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Out Of Control

“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul… O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:1-2, NRSV) 

These words from the ancient psalm writer still ring true today. There is so much going on in our world, nation, and community; a pandemic, financial recession, social justice movement, election cycle, and more all in this one year of 2020. Our days and nights can become filled with anxious thoughts about the uncertainties that lie ahead. 

Psalm 131 breathes the fresh air of wisdom into our anxious moments. “I do not occupy myself with things to great and too marvelous for me.” In other words, don’t get carried away with worry over things you can’t control anyway. “But I have calmed and quieted my soul…” How? By hoping in and waiting on the Lord. 

Jesus said the same thing in just a little different way. “Don’t worry about your life… Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life… Instead, seek first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness…” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 33, CEB)  

So, I invite you to join me in following the biblical wisdom of the ancient psalmist and the call of Jesus on our lives.  Calm and quiet all that you are, your soul. And breathe in deeply the hope that only comes in trusting God, especially when things seem out of control.

Bigger Picture

A large butterfly flew by as my wife and I were hiking recently in Bennett Springs State Park.  It landed on the purple bloom of a long-stemmed plant just off the trail. There were two other butterflies on the same plant.  We considered ourselves lucky to stumble on to such a beautiful sight and headed on down the trail. 

Just a few steps later we saw another butterfly laden plant and this time stopped to snap this picture. While stopped, we discovered there were layers of these purple blossomed plants stretching several yards up the wooded hillside. The whole area was in constant motion with hundreds of butterflies. It was like being in a butterfly house without any walls! Amazing!

We could have easily missed it, if we’d been unwilling to halt our hike and look around. And it was a reminder that at times we all can get so focused on where we’re headed or what’s right in front of us, that we can forget to see the bigger picture. 

How many times does that happen in our lives with God?

“Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.” May these words of Clara Scott’s old hymn be our prayer, as we slow down enough, or even stop, to see the bigger picture that God has laid out for us. 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve

Surprise!

Surprise lilies have always been a favorite of mine. Their long slender stems and beautiful pink blooms spring up out of nowhere.  Surprise! 

They're also known as resurrection lilies. The comparison is appropriate. The leaves of the plant grow out in the spring and then die back in June, no longer there as summer warms up. At that point its life cycle appears to be over. Weeks later with the overnight spouting of blooms the plant is resurrected, defying what’s usually the hottest part of the year!

Surprise lilies are a striking reminder of God’s resurrection power! 

“God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus.”  (Ephesians 2:4-6, CEB)

Now, more than ever, God’s resurrection power is needed. But I wonder how often we’re too focused on what’s no longer there in our lives and miss God’s resurrection surprise. My hope is that this summer’s surprise lilies are a reminder to stay on our toes!

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

Willing To Yield

Did I mention that I failed my driving test on the first try at 16? 

Despite being really nervous, things had gone pretty good for the first 5 minutes. And I was beginning to think ahead to the “dreaded” parallel parking test to come. Then I heard the driving test examiner calmly say this. “Did you see that yield sign?” I hadn’t. And a quick glance in the rearview mirror confirmed its existence. “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t see it,” was my response. “Well, let’s just head on back to the office now,” the examiner said.  Not yielding was grounds for immediate failure.

That was an early lesson on the importance of being willing to yield. It's important, especially when it comes to the life of faith. The Bible tells us it’s part of the heavenly wisdom that comes from God. 

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:17, NRSV) 

Being willing to let go of what you think is best and what you want is hard.  And I would add it’s countercultural as well. I would also argue that being willing to yield, when appropriate, sounds a lot like someone else I know. His name is Jesus. Question is, am I willing to follow Jesus?  You?

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

Jesus' Refrigerator Magnet

A few weeks ago, this refrigerator magnet caught my eye. It’s a simple and appealing bit of advice. Figure out what makes you happy and do more of it! 

So, I not only took this picture, but I took the advice. I looked to spend more time doing the things I enjoy. For the most part it worked out fine. But all along, there was just something about “Do more of what makes you happy,” that didn’t quite feel right. It just didn’t seem to quite square up with something I remembered about Jesus.  

“One day someone asked Jesus, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus replied, ‘The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart… soul… mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.’”  (Mark 12:28-31, CEB)

I’m thinking that Jesus’ refrigerator magnet would probably say something like “Do more of what makes others around you happy.” Now there are some obvious places this could take us, that we shouldn’t go. Doing what it takes to love others well and seeking to make them happy should rarely, if ever, mean putting ourselves in harms way. 

But what if being a follower of Jesus is about finding happiness, at least some of the time, in what makes others around me happy? I’m guessing the only way to find out is to do it more often. Are you with me? 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

Experiencing God

John Wesley was the 18th century founder of the Methodist spiritual renewal movement in England. A product of the Church of England, Wesley taught that Scripture, church tradition, and human reasoning were the valid sources of authority in a Christian’s life of faith. And he added a fourth source of authority: experience. 

Wesley believed, that Christians and the Church, can and should be informed by their experiences with the Holy Spirit and with the new ways God was at work.  In other words, Wesley believed that God will not be put in a box!

At times we all try to put God in a box. Maybe you only seek God out when you’re in trouble. Maybe you claim God is for or against the same things you are. Maybe you only think about God on Sunday? Maybe you put limits on God’s grace and power to change your life and others. 

We may not want to admit it. Sometimes we may not even be aware that we are doing it.  But, we all try to put God in our own boxes.

My hope is that you and I will take a page out of John Wesley’s playbook and simply seek to experience God’s presence with no set agenda and see where that goes. When we do, we’ll start getting rid of our boxes and let God be God! Click here to listen to more (July 26 sermon). 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

Critical Moments

A 17th century monk named Brother Lawrence once wrote to someone he knew was suffering through the pain of a physical illness. In his letter, Brother Lawrence suggested that his friend fight the normal human urge to focus inward during his suffering. Rather, he wrote:

“Take courage; offer God your pains incessantly; pray to God for strength to endure them. Above all, make a habit of entertaining yourself often with God, and forget God the least you can. Adore God in your infirmities, offer yourself to God from time to time, and in the height of your sufferings beseech God humbly and affectionately… to make you conformed to his holy will.” 

In times of physical illness, we usually focus on ourselves, our situation, and our pain. The timeless wisdom of this humble man of faith says instead to offer our situation and pain to God.  Pursue God’s presence Brother Lawrence encourages, in order to offer ourselves to God.

It’s the same way in most situations of major life change (negative or positive). Our default in critical moments of life is to focus inward, leaving little or no room for anything else… including God. But if in our critical moments we intentionally focus outward and upward instead of inward, it changes us. It changes what we see. It changes what we seek. It changes what we do. It changes us, as we make room for God to be in control.

Click here to listen to more (July 19 sermon). 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

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