Friday, July 31, 2009

Grace on a Rainy Day

I hope everybody is having a good Friday, even though it's cloudy and rainy. Of course, I recognize that might be hard to do. A rainy Friday; that can put a real damper on TGIF. I mean, just look out the window. It's grey and wet. We can't do some of the fun things that can only be done duing the summer, and since it's already August, our window of opportunity is closing. Summer is slipping away. On the surface, this weather sure seems like a real drag.

But that changes when we look beneath the surface. As a matter of fact, if we do that, we can get a whole new perspective on the day. For example, isn't rain exactly what we need? It's been pretty dry lately. And there's nothing better than a rainy Saturday morning for sleeping-in. And rain certainly gives us an excuse for not cutting the grass. Of course, this would be perfect, if it were football season, but it's still nice. You see, we're going to miss the positives, if we only look at the surface.

And during worship on Sunday, we'll going to look at a passage where that very same thing happened to a crowd right after Jesus had fed them with two loaves and five fish. You see, they couldn't see past the free food; therefore, they missed something a whole lot more important and profound than something on which you can smear peanut butter. They just couldn't seem to appreciate that Jesus himself is the bread that comes down from heaven, the true bread, the bread of life. And if we're not careful, the same thing can happen to us. Therefore, on Sunday, we'll focus on how we can understand and approciate this wonderful gift from God.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sermon: Who's the Boss?

John 6:1-21 - After these things, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (that is the Sea of Tiberias). And a great crowd was following him, because they’d seen the signs which he’d done upon the weak. And Jesus went to the mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And Passover was near, the festival of the Jews. Now when Jesus lifted up his eyes and observed that a great crowd had come to him, he said to Philip, "From where might we buy bread so that these people might eat?" (But he said this to test him, for he knew what he intended to do.) Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarri-worth of bread isn’t enough for them so that each might be given a little." One of his disciples, Andrew the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a youth here who has five loaves of barley bread and two small fish, but what are these for so many people?" Jesus said, "Have the people recline." There was a lot of grass in the place. Now the men reclined (the number as about 5,000). Now Jesus took the bread and after giving thanks, he distributed to those who were reclining, so also some of the fish as much as they wanted. And when they were satisfied, he said to this disciples, "Gather the leftover fragments, so that nothing might be lost." Now they gathered, and they filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five loaves of barley bread which were left over from those who’d eaten.
Now, when the people saw the sign which he’d done, they said, "He is truly the prophet who comes into the world." Now Jesus, because he knew that they intended to come and seize him so that they might make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When early evening came, his disciples went down to the sea. And after they got into a boat, they started across the sea to Capernaum. And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough, because a great wind was blowing. Now after they’d gone three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking upon the sea, and he came near the boat. And they were afraid. But he said to them, "I am. Don’t be afraid." Now they wanted to take him into the boat. And immediately, the boat came upon the land to which they were going.


Before I say anything else, I want to thank you right here and now. This week, as opposed to last week, nobody booed me. Nobody turned in a "thanks slip" with "Go Black and Gold" written on it. And thank heaven, nobody put a big X across Tony Danza, Judith Light, Katherine Helmond, and of course, those adorable kids. If for their sakes alone, I thank you.
Of course, if you’re old enough or watch a lot of Nick at Night, you probably recognize these guys as the cast of a television show called "Who’s the Boss?" And although it would make for a better introduction if I could say that it was one of my favorite shows, it just wasn’t. As a matter of fact, even though it was on for eight seasons, not counting reruns, I never saw a single episode. I’ll tell you, it just wasn’t my kind of show.

