A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Do You Want God to Do When You Pray?

Someone recently asked me a very thoughtful and basic question about the Christian faith that often doesn't get the attention it deserves. The question was, "What do you want God to do when you pray?" Specifically, this person was asking what I'm trying to do when I pray for someone who is in need of physical healing.

My quick and unreflective answer would be that I am praying for God to intervene directly and bring healing to the person who is ill. But I wouldn't be honest if I answered the question that way because that's not the substance of my prayers in those situations.

I notice that in these situations, my prayers tend to go something like this:

"Dear God, we turn to you this day to pray for ______________ who is facing ____________________. You know his/her needs in this moment. Thank you that you care about our bodies and you desire for us to be healthy. Bless the doctors, the nurses, (the surgeon), and the caregivers that they would be instruments of your healing for _________________________. Remind ______________ that he/she is not alone. You are with him/her through the presence of your Holy Spirit. Thank you for your church and for the people who are praying for us even now. We pray for your healing presence upon _____________ this day. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, we pray. Amen."

This prayer reflects my theology that God desires to participate with us (the doctors, caregivers, loved ones, etc.) in bringing to bear God's healing love upon the person. My prayer asks God to bless the skills of all of these people for the purpose of healing. God is still the ultimate healer, but has created us to be a blessing to others.

Yes, I do believe that God has been known to intervene directly and sometimes even in isolation of human aid, but this is not the typical pattern of how God works. I can't explain why this is the case except that from the very beginning of creation, God has chosen to rescue the world from sin and death through the calling and participation of people like Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, the prophets, the disciples, the church, and yes...you and me!

While I long for God to intervene directly especially in those cases where human wisdom and strength fall short and I will never fully know the ways of God, I also believe that a time is coming when God's kingdom will fill this earth completely and sin, injustice, disease, death will be defeated once and for all.

Until that time comes, I continue to pray for God to bless and strengthen the skills of those who are in the medical profession that they would be instruments of God's healing grace and love. At the same time, I seek to remain humble at the mysterious ways in which God brings about healing in our world.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sermon (August 28) "In Your Wildest Dreams: Your Burning Bush"

     Have you ever had a burning bush moment?  Even people who might not know their bible too well will most likely have some understanding of this often used phrase. 
     In its common usage, it’s a phrase that refers to a moment in your life when you felt called to go after some dream.  It’s when you become aware that you are being called to do something significant that will make a difference in the world.
     A burning bush moment is what many high school seniors hope to have so they know what their next step will be following their high school graduation.  A burning bush moment is what the person who has hit a wall in her career wants to have so that she can pursue a new direction that will be fulfilling and life changing.  A burning bush moment is what the person who is in trouble longs to encounter so that he can begin to make better decisions and get on the right track again.  A burning bush moment is what the new church member wants to experience so that he can use his particular gifts and resources to share God’s love with the community and world.  A burning bush moment is what the person who is feeling restless in her spirit is hoping to have so that her faith becomes exciting and new.
     What is your burning bush?
     For the next four weeks, we’re going to spend this time during worship thinking about what it means to go after our wildest dreams.   We’re going to be following the story of Moses as part of our lectionary scripture readings to help us go after those dreams.
     Today, we begin with the Moses and the burning bush story from the Book of Exodus.  As I’ve been reflecting on this story, it seems to me that there are five important elements in any “burning bush” encounter.  And by focusing on these five elements, like Moses, we too can respond to the invitation to live out the dream that God has placed before us.  And it all begins with a burning bush moment.
     Here is the first element that I see from the Moses and burning bush story.  Burning bushes often occur during our everyday activities. 
     When we think of Moses, we usually think of how he did a lot of great things for God, but in this burning bush story, we need to remember that Moses was an ordinary person like us.  When we get to Exodus chapter 3, we find that Moses has settled into a comfortable life in the land of Midian.  He’s married and he has a son, and he takes care of the animals on the family farm.
     One day, as he was leading his flock, he sees a bush that is on fire but it wasn’t being consumed.  A messenger from God appeared from that same bush.  And here’s what I find interesting in this story that I never really saw before in all the times that I have read this story.  It says that when Moses first noticed that this bush was on fire but wasn’t burning up, that instead of continuing on, he turned aside to see what was going on.
     I find that significant because this tells me that Moses had a choice.  He could have ignored this burning bush and just kept on heading the direction he was going.  But it was because Moses turned toward the bush that the Lord called out to him.
     I wonder how many times God reaches out to us during our day to day activities, and instead of paying attention to God, we just keep on doing whatever we were doing.  God puts more burning bushes along our path than we may think.
     Here’s a recent burning bush story that comes to mind.  I was having lunch with Dave Diamond who is one of our retired United Methodist pastors here in the church.  In his retirement, Dave has been serving as a chaplain with hospice and he’s been leading a grief support group in our church.

