Murphy’s Law is a theoretical idea that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Of course, it is not a universal constant like gravity or the Law of conservation of Mass, but it sure feels like it sometimes. Have you ever been in one of those situations where everything around you seems to be falling apart? I sure have! And it can be really tough to have a positive outlook on the world around you when nothing seems to be going your way.
When I was at the Follow Conference in Cincinnati this past December with the Six Points Youth Group, I was stressed beyond my limit. Murphy’s Law was in full effect. All of my meticulous planning had gone by the wayside as everything was falling apart. I didn’t even know if we were going to have rooms to stay in that night. I was terrified because I didn’t have the answer to the hundreds of questions I was being asked. I forgot that God DID have all the answers.
It’s easy to forget that God is always on the throne—no matter what. Sometimes, in the midst of stress and worry, the best thing we can do is rely on God. God IS a universal constant. His love for us never fails. And He is always seeking to secure us in His Will. When life is out of control, and nothing is going the way you had planned, remember that God is still on the throne. Follow in His example. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2
I had an early teenage growth spurt which made me a tall 7th and 8th grader. This allowed me to play basketball as a forward (closer to the basket) and I was a pretty good player. I led my team in scoring and rebounding that season (later others would grow, but I pretty much stayed the same height, which explains why I am not a very tall man).
As that season went on, I struggled with my grades and was forced to sit out for a while. I remember telling my dad that my team wouldn't win a game without me; but he said that I was being prideful and to cheer on my team. Well it turned out they did well without me after all. Other players stepped up and took more shots and we won our share during my time away. In truth I was just one player on a team, not the whole team.
Sometimes we get too full of ourselves. We start to think that we are important or needed and a gift to the world...but in reality the world was spinning before we came and will keep spinning once we are gone.
The author of Romans says "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement" (vs. 12:3).
As I head off to vacation this week I sometimes get worried about what might go wrong at the church while I'm gone or who might need me; but then I remember that I am just one small piece of a larger body of Christ and that others are more than capable of doing what I do by loving others in my absence.
Let's stay humble, after all it's God who does the real work, we just get to be a part.
We tend to think that the early church was some utopian time when all the believers were happy all the time; but this is far from the truth. We see seeds of division from early on in the life of the church. In Acts we see some widows being overlooked by the leadership and a decision has to be made to make sure they are taken care of. We see arguments between leaders (like Apollos and Paul) and huge amounts of disagreement about how to handle new non-Jewish converts to the faith. To be sure, there were arguments and strong feelings about many issues during those days (dietary laws, circumcision, false teachings...and many more) and yet the church found ways to work through those issues while continuing to show love and respect to those with whom they disagree.
It seems to me that we are once again in a divisive time. Our issues of disagreement are currently about wearing masks, politics, race relations and more. I worry that we, as a church and as a society, aren't doing a good job of continuing to show love and respect to those with whom we disagree. Are we going to allow these issues to divide us? We are stronger together and yet we are allowing these things to pull us apart.
Romans 8:31 says "if God is for us, who can be against us" and I hope that we find these words to be true now as much as ever. God is on our side. God does love each of us (regardless of how we vote or if we believe in the need for masks). I hope our bond of Christian love is much stronger than any political or social divide.
I pray that we will, as modeled by the early church, learn to disagree with each other and yet love each other still.
I like to imagine that each person has a bucket full of sand. The limited amount of sand in your bucket represents how much of your time, energy, and love that you can give to others on a weekly basis. The idea is that you will take your bucket and dump sand into the buckets of others who are empty and need God’s love. But, if all you do is give, give, give, then eventually your bucket will be empty too, and you won’t be able to love others the way that God has called us to. (Mark 12:31)
The Sabbath is YOUR day. You are given the Biblical freedom to relax and enjoy time with God. To go back to my analogy, this time with God on the Sabbath is what refills your bucket of sand—so that at the end of the day, you are ready to got out and share some more love once again.
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” -Mark 2:23-28
Jesus confirms for us what we already know. The Law given to Moses was given for the good of mankind—that we may live holy lives, set apart for the good of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I hope you enjoyed your 4th of July celebrations. I hope you spent time with loved ones, watched some rockets red glare and enjoyed time relaxing.
