Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Honored Guests

We visited the Clark ECD school today as guests of Stanley Gitari for their class one graduation ceremony. It was a very humbling experience for our team. We started off playing simple games with the children such as duck, duck, goose and giving high fives, and taking pictures. The children love to have their picture taken so they can see their faces. I was impressed by how many of them simply wanted to know our names.

We had tea time with Stanley and some of the staff there before the graduation. Once the graduation started our team walked in with the graduates as honored guests of the school and community. We set on the stage and watched as the graduates were honored by their older classmates who sang, read poems, and danced to honor them. Throughout the celebration each person who spoke thanked us for being there are supporting the school. I will be honest that it felt weird at first since I thought the focus should be on the children graduating and not on us as guests. When I began to think about it I realized that it is their way to honor guests. I have never been shown such hospitality anywhere. Yes it took more time and more effort but it made a difference. I believe that is what God was trying to say to me today.

I wonder what would happen if we in the western world honored guests and visitors in the same way? Asking their name, greeting them with a smile and handshake when they arrive, thanking them for being there, and making hospitality such a priority. I know we can and have to do better as a church in welcoming people. Part of the problem is that a majority of churches believe they are welcoming and hospitable churches, which is true in the fact they are church members and regular attendees are welcoming to people they know. More of the focus should be on welcoming guests before they even enter church. That means welcoming out in public and on websites. I think small towns can teach us something. Someone once told me that in a small town when you enter a restaurant everyone turns and looks up when someone enters. In a bigger town when someone enters a restaurant that no one looks up because no one cares. I hope that's not true. My hope is that people will begin to look up and welcome others no matter where they are.

Grace & Peace

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Pick-Up Game

We stopped by the Methodist Bio-Intensive Agricultural Training Center on our way to Maua on Saturday. Obviously I know next to nothing about agriculture and this post has nothing to do with that. Towards the end of our visit there I met two kids named Destiny and Kinga who were simply kicking a soccer ball around (they thought my name was Wesley because of the shirt I was wearing). We ended up kicking a soccer ball around and playing keep away for about twenty minutes. After those twenty or so minutes we had a short conversation. Destiny asked me where I worked and I told him I worked as a pastor at a church and I got to go to church in Maua on Sunday. They were both excited and told me they both went to separate churches that were just around the corner. Kinga even invited me to his church.

A couple things that stuck out to me from this encounter. First, sometimes all it takes is a "way in" between strangers for them to be able to talk about something that matters. In this chance encounter kicking around a soccer ball and simply having fun opened up a conversation about church. Second, the two boys were excited to tell me where they went to church. Ask yourself, when is the last time you heard someone excitedly offer up where they went to church? If people aren't excited about and sharing where they go to church or more importantly sharing Christ then maybe we need to rethink how we are doing church and do better. Just a thought.

Grace & Peace

Living Water

John 4: 4-15
Jesus had to go through Samaria. He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, which was near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his journey, so he sat down at the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” His disciples had gone into the city to buy him some food. The Samaritan woman asked, “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other.) 10 Jesus responded, “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”

The story of the women at the well is a familiar one to most people. Jesus is sitting at the well as the Samaritan women approaches. But notice that it's Jesus that starts the conversation with her and not the other way around. Jesus reachers out to her. And by doing so Jesus crosses significant cultural boundaries. He is a Jew and she is a Samaritan so they would not normally associate. And she was gathering water at midday at a less busy time to avoid other people. And Jesus had sat down to rest while the disciples went to get food. It's almost like he intended to be there just to speak with her.

He speaks to her and she is at first confused but Jesus is patient with her. She begins to understand that she is talking to the Messiah. She moves from a point of belief to unbelief, from a point of ignorance to knowledge. Jesus does not turn away from this women. He engages her in conversation, takes her seriously, and even spends several days in her village. She matters to Jesus despite the fact they were different culturally. He encourages her to grow in her faith. Simply put, Jesus is what we need to survive. Jesus shows us a better way to live.

Have you ever thought about how important water is? Water can be used to clean things. Water quenches our thirst. Most importantly we cannot survive without water. And yet I believe sometimes we fail to even consider that possibility if we have always had access to clean water.

