with where you are in your faith. Never, never be satisfied. Don’t settle for normal, not until you find yourself on the street called Straight, a place where God takes that which is normal and makes it extraordinary indeed.
“Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Pilate is coming to Jerusalem from the west, and Jesus plans to enter it from the east. Both are coming by means of parade, and eventually they will collide, if not on Sunday certainly by Friday. Pilate enters the city in an obvious sign of power, Jesus does so in the kind of humility that is marked by a young colt. The contrast is obvious and immediate, and everyone knows who will win.
The Greek word for “rubbish” is skubala and in common usage referred to street-sweepings or table scraps or even excrement. It is, as you might guess, a term of contempt. At what point do our life’s essentials become rubbish, for the birds, excrement? Maybe when we finally realize what it means to follow the One who gave up everything that we might have the “surpassing value of knowing” him. Perhaps it is time for us to think upon such things.
That’s just one reason we need the season of Lent. Lent is the time when you and I are encouraged to say goodbye to the past and travel along a new path. The past is past and it is time to move on. The question that comes immediately to mind is, where? The Apostle Paul would probably tell you that the question is not where but what. “A new creation,” he calls us[...]“Today,” God says to the people of Israel, “I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” “Behold, everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
If our faith is dependent – that is, if it rises and falls – on what happens to us, good or bad, it is an insufficient faith. We do not gain God’s favor by being good, nor do we lose God’s blessing by being bad. But the repentance that leads to faith prepares us for whatever circumstances come our way.
Maybe that’s what you and I need to do... look up, that is. Maybe we’ve been spending too much time of late looking down. As we move from place to place, and the days, the years, the decades just roll on by, we spend too much time staring at our shoes. Do you think that maybe now is the time for us to start looking up? And when was the last time you asked what God would give you? When was the last time you asked God for some reassurance of his devotion to you? Maybe it’s time indeed for you to look up, but if you do, one thing God might just ask of you in response is patience, the patience to wait for his answer.
[W]hen you hear the voice of Jesus telling you to go out into the deep and cast your net of faith once more, when you know you need to go on but you don't think you have it in you to do it, try once more... because in your trying you will not be alone. You will find Jesus beside you, casting that net with you. And you will discover that the going may not be all that tough after all, for you have him at your side.
We have to look at our ministry in new and different ways, and it may require that we consider doing it in ways that we’ve not thought of before. But there will always be one constant. If we do not measure everything we do – everything – with the plumb line of love, nothing else will square.
Interpreting the Constitution as well as Scripture means we should weigh the context in which they were written and apply the spirit of that truth to today's circumstances.
God is taking the pieces of string with which your life is put together, and is giving them eternal purpose and meaning.
Despite his notoriety as a baseball player, Stan Musial, who died on Jan. 19, was a man of faith and humility, and his approach to life and baseball made an indelible mark.
Turning the water into wine proved to be the turning point in Jesus’ life and ministry, and the world was disrupted in a way it had never been before or has been since. The question is, have you allowed him to disrupt your life?
When God comes calling, you just never know what God is going to show you. So if one of your overriding goals in life is to hear the voice of God, you better prepare yourself because what you hear and see may not be what you expect or want... not at all.
Have you ever considered taking a spiritual inventory of your life, looking deeply and honestly at yourself to see where you are in the journey of faith?
Mary had a tremendous influence on her eldest son by embodying and professing this subversive, if not absurd, way of life and faith.
When the sun goes down on Christmas Eve, the noise of the day sets with it. In fact, it’s probably the quietest night of the year.
It is never too late to clothe yourself with the garment of Christ. Do so, and see where the journey takes you.
Whatever concerns you bring to your Christmas celebration, whether you think your expectations may be met or not, let your requests be made known to God, and then rejoice that you have a grace-giving God to whom you can pray.
The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth encourages us to bring our fears to the feet of the One who is born into our midst this season, and leave them there. It is then that we will be rescued from the hands of our enemies and will be free to serve the Lord.
Good standing and great boldness. Give it your best, let your religion show, and if you will do that, God will bless you for it.
There are times that come along, O Lord, when we need extraordinary faith. Now is such a time.
If Jesus, the descendant of Ruth and Boaz – and yes, Naomi – can be believed, God is still in the business of weaving his will in the lives of people he chooses to put together in this broken world of ours.
Continue on, walk by faith, believe with the hope that accompanies you in your journey, and know that in the grace of God you are loved and you are being redeemed to eternal life.
Real power, the power of the kingdom, is found in humility, and in service to others.
Everybody is looking for someone. How good it is to have found that person and know that it is Jesus.
