Tuesday, July 22, 2014

To The Least of These

 We, as a nation are under attack. Tens of thousands of minor children from Latin American countries have swarmed to our borders. We, as a nation have detained them and are looking at a solution for "re-introducing" (deporting) them to their native countries. This has become a major problem and could cost this country hundreds of millions of dollars, money we simply do not have.
  So what do we do? That is not an easy question. If we feed and clothe them, we may never get rid of them. And if we do send them home all they will do is tell their friends and then come right back to our border, for more food and clothing. It is a vicious circle.
  I do not understand why this is suddenly our problem?  Why aren't their governments doing anything about this?  Actually, I think their governments may encouraging this migration, this invasion. This after the billions of dollars we funnel to them in aid. That is not fair.
  To be honest, this seems almost surreal, almost unbelievable, almost super natural. I understand that it is real, but I ask myself why? Why would my God let this happen to a Christian country. Don't we do enough already? Haven't we bent over backwards to help? Why?

  I believe that God is present in our lives every day. I believe that God is still in the miracle business and God is in control. Maybe this is part of God's plan. God has given this great country several nudges to do things and we seem to get tied up in things that really don't matter. Maybe God has had enough!

Matthew 25:31-46New International Version (NIV)

The Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

  How do we handle this? It may be the same way we handle God.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Them Bones

  This week I am deviating from the lectionary for my sermon. Yes, I am using Ezekiel 37 for my scripture. This is the story of the valley of dry bones.
  Ezekiel was a prophet in exile. He was part of the nation of Israel that had been taken to Babylon while the rest of his native country was destroyed. The vision that God gives him is a valley of dried and withered bones waiting for the prophet to breath life into them. Once breathed upon, they would rise and become flesh, and the people will be restored.
  This is a follow up to my Zombie Church sermon before Easter. This is kind of the zombiest, (is that a real word?- my spellcheck says no,) story of the whole Bible. Looking deeper at this, God is restoring the bones to LIFE, not making them un-dead. So, they are really not zombies are they.
  God can restore zombie churches, but only if we have vision. I have seen my share of un-dead churches in my life. Congregations that are nothing more than dry bones in a valley, or a sanctuary. God told Ezekiel to breath life into the bones of the valley and I think He tells us to do the same.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

It's All About Hymn

  It really hurts when I have to admit that I have traditional traits. Honestly, I really want to be a radical guy in a contemporary world. Things just seem to get in my way however, and sometimes these things worry me.
  Take worship music. Nothing says traditional worship more than a hymnal. I grew up in the United Methodist Church, so therefore I grew up using the United Methodist Hymnal as the main focus in worship. The hymnal had lots of things we used in worship; liturgy for baptism and communion, psalters and creeds, and hymns- lots of hymns. Most of the hymns were, maybe 150 years old, and they were meant to be sung by people who sang them as contemporary worship. They were old songs sung by old people. They were sung with organ accompaniment and it sounded like a bunch of cows mooing for their calves.
  I want to be radical, I want to throw off the shackles of the traditional worship. I want to dress comfortably and sing songs accompanied by a band with guitars and drums. I do like contemporary worship, but really the songs lack. I see the same hymns that I grew to hate are far superior to most contemporary works. The big Christian seasons really bring this out. Advent and Easter are almost ignored by contemporary music. We all love to sing the old carols during advent, and Easter may be even more dramatic.  
  Let's look at Easter songs traditionally sung on Easter morning:
Up From the Grave He Arose (322 in the Hymnal)
Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o're  His foes
He arose a victor from the dark domain
and he lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose-He arose
Halleluiah Christ arose.
  This pretty much sums it up!

How about Christ the Lord Is Risen Today (302 in the Hymnal)
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens and earth reply, Alleluia!

It may help if we do them in a different way. Try reciting those songs in rap style. It may change your world!