      So as we’re eating our lunch and talking about Big Ten football, our families, and ministry, I began to sense that God was trying to get my attention.  And as we kept talking over lunch, I continued to feel like God was tugging at me.

     When there was a break in our conversation, I said to Dave, “Dave, I think I’m having a God moment.”  And I said, “This might sound a little strange, but it’s like God is calling for the two of us to visit someone at their house after we’re done eating lunch.  There’s a family who needs to know that God loves them and that somebody cares.”

     And then I said, “Do you have some time to stop by at this house with me today.”  And Dave, having served as a United Methodist Pastor for many years, and knowing that God tends to interrupt our everyday lives like this, didn’t even flinch and says to me, ‘Well, sure, let’s go.’”

     So we go to this house and nobody was home.  And so I stood there at the front door and said a prayer for this family that God would reach out to them and remind them that our church was thinking of them.  I wrote a little note of encouragement on that back of my card and Dave left a card as well.

     I didn’t think too much of that burning bush moment until a couple of weeks later.  I was heading to the hospital to make some visits and for some reason I decided to go a different way to the hospital.  And I ended up driving by this same house that Dave and I had visited.

     And lo and behold, someone in the family was sitting on the front porch step as I was driving by.  Another burning bush moment!  I pulled over a couple blocks down and walked to the house and sat down next to this family member.

    She was glad to see me and she thanked me for stopping by a couple of weeks earlier.  She said, “I’m glad you stopped to see me today because today is when our family is going to meet at the cemetery to see the headstone and it’s going to be very difficult for us.”  This family had experienced a tragic death in their family.

     And after we prayed there on her porch, she couldn’t stop thanking me and our church for reaching out to them just when they needed it the most.

     Friends, I believe in burning bush moments.  And I notice that they often happen while you’re eating a tuna melt sandwich at a local restaurant or while you’re driving through town.

