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Nobody Said It Would Be Easy

Several years ago, I was having a conversation with my pastor.  We were working together on a new thing our church was trying to get off the ground.  The change it would bring was causing some conflict in the congregation.  He was concerned that this might cause division in the church.  So, he suggested an alternative that he admitted would not be as effective, but might cause less discord. 

I was not nearly as concerned.  In fact, I remember saying something like, “I don’t think God is that troubled about conflict in the church.”  And just for good measure I threw in a couple of vague Scripture references to back up my claim. 

To my pastor’s credit he received my remarks, acknowledged my “hand-picked” Bible passages could be interpreted as such, and that sometimes “conflict” in the church was needed to fulfill God’s purpose.  However, I could tell from his look that he didn’t feel this was such a time. 

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:18, NRSV)

I still believe there are times when living into God’s preferred future will cause conflict.  I need to look no further than the conflict that arises in me when God is calling me to do something that will bring deep change to my thinking and actions.  

But I also believe that the words of Scripture from 2 Corinthians above, and others in the Bible, clearly state that as a person reconciled to God, by God, through Christ… I’m called to be a reconciler and peacemaker.  I’m called to a “ministry of reconciliation” and so are you. 

As Tish Harrison-Warren shares in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, reconciliation is hard work! And that may be especially true in our culture where conflict and division seem to “just be the way things are.” Conflict and resentment seem the easier route and probably a whole lot less humiliating.  

So, I encourage you to start small.  Extend kindness to someone with whom you disagree.  Maybe that means just not harming the person you’re in conflict with.  Perhaps that will open the way up for you to be the one who’ll take the first courageous step of reconciliation.   

Warren goes on to say that it takes faith to believe that our small every day efforts to bring the peace of Christ to someone will bear any fruit.  And it takes faith to believe that through repentance and reconciliation God is making us into people capable of saying to the world through our small, ordinary actions, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me! 

I say, let there be such faith! 

The Word

“Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, CEB)

The Apostle Paul, a missionary in the first generation of the church, wrote these words in a letter to a young protégé in ministry named Timothy. Paul’s words, now considered holy Scripture themselves in the Church, share the foundational reason for importance of the Word.

Salvation: “…the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”  Through the living Word of God, the Holy Spirit convicts, invites, guides, and woos us to come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  Passages like Romans 5:6-8, 6:23, and John 3:16 are just a few examples.

Growing in Faith: “Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character…”  The Word both instructs and challenges us to grow in faith and into living a life of faith.  I can’t think of a better example than Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7. 

Leads to God and Good: “…so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.”  The Word is our primary means of grace, a way God meets us and changes us for God’s good purposes.  Psalm 23 is a passage of Scripture that continues to bring the people into God’s presence in almost any circumstance of life. 

May you and I be in the Word in ways that lead to all of things and more!     

Think Bigger

The story of Joseph in the Old Testament (Genesis 37 – 50) is one of the most captivating in all of Scripture!  Jealous older brothers sold him to a slave trader headed for Egypt, then went back and told their father a wild animal had killed Joseph.  In Egypt Joseph was wrongly accused of rape and spent year’s in prison.  Miraculously, he was brought out of prison and became second in power in all of Egypt! Later his brothers show up looking to buy food to take back to their famine-stricken families.  They don’t recognize Joseph.  But Joseph recognizes them.

If anyone has a right to be filled with bitterness, rage, and envy towards his family… it would be Joseph!  But that wasn’t Joseph’s response.  Instead, he welcomes and takes care of his family, saving them from starving during the famine.  Why?  Joseph said it this way to his brothers. 

“You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20, CEB).

Peter Scazarro shares that “Joseph had a profound sense of the bigness of God… Joseph understood that in all things God is a work, in spite of, though, and against all human effort, to orchestrate his (God’s) purposes.” This allowed Joseph to rest in God’s goodness and love, even when things go from bad to worse, (Peter Scazarro, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, p. 93). 

When things go south in life, our thinking is often too small… especially when we think about God’s role in our struggle, pain, or loss?  How often do we focus only on our negative circumstances, how that’s affecting us, and on what we’re going to do about it? 

My prayer is that my thinking, and yours, will be bigger, rather than smaller.

Sacrificial Gift

In many churches the practice of confessing sin and receiving assurance of God’s forgiveness is a part of public worship.  In the church that I’m a pastor in, the United Methodist Church (UMC), the “confession and pardon” is a part of our worship tradition.  In some UMC congregations it’s a weekly practice and in others it happens sporadically. 