But you know, just because I never saw it, doesn’t mean I don’t what it was about. You see, at it’s core, it was a story about a character played by Tony Danza, a guy without a great education but all kinds of commonsense, who goes to work for a successful but kind of scattered executive played by Judith Light. And there are a couple of kids and a wise-cracking, flirtation mother thrown in for good measure. Well, since Tony was so wise and Judith wasn’t blessed with much practical knowledge, each week the audience was left wondering "who’s the boss?"
And like I said, although the show didn’t do too much for me, that basic premise, you know, one that really centered on control, well, I think that’s not only all over the place in this passage from John but also something that we all struggle with. In other words, when we’re thinking about how we relate to God, I think from time to time, we, and I’m talking about believers, we sort of get confused about who’s the boss. As a matter of fact, I think it’s pretty easy for us to kind of drift into the belief that when push comes to shove, it’s really us, you know, that when it comes to our relationship with God and Jesus Christ, we’re in control, we’re calling the shots, man, we’re the boss.
But you know, when you think about it, well, let’s just say we’re in pretty good company. I mean, isn’t that what’s going on in the two miracles we just read? In other words, aren’t they all about control. I think that’s certainly the case with Philip and Andrew. Didn’t they say to Jesus that when it came to feeding a great crowd, it just couldn’t be done? My goodness, Philip knew that they didn’t have enough money, and Andrew knew that the piddly amount of food they did have wasn’t going to be enough. And so they told the man who’d already turned water into wine and healed a guy born blind, they told him that feeding that mob, well, it wasn’t going to happen. In their minds, who’s the boss? And a little later, after it did happen, wasn’t it all about control when the crowd decided that Jesus would make a pretty good king, and if they had to force him to accept, well, you’ve got to crack a few eggs to make a omelette? For the crowd looking to crown Jesus, who was the boss? And then, in the second miracle, man, those disciples were scared, but not by the storm. They were scared when they saw Jesus walking across the water, because let’s get real, they knew that sort of thing just didn’t happen. You see, in each of those situations, we’re talking about people assuming that they could determine what was possible, what was best, what was right. You see, we’re talking about folks who actually thought they were the boss.
And I’ll tell you something, often I think we do the same thing ourselves. I mean, just like Philip and Andrew, we think that we can define what is and isn’t possible, but not only us. Man, we do it with both God and the Body of Christ right here on earth. My goodness, even though Jesus himself said that all things are possible for God, we assume that we’re the ones who really know the limits of his power and authority. And if we don’t think he, or maybe better we can’t do it, it can’t be done. Man, just listen to us talk. "We don’t have the money. And we don’t have the people. And we don’t have the time. And we don’t have the energy. And what we do have isn’t enough. (Would you like a little cheese with that whine?) That what we say. And the reason, because we know everything; therefore, we’re in control. And I’ll tell you something else, just like that crowd, sometimes we assume that what we want is actually what God wills. If we think he should be king, by gum, that’s what he should be, right? It’s all about what we think is best. And let’s face it, those disciples have nothing on us when it comes from feeling afraid in and threatened by situations that are hard to understand. We know how things are suppose to be. We know how they’re supposed to go. And the unexpected, how can you dunk if you can’t see the punch coming. My goodness, if given the choice, I think most of us would prefer to live in a world that’s predictable, a world in which you don’t have to deal with surprises or the expected, a world that never challenges us to go outside our comfort zone, in other words, a world without miracles. Because, let’s face it, a world in which miracles are possible, well that could be pretty scary. So you see, just like those disciples and that crowd, we often find it really hard to let go of the idea that we’re in control, that we know it all, that we’re the boss.
And I guess for that reason, I think we end up facing the same kind of consequences they faced. I mean, just think about those folks in the passage. As Philip and Andrew tried to limit the power of Jesus Christ, they ran the risk of missing this incredible sign of God’s grace and care. And I just wonder how many times we miss what God is doing in our community and could be doing through our church, because we’ve already decided that it’s not possible. I mean, get real, we all know there’s no way people can work through disagreements, especially when feelings are involved. I’m telling you, that’s no more possible than all the Christians in this community, huddled in all their different congregations, coming together to make a real difference around here. Man, it would take a miracle for that to happen, and miracles, well, they just don’t happen, right; so why try. And you know, just like Jesus withdrew when that crowd wanted to make him an earthly king, when we confuse our wants with God’s will, when we try to recreate God in our image, I’ll tell you, when we try to squeeze Jesus into the box we’ve created, our relationship with the God revealed in scripture also becomes more distant and strained. Any closeness fades as we focus more attention on our agenda than on God. And my goodness, like those disciples who were afraid when they saw their savior walking on the water, if we’re too tied to the predictable and expected and comfortable, you know, if we’re going to feel threatened by anything or anyone who does fit our mold, our assumptions, our prejudices, well, it can scare the pudding out of us when all of sudden God does the unexpected, when all of a sudden the laws of nature seem to be suspended like when Moses saw the sun stand still in the sky or when the heart of that hardened sinner is changed by the movement of the Holy Spirit, well, that can blow us out of the water. You know, if we believe that we control it all, if we believe we’re the boss, it’s going to be mighty hard to see anything that is different or miraculous. And if that’s all we have, well, in my book that’s a real shame.
But you know, there’s some good news here, and it’s also right in this passage. You see, even though those folks assumed that they were in control and really paid the price for that assumption, man, that didn’t slow down Jesus Christ, now did it? I mean, even though Philip and Andrew so much as said that 5,000 men were going to go home hungry, Jesus still took that little boy’s lunch and did something that looked a lot like what happened to the people of Israel in the wilderness. He took those five barley loaves and two fish, blessed them and then he himself distributed enough food so that not only did everyone eat until they were stuffed, but there was enough left overs to fill twelve baskets. And that crowd who lost contact with Christ because their vision didn’t go beyond their own wants, and I’m talking about the same people who would later call for Jesus’s crucifixion because, in their opinion, he was a real bust as a savior, he still died and rose and ascended for their sakes. And remember those disciples who couldn’t handle a man walking on the waves, man, they still heard that same person say, "I am. Don’t be afraid." They didn’t stop the grace, and they couldn’t contain the glory.
And I’m telling you right here and now, that good news is just as true today as it was then. You see, we’re probably going to continue to mess things up. We can’t help it; we’re human. Even on our best days, we’re going to try to limit what is possible for God and we’re going to assume that we can write his game plan and we’re going to have a hard time handling things that make us uncomfortable. Now we may do it a little less as we grow in faith, but I don’t think we’re ever going to leave this stuff totally behind. But you know something, regardless of what we do or don’t do, Christ, working through his body here on earth, in other words, through us, man, he’ll continue to do things within our world and in the lives of men and women that’ll blow our socks off. I’m telling you, feeding 5,000 men is nothing compared to what God can do through us right here in Weirton, West Virginia. And regardless of how set we are in getting our own way, he still has the power to change our perspectives so that we can see the Holy Spirit moving in ways that are new and exciting. And even when we’re trembling in the back of the boat, because life isn’t going according to Hoyle and we can’t figure out why things are happening and we’re out and out scared that we may never understand, praise the Lord, Jesus still comes to us. And he says, "I am. I am in control. I am God. Don’t be afraid, because I’m not going to let chaos hurt you. You see, although things may seem crazy and out of control, I know the last chapter, in fact, I’ve written it myself, and guess what? We win." The bottom line is that we just can’t control God. And that, my friends, is the best news of all.
Of course, I think, to a certain extent, we’ll always have a little bit of trouble determining who’s the boss. I mean, it’ll probably always be tempting to assume that we can define what’s possible and that our wants are the same as his will and that we can expect a life without surprises. In other words, we’ll probably continue to act like the folks who were there when Jesus fed the crowd and walked on water. And like them, we’ll also probably pay the consequences for this attitude. That probably won’t change. But praise God, neither has the fact that we can’t control the miraculous nor can we frustrate the will of God nor will our fear overwhelm his love. You see, I don’t think that will happen, because when you get right down to it, Jesus really is the boss.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why We Like the Remote Control

I hope everybody is having a good Friday and will have an even better Saturday. I know that my weekend will be a little different. For example, there'll be no Disney on the television. I won't be asking for a "to do" list Saturday morning. In fact, I think there's every possibility that when I settle down to watch the movie on TCM Saturday evening, no one will ask me every ten minutes, "Is it almost over?" You see, on Thursday morning, Debbie and Maggie went to Indianapolis to visit her family, leaving me at home alone. And although I already miss them, I'm actually kind of looking forward to being by myself for a while. Because right now, at the Rudiger house, I'm in control, and control, well, that's kind of nice.

