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The Nonsense of God

Needless to say, this will be a holiday season like none other.  Never before have we celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in the midst of a pandemic. 

There is so much about this that just doesn’t make sense! We want to gather with family and friends, but one of the best things we can do for each other is to stay apart. We want to invite the community together to share lots of good food, but the church potluck dinner is on indefinite hold. We want to give that perfect gift, but the best thing we can give to those we love is to simply wear a face mask. Right now, some things just don’t make sense. 

And the same thing is true when it comes to God. No, really!  Let’s be honest, there are some things about God that don’t make sense if you stop and think about them. One of the biggest, is the “open-handed” generosity we receive from God in Jesus Christ. In Christ, God doesn’t offer us justice and not just mercy. In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, God offers us grace!  Click here to listen to more (November 22 sermon). 

In the words of Oswald Chambers, the miracle of redemption is that God turns us, the unholy ones, into the standard of God’s own self, the Holy One. God does this by putting into us a new nature, the nature of Jesus Christ. 

That my friends, is the miracle and power of grace!

Your partner on the journey,                                                                                                                                                       Pastor Steve

Everything

Garage sales are not my favorite thing to do. They’re a lot of work put together. And then there’s the garage sale veterans who haggle over the price of everything. My apologies if you are one. 

“So, that can opener is marked $1 and you want to know if I’ll take 75 cents for it? Seriously?” 

Jesus once told a story about a merchant seeking fine pearls who found a perfect one (a big deal in the first century). He sells everything that he has and hands all the money over, without haggling, to obtain that one pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45-46). Obviously, not a garage sale veteran. This story is telling us something about God. Like the merchant, God knows great value when God sees it.  And God is willing to give everything for something of great value!

“Christ Jesus… though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8, NRSV)

Want to know what God considers to be highly valuable? Look in the mirror. Then remember that in Jesus Christ, God gave everything in order to be in relationship you. And be thankful that God isn't a garage sale verteran!

Click here to listen to more (November 15 sermon).

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

What's In A Name?

When is the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” not the “Parable of the Good Samaritan?” 

When we actually hear Jesus’ question at the end of his teaching story, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36, NIV). There were three passersby; a Jewish priest, a Levite (another Jewish religious leader), and a Samaritan (Jew of mixed ethnic origin discriminated against by Jesus’ first century Jewish audience). But there was only one object of the three’s actions, the highway robbery victim. 

It’s the robbery victim, not the Samaritan, who’s the intended focus of the story. It’s the robbery victim who lies broken and hurting in the ditch. It’s the robbery victim whose life hangs in the balance. It’s the robbery victim that’s in great need. This is his story; and he lives to tell about it because of the “open-handed” generosity of the Samaritan.

And it’s always the robbery victim’s shoes that best fit our feet. We too are in great need of a savior! And it is God’s open-handed generosity that saves us! 

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 3:23, 6:23, NIV)

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

 

Fact Checking

When it comes to balancing life, the practice of generosity is not an option. Generosity can refer to giving of different kinds of things. However, the easiest thing for us think about is the giving of our money. It may be the easiest to think about, but also one of the hardest to do. 

Bishop Robert Schnase talks about some of the reasons it’s hard to be generous with money in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Living. For one thing he says, we find it difficult to give generously because of fear. We fear if we give generously there may not be enough or we may have to give up things that give us pleasure. And yet we know that there are plenty of people around us who live happily and fruitfully who earn less than we do. 

A second reason we don’t give generously is that we underestimate the effort and planning needed to do so. Generosity in giving doesn’t just seep into us. It requires deep conviction, maturity, practice, and intentionality. No one tithes accidentally (tithe refers to giving 10% of one’s income to God through their giving to the church).  

A third reason we don’t give generously is that we convince ourselves we will begin to do so after we finally catch the financial break that frees us up to be generous. The fact is that most people tend to become less generous the wealthier they become. And then there’s the sticky question of how much money does it take to be happy? Studies show us that no matter what the income level, people say it will take about 20% more for them to be happy. Left up to us, we never feel there is enough. 