The man who came to Jesus and knelt before him inquiring about the means to eternal life is alive and well in most of us who are here in church this morning, if for no other reason than we’ve participated in church as long as we can remember.
So when it comes to the question as to what God talks like, when it comes to God’s speaking to you, it is essentially an answer you will have to provide for yourself. But know this: however God speaks to you, you can be assured the message will go straight to your heart.
ou see, we’re not called to be God’s bouncers, to keep the church clean and pure. We are messengers of the grace that only God can give to those who find it.
Some folks in church are most interested in protecting their turf and enforcing their rules. Those who won't conform don't belong. We've become God's bouncers.
Real men may not eat quiche, but they own up to their shortcomings, their failures.
In a season in which negative things are being thrown around in all quarters as if they are the gospel truth, it’s a good time to talk about the way we talk.
Try to see others, regardless of who they are, with the eyes of Jesus, and I think you will find that faith, more often than not, is found in the most surprising of places and the least likely of people.
The making of covenant is a vital function of the church.
The preacher is never better than his last sermon.
When difficulties come our way, we don’t know how we’re going to stand it. Somehow, in his infinite and patient understanding and grace, God sees us through it.
Heart and mind, mind and heart. When you are able to safely maneuver the treacherous distance between the two, you have indeed come a long way in your faith.
With many churches in decline and as the neighborhood churches disappear, wouldn't it be nice to return to the golden era of Southern Baptist life? Not in a heartbeat, says one pastor.
Why bother being compassionate when those toward whom we direct our compassion will always be at our doorstep?
All we often hear from the news has to do with the Herods and Assads of our world. But slowly, imperceptibly, somehow, in the mystery and patience of God, the grace and mercy that comes only from God is seeping through the microscopic cracks of our world to redeem people like you and me.
I wonder sometimes if our familiarity with Jesus – or at least what we consider to be our familiarity with him – doesn’t get in the way of our accepting him on a level we have never experienced before.
So consider, if you will, that anything we give – money, effort, time – to the ministry of Christ in this church is not simply giving. It is giving back to the One who gave everything to us.
Where does your passion lie?
So when you come to worship, what do you see? When you come to worship, do you expect an extraordinary experience? When you come to worship, do you believe your life will be changed?
Being committed to Christ through this church requires a lot of patience. Looking at the world in which we live and wishing it were somehow different – and better – and not giving up, calls for a lot of patience.
The future will provide us more opportunities for our world to be shaken. What those are, we cannot yet know. But the Holy Spirit never allows us to stand still.
You and I are here today because that tomb is empty. The one who is there no longer stands behind us but before us and calls each one of us by name.
Are you at that point in your life and journey where a choice needs to be made?
What is it you fear the most? What does it do to you and how does it affect your faith?
By all appearances, we’re doing what God wants, that which would make Jesus happy. But we need to be aware of, and careful of, the possibility that appearances can be deceiving.
Change our names, Lord, to reflect who we are, created and redeemed through your holy grace.
You will find that transfigurations can occur in the valley as well. In fact, the chances are that you will find Jesus more in the valley than you will on the mountaintop.
If Jesus doesn’t have authority over who you are and what you do, you need to understand that he will not force himself upon you. Instead, he will gently take your hand, walk beside you, and encourage you to come to increasingly deeper understandings of faith. He will do it with authority.
While a slim majority holds a favorable impression of Southern Baptists, half of young adults said they would not consider joining a Southern Baptist church. Will a new name make a difference?
While we work hard at protecting our innermost secrets, here comes God invading our privacy, knowing more about us than we even know ourselves.
You see, the lure of the wilderness is your search for redemption. And you need look no further, for that is where you encounter the One who gave himself for you. It is in the wilderness you will find him waiting to receive you. It is in the wilderness that you find the answers you seek.
You may find that good news in the simplest of things, but if Christmas really and truly comes to you, you will find it. Or maybe we should say it will find you. And that is worth waiting for indeed.
... that the real gift of Christmas is not that iPod or iPad, that sweater or coat or whatever it is you couldn’t live without, but the Christ child.
But any time you feel that holy twinge, when you perceive in your heart that perhaps God is trying to tell you something that will, in all likelihood, change your life, there just may be an angel involved. If that happens to you, you might also discover that God’s message is found, not just in what the angel has to say, but in what is not said after the angel has departed.
You don’t have to look far to see those who could use a little light in this dark, dark world. It could very well be that God wants you to be like the Baptist. You don’t have to deny who you are, just be willing to share your light when the darkness comes.
