The Trouble with Enemies

The hospitality series has repeatedly been gratifying and challenging in the way it touches areas of our faith and life in Christ, many of which we might prefer to leave alone. Foremost of these is turning out to be “Hospitality to our Enemies.” read on

“Hurting Yourself”

Ephesians 4:29-32

First I need to apologize for being so poor at keeping this blog up to date. read on

Our Fractured Forebearers

The upcoming series on our “Fractured Forbearers” has presented a real dilemma. On the one hand, the purpose of this series is to make the Old Testament more understandable, particularly by giving us a clear picture of the stories and settings of the work of God’s grace coming into the world. On the other hand, we don’t want to have our worship receive an “R Rating” and have to usher everyone under the age of seventeen from the sanctuary. The problem is that these are real people, and real life is decidedly messy.

So one approach is to skip all of the ugly bits. We could simply recognize the stories that show these folks at their best – Noah with all of the paired up critters but not getting drunk and cursing his sons; David defending the people from the big bad bully Goliath, but not being a bully himself; Isaiah offering beautiful imagery, while ignoring that he was hated and reviled by his peers. The problem is that the whole story is there so that we can understand an important truth about our salvation, God loves humans; and humans sin.

What happens when we see God working through people who at times fail and do what is wrong? What happens when we worship a God who is not prone to “big fixes” and tends to use people who have obvious flaws? What happens to our picture of God’s people if we acknowledge we are all sinners; even the best of us? Even more importantly, how should we see our own sins?

If we worship a God who loves sinners and uses imperfect people, it puts our relationship with God and each other on a different footing. If we know someone well, we know their weaknesses and their flaws. If we are a close friend we probably have to make accommodations for their personal issues and problems. If we are an especially good friend, we’ve probably had to support that person when the consequences and outcomes of their failings came pouring back on them. Whether it is holding their hair while they are throwing up from too much to drink, bailing them out of jail, or helping them cover their bills, we know the humanity of some painfully well.

In the Old Testament stories, God doesn’t prevent people’s faults and mistakes from having consequences. God doesn’t prevent sins though at times God intervenes to minimize the damage done. Worse yet, there are times in the Old Testament when the people are violent people and their sins result in violent outcomes that are phrased in ways we find particularly repulsive.

This of course brings us back to the ironic question: “Then how much of the bible really belongs in worship?” I mean most of us don’t come to church to hear about smiting and fornicating (other than maybe some of the gossip in the coffee hour and we don’t want to talk about that). What we want to hear is the good news of God’s grace and to know more about God’s love for us.

So we are going to spend a little time with some of our more fractured forbearers to know about how God works with real people. We are going to find out that God’s love and acceptance extends to people your mother probably doesn’t approve of you associating with; and then God uses those people to accomplish the continuing work of bringing grace and peace to the world. It’s a messy but true miracle.

Peace,
Pastor Jack

“If You Want to Know God…”

James 1:19-25
There is one fundamental point we need to recognize from James’ letter: We cannot know God unless our faith is put into action. read on

Preparing for Worship

Matthew 5:23-24

Are you coming to church ready for worship? It isn’t just a question of whether our clothes are clean or that we remembered to wipe the remains of breakfast from our faces, it’s a question of whether or not we are prepared to come into God’s presence. read on

The Truth Will Set You Free – After it Makes You Miserable

Nehemiah 8:1-12

An important part of our relationship with God through the scriptures is that we are confronted and challenged by the scriptures. It is concerning that many manage to read the bible and find only what confirms their point of view. Worse yet are those who manage to filter their resources, studies, and friends so that they may be free from any confrontation to their previously held assumptions or beliefs. Because without these encounters which challenge our thinking, we cannot hope to grow in our faith.

This is the power of the scriptures, to challenge the way we see ourselves and to replace that point of view with God’s opinion of us. On the one hand God’s opinion is quite gratifying because let’s face it, God has made huge sacrifices to free us from our sins and to heal our lives. God loves us and cares more about us than we even care for ourselves. On the days in which we are feeling worthless and weak God speaks and says: “I have even kept track of the number of hairs on your head.” (Matthew 10:29-31) But at the same time God reminds us that we have failed to love our neighbors, that we are arrogant, greedy, and foolish. As we open our hearts to hear God speak to us through the scriptures we tend to see ourselves anew. And this becomes a source of growth in faith and wisdom.

When the people of Israel returned from bondage they had no knowledge of who they were. They knew of what had been before all of the destruction. And they knew themselves as slaves living in a foreign land. But they did not have any type of image of themselves as faithful people living in the land and fulfilling the purpose for which they were created. The reading of the scriptures with understanding gave them a picture of themselves, an understanding of their purpose for being. And that gave them a new start for shaping their lives. This resulted in tears and in a call for celebration. The tears were because as they formed this picture of who they were created to be, they felt overwhelmed by how far they had fallen. They struggled with how much they needed to rebuild, both in their city and in their own hearts. They were profoundly broken people.

But there was also a call to celebration. The celebration was to be a rejoicing for what God had accomplished in bringing them home. The celebration was to be shared with people who were less fortunate, because an important part of the identity wasn’t about who they were as individuals but who they would be as a people. They needed a party to acknowledge that God would not leave them in their present state, but would walk with them as they rebuilt their lives.

The gift of the Word of God to us is that it has the ability to give this same sense of our identity, our purpose as God created us. Our reason for reading and studying the bible is to grow in that image, to gain more understanding of what it is God wants to accomplish in and through us. And in that process we are sometimes caused to shed tears at how far we’ve fallen short. But it is also our source of great joy in what God can accomplish with us, and through us.
Peace,
Pastor Jack

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