And you know, maybe that explains why, in our relationship with God, we often want to be in control too. For example, we tend to define what is and isn't possible for not only Christ but also for his body. I mean, we're the one's who define the limits, and if it's across the line, it's just not doable, right? And I think Christians often confuse our wants with God's will. In other words, we assume that if we want something, God must want us to have it. Why else would we define "blessings" as stuff we consider good and rarely situations that might challenge us to change and grow. And let's face it, we're usually uncomfortable, even afraid of situations that we don't understand. My goodness, how can you move out of the way if you don't see the punch coming? No, just like I'm looking forward to not sharing the remote control, I think most Christians like the idea that they can change God's channel when a show comes on that they don't like. And although that may feel good for a while, the consequences of this attitude aren't very pleasant.

For that reason, on Sunday, we're going to spend a little talking about this attitude, and in particular, what we can expect from God when we assume that we really are the boss.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Project Christmas Smile

Hello again from the Project Christmas Smile committee! I cannot believe that the summer is over and Christmas will be looming in our minds very soon! However, for those of us working on Project Christmas Smile...we are already thinking Christmas! Things have been quite over the summer for our is time to get serious and again, we need your support! You have all been so wonderful with pledging your assistance to this important project for Cove. Truth be told...I have had so many people outside of our church community impressed with this project through inquiries. This should assure all of us that we are truly making a difference! We should be so proud to have a project in our own church that lets our community know we care!

The even better news is that we have two upcoming projects that require little voluntary hours and a lot of fun! First up ....Our 2nd Semi-Annual Spaghetti Dinner on Sunday, September 20th! Thats right....we are cooking up the pasta, rolling up the homemade meatballs, and baking our delicious cakes for another community wide event! Our first dinner was so successful and received so many rave reviews that we had to do it again! If you did not come this past spring, let me persuade you to join in the scrumptious fun this fall! You wont want to miss this! For those Steeler fears...kickoff is at 4:15 p.m. in Chicago! For those who are just downright football fans...again no fears...what better way than to enjoy the game with some takeout of delicious spaghetti and famous homemade meatballs. The price will be $5.00 per person and all proceeds will go to an awesome cause!

The next event slated for October will be fun for the kids....a bowling fundraiser! Last year we had a fantastic time knocking down those pins for the children in our area! Everyone is always welcome to attend this fun filled event! Children will be asked to generate as many sponsors as possible and of course, prizes will be available! If you have a friend who wants to all means, bring them! The cost for a bowler not bringing a pledge sheet will be $10.00. I will be passing out pledge sheets on September 13th at Rally Day. The date will be announced very soon!

Again... I cannot say thanks enough for all of your support! Also, remember that money is not the only assitance that is valuable...your time is even more precious. If anyone feels that Project Christmas Smile is something that interests you...we need your help! Please contact me and we can put another pair of hands to work any time!

Nicole Drobish

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sermon: How Apostles Play the Game

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 - And those who’d been sent out gathered before Jesus, and they reported to him everything that they’d done and taught. And he said to them, "Y’all come by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a little while." For many were coming and going, and they didn’t have the opportunity to eat. And they went in the boat to a deserted place. And many saw them going and recognized them, and on foot from all the towns, they ran there and arrived before them. And after Jesus came out, he saw a great crowd, and he was touched by them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.
And after he’d crossed over, he came upon the land of Gennesaret and they anchored in the harbor. And after they’d gotten out of the boat and after they’d immediately recognized him, they ran around that whole district and began to carry upon stretchers those who had illnesses to where they’d heard he was. And wherever he came into a village or a town or a field, in the marketplace they would lay the weak, and they’d beg him so that even the edge of his garment they might touch. And those who touched him were made whole.