We all carry our own issues into worship today, don’t we, our distractions and sometimes our depression? This is how we begin this Christmas season. When you stop and think about it, it’s pretty much how we start every Christmas season. We’re exhausted and we still have a month to go.
What did Jesus do? He went all over the place touching people, blessing them, showing them a side of God they had never seen before. Rich or poor, sick or whole, young or old, Jesus touched them in a way that no on else had ever done before. People who could do nothing in return for him, Jesus touched them and made them whole.
There is more out there for us to hold in our hands because God, in his eternal wisdom and grace, wants to give it to us. The question is, will we receive it? And if so, what will we do with it then?
If you are now, or have ever found yourself, in grief, think of how it has changed your perspective on life. You just don’t look at things the same anymore. When you look at your world – your daily existence, your faith – through the tears of grief, you see in a whole new and different way.
Have you ever thought about what you’ve had to settle for in life?
Regardless of one's feelings about Mormonism, Baptists ought to be concerned about the free exercise of religion – even for those who aspire to the highest office in our land.
So what do you render to God? If you think the U.S. government first thought of it, when they came up with the image of a white-haired bearded man in a tall hat pointing his finger and saying, “Uncle Sam Wants You,” then think again. God first and last makes that claim.
We must remember that the very way God has chosen to conquer the wolves of evil and death that threaten us every day is by sending Jesus to be the Good Shepherd that lays down his own life for the sheep.
The next time Jesus doesn’t answer one of your questions, it may be because he’s waiting for you to come up with some answers of your own. The question is not, what will you say? It is, what will you do?
You see, when God throws a pity party, it is not because God is pouting. It is because God has it in mind to save those who seem to be un-savable, to forgive those who may not even know they stand in need of forgiveness, to restore those who don’t even know their right hand from their left.
Is Jesus’ command – and by the way, that’s what it is... it is not a suggestion – to turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, impossible for us to do?
When you read this conversation between Jesus and his disciples, as they make their way from Galilee to Caesarea Philippi, you can’t help but think he’s setting them up
It takes faith to believe that God will come along and reinterpret our personal stories in such a way that there is grace within them. The least we can do is seek to give God a hand in making sure that things turn out the way God wants and not the way we think they should be.
There are those times it takes an interruption for Jesus to get our attention, but when we place those interruptions in his hands, they become blessed indeed because anything – anything – in Jesus’ hands is holy.
If we are going to be imprisoned by anything, let it be by hope. Not hope in the past tense, as in “we had hoped.” Hope in the present and future tense, hope in the promise that God is not through with us just yet, hope in the belief that we have so much, despite our personal circumstances, for which to rejoice.
Being nice isn’t on page one of the gospels. Nor did Jesus come into the world to teach us how to be kind. He came to model for us how to be authentic people of God’s kingdom so that when we recite the Lord’s Prayer and say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we really mean it.
“Go! Do not stay here in Galilee where it is comfortable and familiar. Do not remain where life will be the same as it was before. Go where people need to hear the gospel. Go where the journey has not yet taken you. Go into the unknown. And as you go, tell the good news. Make disciples. Baptize those who believe. And take with you the knowledge that I will always be with you.”
If it is indeed true that major events in life, both good and bad and maybe in-between – major surgery, a catastrophic illness, the death of a loved one – shape you and change you, at least to a certain extent, then what Jesus endured on the cross, and his coming back to them, surely did change him somehow.
Jesus tells us to believe... believe that he has not really left us, that he is present to us in a way that we cannot, at the present time, understand. But one day, one day, we will.
When Christ lives within us, we don’t have to know all there is to know about God, nor do we have to give ourselves solely to an emotional response to God’s presence. We can have a true balance between the two because it is not we who live but Christ who lives in us.
In your life, as you journey down this road of following Jesus, if you ever wonder about what you ought to do next and you find the Bible to be more of a puzzle than a help, do this: focus on Jesus... what he said, what he did, and to whom he took his message.
Can it be that someone who was so obviously dead – after all, they had seen the nails driven through him, the spear thrust into his side, his plaintive scream that it was finished – can it be that he, once so dead, is now alive? Can it? Besides all this.
Scars. We all bear them. Some we may even be proud of. Some scars, of course, are not obvious and are not physical. They are emotional.
Don’t cling so fast to this little life you know that it keeps you from the promise of the life that is to come. Who knows, it might just be the most freeing experience you will ever have. And it will bring you into, and keep you in, the presence of Jesus.