     Here’s the second element from the burning bush story.  Not only do they often happen during our normal day to day activities, burning bushes also remind us that God knows who we are.  Moses might not have known who God was, but God sure knew who he was.  God knew that even though Moses was brought up and raised by the Egyptians, that he was really a Hebrew and part of God’s family.
     Notice in verse 6.  God tells Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  And then we’re told that after God said this that Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  Sometimes, it catches us off guard when we realize that God knows us better than we think.
     So remember, the One who calls you from the burning bush is also the one who knows your strengths, your weaknesses, and the real you.
     Let’s look at the third element of the burning bush story.  Burning bushes lead to serving in a specific way.  When God calls Moses from the burning bush, God doesn’t just call him in a general way.  God has a specific task in mind.  God wants Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. 
     We live in a world that is filled with injustice, oppression, sin, and despair.  And since God is the one who created the world and called it good, it only makes sense that God also has specific tasks in mind for us to help bring about transformation in our community and world.
     Moses didn’t leave from his burning bush experience wondering what God wanted him to do.  He knew that God wanted him to free his people.  Like Moses, God calls us through burning bush moments to offer God’s freeing and rescuing love in specific ways to the people around us.
     Here’s a fourth element of the burning bush story:  Burning bushes lead to the making of excuses.   And this is related to the third element that we just looked at about burning bushes.  Since God gives us specific tasks to do, it will be natural for us to feel inadequate for the task that God has in mind for us.
     It’s unfortunate that Moses is known in a negative way for the many excuses he expressed to God in the burning bush story.  But remember, anything worth doing is going to lead to doubts and uncertainties.  Here’s Moses, living a comfortable and quiet life, and now God wants him to do the unthinkable – convince the powerful Egyptians to release the people who are supplying their slave labor.  That’s probably not going to go over too well!
     So Moses has his excuses ready and they are many.  I counted five excuses that Moses thought of right there as the bush was still burning.  Here they are: Verse 11 – “I’m a nobody.  They won’t listen to me.”  Verse 13 – “They’re going to want to know who sent me and I don’t even know your name.”  Chapter 4 and verse 1 – “They won’t believe that you appeared to me.”  Verse 10 – “I’m not a good speaker.  I won’t be very convincing.”  Verse 13 – “I’m not the most qualified person for the job.  Send somebody else.”  Excuses go with the territory.  We might even say that if you don’t voice any excuses, it might not be a true burning bush moment.  Excuses often accompany God’s calling to go after our wildest dreams.
     One of the reasons that Methodism was so successful was because John Wesley trained and equipped lay people to serve in ministry.  Some of those lay people served as preachers.  Even though many of them were uneducated and felt unqualified, Wesley encouraged them to respond to God’s calling in their lives and to use their gifts in ministry.
     On one occasion, one of these lay preachers preached from Luke 19:21 which says in the King James Version, “Lord, I feared thee, because thou art an austere man.”  “An austere man.”  This lay preacher, who had never heard of the word “austere,” before which is an adjective meaning “simple” and “plain,” mistakenly thought this Bible verse was referring to “an oyster man.”  Austere and oyster, they sound alike.
     And so, this uneducated lay preacher proceeded to mistakenly preach a sermon about the work of people who retrieve oysters from the sea bed and it went like this…“The diver plunges down from the surface, cut off from his natural environment, into bone-chilling water.  He gropes in the dark, cutting his hands on the sharp edges of the shells.  Now he has the oyster, and kicks back up to the surface, up to the warmth and light and air, clutching in his torn and bleeding hands the object of his search.  So Christ descended from the glory of heaven into the squalor of earth, into sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven, his torn and bleeding hands a sign of the value he has placed on the object of his quest.”
     Because of his passionate preaching on Jesus as our “oyster man,” twelve people ended up giving their lives to Jesus Christ that evening.  Afterwards, someone complained to Wesley about the inappropriateness of this lay preacher who didn’t know the difference between the word “austere” and the word “oyster.”
     Wesley replied, “It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is the Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”  Good for Wesley!
    Sometimes we can even let our excuses get in the way of seeing how God is using us to make a difference in the world! 
     Pastors are supposed to be the ones leading the way, right?  But not always.  I remember facilitating a task force at a church I was serving.  We must have met at least 20 times for several hours, praying, and collecting data on whether or not the church I was serving at the time should take on a new ministry outreach in the community.
     It was very controversial because if we would pursue this outreach, it would mean that our church would have to realign our ministry structure, raise additional funds, change our staffing, and discontinue some of our ministries that weren’t having the same impact they once did.  After several meetings of discussion, planning, and prayer, it was becoming very apparent that this new ministry direction was where God was calling us to go as a church.
     We were excited about this new direction and we really felt that this was a burning bush moment.  But I was also aware that there would be many people in our church who would not appreciate all of the changes we would need to make for this dream to become a reality. 
     So toward the end of one of our several meetings, I said to the task force, “Well, when do you want to schedule our next meeting?”  And God bless them.  They said to me in so many words, “What do you mean another meeting?  We already know what we need to do?  What are you waiting for Robert?”
     Sometimes, we pastors win the prize for having the most excuses.  So whenever we start making excuses about how God can’t possibly be calling us to go after our wildest dreams that just might mean that we’re having a burning bush moment. 
     And then this fifth element that I see in this story of Moses and the burning bush.  Burning bushes will include God’s reassurance.  Notice that after Moses offers his excuses, that God provides a reassuring word.  In verse 12, God reassures Moses with these five very important words – “I will be with you.”
     Those words remind me of the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples just before he sent them to make disciples.  He said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  The God who meets us in the burning bush and who calls us to a particular task is also the one who promises to always be with us.
     And this is important because if left to our own strength, we will find it extremely difficult to go after our wildest dreams.  But with God, all things are possible.  God will provide the people, the resources, and the strength that we will need to accomplish great things for God.
     William Wilberforce was a devout Christian and member of the British Parliament from 1780 to 1825.  He is best known for abolishing the slave trade and slavery itself in all British territories.  His burning bush moment came on May 12, 1787.  Sitting under a large oak tree, a friend challenged him by saying, “Wilberforce, why don’t you give notice of a motion on the subject of the Slave Trade?  You have already taken great pains to collect evidence, and are therefore fully entitled to the credit which doing so will ensure you.  Do not lose time, or the ground will be occupied by another.”  Wilberforce’s response is not recorded, but he later declared in old age that he could distinctly remember the very knoll on which he was sitting near Pitt where he made his decision.
     It took William Wilberforce 18 years to get his motion to abolish the slave trade passed.  And then just four days before his death, Parliament finally passed a motion to end all slavery in the British territories.  A year after William Wilberforce died, almost one million slaves were set free from the evil force of slavery.
     One of the reasons why Wilberforce didn’t give up during those long 18 years was because of a letter of encouragement that he received from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.  Wesley wrote that letter of encouragement just before he died.
     To go after our wildest dreams, God provides us with a burning bush moment.
     What is your burning bush?