This past Sunday in the sermon, I asked my congregation to incorporate an abbreviated version of the “confession and pardon” into the cycle of their day.  I suggested they find a few minutes towards the end of each day to pray this short prayer: “Merciful God, please forgive me,” then take a few moments of silence to review their day, silently confess any known sins to God, and then remind themselves of God’s mercy by saying these words out loud: “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”  

As is often the case with my sermons, what I ask others to do can be a challenge for me.  I forgot to do this “confession and pardon” on Monday. I thought of it first thing Tuesday morning and did it then.  As I silently confessed known sins from the day before, I was grateful for the mercy of God.  Then I quietly said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”

In that moment came an intense realization of the cost of the forgiveness of my sins from the day before.  No matter the number or perceived severity of my confessed sins, the cost of the forgiveness was great! The cross of Christ was what made that forgiveness possible. 

May we always know the joy of God’s mercy and the humility of the sacrificial gift God’s mercy is.  “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.” 

Simple Gifts

One day this past week, I looked out the window and was stunned by the brilliance of the early morning sunlight on the “new spring” green of the tree in the church yard across the street. I say I was stunned because I was just passing through that room of our house, but the brilliant green color stopped me in my tracks.  It was an absolutely beautiful sight! 

I stared at it for a few seconds, then turned and started to walk away… but I had to look back.  And when I did, I stopped again. I was captured not only by the brilliance of the sunlight and the “really really” green of the new leaves… but a closer look unveiled a sparkling of that brilliance as the leaves moved ever so slightly in the gentle early morning breeze. 

I did something that I can’t remember doing in a long time.  Despite the moments’ earlier objective of moving through that room to my destination, I pulled up a chair, sat down, and stared at the visual feast across the street.  I just sat there and took it all in.

A little later I prayed a prayer of thanks for the striking beauty of this tiny piece of God’s creation, for the gift of pleasure and solitude it had given me.  I stood up and walked into the next room.  Glancing at the clock I realized that this whole epiphany had scarcely taken up three minutes of my time. 

I marveled at how such a wonderful gift of God had taken up so little of my day.  Yet I knew full well, it was three minutes I’m rarely willing to invest in inactivity.  I was convicted of my inability to sit still long enough to experience and ponder the simple gifts of God.

“Be still, and know that I am God… I am exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, NRSV)

May this be so, more and more in my life and yours!

Lost and Found

“Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them.  Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he is thrilled…’” (Luke 15:3-5, CEB)

Reading this familiar passage the other day, I was struck by the emphatic assumptions Jesus made in his storytelling.  “Wouldn’t he leave…”  “…search for the lost one until he finds it?”  “And when (not if) he finds it, he is thrilled…” 

I had to stop and ask myself, “What am I willing to leave behind in order to find what’s lost?  And when I find it, will I be thrilled?” 

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of us have lost something.  Perhaps the most important things that have been lost are ones we took for granted before, but now we know the impact they’ve made on us: a sense of connection, control, purpose, certainty… to name a few.

What would you be willing to leave behind to find something once taken for granted, now lost, and yet so vital?  And when you find it, will you be thrilled?

I reminded of something else Jesus said: “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.  All who want to save their lives will lose them.  But all who lose their lives because of me will save them.”  (Luke 9:23-24, CEB)

Jesus… Always so emphatic! 

With God's Eyes

Too often how we see others, indeed how we often see ourselves, has less to do with God’s perspective and more to do with our culture’s perspective.  The value we see in others may depend on how they can be helpful to us (What can you do for me?).  The value we see in ourselves may depend on what we accomplish or possess (What have I made of myself?).

Pastor and writer Peter Scazzero shares in his Day by Day devotional book that Bernard of Clairvaux (AD 1090 – 1153) described four degrees of love:

            1. Loving ourselves for our own sake                                                                                                                                         2. Loving God for God’s gifts and blessings                                                                                                                               3. Loving God for God alone                                                                                                                                                       4. Loving ourselves for the sake of God

“The highest degree of love, for Bernard, was simply that we love ourselves as God loves us --- in the same degree, in the same manner, and with the very same love.  We love the self that God loves, the essential image and likeness of God in us that has been damaged by sin.”

You are created in the very image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  All that you are as a living human being (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) is created, loved, and as a believer in Jesus Christ one day will be redeemed and made whole by God.  No matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done…  God desperately and deeply loves you! 

My prayer is that you will know and delight in all of who you are as a beloved child of God!