Where is your water jar? Do you carry it around with you everywhere you go? If it’s sitting there beside you in the pew, come to the One who is the eternal Gift of God. Leave your water jar in the dust of your past, and come to Jesus. You won’t need it any more.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I AM WHO I AM,” and he says it repeatedly, “I am the bread of life, I am the door of the sheep, I am the good shepherd... the true vine... the resurrection... the way, the truth, and the life.”
We can take comfort in that Jesus is not so unlike us that he can’t understand what we go through every day. It is precisely because he was tempted as we are that he can walk beside us and encourage us to respond as he did... obediently.
This is a strange story, the Transfiguration. You know why? Because this was a strange event... Elijah and Moses – the late Elijah and Moses – having a parlay with Jesus.
Who said following Jesus would be easy? Especially when we find ourselves disagreeing with what he had to say? And let me ask you – be honest now – do you agree with everything that was read a moment ago, what Jesus had to say in the Sermon on the Mount?
You know what it was like that day on the mountainside? It was like being ranked number one pre-season and expecting your team to go undefeated, only to lose the season opener by four touchdowns. That’s what it was like.
Freedom of speech has always given rise to extremists who abuse that freedom. When rhetoric turns violent, we need to do something about it. It's time to tone down the rhetoric and find a way to work together.
“Baptist” is not necessarily a name our spiritual forefathers chose for themselves. It was given to them by those who observed their behavior, didn’t like it very much, and chose the name as a form of ridicule.
Our reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah is set about seven hundred years before Jesus was born. The prophet finds himself right smack dab in the midst of some real international intrigue.
If there is anyone who can make something from nothing, it is the One whose coming we anticipate in this season. May Isaiah’s vision come true for us because we see through the eyes of an artist.
What are you hoping for this season? Perhaps responding to an invitation will help. No, not an invitation to yet another party. An invitation offered you by the prophet Isaiah. He says to you and me, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”
If you are fearful, I would suggest that you do this... First of all, take the counsel of God and be still for just a moment. Hard to do, isn’t it? Let God’s presence slowly but surely take over your heart and settle into your soul.
It is the best way – actually, it is the only way – I know of giving testimony to your faith. Believe that Jesus will give you words and wisdom, and know that the rest of us will hold you in our prayers... a day at a time.
Every church that has any history at all has experienced its glory days when the pews were full and the programs were operating on full cycle and all cylinders. All you have to do is look at a church’s buildings. Congregations build according to size, not to mention growth expectations.
Luke is a Gentile, and one of his major points is that Jesus’ ministry is for everyone, that good news will be brought to all the poor, release will be proclaimed to all the captives. All the blind will receive their sight and all the oppressed will go free. The year of the Lord’s favor will be proclaimed to all (4:18-19). Not just to the Jews but to the Gentiles as well.
So if Paul leaves nothing else to Timothy in his last will and testament, perhaps it is that longing... that longing that he, Timothy, will one day claim that prize as well. Do you think, if that is indeed true, the same might be said for us?
If you have the courage to look back and trace the journey of your life, I think that for the most part your testimony would be that your life is not only good but it is better for the way you’ve done it. In fact, had your life turned out the way you planned it, chances are it wouldn’t be nearly as good as it really is.
If I want advice about keeping my car running smoothly, I’ll go to a mechanic. If I’m concerned about my health, I’ll talk to a physician. If I want to know how to deal with adversity, I can do no better than to consider the words of Paul and the life of the One to whom Paul gave his life.
“Lord, increase our faith!” “We can’t do this on our own. It’s too much for us to bear. We’re going to need some help. No, check that, we are going to need your help. You’ve loaded us down with burdens too big to carry, and if we’re going to do this thing you’re going to have to hold us up!” “Lord, increase our faith!”
You don’t need me to tell you that you can make scripture say just about anything you want it to say. People often turn to the Bible to back up their arguments, as if that is what the Bible is for.
The Apostle Paul, in writing to his young colleague Timothy, encourages him to pray for everybody, including those in authority.
We – you and I – work hard to be like the ninety-nine sheep and the nine coins that never got lost. Yet, there are those out there who capitalize on being like the lost coin and the lost sheep. We call them sinful people.
Maybe Jesus had an anti-megachurch bias. He didn’t like big groups, or didn’t trust a crowd mentality. Perhaps Jesus was suspicious of many of those who followed after him, especially the ones who appeared to be in it for what they could get out of it. Or, it could be that Jesus was an introvert and preferred to be by himself.
The most important question is not whether Jesus would go to church, but how would he be treated if he did? By you and me?
But faith is not found in its definition, as remarkable as that definition may be. It doesn’t do any good if it stays on the pages of your Bible or is kept on your tongue. It has to translate into something beyond just the definition. Faith is not a definition, it is a relationship.