Sunday Worship Preview - September 4

September 4- (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, September 7  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "In Your Wildest Dreams: Your Passover"

Features - 12th Sunday After Pentecost, Labor Day Weekend, & Holy Communion

Scripture - Exodus 12:1-14

Theme - This four-part sermon series on Moses and the exodus story will help us to pursue the dreams that God has in mind for us.  On this Sunday, we focus on the Passover and how God's salvation through Jesus Christ can help us live out our wildest dreams.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Preparing for Upcoming Sermon Series on Exodus

Beginning this Sunday, I will be preaching a sermon series on "Your Wildest Dreams" based on the exodus story and the life of Moses.  I'll begin the series with the story of Moses and the burning bush and conclude it with the Israelites in the wilderness. 

One of the reasons why it's important to focus on the exodus story is the prominent role it plays throughout scripture.  Much of the New Testament includes references from exodus and puts it into the context of Jesus and his ministry.  As we saw in the Book of Romans sermon series this past July, the Apostle Paul brilliantly explains the good news of Jesus Christ with scenes from the exodus story.  Without a good grasp on the exodus story, we would easily miss what Paul is conveying in his letter.

For example, in Romans chapter 6, Paul uses twelve references to slavery to make the point that just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, so we are slaves to sin.  The good news is that just as God rescued the Israelites, Jesus Christ rescues us from our sin.

In Romans 7, Paul refers a lot to the law which again is to remind us of when God gave the law and the Ten Commandments to Israel during the exodus/wilderness story.  And in chapter 8, Paul refers to the Spirit and connects it with the cloud and the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness.

Many bible scholars point out that Jesus' own baptism is a pointing back to the miracle of the Red Sea when God allowed the Israelites to cross the sea to freedom from the Egyptians.  Through the waters of baptism, God rescues us from sin and death and sets us on a path of new life in Jesus Christ.

Probably, the ultimate connection between the exodus story and the New Testament is the passover meal when Jesus reinterpreted it in light of his pending death on the cross.  Just as the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts of the homes of the Israelites to protect them during the plague of the killing of the first born males, so does the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) protect and save us from the enemy of sin and death.

The New Testament writers are making the point that to understand who Jesus is, we need to have a good understanding of the exodus story.  It will be good to spend the next four Sundays, exploring four important events of Moses and the exodus story which include the burning bush, the passover, the Red Sea and the wilderness. 

As we explore these exodus themes over these next several weeks, I invite us to think about how all of this relates to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And even more importantly, I invite us to think about how all of this relates to us and God's desire to rescue the world from sin and death through Christ.

