Being Like Jesus

Posted 10/28/2018

Genesis tells us humanity was made in God’s image; and over and over in Scripture we are invited to become more and more like God in Christ. But what does that mean?

I used to think that becoming like Jesus meant primarily being a moral person — doing the right thing. But as I’ve grown older I think it is as much about our attitudes and characteristics as it is our actions. You see who we are drives what we do. 

And I think this is particularly true when it comes to stewardship. Yes, stewardship is about how much we give. But it is at a much deeper level about the kind of people we are. Are we generous people? Or are we reluctant to share with others — especially those we deem “not worthy”? Do we give gladly? Or do we give with a grudging heart? Do we plan to give and look for opportunities to give? Or do we only give when someone draws our attention to a crisis of some kind?

Jesus is the model we are given for our stewardship. Jesus gave everything. He left heaven and came to earth for our sake. He went to the cross and died for our sake. Jesus held nothing back. 

And Jesus did all this for us, as Paul reminds us, “while we were yet sinners.” Jesus didn’t do it because we were worthy in some way. He did it because he loves us — even when we are sinners.

So the question for us becomes, do we dare to give in a like manner? Do we dare to love in a similar way? Jesus is the model for our stewardship. Do we dare to be stewards who follow Jesus in our giving?

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It's All God's

Posted 10/21/2018

One of the hard things for we Americans to get from our heads into our hearts is the fact that all we have and all we are is a gift from God. We live in a society of “self-made men” (and women). Our society insists we are the ones who make something of ourselves — or have failed to make something of ourselves. 

Yet Scripture, and the Christian faith, takes a far different view of humanity. We may make ourselves, but when we grab the reins of our own lives in that way we are living in idolatry. We are seeking to live independently of God. The creation story in Genesis, however, tells us we are God’s creatures, whose very existence depends on God. We haven’t made ourselves — God made us. And it is God who has given us all our abilities, so even what we “earn” really comes from God.

That’s a tough message to accept in our culture because it goes against everything our culture tells us. But it is the truth that is at the core of Christian stewardship. We give because God has given to us. We give out of thanksgiving, knowing just how much God has given to us — literally everything we are and have. 

In our culture, stewardship isn’t easy. But it is a vital Christian discipline. It reminds us God is our creator. It helps us grow in gratitude. It teaches us compassion. 

As we draw closer to Thanksgiving, I invite you to take the coming month to seriously think about your stewardship — the way in which you are giving thanks to God for all God has given you.

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Jesus said "Follow Me"

Posted 10/14/2018

“Follow me.” It is a simple command which Jesus gave to many whom he met. Yet what does it mean to follow Jesus? Over the years Christians have given many answers to this question. And today Christians disagree, sometimes vehemently, over exactly what it means to follow Jesus.

In some ways, this was one of the questions that underlay the Reformation. In that day it took the form of “Did one have to become a priest, monk or nun to truly follow Jesus?” In other words, were all the “ordinary” people at best second class Christians?

The Reformers answered that question by saying that whatever one did — be it a pastor or a trucker or a farmer or an accountant or a retired grandparent — could be a form of following Jesus. They pointed to Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 10:31 (“Whatever you do, do everything to the glory of God.”) and Colossians 3:17 (“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”) as telling Christians that no matter what occupation they were in, they could be servants of God.

Whatever you do — whether you are actively working or retired — we are called upon to do everything to God’s glory. That means our work and our play; our words and our deeds; EVERYTHING.

I think that is the heart of following Jesus — doing whatever we do in a way that gives glory to God. I really don’t think following Jesus is so much about a position we take on a certain issue as it is about how we give God glory in everything.

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Suffering

Posted 10/7/2018

As a pastor, there are few moments as profoundly holy to me as those moments when someone wrestles with the reality of their own suffering. I say this not because suffering is in itself somehow holy, but because we can trust God to be at work in a mysterious yet redeeming way even in our suffering. 