The churches of the West District of the Central Texas Conference were asked to raise $20,000 to dig a water well in Maua, Kenya and over fifty churches donated to the cause. The district raised the funds and we presented the money for the well in January of last year. Today we got to visit the well and see that they had reached water. The water will change the lives of the New Hope Community and School. The water truly is life giving. It was an amazing sight to see the excitement and the pure joy and exuberance of the people in the community. The joy of being able to have water is something that we take for granite but the New Hope community will not.

Jesus speaks about living water and how when we have that living water that we will never thirst. So how do we do that? First, we can give thanks to the Lord each and every day. We witnessed that over, and over, and over today. Second, we remind people of who Christ is and what a difference Christ has made in our lives. Christ meets us where we are and is patient with us while at the same time encourages us to grow. Third, we can sing songs of praise and thanksgiving for what we have and the opportunities that are given to us.

We saw all of that at the New Hope school today during worship and the dedication of the water well. The people of Kenya give thanks every day, that was very evident in their worship this morning. Numerous times during worship we heard gratitude given to Christ and God. And singing...boy did we hear singing and praising with song.

We crossed cultural boundaries to help a community in need simply because there was a need and we could help. Water is essential for our lives. Living water, Jesus and his teachings, are essential for our spiritual lives. We need Jesus and we need to share Jesus with others. Sharing Jesus with others involves looking past our differences and offering hope to those we meet.

Grace & Peace

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Jeremiah's Call

I am currently reading a book entitled Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson and I came across this line:

"I am not made for perilous quests," cried Frodo. "I wish I had never seen the Ring. Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?"

"Such questions cannot be answered," said Gandalf. "You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess; not for power of wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have."

Of course this is a line from Lord of the Rings when Frodo questions Gandalf about the one true ring. But if you take out the line about the ring and substituted Jeremiah and God for Frodo and Gandalf it could have easily been about the Jeremiah's calling and his part of his story.

We are currently in the middle of a sermon series on the prophet Jeremiah. He is probably my favorite prophet, and I think it's because I can relate to him and see some of him in me. Primarily because he was reluctant at first. Just look at when God calls him to be a prophet:

Call of Jeremiah

The Lord’s word came to me: 
“Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations.” “Ah, Lord God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak because I’m only a child.”
The Lord responded, “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’ Where I send you, you must go; what I tell you, you must say. Don’t be afraid of them, because I’m with you to rescue you,” declares the Lord.Then the Lord stretched out his hand, touched my mouth, and said to me,“I’m putting my words in your mouth. 10 This very day I appoint you over nations and empires, to dig up and pull down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.”

I'm pretty sure I would be reluctant as well. He tells Jeremiah that he will appoint him over nations and empires and he will "dig up, pull down, destroy, and demolish." Yikes!! He probably felt like Jonah did when he was asked to go to Nineveh. He is telling Jeremiah that he is going to be speaking to people and it's going to be difficult. It's going to be a difficult time to preach God's word and Jeremiah himself is going to have to deliver that tough word. If we read further we know that he will deal with the Babylonian exile and the destruction of Jerusalem in his lifetime. And to hear God say that he knew Jeremiah was going to do this before he was even born? Well, that's a double whammy. And he's going to deliver this message as a youngster. Triple whammy. Jeremiah simply does not believe he is qualified and he tries to say no.

Jeremiah's call story is not too different from others we know such as Moses and Jonah. It follows a similar pattern: God speaks, the person objects, God reassures, God appoints, prophet does what God asks. Actually it's not to different from my own call story. I objected my own call not once, not twice, but three times before I finally listened. I, like Jeremiah, felt inadequate. I felt like I wasn't ready. I felt like I was too young and maybe a bit too immature. But something a friend told me a few years ago really stuck and I've heard it many times since then. God doesn't call the equipped, God equips the called. God gave Jeremiah everything that he needed. God gives us everything that we need. Yes, Jeremiah was young but God put the words in his mouth. And it would be tough but the message Jeremiah got to share was not just to "dig up and pull down and destroy and demolish." He also got to spread a word about "building and planting." He got to build and plant. He got to participate in the building of God's kingdom through sharing God's message. He got to plant seeds in others so that they may know about God. He got to do those things even though he felt inadequate.