  The theology, the passion, and the guidance found in hymnals can no longer be ignored. Aside from your Bible, a hymnal can be your best tool in worship. Ouch! I said it. But they are not perfect. my next rant will be to fix the hymnal. Now, before it's too late.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Doubt It

  Okay, so we all know the story of "Doubting Thomas". Here was a guy who travel for years with Jesus, ate with him, saw many miracles and witnessed great miracles and yet could not believe that Jesus resurrected. What a maroon.
  To be honest, Thomas had the worst publicist of all the disciples, possibly excepting Judas. When we look at John 20:19-31 we may be surprised at what we see. As I alluded to in my earlier post, all of the disciples were in a locked room because of paralyzing fear when Jesus came to them. All except Thomas! (Of course, this all happened after the events of Easter Sunday.)
  Thomas was the only one who was not to scared to go in the outside world. Many people figure he was getting grub. Okay, I'll buy that- but why was he alone? Your are buying food for eleven, wouldn't you want help carrying the groceries.  When Thomas get's back all the other say, "guess who just dropped by to bless us? Jesus, Jesus made an appearance through that locked door, it was great!"
  Can you blame Thomas for doubting? These scared little disciples who wouldn't even go outside, they're the ones Jesus comes to? I really believe that Thomas did not doubt Jesus- he doubted his friends. (What's that smell? I know- it's Peter's cloak that is on fire.)
  When Jesus comes back in a week to a room with a closed door, (but not locked-baby steps), Thomas is with them. What does Thomas do? He tells Jesus "My Lord and my God." He professes that Jesus is divine. Did any of the other disciples do that? No!
  So I know you are asking yourself why is Steve taking up for Thomas so much? The answer is easy- because Thomas is Me! I am not afraid to go out into the world even though many people know I am a disciple of Jesus. However, I do not always believe the things that other disciples tell me, I sometimes demand proof. Not that I don't believe God can do anything, I do. I just have a hard time believing that He would do it to some people.
  Here is the rub. Is wanting some level of proof always a bad thing?   I don't think so. I tell people all the time it is okay to have doubts, that causes us to seek the truth. That causes us sometimes to exercise our faith. What happens when we exercise? We get healthier.
  I believe that God wants his followers to be healthy. I also believe that people will tell us things that are not true. Sometimes it's unintentional but sometimes it is planned. There are deceivers in this world, and if we can not seek truth use our judgments, we will fall into the trap set by the ultimate  evil doer.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Did Easter Change the Church?

  Another Easter Sunday has come and gone. We all had big crowds, the day in East Texas was beautiful, and the world was absolutely changed and redeemed. Well... I don't think it is totally by chance that the Sunday after Easter is Doubting Thomas Sunday in the lectionary readings.
  When we look at the story from John 20:19-31, we see remarkable similarities with our own lives. Jesus arose, presented himself to the ladies and to some of the disciples so what do they do? They hide, behind locked doors. Their fear overcomes their joy, and the truth is locked away in a room.
  So what do we do after some absolutely glorious worship events? Well, traditionally the Sunday after  Easter is known as Associate Pastor Sunday or Lay Leader Sunday or even "Low Sunday". The excitement of the risen Lord dies within a week.
  Actually, the week after Easter should be the big week. We should all be so fired up about the gospel that we take that fire out into the world and start to change it, we should be evangelizing to the point where the crowd after Easter Sunday should be even larger than the crowd the previous week. But it's not-is it?  We get so worn out by the excitement and passion of Holy Week that we take the next week off to rest, we retreat behind closed doors and Christ has to come chase us out. 
  Pastors are the worst. We are so worn out, but really what did we do? I preached three services, helped at another, assisted in a feeding that was truly miraculous and had a funeral. Full week. Does this mean I can ignore the excitement we helped create? Or does this give me the base to which I can really reach out to my congregation. If Jesus conquered death so that we can have faith, can't he also provide strength and energy to help us this week?
  Sometimes we can be like our friend Thomas. We really doubt that is what it is really about. We want to believe, but we are tired.