Now, before I say anything else, I hope that no one here this morning was insulted by the cover of the bulletin. I haven’t talked to the deacons; I sure hope that nobody walked out when they saw it. Man, that would be a problem. But you know, there’s a reason I put that picture on the cover. I’m a big fan of the Indianapolis Colts. I hope they win every, single game they play. In fact if I were God, they’d win the Super Bowl every year. (I haven’t made it any better, have I?) In fact, as most of y’all know, when I lived in Indianapolis, I had Colt season tickets and didn’t miss a home game for I think eight years.
And I’ll tell you, getting to a twelve o’clock kick-off on Sundays, well, that was a real challenge. Let’s just say, back then, I preached some pretty short sermons. And you know, it’s funny, no one in the congregation ever complained, you know, like I know y’all would. Anyway, for four of those years, I had seats right across from the Colts’ bench; therefore, I got to see the sort of thing pictured on the bulletin many times. I mean, after an offensive series and Payton had run off the field, he’d usually followed the same procedure. Before he doing anything else, he’s stop and talk to either Tony Dungy, the one on the cover, or Tom Moore, the offensive coordinator; I guess he was reporting what the opposing defense was doing. And then, he’d go over to the bench, take off his helmet and sit down for a while, I imagine to rest a little bit. And when the Colts got the ball back, he’d get up, strap on his helmet and return to the game. I’m telling you, he did this same thing almost every time he left the field.
And you know it’s interesting. While in Indianapolis, I also saw a lot of Indiana Pacer games, you know their NBA team, and they did just about the same thing. When the players came off the court, they’d usually report to the coach, rest a little while on the bench, and then jump up when they were told to return. I guess that’s just way both football and basketball players play the game.
But you know, what’s even more interesting, I think that same thing also seems to apply to apostles, at least according to this passage from Mark. And I’ll tell you, because it applied to the apostles, I think it also applies to us, right here and right now. But before anyone says, "Whoa partner, weren’t there only twelve apostles; therefore, how could this apply to us;" let me explain.
The word "apostle" comes from the Greek word "ἀποστέλλω" which means "to send out." In other words, an apostle is literally someone who’s been sent out, and in fact, that’s the way I translated the word in the passage we just read a little while ago: "those who’d been sent out." And of course, it makes sense that Jesus would use this particular word. I mean, isn’t that what he’d just done to his disciples here in Mark; hadn’t he send them out? Now we talked about that a couple of week ago. According to Mark, Jesus "...called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits." And a little later in the same passage, he wrote, "So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them." In other words, Jesus sent them out to do the same kind of thing he’d been doing.
And when you think about it, isn’t that the same kind of mission we’ve been given, both as individuals but maybe more importantly, as the Body of Christ? I mean, good night nurse, hasn’t Christ sent us out into the real world, and I’m talking about that big, wide-world on the other side of the stained glass, to share the good news of God's love and mercy and grace? And aren’t we called to make a difference in the lives of people who are hungry and thirsty and alone and to heal the sick and bring wholeness to the broken? And doesn’t our Lord and savior challenge us to dedicate ourselves to follow his example, even if that means we'll have to deny ourselves and take up their own crosses? As I wrote a couple of days ago, aren’t apostles living witnesses to the one in whose body we’ve been incorporated, namely the Body of Christ? Sure they are, and so are we. And because of that, then guess what, I think, it’s also appropriate to call us ἀποστέλλω/apostles. Not bad for the resume, right?
And I’ll tell you, since that’s the case, I think it makes a lot of sense to look at this passage to figure out how we might do what we’re expected to do better. And right here is something I find really interesting; I think apostles are expected to do the same kind of things a NFL quarterback does when he comes off the field.
I mean, look at the passage there in your bulletin and notice that, according to Mark, the first thing those apostles did was to report what had happened. "And those who’d been sent out[, in other words, those apostles,] gathered before Jesus, and they reported to him everything that they’d done and taught." You see, I think they told him about all the lessons that they’d given and all the demons that they’d cast out and all the folks they’d healed. They reported to Jesus "everything that they’d done and taught," because that’s just something apostles do.
And you know, I think it would be really exciting if we did the same thing ourselves. Now I’m not talking about bragging, but just think about the difference it could make if every Christian believed that they needed to report what they were doing for Jesus Christ. And remember, apostles are sent out into the real world where men and women and children are actually living their lives, apostles are right there with people as they’re experiencing joy and enduring pain and maybe desperately seeking something that can give their lives meaning and direction. I’m telling you, it’s reaching out to them: the lonely and the lost, the addicted and the abused, in other words, the least of these who are our brothers and sisters. That’s what we been sent out to do, and not circling up our little wagons and defending our little turf and pretending that the color of the carpet in the foyer makes one pin of difference to the Kingdom of God.
My goodness, just imagine if that vision defines our mission, and if, as a body, we take it so seriously that we do what those first century apostles did with Jesus, that we report to one another, and I’m talking about Christians sharing with Christians, everything that we’re doing and teaching, but not to boast our ego but to focus our work. In other words, wouldn’t it be exciting if we promised, if we all promised to become responsible and to hold one another accountable for what we’re doing for God’s Kingdom, because what we’ve been sent out to do, the message we’ve been sent out to share and the work we’ve been sent out to accomplish is absolutely crucial for the future of our families and our community and our nation? Imagine what would happen if we did that. Which really makes perfect sense, because one thing those apostles did was to report.
But that’s not all they did, because, second, according to the passage, they also rested. "And he said to them, ‘Y’all come by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a little while.’ For many were coming and going, and they didn’t have the opportunity to eat. And they went in the boat to a deserted place." After they’d reported what they’d done and taught, Jesus wanted his crew simply to rest. You see, just like he’ll have compassion on the crowd a little later in this passage, he also cared about his apostles who’d been so busy they didn’t even have the chance to grab a sandwich. He wanted them to rest.
And I’ll tell you, if it was important then, it may be even more important now. I mean, how many of y’all have heard life in the modern world called a "rat race." Well, let me ask you, how many of y’all feel as though at times the rats are winning? My gosh, everything is rush, rush, rush. And there’s enormous pressure to succeed and that success is suppose to happen yesterday. And if you don’t think that applies to the church, think about it, which minister is going to be viewed more positively, the one who’s church has experienced rapid and substantial growth or the one who’s congregation has stayed about the same size year after year after year. Man, now-a-days, you’ve got to grow and if it means working fifty, sixty, seventy hours a week, so be it.
But remember, it was Jesus who said to his apostles that the time had come for them to rest, you know, to balance time for service with time for physical and spiritual renewal. It’s like that great Christian, Vincent de Paul wrote, "Be careful to preserve your health. It’s a trick of the devil, which he employs to deceive good souls, to incite them to do more than they are able, in order that they may no longer be able to do anything." Resting when necessary is something else apostles do.
But third, and this is really important, after reporting and resting, according to Mark, when the need arose, they immediately returned to the game. I mean, "...after Jesus came out [of the boat], he saw a great crowd, and he was touched by them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things." And later, in Gennesaret, he healed those who were sick and made whole those who touched even the fringe of his robe. You see, although responsibility and relaxation certainly have their place, for Jesus and all his apostles, and I’m talking about everybody he sends out, including us, compassion is really what it’s all about. That’s the name of the game.
And I’ll tell you, that’s something important for us to remember, because there’s still a lot of shepherdless sheep out there, people who really need and who are ready to receive what we have to offer. And once our batteries have been recharged and our spirits have been renewed, we need to be ready, ready to roll up our sleeves and get back to business. Because to play the game, well, isn’t that the reason we’re here?
Like I said, whether it was at the RCA Dome or Conseco Fieldhouse, I remember sitting in my seat and watching Payton Manning and Reggie Miller do pretty much the same thing as they left the field or the court. And you know, I think that’s the same thing we, as men and women who’ve been sent out with a job to accomplish; we can do the exact same thing. I mean, we can take our responsibilities so seriously that we want to report what we’re doing for Christ. And when we become tired and weary, it’s good and right for us to take the time to rest. And then, when we’re all renewed and restored, we’re ready to get out there and return to our work with energy and enthusiasm. You see, according to what Mark wrote in this passage, report, rest, and return, that’s how apostles play the game.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Apostles Like Us

Well, it's Friday again, and I hope you've had an outstanding week. If it would only rain for an entire day, then things would be wonderful. Still, I guess it's important to be grateful for what we have. We do worship an awesome God.

On Sunday, during the service, we'll be talking about the how apostles can accomplish the job they've been called to do. Of course, I recognize that the role of apostle doesn't seem to have a lot to do with us. I mean, weren't there only twelve Apostles, you know, the group that followed Jesus? And didn't they all die somewhere around two thousand years ago? Therefore, why would anyone want to spend even part of a summer's day hearing about how a group of important yet expired men could better do their work? Good question!