If you ever wonder why some people take issue with the Bible, wonder no more. Our reading from Luke’s gospel provides us the perfect example. It is just chock full of contradictions, and these contradictions come straight from the mouth of Jesus.
If we will indeed walk with the one true God, without our usual excuses, our steps will take us there. And when our journey is complete, and our final steps taken, we will know that the stumbling and the wobbling and the falling – not to mention the getting back up – is all worth it.
I think that God is probably grateful for any prayer we’re willing to offer. Just give it all to God, right or wrong. God knows what to do with it, and will respond with the kind of grace that only God can give.
My friend George Mason says the real issue is “that Martha is cookin’ it up for Jesus and Mary is cookin’ it up with Jesus... Mary teaches us,” he says, “that we do not host Jesus; we guest him as he hosts us.”
There comes a time, regardless of the circumstances or the questions that confront us, when we are faced with the need to remain faithful... to each other and to the God who has brought us together. Life can get tough, and when it does there is that tendency to want to bail out, to walk away, give it up, throw in the dice, and say, “What’s the use?” I’ve been there. Have you?
When we ask Jesus to come through our doors, do you think he would take us up on our invitation? And if he does, will we treat him as our favored guest? After all, he might just bring a few sinners with him.
If you’ve been standing back, waiting in the shadows, afraid to take that step of faith, you might discover, with the presence of God as your Companion, that living on the edge is the only place you want to be.
No, Christians didn’t begin Pentecost. Pentecost started as a Jewish festival, and it’s quite possible the Jews borrowed the tradition from some other form of religion. That’s the way religious traditions are, you know.
Instead of just going through each day without a sense of purpose or reason for what we find ourselves doing, why not place ourselves in God’s hands and ask to be used for something good, for something eternal, for something that will certainly live beyond us?
God is always to be found in the present tense, and it is right now that he has prepared his table for us. Here we will find evidences, in the words of the psalmist, of God’s goodness and mercy. Here we will find all we need for the journey.
Simon had viewed himself as a leader of men. When the disciples of Jesus needed a spokesman, hadn’t Simon stepped in? Hadn’t he been the one to encourage them when they needed it most? Wasn’t he the one who resisted efforts on the part of the authorities to arrest Jesus and take him into custody?
We Baptists are not a creedal people. That means that Baptist churches do not hold to a centralized, orthodox theological statement with which we all agree. Baptists tend to be stubborn that way.
It was a long time ago. Six hundred years before Jesus came preaching, in fact, and the people of Israel find themselves still exiled in Babylon.
If we want to keep company with Jesus, we won’t generally find him in proper social circles. Instead, he will be found among those he came to seek and to save. If we want to keep company with Jesus, we might just have to re-think our daily agenda and go where he goes, do what he does, love those he loves.
This is the season for getting in touch with the Source of all our grace, and then finding it within our hearts to be faithful to the One who is the Great Provider of all we have and of who we are.
Elisha has a message for us, and it is still as relevant today as when he whispered it forcefully in the ear of his servant in Dothan. “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
It is at the Lord’s table that Jesus gathers us under his wings and protects us, sometimes even from ourselves. He is willing, even now, to reach out for us and bring us into the kingdom fold. We accept that invitation by eating the bread and drinking the cup.
Tiger Woods and Toyota have something in common. For Tiger, his now well-publicized sins have hurt his family. For Toyota, they disregarded the welfare of their customers. Idolatry always comes with a price.
It’s interesting – ironic even – that the two most popular passages of scripture recited at weddings have nothing to do with marriage or the love between a woman and a man. But I dare say you can’t attend a wedding without at least one of these passages being read.
This probably wasn’t the first time they’d fished all night and come up with nothing. Simon, son of Jonah, and his partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, had been in the fishing business for awhile. And after you’ve been in the business a few years – the fishing business, any business for that matter – you’ve just about seen it all.
It is not the book that changes us but the God who lives and breathes and has being within our hearts. But it is that book that opens us up to such a redeeming God. So the more time we spend with it, the more time we spend with the Holy... and that’s a good thing, right?
I realized, as we talked, that what we were doing in that moment was not so much to celebrate pink cowgirl shoes – nor even how very cute Anna Claire is – as it was to create a memory... a memory for a little girl who one day may just reach back in the recesses of her mind, and when she needs the promises of God the most, will remember those cowgirl “shoes” and when she wore them to church and so many people made over them and told them how cute they – and she – was. And because of that, I wonder if she might say, “You know, I belong to God. I belong to God.”