  Go-Fight-Win. Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week of Holy Week!

 This week is Holy Week! Duh! Really? If you are in the "church business" you know this all too well. My home church celebrates Holy Week this year by having a Seder Meal on Monday night, ( if you have never heard someone raised in Deep East Texas speaking in Hebrew- it is worth the price of admission. Think more flem.)  We then have a Maundy Thursday service, a Good Friday service, our new Saturday night service kicks off it's weekly appearances, then on Sunday we will have a sunrise, a 8:40 traditional and the 11:00 contemporary service.
  The small church I preach at has a shared service on Maundy Thursday at another church, a Good Friday service, a sunrise (Sonrise) service and the regular 11:00 AM service on Sunday. This is after we concluded our Lenten Bible Study on Monday night. Everybody gets their moneys worth during this week.
  I have heard of other Holy Week traditions and plans at other congregations. One town has a sunrise service in the parking lot of their county jail, and the inmates can attend. Several congregations have prayer vigils from the end of their Good Friday all the way 'til sunrise Easter morning. There are really some incredible things happening.
  At most congregations, the attendance will be the highest for all year- by a long way. The sanctuaries will be packed, flowers will be everywhere and children will wear clothes they would have never picked for themselves. Happy Easter!
  But why? Why is this week so special? I know the Sunday School answer- this is the day we celebrate Jesus' conquering death by raising from the dead. We can't do this every week? If we think this is such a big deal, shouldn't we be excited every day?
  I don't want to complain, but I will do it anyway. If we really believed in a risen Savior- we would do the things we do this week year round. There- I said it. Why are we such posers? Do we really think that God will see how we act a few hours every year and say "that's close enough"?
  Go to the special services. Sing with gusto "Christ the Lord is Risen Today!!!" Get fired up and feel happy. The world is ours because of what Jesus did. Tell your neighbor!
Go-Fight-Win. Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Palm Sunday

  This Sunday is Palm Sunday. This is the beginning of Holy Week, so it is kind of a big deal. We celebrate Jesus's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and mimic the crowd as they waved palm branched and shouted Hosanna!
  I am familiar with the story, I have heard it many times through the years. As a preacher, I try to make each Sunday exciting and educational for the congregation, so what do I do?
 What I always do. Not what I always say, but the way I always act, a little different. The lectionary text this week is Matthew 21:1-11. This particular passage of Jesus's entry of course has him procuring two equines, a colt and a donkey. So Is Steve going to look at this version of Jesus riding roman style?(two horses). Is that the outside the box twist for this entry? Nope! I'm going to let that one slide.
  Instead I will focus on the palms. It does say that the crowd cut branches and lay them on the road, (with their cloaks-that is a good way to ruin a good Sunday cloak.) It does not say they were all palm branches. To be honest, maybe the waving of the palms has nothing to do with palm trees and everything to do with human anatomy. The people waved their hands at Jesus.
  So what? How is this thinking outside the box? Please, how many of you have really put this together? The main point of this is that then crowds, the people, the hands are now a bigger part of the Holy Week experience. They (we) are now a separate character, right up there with Pilate, Judas and the Pharisees. We are the palms in Palm Sunday.
  How often do we wave our hands in the air during worship and call out to be saved,(Hosanna!) In the United Methodist Church- rarely. We have an aversion to raising our hands. I have been a basketball referee during my past, so I would help with my churches Upward Basketball. There is not a three point shot in Upward, (most kids can't even throw up a decent free throw.) One of the adults I was training to help referee asked why no threes. I replied that we are playing in the Christian Life Center of a Methodist Church, and we don't raise our hands for anything here.
  But we do! Even in very conservative worship styles we all cry out to god with arms raised. We all wave and shout. We are all the palms that wave at Jesus, this is our Sunday!
Go-Fight-Win. Amen.