Now, I think that may be passing through more than a few minds, and it would seem appropriate, until we focus a little attention on what the word "apostle" actually means. You see, it's a Greek word that literally means "sent out." You see, that's what an apostle is, a person who's been sent out by Christ to do the work that he has called them to do. In other words, apostles are folks who enter into the real world to share the good news of God's love, mercy and grace. They use their resources to make a difference in the lives of people who are hungry, thirsty and alone. They offer healing to the sick and wholeness to the broken. And they're dedicated to follow the example of Jesus, even if that means they'll have to deny themselves and to take up their own crosses. Apostles are living witnesses to the one in whose body they've been incorporated, namely the Body of Christ.

Now, according to Mark 6:30, that's what an apostle is and does, which means that, in a very real sense, we are now the apostles, those whom Christ has sent out. And so during the service on Sunday, we'll consider how we might accomplish the works we've been called and equipped to do.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Greet a Stranger to Celebrate Calvin

Here is my suggestion for celebrating John Calvin’s 500th birthday on July 10: Greet a stranger.

Let me explain.

In addition to his huge theological legacy, Calvin left many practical ethical imperatives. One imperative had to do with the treatment of immigrants — perhaps, in part, because of his life experience.

Calvin never forgot that he was from France, not Geneva. The powers-that-be did not make him a citizen of Geneva until 1559, which was eighteen years after his return to that city. He proceeded to create a social safety net for the many immigrants in Geneva, and he convinced the city leaders to allow worship in more than one language.

In Harmony of the Law – Volume 3, Calvin commented on Lev. 19:34 — “[God] recommends strangers to them on this ground, that the people, who had themselves been sojourners in Egypt, being mindful of their ancient condition, ought to deal more kindly to strangers; for although they were at last oppressed by cruel tyranny, still they were bound to consider their entrance there, viz, that poverty and hunger had driven their forefathers thither, and that they had received hospitality, when they were in need of aid from others.”

I think the first three words of that quote are powerful and very Calvinistic. In essence, God recommends strangers to us. God, making the first move, commends to us the giving of hospitality to strangers. This is not a qualified recommendation, nor does it ask for measured hospitality. We are to give hospitality freely and generously, mindful of the hospitality we ourselves have received.

We are not to adjust our handshake based on the nature of the hand offered.

It moves me into the deeper spiritual realm in Eph. 2:19, where Paul writes, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God….” Because of Christ, we are citizens with the saints.

So, go ahead and greet a stranger to celebrate Calvin. It will be okay. The person you greet has God as a reference.

Being Connected

This month's GA Moderator column is written by the Reverend Byron Wade, Vice Moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

I enjoy the opportunity to keep in touch and stay connected to others.

I am a part of virtual social networking sites such as Twitter, Dopplr, Classmates, and Flickr, to name a few. The one that occupies most of my time is Facebook because it’s there that I hear from people who are part of my present and past.

Recently, I was “friended” on Facebook by a classmate I had not seen since we were students at Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash. We reminisce about the good times and keep in touch occasionally.

Despite living in what I would call a do-it-yourself world, I truly believe that people have a genuine desire to be connected to each other in some way. We see this manifested in various ways: people gathering to support and encourage each other in the local physical fitness class, or expressing grief and concerns with others during the death of well-known public persons, or standing in solidarity and praying for others in the outbreak of violence and injustice in other parts of the world, or just being with other people for special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, births of children, and so forth. These are the times in which being connected to a community brings joy as well as support when life becomes difficult.

As Presbyterians and people of faith, not only are we connected virtually, but also as believers in God through Jesus Christ and the Reformed tradition. We pride ourselves on being a “connectional” church. No matter where we are or what may divide us, we all are called to seek out our common unity in Jesus Christ in times of joy and concern. By doing so, we exhibit “the Kingdom of Heaven to the world” (Book of Order, G-1.0200).

As you go through this summer season, my hope and prayer for you is that by whatever means, be it virtually or face-to-face, you will keep the connection to others and to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit in your daily lives and the communities in which you belong.

Sermon: Church and State

Mark 6:14-29 - And King Herod heard, for [Jesus’s] name was well-known and they said that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead and for that reason, mighty works were at work in him. But others said, "He’s Elijah." But others said, "He’s a prophet just like one of the prophets."
But when Herod heard, he said, "John was the one whom I myself beheaded. He’s been raised." For Herod sent for and arrested John and bound him in jail because of Herodias, the wife of Philip his brother, because he married her. For John said to Herod, "It’s not permissible for you to have your brother’s wife." But Herodias held a grudge against him, and she wanted to kill him, but she was not able. For Herod was afraid of John, because he knew that John was righteous and holy. And he kept John safe. And when he heard him, he was much puzzled and he heard him gladly.
And an opportune day came, when Herod on his birthday served a dinner for his nobility and the military tribune and the leaders of Galilee. And after his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she was pleasing to Herod and to those who were dining with him. The king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you might want. And I will give to you." And he took a strong oath, "Whatever you might ask of me, I will give it to you up to half my kingdom." And after she left, she said to her mother, "For what should I ask." And her mother said, "The head of John the Baptist." And immediately she returned quickly to the king and asked saying, "I want so that it might be given to me at once upon a platter the head of John the Baptist." And the king became very sad, because of the oath and those who were dining with him. He didn’t dare break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner and gave him orders to bring his head. And after he went, he beheaded him in jail and brought his head upon a platter and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard, they came and took his corpse and they placed it in a tomb.


