Glory – May 22, 2016

Psalm 8 John 16:12-15

John made it clear that for Jesus the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring God’s truth to humans. The name we give to this truth-bringing is revelation. John’s report on Jesus’ words to his disciples tell us about that revelation.
Revelation is not a one time thing. Revelation is a process. Many things that Jesus knew he could not tell his disciples at that moment. He wasn’t hiding anything. They were just not able to understand what he might tell them. You can’t tell a person more than that person can understand.
We don’t attempt to teach calculus to a person who doesn’t understand algebra. We work up to it. We don’t start with novels in a foreign language before we teach some basic vocabulary.
God’s revelation to humans is like that. God teaches humans what they are able to learn.
This helps explain some parts of the Old Testament…parts that worry some Christians and turn away some non-believers. What we read in the Old Testament was all that the people of the day could grasp. There are passages in the Old Testament that call for the wiping out of men, women and children when an enemy city is taken. Backing up those passages is the thought that Israel must not risk being tainted by any heathen or lower religion. To avoid that risk the instructions were to destroy those who didn’t worship the true God. The Jews of that day had the idea that the only way to guard the purity of their religion was to destroy those considered heathen. Killing is still done today in the name of religion, based on this incorrect ancient belief. When Jesus came people realized that the way to preserve that purity was to convert the heathen. The people of the Old Testament understood a truth…but only part of it. Revelation is that way. God can reveal only as much as humans can understand.
There is no end to God’s revelation. One of the mistakes that humans make is to identify God’s revelation only with the Bible. If that were true it would be like saying that since about 120 A.D….when the last book of the New Testament was written…that God has ceased to speak to us.
But…God’s spirit is always active…always revealing himself. It is true that his greatest revelation came in Jesus…but Jesus is not just a figure in a book. He is a living being and in him God’s revelation continues. God is still leading us into greater realization of what Jesus means. He is not a God who spoke until 120 A.D. and is now silent. He is still revealing his truth to humans.
God’s revelation of truth to humans is a revelation of all truth. It is wrong to think of God’s truth as only what we might call theological or religious truth. The theologian and the preacher aren’t the only people inspired by God. When a poet writes a great message for humans…a message that lasts beyond the poet’s lifetime…that poet was inspired. When H. F. Lyte wrote the words of the great hymn, Abide With Me, he had no feeling that he was writing them…they just came to him. When he wrote the HallelujahChorus, Handel said, “I saw the heavens opened, and the Great White Cloud sitting on the throne.” When a scientist discovers something which will help the world in its toil and make life better for humans….when a surgeon discovers a new technique that saves lives and eases pain…when someone discovers a new treatment which will bring life and hope to suffering humanity…that is revelation from God. All truth is God’s truth and the revelation of all truth is the work of the Holy Spirit.
All that is revealed comes from God. God is at the same time…the possessor of all truth…and the giver of all truth. Truth is not something that humans discover…it is God’s gift. It is not something we create…it is something waiting to be discovered. God is behind all truth.
Revelation is the taking of the things of Jesus…and revealing their significance to us. Part of the greatness of Jesus is that we don’t know and never will know the full extent of him. No person has ever grasped all that he came to say. No person has completely worked out all the significance of his teaching for life and for belief…for the individual and for the world…for society and for the nation. Revelation is a continuous opening up of the meaning of Jesus.
We are here today because of revelation…that took place 178 years ago. It was May 24, 1738. This is the entry that John Wesley made in his journal.
“In the evening I went unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Wesley was the highly educated son of a preacher. Wesley was a deacon. He was struggling with his faith and religion in general when the Spirit gave him this revelation.
There you have the truth of revelation. Revelation comes to us not from any specific book…nor from a single creed. It comes to us from a living being. The nearer we live to Jesus…the better we will know him. The more we become like him…the more he will be able to tell us. To enjoy his revelation…we must accept him as our master.
Just as happened with John Wesley…the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. We will grow as the Spirit further shows the meaning of the Scripture to us. That does not mean we will have all knowledge regarding the sciences…but we will be taken deeper and deeper into the essential truth about God and Christ and eternal life and our souls. The expression “all truth” suggests growing liberation…for the truth indeed sets us free. We will increasingly be given the mind of Christ as the Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and discloses it to us.
For this gift we give Christ the glory.
With this gift we will better share the glory of Christ with others…in peace and love.