While there certainly are times when we are able to learn from our suffering, I don’t hold to the idea that there is always something God intends for us to learn when we suffer. Nor do I hold to the notion that all suffering is the result of our having sinned. Frankly, there are many times I have no idea why a person must suffer or what good can come of their suffering.

But what I DO know is that in Jesus God has taken on human suffering and transformed it. Our own suffering may not have any redemptive quality about it — a quality that is central to understanding Jesus’ suffering — but our suffering can be redeemed by God’s powerful grace.

I admit, most of the time I can’t really see how a person’s intense suffering can be redeemed; and I seldom have any clue as to how innocent suffering can be redeemed. But I do know, because of Jesus, that God does redeem suffering — even our suffering. And hard as it is to do at times, I rest in that assurance.

However, that assurance doesn’t mean that I don’t rail against suffering. I ask the “why”. I protest the injustice. I question God; even if I’m pretty sure that I won’t get a satisfactory answer. What the assurance God redeems our suffering does is allow me, like Job, to continue to be in a relationship — a real, honest relationship — with God even in the midst of suffering.

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God's Amazing Grace

Posted 9/30/2018

God’s grace truly is amazing. God’s grace is seen in Jesus being with us. It is seen in his coming among us and living with us. It is seen in his sharing life with us. But God’s grace is also seen in Jesus being for us. In Jesus taking our side against the powers of sin and death. In Jesus reigning in heaven and praying for us.

In times of difficulty is can be important to remember that in Jesus God has shown us he is both with us and for us. God actively acts to deliver us. To open up a new life for us. To open us up to the abundance God offers us. To redeem us from the floods that sweep over us and free us from the snares that entrap us.

It can be hard at times to remember God is for us. Life seems so difficult, our situation seems to hopeless, the future seems nothing but a dead end. Yet it in the midst of such desperate times that we come to truly know the depths of God’s grace for us. 

I’m not suggesting that God will free us from every negative thing that happens in our lives. Clearly we have been warned that suffering will be a part of our lives, even — especially — as Christians. Yet the wonder is in the midst of our suffering we can know God with us and for us. God on our side — giving us love, strength, endurance, hope.

My prayer is that when life becomes overwhelming, when hope seems far away, when the future seems nothing but a dead end that you too will know the wonder of grace — the wonder of experiencing God both with you and for you.

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Being Family

Posted 9/9/2018

Small churches like ours are in some very real senses families. We know one another by name. But we also probably know “the good, the bad and the ugly” about each other. And, in general, we have learned to live with one another despite our various quirks and differences. We are a family!

Being a family has some real strengths. We know we “have one another’s backs.” When life throws us curve balls, we know that there are others in the congregation who will be there for us. We know there are people who are holding us in prayer.

But being a family also has some drawbacks. Like most families, we tend to divide into groups. We hang out with the brothers and sisters (or cousins!) we find the most comfortable. We cluster with family members who agree with us. As a result, at times our family gatherings (worship, programs) can become divided into groups — really cliques — that may even intentionally avoid one another. 

Another big drawback to being a family is the simple fact there aren’t many ways to become a member of a family. You are either born into it or you aren’t. If you aren’t, you either have to marry into it or be adopted to become a member — and either of those may not guarantee you actually become a member! 

Why am I writing about this? Because as Christians we are called upon to be a family that includes everyone — those family members we disagree with, the new in-laws, the adoptees, even the family-less folk that one member of the family invited to the  family reunion this year!

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Faith and Works

Posted 9/2/2018

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18, NRSV) In these words, James seems to be saying that it is what we do, not what we believe that matters. Yet James really doesn’t split faith and works in this way. He talks about faith being active along with works. James says, as Christians we can’t live without both faith and works.

That can be an important thing for us to remember these days. There are many among us who say it doesn’t really matter what you believe. And yet, James is clear. He is speaking not just to everyone, but to the Christian community. They are, in very specific ways, separate from and different than, the world about them. And that difference is found first of all in what they believe. However, it is also found in what they do because of what they believe.