Independence Day has always been one of my favorite holidays for a lot of reasons. I do love fireworks. I love summer and have great memories of playing in sprinklers and swimming with my friends on hot humid days and of course, I love it because we get to celebrate the freedom that we enjoy as Americans. I am glad we are free to speak our minds, glad we are free to worship how we choose and so many other amazing freedoms that many in the world do not have. I know those freedoms didn't come easily or without great sacrifice and so it's good to remember all those who served and died to give us and to protect those freedoms.
I also know that freedom requires caution. Just because we CAN do something doesn't mean we SHOULD do it. For example, freedom of speech means that I CAN call someone rude names or use fowl language...but that doesn't mean I SHOULD do this (how can I love my neighbor while insulting them?).
As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:23, "Everything is permissible-but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"-but not everything is constructive."
I am so glad we have the freedom in this nation, but let us be careful not to use our freedoms to hurt others. The greatest law is not to love ourselves, but to love God and our neighbor.
In recent years there has been a push to do things locally. We are told (and I agree) that it's good to shop local, eat local and get our produce locally (like at a Farmer's Market for example). This makes sense because we get to support small businesses in our area and keep more of our money in our local economy, which helps our friends and neighbors rather than spending money at chain restaurants or from far away vendors on Amazon. My wife even gets honey from a local beekeeper to help with allergies, which apparently works.
Starting on Monday, July 6, we are going to do a local service week rather than go on our Kentucky mission trip as we had planned. While I would have LOVED to have gone on the mission trip, instead we get to serve our neighbors by staying and serving local.
Would you consider joining us? We have some great projects lined up and a real chance to make a difference in our own backyard. We will be serving local residents, helping at a local food pantry and cleaning up at local parks and trails (among a few other projects).
We are working every day that week (July 6-10) from about 9 am to 3 pm and could use more hands to share the work. Will you help us share God's love in physical ways with our friends and neighbors? Will you help us serve local? Just click on the link below to register. It's free and easy!
In the past weeks we have watched as statues all over our country and world have been torn down by protesters who wanted to make a statement. Many of these statues were of confederate leaders or other public figures seen to represent racism (Christopher Columbus for example has gone from celebrated explorer to hated in my lifetime because of his treatment of the native people he met on his journeys).
I am not going to comment on this issue directly, but do want to talk about the idea of statues in general.
Statues are there to celebrate something or someone and to remind us of what has happened in the past. They are there to help us remember those who came before.
In the Bible we don't see many statues, but we do see lots of altars that served much the same purpose. Some of these were set up to worship false gods, but many were set up (even commanded by God to be set up) to help remember something great that happened or a miracle God did.
My favorite one of these was after the Israelites crossed the Jordan river and crossed into the promised land. After this great miracle, God commanded the people to gather large stones from the bottom of the river (smoothed by the movement of the water over the years to prove where they came from). Then God told them this, "In the future, when your children ask you, 'what do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." (Joshua 4:6-7)
We are supposed to remember to tell the stories of what God has done and we don't need a pile of rocks in order to do it (though they can be helpful reminders). Have you told your children and your grandchildren about what God has done in your life? Have you told the stories of God's goodness and faithfulness? Let us not neglect the call to pass on the miracles of God to others so that they will know.
What is your pile of rocks? Where was God faithful in your life? Can you think back to the places where you saw the hand of God at work? If so, tell the stories and share with others so that they will know and maybe start to seek God as well.
Not so long ago the world was different, more free. I remember in college that my best friend had been studying in Europe for a year and I, along with some of his other friends and girlfriend, missed him a lot. We decided that we would go to the airport to greet him. Back then, before 9/11, you could go right to the gate and be there when your loved one got off the plane (now you have to wait about 12 miles away I think). His flight was delayed several times, but finally he arrived to a group of friends with signs, banners and Mt Dew (apparently not for sale in Latvia and he was pretty much addicted). It was a hero's welcome and made him feel loved immediately.
That's pretty much how I imagined finally coming back to church once this whole COVID thing was done. I had dreams of dancing in the aisles and high fiving all my beloved friends and church family who I had missed...but things don't always turn out how we imagined. Instead of hugs, we will have to social distance. Things will need to change in order to keep us safe and help us feel safe...but at least we will be together again!