Jeremiah was young, felt inadequate, and was reluctant when he was called by God. What's your excuse? And yet Jeremiah eventually heeded God's call. When God calls each of us, I hope and trust that we do the same.

Grace & Peace


Friday, June 15, 2018

Old Testament Scripture: Rack, Shack, and Benny

Daniel 3: 1-6; 12-13; 16-18 (CEB)

3 King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue. It was ninety feet high and nine feet wide. He set it up in the Dura Valley in the province of Babylon. 2 King Nebuchadnezzar then ordered the chief administrators, ministers, governors, counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to assemble and come for the dedication of the statue that he had set up. 3 So the chief administrators, ministers, governors, counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. They stood in front of the statue the king had set up. 4 The herald proclaimed loudly: “Peoples, nations, and languages! This is what you must do: 5 When you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, lyre, harp, flute, and every kind of instrument, you must bow down and worship the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Anyone who will not bow down and worship will be immediately thrown into a furnace of flaming fire."

12 Now there are some Jews, ones you appointed to administer the province of Babylon—specifically, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who have ignored your command. They don’t serve your gods, and they don’t worship the gold statue you’ve set up.” 13 In a violent rage Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were brought before the king.

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar: "We don't need to answer your question. 17 If our God-the one we serve-is able to rescue us from the furnace of flaming fire and from your power, Your majesty, then let him rescue us. 18 But if he doesn't, know this for certain, Your majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you've set up. 

I want to share something I saw on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. The video pointed out that millions of people go to worship on Saturday or Sunday each week. Some even go to worship other days throughout the week. And if they can't make it to worship they sometimes even watch on television and online. People gather with fellow worshippers well before worship and talk about their excitement for the upcoming event. They go to worship and raise their hands, cheer, pray, and even get excited when worship runs long. Of course the worship I'm talking about is not actually church, it's football. Professional football and college football. And it's not just football but it's baseball, basketball, and golf just to name a few. And it's not just professional and college sports but its those sports that directly affect families on a more personal level. Kids are increasingly playing sports on school teams, club teams, and all star teams and practices for each. I see parents sometimes celebrating and sometimes lamenting the fact that their young kids have 3-4 games on a given weekend.

Here's a link to the video I referenced: Idolatry and Sports

Sunday morning used to be reserved for church but that simply is not the case anymore. Society as a whole has a problem with worshipping false idols. And this includes you and me. My wife and my mom joke and roll their eyes at me and say I need to dump some of the useless sports information and statistics from my head and put some more useful information in there. I mean how does knowing the score of every super bowl from 1986-2018 really benefit the Kingdom of God? If someone knows how that would be useful please let me know. No matter who you are there is always the threat of a false idol. It may not be sports. It may be money, societal status, online shopping, eating, binge watching on Netflix, etc. Everyone has some sort of false idol or temptation they struggle with and it's not a new thing. The worship of false idols has been around for centuries which brings us to our scripture today.

We have the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Of if you prefer the VeggieTales version (which I do) then the story of Rack, Shack, and Benny. So forgive me when I refer to the characters as Rack, Shack, and Benny from here on out. In the story of Rack, Shack, and Benny we have one of the most obvious examples in scripture of worshipping a false idol. For crying out loud King Nebuchadnezzar wants all the people to worship a 90-foot golden statue. (Or if you have watched Veggie Tales, a 90-foot chocolate bunny). King Nebuchadnezzar orders all his officials, governors, treasurers, counselors, etc to tell everyone that they are to bow down and worship this great golden statue whenever they hear the instruments and entire musical ensemble played. He wants them to fall down and do honor which is another way of saying "worship." The king wants the people to worship him on command. But there are three who resist and they are questioned by the King: "You do not worship my Gods and honor my statue?"

Despite his requirements and numerous chances he give Rack, Shack, and Benny to bow down and worship the statue they refuse. And then we get one what I believe to be one of the strongest statements of faith in scripture:

"If our God-the one we serve-is able to rescue us from the furnace of flaming fire and from your power, Your majesty, then let him rescue us. But if he doesn't, know this for certain, Your majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you've set up."