His Presence – May 15, 2016

“His Presence”

Isaiah 63:7-9 Acts 2:1-24

There’s an old story…likely not true…that illustrates today’s message.
When Joseph, Mary and Jesus were on their way to Egypt, as evening approached, they were weary and took refuge in a cave along the roadway. It was very cold…so cold that the ground was white with frost. A little spider saw the little baby Jesus…and he wished so much that he could do something to keep him warm in the cold night. He decided to do the only thing he could. He spun a web across the cave entrance…to make a curtain there to help keep out the chill.
Along the roadway came a detachment of Herod’s soldiers seeking the boys that Herod wanted killed. When the soldiers got to the cave they were about to burst in to search it…but…their captain noticed the spider’s web stretched across the entrance. “Look”, he said…”at the spider’s web there. It is quite unbroken and there cannot possibly be anyone in the cave…for anyone entering would certainly have torn the web.”
So…the soldiers passed on…and left the family in peace…just because a little spider…led by the Spirit…had spun his web across the cave’s entrance. Some say that is why today we put tinsel on our Christmas trees…for…the glittering tinsel streamers stand for the spider’s web…white with frost…stretched across the entrance of the cave on the way to Egypt.
Isaiah told the people….“In all their distress He too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them.” The angel is the Holy Spirit.
God was there for the people of Isaiah’s day. God was there for Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Though the story of the spider and the soldiers may not be true…the promise of God’s presence is true. What Isaiah described as “angel of His presence” …the Holy Spirit…comes in many forms.
For the infant Jesus and Mary…it was Joseph. Though Joseph was…in effect…Jesus’ adoptive parent…he was acting on the command of God’s angels…as seen in dreams. Joseph married Mary…though the custom of his day would have made it quite right for him to quietly dispose of her…to end their engagement. Joseph took Mary and Jesus out of their home to safety in Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod. Joseph helped Mary raise Jesus through his youth and taught him carpentry skills. Like God our Father…acting on behalf of God our Father…the Spirit in Joseph was present to protect the child…Jesus.
When Isaiah was telling the people that God was distressed and present Isaiah was referring to some of the more spectacular…better known stories…Noah and the great flood…the Exodus from Egypt. He surely knew of the lesser stories. He also knew how all too often we don’t recognize…or maybe even ignore God with us. It still happens today….here’s another story that may be well known.
A terrible storm came into a town and local officials sent out an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood the nearby homes. They ordered everyone in the town to evacuate immediately.
A faithful Christian man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God and if I am in danger, then God will send a divine miracle to save me.”
The neighbors came by his house and said to him, “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”
As the man stood on his porch watching the water rise up the steps, a man in a canoe paddled by and called to him, “Hurry and come into my canoe, the waters are rising quickly!” But the man again said, “No thanks, God will save me.”
The floodwaters rose higher pouring water into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused, waving them off saying, “Use your time to save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”
The flood waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop.
A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. A rescue officer came down the ladder and pleaded with the man, “Grab my hand and I will pull you up!” But the man STILL refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”
Shortly after, the house broke up and the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned.
When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”
And God said, “Son, through the Spirit working in others I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”
Just like Joseph…the adoptive father of Jesus…God is with us to protect and guide us. Look back on your life and you might say…oh yes…God was there. A seminary student and his wife were overjoyed at the birth of their first child…Michelle. During the child’s dedication service the pastor stressed that the parents were not only dedicating the baby girl to God. He said they were also dedicating themselves to raise her for God…just as Joseph had done with Jesus. The pastor said the child was on loan to the parents…on loan from God.
A month after the dedication service the little girl developed a severe influenza that steadily weakened and dehydrated her. One rainy, dark evening the child’s vomiting and diarrhea had become so severe that the doctor told her parents to rush her to the hospital. The examining doctor told the parents that if they had waited until the next morning she would have died of dehydration.
They left the little girl at the hospital…and drove home…recognizing they had come close to losing their first child. In their tears and conversation they reaffirmed to God that Michelle truly belonged to God. They loosened their grip on Michelle and said they would follow God’s will…demonstrated by the Spirit…for her life…for He is their true Father. He is the One whose presence saves…protects and guides.
Perhaps there has been a time…or more than one time…in your life…when it was God to whom you released something…and God found a way to take care of it. The near loss of a child…loss of a job…economic calamity…days in combat…loss of an important relationship…serious illness. Isaiah spoke clearly of God’s presence. We call it the Holy Spirit. Joseph experienced it…and became a participant in God’s work. When you and I reflect there’s a good chance we can identify God’s presence… directly…or through another person.
As I reflect personally…I can attest God was there.
My parents divorced when I was eight years old. I spent much of my time alone while my dad worked two jobs to earn almost enough to pay the rent…utilities and buy food. God was there in the neighbors and community chest volunteers who checked on me…brought us food and clothes.
In my teens I was a good student…but constantly looked for activities that would lead me to trouble. God was there in Ace…the Black man with whom I worked in the restaurant. He was also a house preacher…leading worship for six, eight or ten people in his living room every Sunday. He didn’t preach to me…or judge…or scare me into thinking God would send a bolt of lightning to strike me. Instead he gave me love and told me to whom he turned when the temptations got strong. God…working his Spirit through Ace… was there to walk me away from some of my temptations.
God was there in Bob…the Congregational Church minister with whom I played racquetball and drank beer. As we became closer friends…Bob began to encourage…encourage not push or threaten to walk away from our friendship… encouraged me to visit his church. Eventually I did…and that’s where God strangely warmed my heart one Christmas Eve…starting me on a journey that years later places me in your pulpit today.
Though there are still temptations…I now recognize that it is God’s presence in the Holy Spirit that keeps me at a distance from them. Though there are losses and hurts…I now accept that it is God’s presence in the Holy Spirit that gives me comfort. Though there are decisions that if made incorrectly could lead me down a wrong path….I believe it is God’s presence in the Holy Spirit that guides me to the right decision.
Instead of being like the Christian in the flood story who ignored or didn’t recognize God…or the Israelites who continually rebelled against God…or like yours truly in my teen and early adult years…we need to accept…desire…and expect God’s presence…always…as a direct presence in our lives…often working through someone like Joseph…my childhood neighbors…Ace…and Bob.
You have temptations…God sends his Spirit to keep them at a distance.
You have hurts and losses…God…through the Spirit…will bring comfort.
You have decisions to make. Take them to God…and listen to his guidance…follow the Spirit leading you to the right decisions.
And…by the way…look around you…God may be asking us to be His presence in someone else’s life. Open your life to God’s leading to whomever that person might be as you…together with the Holy Spirit…make your way on your Christian journey…make your way as part of their Christian journey.