I encourage you to join me in leaving behind our reasons not to give and seek to be extravagantly generous. After all, isn’t that how God has given to us in Jesus Christ? 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve

A Service Issue

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant… For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45, NIV)

Jesus looked the disciples straight in the eye and said “Serve others… Because I have, am, and will do the same for you, giving my life for you.”  And Jesus looks us straight in the eye and says the same today! 

When my two sons were elementary school our church had a Wednesday after school program that ended with an evening meal. I was a “table parent” during the meal time. The whole group always said this table blessing together before eating. “I am a child of God. I am loved and accepted. I will treat others, as God treats me.” More than twenty years later, I still remember that table blessing being a powerful reminder of God’s love and expectation!

Serving others is essential, because living as a disciple of Jesus means being “other” rather than “self” serving. That means knowing that you are deeply loved, accepted, and treated as such by God… most notably in the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. And it means treating others around you in that same self-sacrificial way. 

In other words, it’s about living out that old table blessing prayer: “I am a child of God. I am loved and accepted. I will treat others, as God treats me.” May it be so, in my life and yours!

Your partner on the journey

Pastor Steve 

 

Life Is Better Connected

Life is better connected!

And one of the best ways to connect with God and others is to be a part of a small group of people who consistently meet to develop deeper relationships, pray for one another, and support each other as they grow in faith. Over time, life together in a small group helps us not just come to know more about God, but it helps us know God more. And knowing God more will change our lives!

So, if intentionally developing our faith through a small group can do all this, why do we often resist? What keeps us from participating in this vital spiritual practice? Here are my top three reasons people don’t join a small group.  

#3) “I won’t know everyone in the group.”The fact is you may be right. But even if you can’t find a group with someone you know already in it, remember that one of the main reasons we have small groups is so that people can get acquainted in a non-threatening environment. 

#2) “A new learning situation is too awkward. I won’t know all the religious terms and I don’t know my way around the Bible very well.” The fact is, when you get people who know nothing about the Bible and people who seem to know everything about it in the same group, it is a great place to ask questions and learn in a non-threatening way!  

#1) “I just don’t have the time to be in a small group. My schedule is already filled up with family, work, and other obligations. Perhaps someday, something will suddenly change and I will finally have time to nourish my soul.” The fact is no one ever finds the extra time. When it is really important, you make time. And growing in your faith is that important!

That’s my top three. What about yours? If you would like to know more about opportunities to connect with others in-person or virtually in order to grow in your faith, just let me know (660-525-4422 or steveblacksher@clintonumc.net).  

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

Being There

It was still about thirty minutes before the 7:00 a.m. start to the fishing day at Bennett Springs State Park. I sat down on the shore soaking in the cool air and fog rising from the water. A few fishermen had begun to arrive. 

One gentleman came walking slowly along the shore, fly rod in tow, fishing vest loaded with what he needed. After chatting with me a bit, he slowly waded out into the water. 

With the starting siren sounding came his first cast. In two of his first three casts he caught a fish. Hooked six more in the first ten minutes, releasing all but one he thought was a real “keeper.” He walked onshore, smiled, and said “It’s a really good day!” 

A couple of days later at the same time in the same place came the same guy with the same routine. I leaned forward to watch the entertainment about to begin. Cast after cast glided across the water without as much as a nibble. Others nearby were landing fish, but not my guy. After twenty minutes or so he got a strike. Not a real keeper. The fish was released. He walked onshore, smiled, and said “It’s a really good day!” 

His joy wasn’t in the number of fish caught.  No, the joy came in consistently being there, showing up in that time and place, intentionally doing what was cherished… spending the first part of the day fishing. 

It’s the same with God. The joy isn’t in the frequency of “God moments,” number of spiritual mountain tops, or how many answers to prayer come our way.  No, the joy comes in consistently being there, showing up, and intentionally carving out time and space for God. 

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, NIV). That’s a really good day! 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

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