Here are the scripture passages for each Sunday of the series:
August 28 - "Burning Bush" Exodus 3:1-15
September 4 - "Passover" Exodus 12:1-14
September 11 - "Red Sea" Exodus 14:19-31
September 18 - "Wilderness" Exodus 16:2-15

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to School Prayer

Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, and universities, that they may be lively centers for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

When You're Stuck in the Mud

Yesterday, one of our adults in the summer new member class took me seriously when I said, "Instead of being baptized next Sunday when you join the church, maybe you should get baptized in the mud-pit."  I was referring to the youth group's annual mud-pit fun at our Crossroads facility where a small plot of land is tilled and the fire department waters it down making it nice and muddy.  Our youth love it! 

Throw in a garden hose and a plastic tarp to serve as a slide into the mud-pit and you have created a Disney World/Cow Pasture.  The mud-pit reminds me of the local swimming pool where I grew up.  It was a nice pool but it was located in the middle of a cow pasture.  I always wondered what it would have been like for me to take my towel to the other side of the fence and roll around in the swampy mud.  Now, I know. 

Back to the adult in our new member class.  I jokingly mentioned that being baptized in the mud would be very symbolic of how the water of baptism cleanses us from all the mud and yuck in our lives and that God meets us right where we are - in the mud-pit.  This theological description captured her attention and she looked back at me and asked, "If it's OK with you, I'd like to be baptized today when the youth group meets for the mud-pit." 

And so, with about twenty-five muddy youth surrounding this new member who was covered in mud, not to mention yours truly who had made a snow/mud angel, I asked her the baptism questions from our ritual and then taking the garden hose, I baptized Connie Marie in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In the process, I washed off the mud from her head and her clothing and the youth layed hands on her and we prayed that God would continue to lead her in her faith journey.

There are eleven occurrences of "mud" in the bible.  The prophet Jeremiah had been thrown in a cistern and sank in the mud.  I told the youth that while playing in a mud-pit can be fun, that it wouldn't be fun if we stayed in the pit all the time.  Baptism and entry into the faith through baptism is how God cleanses us from our sins and pulls us out of the pit.

This mud-pit baptism was a first for me, but I shall never forget it, and I'm sure Connie won't forget either!

"I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God." - Psalm 40:1-3a

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - August 28

August 28- (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, August 31 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "In Your Wildest Dreams: Your Burning Bush"

Features - 11th Sunday After Pentecost, Receiving of New Members, & Holy Baptism

Scripture - Exodus 3:1-15

Theme - This four-part sermon series on Moses and the exodus story will help us to pursue the dreams that God has in mind for us.  On this Sunday, we begin with the burning bush story.  What is the burning bush (dream) that God wants you to pursue?

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Quick Video Summary of the Good News of Jesus Christ

Rob Bell offers an excellent ten minute summary of the Christian faith and particularly how it parallels with the language of the Roman Empire of the 1st century during Jesus' ministry and the birth of the church.

I'm always looking for summaries of the Christian faith in short segments to help us reflect on the contextual understanding of the meaning of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Rob Bell has a unique gift of being an excellent communicator for people of all ages and levels of biblical understanding.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sermon (July 31) - "The Greatest Letter Ever Written: Romans 12-16"

On July 31st, our church was blessed to host Rev. Jolita Pieciaite Erbele who is concluding her studies at Asbury Seminary and will be returning to her home country of Lithuania.   She provided the concluding sermon in our Romans sermon series.  Her husband, Andrew led a Sunday School class and spoke about their ministry in Lithuania. 

We have enjoyed a long partnership with the United Methodist ministry in Lithuania making this a special gift to have Jolita share with us.  Here is the link to her sermon.  It's an audio version.

A big thanks to our Global Missions Team for providing them with lodging, meals, and for taking them to the Lancaster Festival Beach Boys concert!

Please continue to keep Jolita and Andrew in your prayers as they prepare to pastor two United Methodist Churches in Lithuania.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - August 21

August 21- (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, August 24 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Who Do YOU Say that I Am"

Features - 10th Sunday After Pentecost & Special Guest Musician, Craig Heath

Scripture - Matthew 16:13-20

Theme - One of the most important questions for us to answer is who we believe Jesus is and what this means for our lives.  Jesus asked the disciples this question in Matthew's Gospel. The answer to that question can have make a profound difference in your life.