For Mary, the temple was a place of letting go. And do you know why she had to do it, why Jesus had to let her know that he had a calling to fulfill that would be more important than even is love for her? Because of you, that’s why. And me... and all those whom he came to save. And for that, we can be most grateful.
Do you see Jeremiah’s point? If we wait until the “right” moment comes for us to begin to celebrate God’s blessings, we miss so much in the meantime. And, we show our lack of faith. The time is now, to take joy not only in the blessings God gives us, but to celebrate in anticipation of what God has yet to do through us. Why? Because God is in the anticipation. We are to celebrate who we are right now, with the anticipation that we will become even more, even better, with God’s leadership and grace.
When it comes, not only to Christmas, but to the world in which you live, where do you get your ideas? If you are willing to risk it, look with fresh, new eyes at that book you have in your lap. It might just change your perspective. Better yet, it might just change your world and make everything – everything – topsy-turvy.
It is the season of preparation, and it begins not in the usual places but in the heart. Did you hear this morning’s gospel reading from The Message? The Baptist is speaking of Jesus when he says, “He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of your lives.” So the next time you take up a broom to clean your home in preparation for Christmas, remember John, will you? “Come clean and come empty”2 when it is time to meet your King, and recognize there may just be a few cobwebs in your soul. It’s cleaning time, time to get ready for the coming of the King, and the best preparation begins inside, right here (the heart). How will you respond?
This Advent season needs to find us doing our duty. And what is that? I’ll put it this way... If we do not use this season as an opportunity to be people of light who share the good news that God has come to our darkened world, then there is reason for us to question whether we are truly Christ followers.
Are we willing to do the same? I don’t know if God is still willing to respond to a bargain, as God did with Hannah. I’m not sure I would encourage you to do that sort of thing. But I do believe this... the Lord will take that which is barren and empty and make it rich and good. If that sounds good to you just about now, I would encourage you to sit down and have a talk with God. Whether your lips move or not, trust that God will hear you and respond. And then, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t bless you with a double portion.
There is a sense in which believing in and following the One who gave himself sacrificially for us requires a real diligence on our part, a desire each day – not just once a year – to give ourselves more fully to him than we did the day before. In no way am I suggesting that this is an easy or automatic thing to do.
And just when you think you can’t do it, you see that walking beside you on this new path of life is One who carries his cross in one arm and carries you in the other. It kinda makes you want to pick up your feet and move on, doesn’t it, even if it is on a path that no one has ever traveled before.
This passage in Mark concludes with Jesus’ telling his disciples, despite their failures, that they are salt. You’ll find that same metaphor in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. I don’t think Jesus would have said that had he given up on them. It may just be his way of telling them to take this life of discipleship one day at a time. And as they do, make sure there is enough seasoning in their faith that it will make a difference, that they will make a difference. It doesn’t have to be a big difference. After all, it doesn’t take much salt to flavor a meal. A day at a time, walking in his direction, seeking his will, discerning his purpose, trying to do what he would do.
What we are finally left with is what every child is left with... the need for mercy and forgiveness, the knowledge that in our imperfect world, inhabited by flawed people such as ourselves, the law is not the final word. With God, grace is always the bottom line. And aren’t you glad for that?
Listen. Listen carefully. Listen closely. If you think you “hear” the silence of God, listen again, for what you may really be hearing is the sound of God crying in the next room. And the next time God pierces your heart and soul, as if with that two-edged sword, look into God’s face. You will see the tears. Doing this might just help you realize that dealing with God is not an easy thing to do, for you or for God. But, frankly, do we have any other choice?
The only way to face tomorrow is placing ourselves in the hands of the One who has told us – not three times, but thousands of times – that the only way to follow him is by way of sacrifice and service. If we will be willing to do that, though there is no guarantee where it will take us, we will know that we’re in very good company.
So the only question left for us to answer is, “O say, can you see?” If so, come to the table of our Lord. Eat, drink, remember, and know what Jesus wants to do for you.
So let’s ask the question again, shall we? “Jesus, which commandment is first of all?” As we wait in anticipation of what he might say in response to that question, he looks at us and says nothing. Slowly he points upward to the cross and it is then we know that is all the answer we need.
One commentator tells of her grandmother who immigrated to this country from Italy. When she shopped at the local supermarket she would often point to the loaves of bread and ask, “Why do people eat-a these things? They have-a no taste.” Then she would tell her granddaughter that life was too short to eat anything but good bread. So, they spent every Saturday making their own bread, pizza, and pasta for the family. Then the granddaughterasks, “Why settle for bread that is not bread, for life that is not life?”
