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#Burdened#NotHeavy

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

W.E. Sangster was a Methodist pastor in England who lived from 1900-1960. He was so well-respected as a pastor that he would often interview possible candidates for ministry within the Methodist church. On one particular occasion he was interviewing a young man who said he was rather shy and not the sort of person who would set the Thames river on fire- that is, stir up the city.  The story goes that Dr. Sangster said, “I’m not interested to know if you could set the Thames River on fire. I want to know if I picked you up by the scruff of the neck and dropped you into the Thames, would it sizzle?”

He was looking for what we could call passion in that young man.  Paul carried a passion for the church at Colossae. We can see it oozing out of his pores (okay his writing) in this letter. We can see it especially from the passage we will be studying this week: Colossians 2:1-7.  A parent carries a burden for his or her children. The owner of a company carries a burden for its success and (hopefully) the welfare of his employees. A coach carries a burden for teaching his or her players to be winners. A pastor carries a burden for the church he is shepherding.

That is a burden worth carrying.  With the absence of personal “touch” and the plethora of online streaming, it is easy to lose touch with the people. I’m trying not to. I love the folks God has given me the pleasure to pastor. I carry a burden for them I did not know possible. Please pray for us this week. Thanks.

#Lent#21

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

John Piper writes:

At the heart of Christianity is the truth that we are forgiven and accepted by God, not because we have done good works, but to make us able and zealous to do them.  (p.90)

I remember hearing once that Martin Luther, who believed very strongly in justification by faith, tore the book of James out of his Bible (true or not I don’t know) because James wrote, “Faith without works is dead.” (Js.2:26)  He further complicated Luther’s thinking with more words: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (v.18) He also wrote, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (v.24)

What Luther missed is what Piper is saying. We are not saved by our works, but we do good works because we are saved. It is not “I do for” but “I do because.” As my conversion takes hold of my heart, life, and thinking, it comes out in my doing.

Sorry Martin. Good works are involved. Not in the salvation process, but as an outgrowth of our salvation. My good deeds do not save me, but they do show I have been saved by God’s grace.

Quote from The Passion of the Christ by John Piper.

#Lent#20

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

With all the talk about “the virus” I thought we needed a reminder that we are still alive and live on a planet made by God, the Creator of all things good.  I came to the office early this morning (Sunday) and about 7:40 I peeked outside. I saw this sunrise and took these pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d say that is a pretty impressive display of God’s creative work wouldn’t you? 

Our service was live streamed on the church’s Facebook page.  I do not have the ability to post it here but if you would like you can go to the church’s website and click on OVCF Facebook Page. You can ask to join and either Diana or Tami will approve it. You can then watch it. I understand (and may be wrong since I am technologically-challenged illiterate) that you can watch it once you are a member of our page.

And remember there is always a sunrise with Jesus. In fact, it was real popular a number of years ago to say, “Friday’s here, but Sunday’s coming!” Good Friday looked bleak, but Resurrection Day changed it all.

***********************************

Shortly before they left on their spring break vacation one of the ladies in the church (my State Farm Agent) said she saw a shirt and it had my name written all over it. She gave it to me to wear and I told her I would wear it the first Sunday they were back. Today was that day and you obviously know the result of that.  It tells a great story for us and our times.  It is a lesson we must never forget.

Those are my words to all: DON’T. GIVE. UP!!

#Lent#18

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Have you ever noticed how some verses get a bad rap? Hear me out please. By bad rap I don’t mean kicked-to-the-curb-bad.  Instead, I’m referring to the fact that some verses are so close to another that stands out, that one verse is almost glossed over, even forgotten.

For example, Romans 8:29. Ask people to quote verse 28 and they’re on it!  Ask them to quote verse 29 and they most likely will stutter and stammer. Look closely though.  Verse 29 gives good traction and clarity to verse 28. All that happens is designed to conform us to the image of God’s Son.

Another one is in John 3.  Tell me what John 3:16 says.  That one is easy to spout off.  Some will know verse 17 if pressed. Okay, how about verse 15? We scramble for our Bibles to look it up.  Let me save you some time.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” BAM!

Powerful verse!  It finds its root in Numbers 21:5-9 where the Israelite people found life by looking at the serpent lifted up by Moses.  Life is found in the “lifted up” Christ.  That is a definite picture of Jesus being lifted up on a cross. There we find life. And it certainly isn’t a verse we can forget or leave out!!

Look up and live!

#Lent#15

Monday, March 16th, 2020

First place. That is what Colossians 1:18 is speaking about. “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” Preeminent.