A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation. Now, before I go any farther, it wasn’t with anyone here, and so there’s no reason to look around, unless, that is, you want to bask in the loveliness of the person sitting next to you. Anyway, as I talking to this guy, he started up about the President and about how horrible it was that the government was getting so big and so involved in everything. And to make his point, he talked about how the government was destroying the economy and how it’s been messing up education and how it was sticking it’s nose into the business of private citizens and taking away their rights. As a matter of fact, to this guy, the government had this Midas touch, only in reverse: instead of gold, whatever it touches turns to fertilizer, or as my Uncle Steve would say, manure. (You thought I was going say something else. And I might have, if I was really planning to go.)
Well, that’s about how the conversation was going, but then all-of-a-sudden, he said something that I found really interesting. After he gone through all this stuff about how the government had absolutely screwed up everything, and I mean everything, he said, "What they really need to do is to put prayer back in schools. That’ll get us back on track."
Now, like I said, I found this really interesting and not a little bit surprising. I mean, if the government, you know, the state makes every single thing it touches worse, why would anyone, save the Devil, want it to get involved with prayer and religion? Good night nurse, if this guy is right in everything he said, atheists have followed the wrong strategy for years. Man, they should be encouraging the state to promote Christianity, because we all know what’ll happen when faith becomes a government program. It would be like letting Bernie Madoff handle your personal investments from prison. Daa. It doesn’t make sense.
But you know, I probably shouldn’t have been confused, much less surprised, because what he said, well, it’s what a lot people in our society seem to believe. I mean, they seem to expect the government to fix whatever’s broken. And I’ll tell you, I think this same mind-set has crept into the church. In other words, I think a lot of Christians sincerely believe that the government can and should protect and promote Christianity. Let me give you three example of what I’m talking about, one of which I’ve already mentioned.
I’d dare say a majority of believers, maybe a majority of the people here this morning think it would be a good idea for the government to establish a verbal and unison prayer in public school, even though, I’ve got to tell you, as a father, it sends a chill down my spine thinking about Maggie praying a prayer written by a bureaucratic and prayed by someone who doesn’t believe anything or worse learning that Monday is Christian, Tuesday is Jewish, Wednesday is Muslim, Thursday is Hindu, and Friday is free-style. Now, that’ll teach her about prayer, right?
Or my goodness, think about marriage. For some reason, Christians have decided that marriage is defined not by God, not by Christ, not by the Bible, not even by the church, but by the State of West Virginia, for crying out loud. Of course, we’ve already let the state determine when the spiritual bonds are dissolved, why not let the same people determine when the divinely ordained covenant is made.
And on a personal note, recently I’ve been frustrated by all the sport leagues and traveling teams that see Sunday morning as the perfect time to schedule games. And of course, my first thought was to see if we could get the city to do something about it. Why? Because the government can solve all your problems.
And without getting into the whole debate about the virtues of small verses big governments, I’ll leave that to the politicians, I do think this kind of attitude can be dangerous for the church. And the reason I say this is right in the passage we read a little while ago, you know, the one about the execution of John the Baptist. Remember, although he was less than popular with Herodias, Mark wrote that "...Herod was afraid of John, because he knew that John was righteous and holy. And he kept John safe. And when he heard him, he was much puzzled and he heard him gladly." In other words, King Herod kept John in protective custody.
But that changed at the birthday party, when after his daughter’s dance, Herodias got a head in life. (Puns are the lowest form of humor) Man, John was beheaded by a king who kept him safe and heard him gladly, and if that doesn’t remind us that governments can never really be expected to protect and promote a certain cause consistently because they’re driven by motives and circumstances that shift and change over time, I’m telling you, if this doesn’t move you to pause before you entrust the future of the Christian faith to either the Democratic or Republican parties, then I don’t know what will.
I think I’m safe in saying that when it comes the our faith in Jesus I think we may be setting ourselves up for trouble if we put too much trust in government. Put you know, that’s really O.K., because we’ve got somewhere that’s a whole lot better to put our faith, and I’m not talking about either the White House or the governor’s mansion in Alaska. No, there’s only one "person" who can not only protect us from whatever dangers we might face but who can also enable us to proclaim his gospel all over the world. And that one is God: father, son and Holy Spirit. Man, in God we trust, right?
You see, right here and right now, we can decide God is in control, ultimately he is in control of the country and he’s in control of his church and brothers and sisters, he is in control of each and every person here this morning. And we can decide that his will’s going to be done, what do we say, on earth as it is in heaven, and that’s going to happen regardless of what’s going on in Washington or Charleston or right across our parking lot. And we can decide that God, who entered our world in the person of Jesus Christ and who continues to reveal himself through the Holy Spirit, that God is moving us toward his kingdom, he’s moving us toward the new creation, I’m telling you, he’s moving us toward that glorious time when "he shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." You see, there’s where we can put our trust.
And I’ll tell you, when we do, when we put our faith in God and not politics, brothers and sisters, we’ll be able to do something we may have never done before. We’ll be ready to take responsibility for what’s going on around us and then to stand up and to speak out and to take action. You see, it won’t be good enough to expect the government to do it. Instead we’ll be listening to the needs that are all around us, and I’m talking about people who are lost, lost physically, lost emotionally, lost spiritually; in other words, we’re going to be listening to the very people whom Christ came to heal and to save. And we’ll be studying; we’ll be studying the Word of God because it’s through these words that God speaks to us. And man, we’ll be praying, we’ll be turning our faces to our Lord and seeking his guidance and direction.
But we’re not going to stop there, no sir. Once we decide to trust, we’re going to start doing something, with the help of almighty God, to address the problems and pain we face. I mean, just think about the examples I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon. I’ll tell you, instead of turning prayer education over to the schools, we as Christians are going to teach our children how to pray. My gosh, last week, when Colton was baptized, we promised God that we would help his parents raise him in the faith and set before him an example he can follow and to strengthen his ties to the household of God, and we’ve made the same or similar promises at every, single baptism in the church. When it comes to prayer and learning the Bible and growing up as Christians, man, that’s our job.

And when it comes to marriage, it’s high time that we called it exactly what it is, a religious service, a covenant made between a man and a woman in the sight of God and not just a contract made according the laws of the state. I’m telling you, it’s high time that we acknowledge that it really doesn’t matter what Congress or the courts or even the Constitution says; marriage is defined by God, not government. Personally, I have no problem with West Virginia defining civil unions, but marriage belongs to us.
And finally, it also doesn’t matter when the Little Steelers schedule their games or traveling soccer teams have any of their endless tournaments. It’s our responsibility, not the job of the city, but our job to do whatever we can to give those young people and those families the opportunity to learn about and to worship Jesus Christ. And if that means offering another worship service or to provide more opportunities on the internet or to do something else we have even considered, man, that’s what we need to do. And we’re not going to blame the kids or the parents or the city anymore. We’re going to take action ourselves. You see, the minute we decide to trust God and to take responsibility, all of a sudden we’re going to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and ready to do the work we’ve been called to do.
I hope the time comes when Christians decide to move away from the hope that the secular government, even a system as good as our’s, can be trusted to protect much less promote us. It didn’t happen when Herod’s executioner paid a visit to John after a drunk king made a stupid promise and it’s not going to happen now as politicians, at their best, try to represent competing interests and judges try to apply the law fairly and impartially. I think we’re setting ourselves up if the church puts too much faith in the state. But not God, no, we can trust in God. And when we do, we’ll be ready to take responsibility for the problems around us and then to stand up and to speak out and to take action.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Let Uncle Sam Do It"

I hope y'all are having a wonderful day and have survived the Fourth of July. I know with all the family activities and traveling, it can absolutely wear a person out. It's like going on a vacation: sometimes it takes a week just to recover.