It may not be getting any easier to follow Jesus, but “to whom can we go?” Answer that question, and I think you will find yourself at the Lord’s Table, eating this bread, drinking from this cup. If you will, then you can go out from this place ready to face anything.
There is never a bad time to stop and quietly reflect upon your life... where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and if it’s the destination you really and truly want to pursue. But now, as the summer activities, if not the warm weather, are starting to give way to the renewal of school and a new season, isn’t now – right now – the perfect time to do it? When was the last time you thought about to what extent you are redeeming the time in which you live? How are you using the time you have been apportioned, especially the time you have left on this mortal earth?
Do you think John would give us a straight answer? I doubt it. I think what he might say to you and to me is that we have to find in our own hearts how we will believe in and follow our Christ. And then we trust the journey to God, hoping and believing that in God’s grace we’ve chosen the right path.
My guess – my hope – is that it will be the right path, if for no other reason than Christ will be there. And wherever we find Jesus, we find his forgiving grace.
When we hunger for that grace, God does a magical thing. God reaches down into the very depths of our hearts and lifts us up above the cares and difficulties we encounter, and enters our personal wildernesses. And in that moment, we are offered something to eat, something that will never perish. I encourage you to accept this grace as if it were your very last meal, for in it you will find the Living Bread. And if you accept it, you will never hunger again.
Somehow, I have a feeling that Jesus knows what he’s going to do with the Pulaski Heights Baptist Church. Here we are with the multitudes at our feet, and all we have available to us are a few measly pieces of bread and a couple of fish. Is it enough? Of course not. We never have enough and never will. But Jesus is willing to take it and do with it what only he can, and he’s going to do it with our help or with our hindrance.
I think we need to start asking which it will be. Are you ready for a miracle? Well, are you?
Whenever Jesus – then or now – sees others, he looks upon them with a spirit of compassion. The only difference is that now he depends on you and me to be his eyes, his hands and feet, to reflect his presence, and to show his sheep a better way of life and where the Shepherd is. To do so, we’ve got to be willing to put up with the inconveniences. Even more, we have to be passionate about being compassionate. After all, it goes with the fame.
There’s a sense in which you and I ourselves are living in a story within a story. We haven’t reached the final word of grace... not yet. That final word has yet to be written. But in the meantime, we are to be like the disciples who go out and minister in Christ’s name... with a hammer or paint brush in our hand, with just a smile or an encouraging word for those who so desperately need it. There is no guarantee that we won’t be confronted by our present-day Herods. The only assurance – but it is assurance enough – is that God will be with us every step of the way.
By all accounts, the world wouldn’t see faith present in the bread and the cup. But then again, the world doesn’t look for faith anyway. The world looks for, and depends on, the obvious and the strongest and the most powerful. But in these simple elements of life we find the keys to eternal life. And the way to unlock that secret is through faith
So, if you ever find yourself asking the same question as the disciples – “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” – you can be certain of this... There is no difficulty, there is no trouble you can go through that Christ will not be by your side. Indeed, he would have you face your storms head on, but you will never have to do it alone. He will take you as you are, just as the disciples did with him, and he will lead you through the wind and the waves on the sea. And the only preparation you need is to simply get into the boat. He will be there waiting for you, and soon you will find that Jesus makes an very good traveling companion.
Can Jesus do any deeds of power here in this place, in you and in me? It took his hometown folk to prove that it takes a village to reject him. Perhaps it is time for us to reveal that it takes a village to respond to him and to his presence, and then give Jesus the opportunity to do a new thing in our hearts.
There is a sense in which that moment is relived over and over again for you and for me. When you and I are captured by a new understanding, when the Holy Spirit says that we are to go over and join that person in the chariot, when out in the middle of nowhere we are claimed all over again by the God who refuses to be boxed in by our limited understandings and beliefs, we realize that today – in this very moment – the scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.
But when the pains of contractions begin there is a complete and utter disruption of life-as-usual. Chaos prevails, not order. Panic, not reason. Other plans have been made; they’ll have to be pushed aside. Something larger and stronger – something inevitable and unchangeable – is now in charge. The birth will occur – not neatly, not logically or in straightforward fashion – but in “messy waves of fear and pain, plateaus of waiting and spikes of recognition and joy that culminate in new life.”
We ask Jesus to come to us and show us his wounds, to prove to us that he is alive and is willing to invest himself in who we are and what we do. We want to know for certain that Jesus will walk with us and encourage us in our faith and in the journey of life. We ask for Jesus to do this, and because he is One who loves us beyond all human abilities to measure, he walks up to us, shows us the wounds in his hands, reveals to us the gash in his side, and in his woundedness he says to us, “Follow me.”