What is somewhat ironic is the false idea we have in our world of everything BUT Jesus taking first place. In verse 15 Paul uses the word image, which is the word likeness. It is also the word from which we get icon, i.e. idol.  Just think about it a moment. How often have we made something an idol?  When that happens we have allowed that thing/item to occupy the place of Jesus in our life.  Rather than belabor the point, let’s cut to the chase. Perhaps it is time to give Him:

First place in our family.

First place in our marriages.

First place in our profession.

First place in our sports.

First place in our worship.

First place in our possessions.

First place in our friendships.

First place in our viewing.

First place in our music.

You can add more but you get the point. The one I omitted speaks to all of us: First place in our lives.  Don’t you think it’s time? I certainly do.

#LaughOutLoud#Enjoy!!

Sunday, March 15th, 2020

I just had to post this.  One of the folks in the church has a daughter who has Lyme disease, a bad case of it.  Her immune system is already compromised so they dare not bring her out where she could be exposed to the virus. At this point, Katherine is doing well (Praise God her mom says) and her immune system is doing a good job of fighting for her.  But it is risky for her to get out. So she asked about Tami doing the service live via FB. Since I am technologically-challenged and definitely FB illiterate, I told her to contact Tami. She did and voila! The Anderson family was able to watch it live. Come to find out a whole bunch of our folks did also.

After it was over Becca Anderson (Katherine’s mom) sent me this photo.

I busted a gut, but it can’t possibly be me. One, he doesn’t have a goatee. Two, he has more head hair than I do. Third, wrong nationality.  The big reason?  Reason number four: he is wearing a suit and tie. This boy doesn’t wear one of those silly things on Sunday morning.  Not for Easter. Not for Christmas. Not for Mother’s Day. Nada. Never. Weddings and funerals only. And only if it “required” by the bride and groom, and since the corpse can’t speak, the survivor.  🙂

Anyway, I thought it was funny. Have a laugh.  And if you are interested in watching the sermon, you can email Tami at zephan3.17@juno.com to find out how to get the link. Otherwise, you can listen online to the church’s podcast (ovcf.org).

#Lent#12

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

In yesterday’s post (#Lent#11)  I gave some thoughts about what survivors need after a loved one has died.  I encourage you to read that before reading this post (if you haven’t already done so).  In this post, I’d like to carry on with how to treat a survivor with some thoughts on Things Not to Say and Things to Say.

THINGS NOT TO SAY:

  1. “He/she is in a better place now.”  The question which begs to be asked is, “How do you know for sure?” Unless the victim was a follower of Christ,  you are better off not giving false hope.
  2. “I know how you feel.” No, no you don’t. You know how you feel, not how they feel.
  3. “All things work together for good” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Honestly, not only do I want to gag when someone says this (even though it may be half true), but it sounds more like an empty platitude.
  4. “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Not biblical.
  5. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Catchy Kelly Clarkson song, but this comes from Nietzche, who was an atheistic philosopher. He publicized the “God is Dead” movement.
  6. “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” This may sound good coming from your lips but it is virtually a worthless use of words. Why not offer something tangible like “I’m going to bring you a meal” or “Let’s go out for a run or coffee.”
  7. Any joking about people killing themselves is out of bounds. “Oh, if I fail this test, I’m going to kill myself.” (Roll eyes)

THINGS TO SAY:

  • Nothing. (But be present).  Being there and letting them talk or cry or just holding them or just sitting with them is much better than endlessly spoken, weary words. 
  • “I’m so sorry.”  (And mean it when you say it. Yeah you would be surprised).
  • “I don’t know what to do or say. ”  (See the first one of this section).
  • “Do you want to go out for coffee?”  (See #6 above).
  • “Tell me what you remember about him/her.”  (I do this for the funeral experience. It helps them remember the good times).
  • “Tell me your story.”  If they have been married a long time this helps heal.

Some added thoughts: 

  1. Be careful of using “committed suicide.” This implies criminality.
  2. Be careful of saying “completed suicide.” This sounds like a laudatory accomplishment, like completing a project or a grade.
  3. It is much better  to say, “Took his/her own life” or “He or she died.”

I know it is hard to know what to say. It is made worse by “tongue-tied disease.”  People want to give comfort but don’t know how.  Granted, much of what I have written is concerning suicide, but in many cases the advice can apply to any death and survivor.