And since we celebrated our national independence last Saturday, it seems right that during Sunday's service we spend a little time considering the relation between the government and the church. And I'll tell you, I think that's especially appropriate now, because it seems to me that Christians have fallen into the same trap that's affected other aspects of our society, namely that regardless of the problem, it's up to the government to "fix it." In other words, a lot of believers seem to expect the state to defend and promote our interests. And even if they don't believe the government should do it for other groups or even that it's competent to be effective in any other area, they sure seem to expect it for the faithful and assume that it'll do a good job promoting the faith. For example, I find it absolutely fascinating that the same people who feel as though big government is horrible and dangerous often would like that same government to get involved in religion, whether it's teaching children how to pray in public school or defining the meaning of Christian marriage. It's as though they believe that somehow the state won't do the same thing to religion that they believe it's done to social welfare and climate change. Sadly, like so many other aspects of society, Christians have fallen into a "let Uncle Sam do it" mind set.

And I'll tell you, if we let it continue, I think we're going to face some tragic consequences. I mean, just like that passage on which I'll preach this Sunday (Mark 6:14-29) reminds us, no government can to expected to protect and to promote our interests; therefore, it's up to us as the Body of Christ to stand up, to take action and to trust God. I don't believe God has called us to shuffle our responsibility to someone else.

The job of proclaiming the gospel is up to us. Together, we can change the world. And on Sunday, we'll talk about how we might do it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sermon: How To Miss the Good News Completely

Mark 6:1-13 - And [Jesus] went out from there and went into his home town, and his disciples followed him. And when the Sabbath arrived, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard were amazed, saying, "From where does he get this, and what is the wisdom that was given to this person so that acts of power such as these with his hands he’s able to do? He’s the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, isn’t he? And his sisters are here with us, aren’t they?" And they stumbled because of him.
And Jesus said to them, "Prophets aren’t without honor, except in their home towns and with their relatives and in their homes." And he wasn’t able there to do acts of power, except laying hands on a few sick people and healing them. And he marveled at their lack of trust. And he went among the surrounding villages teaching.
And he called to himself the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and he gave to them authority over unclean spirits. And he charged them so that they might take nothing on the road except one staff, no bread, no bag for money, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. And he said to them, "Whenever you go into a house, there remain until you go out from there. And whatever place might not receive you nor listen to you, go out from there and shake off the dust from under your feet as a witness against them."
And they went out and proclaimed so that they might repent. And many demons they cast out, and they anointed with oil many who were sick, and they were healed. 