The Missing Link in the Ten Commandments/Court House Debate

The Ten Commandments has made the national news yet again, this time in Florida.  Christians in this local community are upset that a statue of the Ten Commandments could be removed from their court house.

There's a quote in this article in which someone complains that the world has gotten worse ever since prayer and spanking have been removed from public school.  What those two things have to do with the Ten Commandments, I'm not sure, but that's not my main point here.

Based on these types of news stories and quotes from Christians, it saddens me that the church has lost the meaning behind the Ten Commandments.  We now only see them as rules that we pluck from their biblical context, place them on a public wall or a statue and smugly say, "Hey heathens, follow these rules like we do and this world would be a better place."

Now, I know that not all Christians have this "holier than thou" attitude when it comes to displaying the Ten Commandments, but this is the perception that many in our society have about us.  I'm all for sharing our faith in our community and world, but I think we're missing the point if we think that a simple listing of the Ten Commandments will reflect the heart of the Judeo/Christian faith.

Moses gave the Hebrew people these commandments (and many others) as a way for them to remember the love and graciousness of God and how God had freed them from slavery in Egypt.  And secondly, these commandments were ways for the people to respond to what God had done for them.

In other words, the Ten Commandments are to be seen in the context of God's love and grace.  We tend to screen out the opening verses that lead up to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.  "Then God spoke all these words: 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." - Exodus 20:1-2

The Christian faith isn't primarily a rules following faith as much as it is a covenental faith in which God has acted on our behalf and we are called to respond to God's love and grace in our lives.  There are quite a few Christians who for whatever reasons focus on rules following to such a degree that God's grace is left behind or not even mentioned.

While the ACLU probably won't change their tune if verses 1 & 2 were added, maybe it's Christians who need to pay more attention to the biblical context of the Ten Commandments and rethink what we're attempting to do when we seek to display them in public settings.

Bill Hybels/Willow Creek & the Homosexuality Debate

Recently, Bill Hybels responded to a gay activist group which had circulated a petition calling for the CEO of Starbucks to cancel his scheduled talk as part of the annual Willow Creek Association Leadership Summit.  The CEO ended up not speaking at the event and Bill Hybels explained the situation to the summit participants.

Included in his remarks was his dismay that this activist group never contacted him or Willow Creek regarding what they perceived to be their anti-gay stance.  Hybels went on to explain that that his church is open to all people but reiterated his theological stance that marriage is only for a man and a woman and that all non-married people should remain celibate.

I'm surprised by Bill Hybels' assumption that if this activist group would have called him before the petition that this kind of answer would have changed their minds.  The issue for this group wasn't about gay people being welcomed into his church for worship services.  The issue is that Willow Creek has a history of seeking to change someone from being homosexual to heterosexual through their ministries. 

What would have been more helpful than each side stating their case a part from each other would have been for Bill Hybels and representatives from this activist group to actually meet face to face to sort out the issues.  Even though a face to face meeting probably wouldn't have led to any significant compromise, it would have helped Bill Hybels to respond in a more helpful way when he addressed the Leadership Summit participants.  Instead, we are left with these two sides (Willow Creek & the activist group) not hearing each other and responding to the wrong questions.

One of the big challenges facing the church in discussions and dialogue around homosexuality is that we rarely have opportunities for different viewpoints to meet face to face to think through this topic.  While minds may not change over this issue through dialogue, at least people might be able to leave from these discussions with a deeper understanding of the other person's viewpoint. 

In the recent situation involving the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, it would have been more helpful for Bill Hybels to have said, "Our church and the activist group are operating with two different understandings of the meaning of 'anti-gay.'"


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I & II Peter & Their Relevance for Today

New Testament scholar, Ruth Anne Reese of Asbury Seminary led our clergy leader group this week in a two session study of I & II Peter and how the introductions of these letters offer good news to our unchurched culture.

She explained that we are now living between two dominant cultures which are modern and post-modern.  The culture of modernity doesn't take the problem of evil seriously and the culture of post-modernity doesn't offer any hope.

Peter, in writing his epistles, offers a different worldview that on one hand, takes the problem of evil seriously, and on the other hand, offers hope.  I Peter 1:3-4 states, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you."