Going Fishing? – May 8, 2016

“Going Fishing?”

Isaiah 9:1-4 Matthew 4:12-22

Isaiah told us the great light would come. Matthew told us that it had come in Jesus. The great light will continue to come to us and to others as we fish for people as did Peter, Andrew, James and John.
Isaiah was telling the people of Zebulun and Naphtali that their tribes would be led out of the darkness by the great light that was the savior to come. They had been conquered by the Assyrians. They were in the darkness of conquest because they had chosen to make their own way rather than glory in God. Though they didn’t deserve it…Isaiah told them…that through God’s grace…the savior would come to them…come to them in the form of a child.
Matthew told the Greeks reading his Gospel that the great light had come in the form of Jesus…a child grown into a man who began his ministry near Capernaum. In fact…Jesus began his ministry in the area near Zebulun and Naphtali. Part of Matthew’s argument that Jesus was the messiah was that he ministered in this area just as Isaiah had prophesied.
That’s the short version of the big picture. A savior for the world is prophesied. A savior for the world appears and begins a ministry. But what about the small picture? What about individuals like you…me…and our neighbors? What about those who have chosen their own way instead of the way of God? What about those who are in the darkness of hunger…poverty…illness…addiction…fear…
abuse…some form of imprisonment…ignorance of the local language…ignorance of the love and salvation of Jesus Christ? What about them? They surround us.
For them…the darkness is overcome by the light brought by fishers of people…like Andrew, Peter, James and John. But…those great men have gone from the world stage. I guess we’ve got to rely on God or someone else to bring the light. Right? It’s not my job. Right? I have heard that said.
Actually…they and Jesus…are relying on you and me to be fishers of people. Think about that for a moment. When Jesus entered Peter’s life…the life of an ordinary fisherman…Peter became a new person with new goals and priorities. He did not become a perfect person…however…and he never stopped being Simon Peter. You and I might wonder from time to time just what Jesus saw in Simon that made him give this potential disciple a new name that day…the “rock”. Impulsive Peter certainly didn’t act rock solid much of the time. But Jesus was looking for real people.
Jesus is still looking for real people. He chose people who could be changed by his love. Then, He sent them out to show and tell others that His love and acceptance were available to anyone…even to those who often fail. We may wonder what Jesus sees in us when He calls us to follow him. Yet, we say “I’m no one with special skills and power,” even though we know Jesus accepted Peter. We also know that despite his failures…Peter went on to do great things for God.
Does Jesus expect us to be like Peter and become the rock on which he builds his church? In all likelihood there’s no one here today who will take on the job of starting a new church. However… Jesus does expect us to be the light for others in darkness…to be fishers of people…people who are in our lives now…or could very easily be in our lives tomorrow. The only person who might qualify to not be a fisher of people is the hermit who lives alone in the cave in the woods…yet it is to that person also that Jesus wants us to become a light.
So…to whom can you become that light? When you visit a friend or loved one in a hospital or nursing home…do you pray with that person? Do you include in your prayer others in the room…family…other visitors…room mates…professional care givers? Do you take others with you when visiting someone who is shut-in?
As you walk the sidewalks around our community…places where you shop…and have coffee with friends…do you look strangers and friend alike in the eyes…and greet them with love though it might be much easier to ignore them and move on. Don’t move on.
I sat down next to a woman at a meeting in downtown Greenville awhile ago. We could have just as easily kept our eyes forward…ignored each other…and waited for the speaker to come forward. Instead…we introduced ourselves…chatted for a bit…and she brought light to my life…telling me that she was in a transition in her work life and that she was considering becoming a missionary. I hope I brought a little bit of light to her life by encouraging her to give that serious consideration. She told me that many people had challenged her thinking…including her adult children and her husband.
Maybe there’s a relative or acquaintance who you think has taken a wrong turn in their life…an addiction…dropping out of school…quitting work…losing work…on the outs with their spouse…pregnant but not married. You are upset enough with the turn that person has taken that you want to walk away from them. Don’t do that.