The fact is, those who are often called “conservatives” are right — what we believe matters. It matters greatly. To be a Christian is to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yet those who are often called “liberals” are also right — what we do matters. Our call as Christians will influence what we do. We can’t claim to be Christians if our lives and how we relate to those about us aren’t changed by our faith. 

It really isn’t a matter of faith vs works, of beliefs vs actions. It is a matter of living a full Christian life — one in which we believe in Jesus and find our lives radically transformed by the power and presence of the Spirit of Christ working within us. The call is to show both our faith and our works.

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Invite a friend

Posted 8/26/2018

Being a witness to Jesus means more than just sharing our own experiences of Jesus — although it starts there. Being a witness eventually leads us to invite our friend to start their own relationship with Jesus. 

Given what most of us have probably experienced as evangelism, this is likely to be a really scary, difficult thing for us to do. Yet, if we are in an ongoing relationship with the person, it doesn’t have to be all that difficult. We simply share how we ourselves have come into a relationship with Jesus and answer any questions that might arise. Perhaps there will even be an opening in the conversation to specifically invite the other person to start a relationship with Jesus. If so, we shouldn’t ignore it.

The one thing that is true of our witnessing to Jesus, from start to finish, is it is done in the context of a relationship. This is as true of our inviting someone to enter into a relationship with Jesus as it is with all the rest of our witness.

But what about inviting our friend to church? Well, once again this needs to happen in the context of our relationship with the other person. If we are inviting our friend to church only to add another body to the membership or to get some more money in the offering plate, our invitation probably won’t be well received. But if we are inviting them to come experience the help and hope we’ve discovered in worship, through the other church programs and in the friendships there— well, that’s a whole other story!

So make a friend, share Jesus with a friend, invite a friend!

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Sharing Jesus

Posted 8/19/2018

I find it fairly easy to do things that help others out. Giving money to the food pantry or helping the family that lost their home to a fire doesn’t really stress me out. However, like most Presbyterians, the thoughts of talking to someone about Jesus  is another matter! The truth is, even as a pastor I can sometimes find it hard to share the good news of Jesus.

Yet sharing the good news is so important. In fact, it is essential. The fact is, the only thing we Christians have to offer the world that no one else offers is Jesus. There are lots of other organizations that do “good deeds” and help those in need. But it is only those who follow Jesus who can talk about what Jesus has done and why Jesus matters. 

That’s one reason I find it so helpful for church members to get into the habit of sharing their faith with one another. We need to practice not only noticing where Jesus is at work in our lives, but also ways of speaking about our experiences of Jesus. The truth is, God does far more than we can imagine; that alone makes it hard to find words that are adequate to describe our experience. Yet we need to try to find the words. And we need a safe space to engage in the struggle to find the words. We need Christian friends to help us prepare to share about Jesus.

I encourage each of us to share with one another the ways in which we see Jesus at work in our lives. Then, having had the chance to “practice,” let’s go out to share that good news with our neighbors, family and friends who may not know Jesus.

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Friendship!

Posted 8/12/2018

There are days I wish there was a nice neat formula for sharing Jesus with others and inviting them to come to worship. Unfortunately, I know there isn’t any such formula. In fact, a formula is actually the wrong thing.

The truth is, having a real honest friendship with someone is the basis for being able to share the gospel. Talking with a total stranger about Jesus just isn’t likely to have a major impact. In fact, “stranger evangelism” feels a lot like being hit by a “drive-by shooting” — you just happened to be the one in the way.

Evangelism assumes a relationship — a friendship — already exists. And that’s often where the rub comes in. Too many of us tend to not have friends outside our “Christian circle.”

The fact is, especially if you are retired, it is all too easy to limit our friendships to those who agree with us — including those who agree with our Christian faith. That new neighbor down the road who doesn’t go to church; do I really want to go out of my way to get to know him/her? That person who is a member of the auxiliary; do I really want to start a new friendship with her/him? And that young family across the street; what do I really have in common with them?

It is as we become friends and share our lives that we find the openings that allow us to also share about Jesus (and our church). The only way you can “invite a friend” to church is to become a friend!

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