Rack, Shack, and Benny did not hesitate whether they should comply or not. Life or death was not their main consideration, obedience to God was. They must obey God rather than man and they would rather suffer than sin. Because of these convictions they would not be yield to the threat of death. So how do we have that type of faith? How do we resist false idols?

It takes conviction and making worship and God a priority. We can worship whenever and wherever we are able but when we do we must not simply go through the motions. We must worship God and not think about where we are going to lunch or think about our to do list for the week during worship. We must be keenly aware of our worship attitude and posture. But what about those false idols that tempt us? Let me wrap around to where I began. I mentioned earlier about the demands on people's time, specifically to how sports and kids sports take our time. Carson has played baseball and Courtney has had t-ball and dance which has made a serious demand on our time over the past couple of months due to practices, games, and performances. What Kathy and I decided years ago was that these extra curricular activities would not interfere with or take precedent over church worship. If the kids were to have a game on Sunday morning there would be no question as to what would happen: they would not play in that game and we would go to church. For us this is because we want our kids to grow up making church and worship to our God a priority and nothing will take precedent over that. It's a matter of offering our full selves to God and not "worshipping a false idol."

Grace & Peace


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Missing Piece of Moses' Story

Numbers 20: 3-12 (CEB)
Lawsuit over water and Moses’ disobedience
Then the people confronted Moses and said to him, “If only we too had died when our brothers perished in the Lord’s presence! Why have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this desert to kill us and our animals here? Why have you led us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place without grain, figs, vines, or pomegranates? And there’s no water to drink!” Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the meeting tent and they fell on their faces. Then the Lord’s glory appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses: “You and Aaron your brother, take the staff and assemble the community. In their presence, tell the rock to provide water. You will produce water from the rock for them and allow the community and their animals to drink.” Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, as the Lord had commanded him.10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. He said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Should we produce water from the rock for you?” 11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice. Out flooded water so that the community and their animals could drink. 12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you didn’t trust me to show my holiness before the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land that I am giving them.”

I used to like puzzles when I was growing up. Well I should say that I used to like completing puzzles when I was growing up. I hated it when I couldn't complete a puzzle, especially when it was because the puzzle was missing a piece. It's still frustrating when I don't complete any sort of puzzle. And really the only "puzzle" I like doing these days is sermon writing. Putting together a sermon is very similar to building a puzzle for me. Each part of the sermon must be put in a specific place once all the parts are there so that it makes sense for me and hopefully for everyone who hears it. The process includes picking a scripture, determining where that scripture fits in the larger picture (both in a sermon series and in its biblical scope), looking at feasting on the word and commentaries, looking at historical context, and finally fitting the sermon in with the overall bigger picture. And those are just some of the pieces. One thing I have found and surprised me a bit is that I really enjoy the sermon preparation and the struggle that comes with it week-to-week. One struggle I do have with sermon writing is after the sermon is finished and I think of something else entirely that I believe could have made a sermon better. (In fact this introduction is not the introduction I used when I preached a couple weeks ago on Moses) So let me ask you a question to begin with. Does it bother you when something doesn't get completed? Or more specifically when you don't get to see something completed?

Most of us know Moses' story and all the things he did. He was protected as a child, spoke with a burning bush, parted the red sea, led the Israelites out of oppression in Egypt, and was given the ten commandments. But one thing that may get overlooked from his story is that he leads people to the promised land but he DOES NOT actually get there himself. In the above scripture from Numbers we have the Israelites so frustrated from wandering in the desert that they are actually saying it would have been better to die in captivity than struggle and die in the desert. Their frustration is understandable as they have been wandering the desert for nearly forty years and they are venting and questioning Moses. So Moses and Aaron go and speak with God. Moses then strikes a rock and water pours out of the rock for the community to drink. The problem is that Moses takes credit for providing the water from the rock because he struck it with the staff. Bear in mind, the staff was provided by God and Moses did not do as God had instructed. God's response to this "disobedience" is that Moses and Aaron will not bring the Israelites into the land that was promised because they did not trust God to show God's holiness to the Israelites. At first glance this seems like a harsh punishment for Moses and Aaron because they simply took credit for something. Does it really matter who gets the credit? In this case yes-credit should have been given to God. 