In a nutshell, Peter is offering the good news that we have a living hope because of what Jesus Christ has done for us and this gives us hope for the present as well as the future.

In the opening of II Peter, the focus is on how the good news of Jesus Christ can also help us to be the people we were created to be for the benefit of others.  Ruth Anne Reese pointed out that the virtues that we find in verses 5-7 were highly prized virtues of the Greco-Roman world, but these virtues need to be rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ, rather than in the pagan gods of Rome.  He lists the commonly held virtues of goodness, knowledge, self-control, and mutual affection.

By relating to the culture of his day, Peter is helping his readers to embrace the good news of Jesus Christ so that they can live out these virtues through the strength of God's mercy which is a gift from God.   This is the worldview that the church has to offer our modern/post-modern culture of the 21st century.

Monday, August 8, 2011

John Wesley's Journal

One of the great resources of our Wesleyan heritage is John Wesley's journal which includes Wesley's day to day entries.  It's a wonderful gift to be able to read what Wesley experienced on a given day during his ministry in the 1700's. 

This Sunday, I'll be sharing several of his journal entries to make the point that there are many challenges in ministry.  Thankfully, there are also many joys that accompany our walk with Christ.

Journaling/writing is a spiritual discipline that can help us receive God's grace as we reflect on our day to day activities in the context of our faith.  One of the reasons I started my Nikos blog four years ago was to use it as kind of a personal faith journal.  It also serves as a communication tool of church events so it has a dual role.

There are several ways to have access to Wesley's journal which include a hard copy for purchase and a website that has daily his daily entries corresponding to our present date.  This website is also available through facebook.  If you have an account through facebook (it's free!) just type in "John Wesley Journal" in the search and the daily journal entries will appear everyday.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - August 14

Sunday, August 14 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, August 17 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)
Sermon"The Story of Joseph: Part II"

Features - 9th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Genesis 45:1-15 & Matthew 15:21-28


Theme - This is a concluding part of a two-part series on the life of Joseph from the Old Testament.  The story of Joseph reminds us to keep dreaming and to know that God is always faithful.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thoughts on Bible Translations

When our church celebrated the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the bible back on Sunday May 1st (the anniversary was May 2nd), one of the things I discovered was that many people who attend church don't have their own personal bible.  Another thing I learned was that a lot of people do not know that there are a variety of translations. When asked the question, "what bible translation do you use," people were hard pressed to name a translation other than the KJV.

One of my goals of celebrating the KJV birthday anniversary was not only to celebrate this magnificent translation but to know that we are blessed today to have many readable translations for our study and Christian growth.  For example, our church provides pew bibles that utilize the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which is based on the KJV but uses more modern day language.  For a modern translation that uses even more every day language, I recommended for people to purchase "The Message" by Eugene Peterson.  For serious bible study, I would go with the NRSV or the New International Version (NIV.)

The advantage of using the NRSV is that the Wesley Study Bible uses this translation.  The Wesley Study Bible includes study notes provided by some of the best Wesleyan scholars in the world.

Bible scholar, Dr. Tom Wright recently gave a lecture on the problems of biblical translation.  I have included a portion of his presentation to help us see some of the issues we face in translating the bible in a language we can understand.  The problem is that any bible translator or committee will have biases, even the KJV.  It's worth noting that William Tyndale who was the first person to translate the bible into english (prior to the KJV) had a bias against the governing establishment of his day whereas the KJV scholars were translating from a pro-establishment perspective. 