Instead…show them the love that Christ shows you…not the judgment that the world might show them. Listen to what they are saying…the words they are using…and the words they are not using…their body language. Be with them…as Christ is with you.
When someone is different from you in some way that’s apparent…it’s easy to ridicule and exclude them. Don’t do that. Instead you might “walk a mile in their shoes”…not just by imagining what they might be experiencing but by experiencing it with them…in reality…or at least… in conversation with them.
What does it take to be a fisher of people? First…you’ve got to get out of the boat you’re in and follow Jesus. Accept Jesus as authority over all of your life. Use Him as your example. Practice the characteristics of the four fishermen who joined Jesus that day.
Be patient. The fisherman must wait patiently until the fish will take the bait. If you are restless…quick to move…and want immediate results…you’ll never succeed in the business or sport of fishing. As a fisher of people you will find that it is rare that you will see immediate results. God…using a number of fishers on earth…worked on me for many years.
Persevere. The successful fisher is never discouraged…and always tries again. I have a friend who at 92 years old went to Lake Greenwood regularly to fish. On more than one occasion he told me of absolutely unsuccessful trips…but each time he also told me when he was going back. It was usually within a couple days. The fisher of people must never be discouraged…must be ready to try again.
Have courage. There was an old Greek man who prayed for the protection of the gods because…he said…”my boat is so small and the sea is so large.” The person going to fish must be ready to risk the ways of the lake…stream…or sea. The fisher of people must be aware that there is always danger in telling people the truth of love…the truth of life…and the truth of Christ.
Be on the alert for the right moment. The wise fisherman knows there are times when it is hopeless and useless to go fishing. He knows when to cast the line or net and when not to do so. The fisher of people knows the same. There are times when people will welcome the truth and times when hearing the truth will increase their opposition. I once worked with a pastoral counselor through three sessions with a patient. In those sessions the counselor asked questions…took notes…and let the patient talk. In those three sessions it was clear that some of what the patient was saying was not true.
Between the sessions the counselor told me that he knew what was happening…but that the time was not right. In the fourth session…the patient said something…the counselor straightened up and gently but with authority said, “That’s bull…” followed by another four-letter syllable. The patient was honest with the counselor and himself from that point on. The need for counseling ended shortly after that.
Fit the bait to the fish. One type of fish will rise to one bait and another to a different bait. Paul said he became all things to all men so that he might win some. The wise fisher of people recognizes this also. That fisher goes to people in places outside the comfort of church and home and may be involved in activities or with people that are not their style…but that fisher of people is able to work with those people in those places effectively without compromising their Christianity…in fact building their Christianity by reaching out. Conversely…the wise fisher of people knows where they cannot be effective. Does an 80 year old person who knows nothing about computers have an opportunity to be effective in a cyber-café? Perhaps not. But…that same 80 year old person can be effective in a local coffee shop…grocery store…doctor’s waiting room…a neighbor’s living room…at someone’s kitchen table.
A good fisher keeps out of sight…is subtle. Becoming obvious to the fish in some way might cause the fish to scurry away. In the same way a good fisher of people is invisible…that is…the conversation and activity is not about the fisher of people…but about the love and great light of Jesus Christ and the person with whom we’re interacting. Don’t beat them with memorized Scripture or judgment. Catch them with love.
Isaiah said great light would come to remove the darkness.
Matthew confirmed that it did.
Jesus invited Andrew, Peter, James and John to follow him to become fishers of people.
They followed. Jackson Grove United Methodist Church today and the lives of Christians around the world show they succeeded.
Jesus invites us to become fishers of people, also.
The great light of the Son is shining.
The lake is full.
Let’s go fishing!