It must have been difficult for Moses to not be able to lead his people into the promised land. Moses has led the people out of oppression in Egypt and led them in the desert for years but God's message and fulfillment of them reaching the promised land will be left in the hands of others and not Moses. I believe this is an early example of God's message being carried on from person to person. 

There's a movie called Exodus: Gods and Kings from a few years ago that ends with an older Moses riding in a caravan looking out upon the horizon to what is likely the promised land and at that point he passes. Moses started something by leading his people out of oppression and hopefully he found solace in the fact that his people would get there and they would be able to carry on what he started. He does not get to the promised land but he does get to see it just before he dies...

Deuteronomy 34:4 Common English Bible (CEB)
Then the Lord said to Moses: “This is the land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised: ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it.”

Moses sees the promised land but doesn't cross over into it. I wonder if this was frustrating to Moses because he was so close that he could see it or if it was uplifting to Moses because he had led his people there and they could continue what God promised. I hope he saw the potential in the people and that they would get there.

As far as completion of God's purposes, I (we) must trust and have faith that what we start God will fulfill to completion. I think that Moses had that type of faith. We don't always see the completion of the fruits of our labors and we must be okay with that, we can be okay with that. I won't get to see everything that youth who I have mentored accomplish. I won't get to see everything that my own children do in the future. I won't get to see the completion of everything they do in their lives. But that's okay. It's okay because I know that God has a bigger plan for each of us. We simply trust in that plan and God will see it through to completion.

Grace & Peace

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Old Testament Scripture: Jonah

Jonah 3:7- 4:1(CEB)

Then he (Jonah) announced, “In Nineveh, by decree of the king and his officials: Neither human nor animal, cattle nor flock, will taste anything! No grazing and no drinking water! Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefully! And let all persons stop their evil behavior and the violence that’s under their control!” He thought, Who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish.10 God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.

Jonah balks at God’s mercy

But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry.

I have always pictured the story of Jonah and the whale much like the great white whale in the novel Moby Dick. It's a huge whale that seems to be really outlandish and almost cartoonish. But all the stories I remember about Jonah growing up from Sunday School and vacation bible school the whale is what I believe most people commonly remember because of its outlandishness and grandeur. The whale is huge and memorable. I don't want to burst anyone's bubble but the whale isn't really that important in Jonah's story. The entire book of Jonah is 48 verses long and the whale is mentioned in only two verses. In fact is it's only eleven verses from the first mention of the whale (swallowing Jonah) to the last mention of the whale (vomiting Jonah up on dry land). The belly of the whale is simply a place for Jonah to contemplate running from God and not doing what God asks and maybe even experience spiritual desolation. It could have just as easily been that the fisherman tossed Jonah overboard into a lifeboat and he could have contemplated and prayed for three days in the lifeboat. He could been stranded on a deserted island somewhere contemplating if he wanted to do what God called him to do.

The entirety of Jonah's story is that God asks him to go speak to the people in Nineveh and have them change their evil ways, Jonah sails away in the other direction and in the process puts others at risk, the whale swallows Jonah and finally decides to do what God asks of him and he reluctantly goes to Nineveh. And after they repent and God shows them mercy Jonah is overjoyed and excited. Well not exactly, he pouts because God has shown mercy to others. He's not happy that the people of Nineveh are going to do better and goes to a cliff and pouts under a tree. The tree dies and Jonah is upset that he can't even have a tree for shade. And then God basically tells Jonah that he did nothing to cultivate the seeds and help the tree to grow. Jonah's anger continues and at the end of the book of Jonah, Jonah is distancing himself from God. The book of Jonah ends as it began with Jonah separate from God.

I like to believe that Jonah has a choice to make while he is sitting on the cliff of how he will respond to God. Will he stay angry or will he decide to get to work? He can sit there and sulk or he can climb down from that cliff and help the people of Nineveh. After all they are going to need to learn how to turn away from their evil ways and need help in their spiritual growth. I like to think that Jonah turned toward Nineveh and and goes to do what God called him to do in the first place and preach to the people of Nineveh through his words and his actions.

Like Jonah, sometimes we have a choice to make and do what God calls us to do. And like, Jonah sometimes that can be difficult because we get held up on what we want to do and what is easier for us. Sometimes we must do what is difficult and not what is easy. But much like Jonah, remember that what you do for God matters.

Grace & Peace