Paul loved his churches, but due to his missionary travel and the fact that he was often in jail; he couldn't always be with them in person. He said this to the church he loved in Thessalonica (Thessalonians 2:17) "Brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought)."
While we have been separated in person, we have never been separated in thought. We may be separated by 6 feet, but not in love. We might be separated by a mask, but not in care. Even those who choose to worship at home via online worship are still a part of our fellowship because of our mutual concern and love for each other.
I will be glad to gather back in the building starting on July 5, but we have never really been apart, not in thought anyway. We have kept praying for each other, loving each other, showing care for each other...we have been the church no matter where we may be.
The other day my 4 year old was in the restroom washing his hands, or so I thought. The water was running and he was at the sink, but when I walked by (he almost always leaves the door open) he had the top off of the soap container and was filling it with water. He was actually very proud of this idea, he gladly showed me that he was adding water to the soap because it was almost empty and he thought he would fill it up.
I had to break the bad news to him that instead of fixing the problem, he had actually made it worse. The little bit of soap was now mostly worthless because it was so watered down, it wouldn't really clean our hands anymore and needed to be thrown out.
Truth is a little bit like this. We may have some truth (Jesus loves us or the Bible is good) but if we add to that truth our own ideas or interpretations we potentially lose some of the power of that truth.
We all know that Jesus loves us; but what does that mean? Our culture has taken this true idea and added to it the idea that Jesus is some always happy, smiling caricature. He never gets mad, never judges and is like our best buddy...but this isn't the truth. In the Bible we see Jesus get mad (holy indignation is the proper term), we see him rebuke his disciples and tell them they have little faith, we seem him frustrated and sad and all kinds of emotions besides just happy all the time. It turns out that the love of Jesus is a deeper love, a more complex love that we are led to believe by our watered down truth.
We also are told that the Bible is good, which is true; but we tend to water it down to its simplest version.
Growing up I did learn the stories of Noah or Moses in Sunday School, but I did NOT learn the parts where Noah gets drunk and naked or where Moses killed a man...those parts were conveniently left out. I also learned that the Bible is a simple story of God's love for us; but the truth is far more complex. The Bible is a collection of books, written over thousands of years by many authors (some of whom are unknown to us), in several languages (not English) and requires diligent study to try and understand and interpret. There is nothing simple about it! And while the Bible is good, it is also at times depressing (read the first 11 chapters of Ecclesiastes for example) as well as violent and full of terrible sins (murder, rape, racism and much more). The truth about the Bible has been watered down to the point that when we actually start to read it, we find that we barely recognize it.
In the book of Romans we are told about some who had "exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). I pray that we do not also fall into this trap and love the watered down version more than the real truth of God, the complex and real truth of God.
Let us not rely on the easy or simple, on clique answers to the hard questions of life; but to rely on the real God who is so much more than these watered down truths.
When I was a child my understanding of prayer was very limited. I was taught a few memorized prayers like the terrifying "now I lay me down to sleep" one that honestly gave me nightmares (telling a kid to think about their death and then expect them to drift off to a peaceful slumber is just odd) as well as, a few others including the Lord's Prayer...but I mostly just prayed for me. I prayed for new toys, a better bike, to do well on my test in math...very self centered. Occasionally I would pray for others if someone was sick or if my mom told me to. I bowed my head, folded my hands and hoped that God would answer my prayer.
Now I pray differently. I rarely pray for myself. I almost always pray for others or the world, often for people I don't even know (world leaders...). One of my most common prayers is for peace. I pray that we could lay down our weapons and live in a world without fear. Is this a crazy prayer? Maybe. Do I think it will happen on this side of heaven...no, not really; but if anyone can bring peace it's gotta be God and so I keep on praying.
In Exodus 2 we read "the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning." The prayers of the people for help reached the Lord and moved Him to action on their behalf (he sent Moses to help deliver them).
While world peace may seem unlikely, I will keep groaning, I will keep praying, I will keep asking the Lord for His help. I will trust that He is good and that He does hear us. I will pray for peace.
Will you join me?