Now, usually during the sermon, I really try to help y’all better understand the good news of Jesus Christ. You know, I’ll generally talk about how we might move closer to God or how we might love those around us more or how we might reach out beyond the stained glass. I’ve even been known to suggest there might be some things that we should probably change if we want to be the kind of church God has called us to be. In other words, each week I’ve tried to use scripture as a guide to a better Christian living. Now, that’s been my goal, and I hope that every now and then that’s what’s happened, something for which I’ve got to admit to myself and you, I can’t even take credit, not when you’re talking about the Holy Spirit.
But this morning, I’m going to do something a little different, because instead of trying to hit the bull’s eye, today I’m going to focus on how to miss the target, and I’m talking about, how to miss the good news completely. In other words, in the next fifteen minutes or so, I’m going to share with you what I think is a nearly full proof way to ignore and avoid the message of Jesus Christ, while, and this is the best part, while remaining a Christian, more or less. Because what I’m suggesting is right from the Bible. And it’s so simple, anyone can do it.
Of course, right now, I know what some of y’all are thinking. My goodness, y’all have come to church this morning to hear something good, you know, uplifting. My gosh, right now, you could be doing all kinds of productive things, you know, like going down the slip and slide and thinking about whether the potato salad that was out all day yesterday could still be dished out today, right along with the left over hot dogs. You could be doing all that. But instead you came here, right? And I bet you came to hear something positive, you know, something as sweet as the cotton candy they had at the festival yesterday: I’m talking about stuff like how everything we want, God wants us to have, or how everything we think is exactly what God wants us to believe, you know, positive stuff like that. But you sure didn’t come to hear how to miss the gospel, maybe how to selectively interpret it, but no to miss it completely. I mean, we’re Christians for crying out loud. Why in heavens name would Christians want to miss the good news? Now, I’m pretty sure that’s what some of y’all are thinking to yourselves. And so, before I can say a single word about the how, I’m going to spend a little time talking about the why, why would any one here this morning want to miss anything related to Jesus Christ, much less his good news.
And although, I’ve got to admit, that’s an excellent question, I think I’ve probably got an excellent answer, if I say so myself. And I’ll tell you, it all comes down to one word that for a lot folks has moved into the center of faith and certainly worship, and I’m talking about the word comfort. I’ve talked about that a lot lately, haven’t I? Man, you’ve got to be comfortable; that’s what church is all about. My gosh, it really doesn’t matter what it’s teaching, more than anything else, God wants you in a comfortable place, you know, where you can wear comfortable clothes, and sing only comfortable songs, and hear only comfortable messages. That’s what Christianity is all about in 2009, conform, right? Sure it is.
There’s just one little problem with this. No matter how you cut it, the unvarnished gospel of Jesus Christ has a real bad habit of making good, moral folks, even Christians, really, and I mean really uncomfortable. And in our world, man, that’s bad. I guess if he were here, he probably wouldn’t fit very well in the modern church. It’s kind of funny, we’d probably be more comfortable with the way he dressed, than the message he taught and certainly some of the things he did. For example, how many of y’all would like it you heard someone say that they saw me shoving a ton of food into my pie hole or pouring a gallon of alcohol down my throat? How many of y’all would want to hear that about the minister? Raise your hands. And suppose I started hanging out with a bunch of heavily tattooed and pierced individuals who are known all over town for, let’s just say, flexible morals, would that make you feel happy? Of course not, daa. Man, if you saw me coming out of Rumors last night, would you have come this morning for a reason other than to complain? Probably not. Why? It would make you uncomfortable, right?
And yet, isn’t that what Jesus was accused of being, a glutton and a drunkard, and didn’t people get ticked-off when he ate and drank with sinners, and take it from me, sinners haven’t changed much in two thousand years? Now, we may talk about how he did it to communicate unconditional love, but if I did the same thing, well, let’s just say that some things are across the line. And yet that’s exactly what Jesus did and thinking about it, man, that’s uncomfortable. And I haven’t even mentioned all that crazy stuff about self-denial and cross-carrying and following. Man, we want Christ to heal our warts and to boost our self-esteem and of course to make us happy, not to tell us to carry a cross.
You see, if we take the gospel at face value, you know without putting a spin on it, it can really shake up our values and priorities. I’m telling you, what Jesus taught really cut across the grain. Man, it can be downright painful, and I’ll tell you why. Unlike what we hear coming from a lot of believers and churches that talk and talk and talk, it sure seems like for him actions speak louder than words and that what you do means more than what you promise to do and that before you start running around pointing out the eye specks in others you better deal with your own optical logs. But that’s not what we want to hear. I mean, how can we ever feel superior to the sinners around us?
You see, the closer we move to Christ, the more he forces us to reevaluate ourselves and to be more open to others and to just plain grow. And I’m telling you, all that stuff is uncomfortable.
But praise the Lord we can avoid all that discomfort and pain. I’m telling you, we can stay comfortable, we can squat in our values like a pig in the mud, and we can justify condemning those who disagree, and all we have to do is to make the decision to turn away from what Jesus taught, and that my friends, is as easy as falling off a log, not a speck but a log. As a matter of fact, in the passage we just read, I think there are three clear and easy things that we can do. And let me, briefly share with you want they are.
You see, if we want to miss the Good News completely, all we have to do is assume that we already know all we need to know. You see, rather than reading the Bible and listening to others, particularly those who may have some beliefs that are different than ours, all we have to do is lean back, put our feet up, and say to ourselves, "If it doesn’t say we’re right, than it must be wrong." And now that I think about it, wouldn’t that make a great bumper sticker? Or maybe better, "If it doesn’t say I’m right, than it must be wrong." That’s the ticket. Whatever I believe, whatever I think, whatever I want, yada, yada, yada, is right, period, close the book, Elvis has left the building.
And you know, isn’t that exactly what’s going in Jesus’s home town, at least according the passage we read? I’m telling you, his homies knew Jesus so well, man, they knew his mama and his brothers and his sisters and his background so completely that they had no doubt that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Therefore, they didn’t even need to listen.
And I’ll tell you, we can do the exact same thing ourselves. We can say that, because we’re so all fired smart and spiritual, we don’t need to listen to anything or anyone, except those who tell us what we already believe and of course those who say that we’re right. When it comes to the faith, we know it all; therefore, instead of wasting our lives listening and learning and growing, we can free up time to do some more important things for the Kingdom, like judging and excluding and my personal favorite, complaining. You see, we can completely miss the good news the minute we decide that we already know it all. That’s the first thing we can do.
And second, we can right now decide to limit what we believe is possible. I mean, we can say to ourselves that it’s just part of our job to look at situations and determine what can and cannot be done, and certainly what we can and cannot do. And in doing that, well, we can tell ourselves that we’re doing God a favor. I mean, way up there in heaven, how would God know what’s possible if it weren’t for us, right?

And again, that same attitude is right here in the passage we read. You know, it’s interesting, I think we often miss Mark’s point when he wrote that Jesus "...wasn’t able there to do acts of power ...and he marveled at their lack of trust." You see, I don’t think it had anything do with the idea that Jesus couldn’t heal unless the person had faith. I honestly don’t think that we can control the power of God through what we believe. Rather, I think Jesus couldn’t heal in his hometown because they were all so sure of his family background, that nobody did what Jarius and the woman in the crowd did according to the passage we looked at last week. You see, they just didn’t bring to Jesus their children and their sick and their demon possessed. I just don’t think anybody came, except for a few sick people, because they knew Jesus was suppose to use his hands to build stuff and not heal folks. Come to Jesus, maybe if you need a door for your house but not if you need demons cast out.
You see, I think those folks had a very clear idea about what was possible and what was not. And that can be our attitude as well. I remember, I heard sometime in the past that a pessimist is never disappointed. Well, I’ll tell you, I’ll never be disappointed if I turn my face to God almighty and say, "they’ll never change" or "it’s not possible" or "we can’t do it and so why try." Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to miss the good news than to limit what’s possible for God. That’s the second thing we can do.
And third, and remember I said there were only three, when something finally fits in with what we already believe and because of that we finally get off our big...pews and start doing something, we can tell ourselves that we can expect only success and I’m talking about success as we define it. I mean, if I really want those worthless people to change, they will, and they will in the way I want them to change. And if I think it’s possible for Cove to grow into the biggest church in Weirton, it’s not only possible but inevitable. And if I think we can help every single person we meet to trust in Jesus Christ, we can in a heart beat. Name it, claim it, right? If I believe hard enough and if want it bad enough, God’s has got to do it. It works with Santa, it should work with God. And if it doesn’t happen, then maybe there’s something wrong with either my faith or my technique.
Of course, that’s really not what Jesus told his disciples to expect, but why should we let the word of God get in the way. I mean, as you look at these verses, doing God’s work wasn’t going to be a cake walk. It sure wasn’t the path to fame and success. And it wasn’t going to be a string of unqualified successes. But that’s just what Jesus said; why should we believe him, not when we can convince ourselves that if we’re doing what we think is right, we’ve got to come out on top. Man, we’ve got to be first, not last. Am I missing anything?
As all those Danes and Norwegians used to say in North Dakota, you betcha. You see, if you really want to save yourself from a lot of discomfort, if you want to avoid anything like spiritual growth and development, and if you want to be able to judge people to your heart’s content, then you really need to start assuming that you already know it all and start limiting what’s possible and start expecting success in whatever you do. I’ll tell you, that’s the ticket, if it’s your desire to miss the good news completely. But before you start, you may want to ask yourself: is this really what I want to do?