Keep My Word – May 1, 2016

“Keep My Word”
Acts 16:9-15 John 14:18-31
Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep my word…obey my teaching.” For the gospel writer John the key word…the key teaching of Jesus was love.
First and foremost…for John…love is the basis of everything. God loves Jesus. Jesus Loves God. God loves humans. Jesus loves humans. Humans love God through Jesus. Humans love each other. Heaven and earth…humans and God…humans and humans are all brought together by the bond of love…the simple…but powerful and meaningful bond of love.
For John the only proof of that love is obedience. It was to those who loved and obeyed him that Jesus appeared when he rose from the dead…not to the scribes and the Pharisees and the hostile Jews.
This obedient and trusting love leads to two things. First it leads to safety in the end. On the day when Christ triumphs those who have been his obedient lovers will be safe…though the rest of the world is crashing. Second…it leads to a fuller and fuller revelation. It is to the person who keeps his commandments that Christ reveals himself. No unrepenting evil person can receive the full revelation of God’s love.
There is more to Jesus’ word to the disciples that night.
He spoke of his ally…the Holy Spirit. He said the Holy Spirit will teach us all things. And…the Holy Spirit will remind us of all that Jesus said. That will help us discover the truth. It will keep us on the right path of conduct.
Jesus told them of his gift…his gift of peace. And…the word Jesus used doesn’t mean only the absence of trouble. The word of Jesus means everything which makes for our highest good.
Jesus spoke of his destination. He was going back to the Father. He was being released from the limitations of the earthly world…and restored to his glory…just as we will be.
Jesus spoke of his struggle. His final battle with the powers of evil would be the Cross. He was not afraid of it…because he knew that evil had no power over him. He was certain of his conquest…not defeat.
Jesus spoke of his vindication. People could only see humiliation in death on the Cross…but Jesus knew the time would come when they would see in it his obedience to God and his love of humans.
It was these words of love…and the presence of the Holy Spirit that Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy took with them to the riverbank that day. They went to the river because there was no synagogue in Philippi. They were in Philippi because that’s where God had called them…and the Spirit had safely transported them.
Paul and his companions walked outside the city on that Sabbath looking for some fellow Jews. They discovered a small group…all women…who had met to recite the Shema and pray and read the Law and the Prophets.
Lydia probably took her name from her native province. Because she was a Gentile who saw truth in Judaism and wanted it…she was influenced by the Jews. Most of the people with her were probably family and servants. Lydia had been prepared by God for an encounter with the gospel. As she listened…Luke wrote… the “Lord opened her heart.” “The LORD opened her heart.” The man that Paul had seen in his vision turned out to be a woman. When Paul was among the Pharisees he probably thanked God that he was not a woman…a slave or a Gentile. As he had grown in faith and experienced the word of the Spirit Paul’s attitude was sharply altered.
Remember…his word to the Galatians (Gal 3:28 NIV)
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
As Lydia placed her faith in Christ she experienced the wonderful sensation of her sins being borne away. Joy welled up within and flowed over to her companions. Her entire household believed. They were all baptized on the spot in the nearby river. What an astounding spiritual success! God opened the heart of one woman. God opened the heart of one woman. And that city became a beachhead for God in what until then…had been the pagan Roman Empire.
Christ told the disciples to keep his word…to obey his teaching. Paul and his companions did. Christ told the disciples the Spirit would come to them. The Spirit came to Paul in a vision and along the river’s bank. Christ told the disciples he would bring them peace. On that day his peace came to Lydia and her companions.
Knowing what happened to Paul, his companions and Lydia and her companions…all because Jesus’ word was kept…and his love was shared…ought to make it easy for us…to feel and to share…Jesus’ love.
Jesus said…“Those who love me will keep my word…obey my teaching”…a word and teaching of love. The same Jesus invites us to his table this morning.
Let us come to his table where his love and the Spirit will renew us for the work of keeping his word…give us His peace…the ability…the strength…the opportunity…to share His word…His love…and His peace with others.