There might be many passages which would make the point about style. Frequently, of course, the KJV goes with Tyndale, inch for inch (sometimes indeed into manifest error, as in Romans 6.11, where Paul’s declaration that you are dead to sin but alive to God ‘in Christ Jesus’ has become, in both, ‘through Jesus Christ’, a significant difference). In the Johannine prologue, often quoted as an example of the wonders of the KJV, the only significant difference is that Tyndale refers to the Word as ‘it’, and KJV as ‘he’, until we get to the climax, verse 14, where for Tyndale’s simple word ‘saw’ the King James version has ‘beheld’: ‘we saw the glory of it’, says Tyndale; ‘we beheld his glory’, says the KJV. I wonder if the latter was trying to bring out a possible force of etheasametha? I rather doubt it. I think they were going for sonorous Jacobean prose, which of course they achieved. Famously, of course, the KJV translates agape as ‘charity’. Many grumbled when modern translations replaced it with ‘love’. Not many realised that all the modern translations were doing was reverting to what Tyndale had had in the first place. Not that Tyndale always went for the shorter word. The prodigal son’s elder brother, on returning home, hears ‘musick and dancing’ in the AV; for Tyndale, it was ‘minstrelsy and dancing’. (The Greek is symphonia, which implies a plurality of instruments; perhaps one should translate the phrase as a hendiadys, and render it ‘a dance band’.) More significantly, in line with his ecclesiology (one of the reasons Henry wanted to suppress him), Tyndale regularly translates ekklesia as ‘congregation’ whereas the KJV simply says ‘church’, and renders presbyteros as ‘elder’ rather than ‘priest’. (This was the same impulse that made Tyndale insert little jabs into the margin, such as his famous line on 1 Thessalonians 4.11, where Paul exhorts his readers to ‘study to be quiet, to meddle with your own business, and to work with your own hands’. Tyndale’s comment is pithy: ‘A good lesson for monks and idle friars.’ Not the sort of thing that King James would have wanted to see.) Sometimes, too, Tyndale’s language now seems quaintly old-fashioned to us, partly I suspect because the later popularity of the KJV sustained some usages that might otherwise have dropped out, whereas Tyndale’s words have moved on. When the Holy City comes down from heaven in Revelation 21, we are used to the idea that she is ‘prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’ (KJV); we might raise our eyebrows at Tyndale’s word, that she is prepared as a bride ‘garnished’ for her husband. What King James’s men referred to as ‘the days of unleavened bread’ (Acts 12.3) were for Tyndale ‘the days of sweet bread’; Tyndale clearly saw ‘leaven’ as making bread sour, so that in 1 Corinthians 5 ‘a little leaven soureth the dough’, and the Christian must have ‘the sweet bread of pureness and truth’.

All this, of course, merely illustrates Eliot’s sorrowful observation, that words will not stay in place: they change their meaning, lose old resonances and pick up new ones. Every serious student of Shakespeare or Milton, George Herbert or John Donne, knows that they used words in ways which do not quite correspond to the ways we use them now. And then there is a real problem, as C. S. Lewis pointed out in his Studies in Words. Faced with a word we don’t know, we may look it up in a dictionary. But when it’s a word we use every day, we probably won’t look it up – even though it may have changed its meaning since the time the author was writing. Then we are condemned to misread the word, the sentence, and the passage.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Deception Pass & the Christian Life

One of the highlights of our recent vacation to the Pacific Northwest area was driving from Seattle to Whidbey Island. We could have taken the ferry but we heard that we would enjoy the scenery more by actually driving on to the island via the Deception Pass Bridge.

The bridge gets its name from the 18th century explorer, George Vancouver who was misled into thinking that Whidbey Island was a peninsula. It was quite a view to drive on this bridge while overlooking the water and the beautiful scenery.

George Vancouver certainly isn't the only person to have been deceived. All of us can think of times that we have been fooled. Sometimes, we deceive ourselves! In our walk with Christ, we sometimes deceive ourselves by not seeing the areas of our lives which are broken and in need of God's healing love. We deceive ourselves when we think that we can face sin and evil without the power and help of God's grace.

Thankfully, God is always extending grace and mercy to us to help us navigate through life. We don't have to pretend to be somebody we're not. We don't have to be victims of temptation because God has promised to empower us in any given situation.

Some of the ways to help us not be deceived is to receive God's grace by practicing the means of grace such as weekly worship, a daily devotional life of scripture and prayer, and participation in a weekly small group experience. By utilizing these means of grace, we are less likely to fall into temptation and be deceived about who we are and to whom we belong. We are sons and daughters of God who have been redeemed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the bridge that leads us from all deceptions and empowers us to be the people we were created to be. 

"Do not be deceived, my beloved." - James 1:16