Some of what I have shared comes from a book by Albert Y. Hsu entitled Grieving a Suicide. I simply cannot recommend this book enough.  The thoughts are a mash up of his and mine (mostly his). 🙂

#Lent#11

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

I’m going to take a break from my regularly scheduled Lent posts for a commercial.  Actually, the break is real; the commercial is not.  Lent’s focus is to prepare us for Good Friday and, ultimately, Resurrection Sunday.  Its design is to bring our minds to the importance of the crucifixion.  I’ll be honest: I’m not doing the normal Lenten thing of giving up something. I don’t observe Lent, as such, but I do want to portion a time of my morning Quiet Time to focus on what it is all about.  Hence, the Lent posts over the past 10 days or so.  I am calling this #11 even though it is not a typical Lent post. But I have something on my mind that won’t let go.

DEATH

The natural focus is the death of Jesus which will be observed in a few weeks. Sermons will be preached on “stand out” passages like Isaiah 53, the 7 last sayings of Jesus, and others. But my mind and heart are elsewhere this morning. Last Monday, the 2nd, our community suffered the loss of one of its members by suicide.  I was asked to do the funeral (on the 9th) even though he or the family did not come to OVCF.  I did not know the man; I know his wife; and I know his children from sports.  I refuse to judge the man or his destiny based on the act, but I was “charged” with saying something at the funeral.  I focused on his relationship with kids in sports and then spoke to the family about the faithfulness of God using Psalm 23. 

But the preceding Sunday (the 8th) I took some time out of our morning worship to speak to the church about how to respond; what to say; what not to say, if they should see the family or go to the visitation that afternoon.  I’m going to split what I said into two posts: this one and then one tomorrow.

I’m taking as my model Jesus’ concern for those He loved as He hung on the cross, particularly His mother and John. His love for His mother never stopped, nor did His love for John. He gave them each a charge: “Here is your son. Take care of my mother.” (paraphrased)

Part one of two posts is basically centered around what can friends of survivors do? Keep in mind this is for more than just suicide.  This can be applied to the survivor of any death.

  • Pray for them. Listen to them.  Send cards.  Provide company. Help with practical details, funeral arrangements, food, phone call, and so on.  Do what you can to help ease the immediate pain.
  • Survivors need presence, not platitudes. They don’t need pat answers to incomprehensible questions. They need the loving presence of friends to keep going. They need companions on the journey, not empty words and answers.  They don’t need their pain minimized; they want others to be willing to be with them in their pain and grief.

When Jesus was looking down at His mother and John, compassion and love rolled up within Him for both.  He wanted to make sure His mother was taken care of and He was giving His friend a high honor.

This post is long enough for today. Tomorrow I want to share with you what to say and what not to say. I hope you will join me. But more than that, I hope you can learn and use (unfortunately) what I am learning.

#Lent#9

Monday, March 9th, 2020

Jesus’ time on earth, His death and resurrection, was a series of clashes.  It is easy to see the clash on the cross of God vs Satan. Not good vs evil. That’s too shallow and cartoonish. No, the clash was greater.  It was a clash between the King of kings and the Lord of lords , the ultimate Ruler, vs the usurper, the pretender to the throne. The rebel. The loser.

The life of Jesus was also a clash. It was a clash of grace, love, mercy, freedom and new life vs the force of laws, rituals, arrogance, shackles and death. Jesus battled the enemy His entire time on earth. From birth to the grave. The religious system that wanted to bind and keep people under its thumb.

Jesus came to give freedom. He came to give life.  He did not come to make people slaves to rules and regulations, to a religious system that oppressed. I like the way Piper worded it:

The cross means freedom from the enslavement of ritual. (p.45)

You can see it in Acts 15.  You can see it in Galatians. What? The early battle Peter and the other apostles fought; the battle Paul fought against the oppressive  regime of legalism. The cross set us free. Live like it!!

The quote from John Piper is from his excellent book The Passion of Jesus Christ.

#Lent#5

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

In my years as a pastor I have heard more than once (okay often) people say, “I figure as long as my good deeds outweigh my bad ones, I’m good to go.” They are, of course, presuming several things: their good deed will outweigh they bad; and two, God operates that way.

News Flash!! NOPE.

For one, our good will never outweigh our bad.  What part of “There is none righteous, no, not one” do they not understand?  What part of “By grace are you saved by faith.  And this is not your own doing;  it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast” do they not understand?

We are not saved because our good deeds “outstack” our bad ones. We are not saved because there is any merit in what we do. There is no balancing act. The reality is this: one sin throws the whole scale off.  We are not judged-weighed- on good vs bad deeds.  We are judged on only one thing: have we come to Jesus and had our sins washed away by His blood. Nothing more; nothing less.  So don’t waste your time looking in the mirror at your deeds and do the comparison game.  It won’t work; it won’t matter.