My friends, the prophet Isaiah was right. This is our God, and this is the day of the Lord. If you have been waiting for him, this is the day of the Lord, the day when the risen Christ stands before you and calls your name. There is no day like this day to give your heart to him. Come, sit at his table and partake of the feast he has prepared for you, and in the promise of the Risen Christ, say without fear, “This is my God.”
You see, the expression “good news” was not an altogether positive word for the people of Israel... at least not in Jesus’ day. It is many years since Jeremiah uttered these same prophetic words, but once again the people of Israel are on edge, not to mention held captive. This time it is the Romans and not the Babylonians. And while they are allowed to remain in their own land – they haven’t been taken into exile – they have discovered that exile is not so much a place as it is an imposition. It is no less an exile for Jesus’ people than it was for Jeremiah’s people.
It is really very simple, you see. We – you and I – are descendants of the Judaeo-Christian tradition that holds to a basic, central conviction: “Human life is to be lived before God.” That’s the first part... “Human life is to be lived before God.” If you are into outlining, it is Point One. “Human life is to be lived before God.” One A is this: life before God “has an order and structure.”
There are few certain things in life, but what Abraham does know without doubt is that he is old, that Sarah is barren and beyond the natural ability to give birth, and that so far the only thing they have to show for all their efforts is dust in their nostrils and no place to call their own. And though we didn’t read it, we are aware that when God once again tells them Sarah will have a son, Abraham is left with nothing but his laughter. It is not a gleeful sound that comes from joy; it is the laughter that comes when it hurts too much to cry.
The season of Lent is a time of re-doing our vows with God. Perhaps, as at no other time of the year, it is now that we are given permission to be honest about ourselves, about the nature of our sin, the kind of people we would be without God’s merciful grace upon us. It is only because God has graciously not given up on us, at least not since the days of the flood, that we are allowed to be honest about who we are.
Randy Hyde: "We all know that occasionally churches have been victimized by gunmen. The latest took place last year in a Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tenn. But does anyone honestly believe that allowing worshipers to shoot back is the answer?"
You may be wondering what this has to do with you. You’re healthy, or at least reasonably so. Thank God for modern medicine, you say. And whether Jesus was moved with pity or was angry, this has little or nothing to do with you. Well, as you might guess, I would encourage you to think again. Why? Because of what Jesus does next. He commands that this man tell no one of what has happened. Of course, that is not what the man does. He goes around telling anybody who will listen.
I have no ownership of Christ. And if I find myself, like Simon and the others, going out into a quiet place to retrieve my Jesus, and he says no to me, or does not respond to me, because he feels the need to be somewhere else with somebody else, it might just be because I have no exclusive claim on him. I do not own him. The only thing I can do with my Jesus is accept him and then, to whatever extent I can, share him with others.
Randy Hyde is senior pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark. He holds degrees from Ouachita Baptist University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a doctorate from Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is married to Janet, and they have two grown children, Emily and Timothy.
The Bible tells the story of God's desire for a different kind of world than presently exists in any generation or culture.
A lot of preachers take Monday off. I know, I know, there's the old saw about how a preacher only works one day a week, so he not only takes Mondays off but the rest of the week as well. Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I've heard that one ...
The recent New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta focused on Jesus' moral agenda, outlined in Luke 4. Perhaps like the Shema (Dt 6:4-9), we should keep these words of Jesus in our hearts, recite them to our children, and talk about them when we are at home and when we are away, when we lie down and when we rise. They are worthy of our binding them as a sign on our hand, fixing them as an ensign on our foreheads, and writing them on the doorposts of our houses and on our gates.
Our recent trip to the Washington D.C. area did not afford my wife, Janet. and me nearly enough time for seeing historical sites. Since we stayed nearby, we did visit the battlefield at Manassas (or Bull Run, as the Union referred to it), where the Civil War began. It is a place of great beauty and deep sadness, where two critical battles were waged and many lives were lost.
Their names are Naomi Rose Ebersol, Marian Fisher, Mary Liz Miller, Lena Miller, and Anna Mae Stolzfus. They were the Amish girls, ages ranging from 7 to 13, who were recently murdered by Charles Carl Roberts in Nickel Mines, Pa.
Sorry, Moses. I have to tell you that I've trumped you. I realize that the faith journey is not a competition, so please don't hear me bragging about this. In fact, it was one of the most humbling, if not gratifying, experiences I've ever had. But, I've managed to do something you couldn't do, weren't ever allowed to do.