Trust The Lord

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“I sought the Lord and he answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.”  Psalm 34:4                                                                            

The one positive fear that the Bible endorses is the fear of God. Wise Solomon said fearing God is the beginning of wisdom. It was Oswald Chambers who added, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”   

In Eritrea, Helen Berhane was frequently tortured during her almost three years in the shipping container prison. In spite of that she had no fear. Once when interrogated for teaching the Bible to the guards outside her cell, she replied, “I am always looking for opportunities to talk about my faith and to spread the news about Jesus. I am not ashamed of the gospel and I will talk to anyone and to everyone. Jesus does not just want me to tell the prisoners about him, he wants me to tell the guards too. Even if the president were to visit the prison, I would tell him about the gospel.

“I am not afraid of you. You can do what you want to me, but ultimately all you can do is kill my body; you cannot touch my soul. You cannot even kill me unless it is God’s will that I should die.”

Her persecutors had no answer and returned her to her shipping container.

David Aikman writes in his book Great Souls about the personal life of Pope John Paul II—especially his personal prayer life. When he became pope in 1978, the result of all that personal prayer was evident in his inaugural sermon. “Be not afraid!” he said.

He recognized that fear is a sin because it denies the sovereignty of God. And he recognized that as a leader of a large Church, and unwaveringly opposed to the powerful communist Empire, he had to give people the courage to resist evil.

And courageous he was. When he saw Russian tanks poised to invade Poland, the Pope announced he would go and stand with his people if the Soviets crossed the border. The Soviet tanks did not move.

The Pope knew he might face assassination—and indeed, someone did try to assassinate him—yet he continued to tell the world, “Be not afraid.” 

So today let us live in the positive fear of God so that we will not fear anything or anyone else.

Dear Lord, we pray that all Christians in fearful situations today will have the attitude of trust in the Lord and not fear for their lives, in and through Jesus. Amen

Grace and Peace

Steve 

Fixing Bad Deals

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

(David said) “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and those whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Romans 4:7-8

The small town barber found himself facing some financial difficulties. 

When he was the only barber in town, he had made a reasonable, if not a good living, at his trade. But now he was no longer the only barber in town. A franchise had set up shop and, in two-foot tall letters on its front window, proclaimed, “All haircuts $3. Walk-ins welcome.”

Three dollars? The experienced barber had been charging $5.

He knew he couldn’t survive if he tried to beat his competition’s price.

Now there are certain advantages to living and working in a small town. One of those advantages is that many people still believe in supporting local businesses, even if that support is going to cost them a dollar or two.

Because of that attitude, the barber found many of his clients kept on coming. And although there was a slow, steady drop in profit, there wasn’t any mass exodus to the new salon. Even so, after two years the barber realized his business wasn’t going to survive. That’s when he visited with a wise friend and asked if he might find a solution.

The friend asked for a day or two to think it over.

On the third day, the friend showed up with a sign that he hung in the barber’s window. Very simply the sign read, “We Fix Bad $3 Haircuts!” Business turned around immediately and stayed turned around.

My dad could have used this place back on the day he refused to pay $3.00 for what had been a $1.50 haircut. He said he would have paid $10.00 to get that bad hair cut fixed.

Now, if we remember nothing else from this devotion, it would be good if we remember that Jesus fixes the bad deals we have made in our lives. Looking back at our years we can probably identify a good many times when we made a bad deal. We were tempted to do the wrong thing, and made a bad deal. Time and again we have been wooed away from the Lord and made a bad deal.

But Jesus fixes those bad deals.

Through the Holy Spirit we are called to faith. With faith in the Christ our sins are forgiven, and we are brought to see that we are encouraged to grow in the likeness of Christ. The bad deals are forgotten, and we are once again God’s children.

New life is ours all because Jesus fixes bad deals.

Dear Lord, I have made some bad deals in my life. Some of these deals could have been life destroying. But you searched me out and brought me home with you and made me part of your family. Dear Jesus thank you for loving me enough….  Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Looking Back – Leaning Forward

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:6-13

A little while ago Shirley and I found and old box of pictures. It was almost like we had found a hidden treasure. We spent over an hour going through these pictures and remembering all the events and times they brought to mind. Like: Shirley and I standing in the snow a week before I made the trip to Paris Island for Marine boot camp. Our wedding pictures and remembering the rush of that weekend and how the Captain told me “If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.” He didn’t want to let me come home and get married. Many pictures of our son, Stephen, in many different stages of his life. How proud we were and are of this young man. The houses we have lived in and the churches we have served… wow, what a life we have lived… and how we have been blessed to serve God through the church. And finally, we noticed the pictures which chronicled our increasing age – and how life was morphing our looks. I think that was when our journey through the pictures ended. I could go on, of course, as we did that morning, wading into all of those times and places until we were chest deep—heart deep—in nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a very natural and powerful emotion, particularly for those of us who are older.  But nostalgia has its dangers.  If it gives us renewed appreciation for the ways God has blessed us in the past, then it can be a wonderful occasion for thanksgiving. But nostalgia also can make us idealize the past and in ways that make the present pale by comparison.  So nostalgia can rob the present of delight and the future of hope.  

As Christians we draw on the past in a myriad ways, of course, but our faith is always forward leaning.  We are assured that the good old days, no matter how good, are nothing compared to what God has in store for us. Paul quotes Isaiah to remind the Corinthians, but perhaps also to remind himself: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” So the advice for all of us is to look back, yes, and be thankful. But lean forward to all that God has in store for us.

Dear God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, help us to look back in ways that keep us thankful, but leaning forward enough to keep us alive and real in the faith of Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

A Horrible Retirement Speech

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“When he heard the words, ‘Chest of God,’ Eli fell backward off his stool where he sat next to the gate. Eli was an old man, and very fat. When he fell, he broke his neck and died. He had led Israel forty years.” – 1 Samuel 4:18

When I read this scripture for today I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I have just retired after forty years of leading the church. Some think I am old. Some even think I am fat. Thankfully, I got a well-intentioned roast as I got ready to retire – and there was no fire – and no neck breaking – just gracious people having a good time as they celebrated my leaving and the coming of a new pastor. That’s the way it should be… know when to retire… and expect and encourage a refreshing new spirit to follow.

What a horrible retirement speech at the end of a long career. No one wants to be remembered the way Eli was in today’s scripture. We’ve all seen that happen before. The leader who builds something impressive but can’t see when it is time to step aside. The retirement that happens a few years too late. If he’d stepped down a few years earlier, the retirement celebrations would have had a whole different feel to them. 

What are we going to do without you around here? Did you mean it when you said we could call you about anything?  I can’t imagine this place without you.


But when the person stays too long, people might say all those things, but they don’t really mean them. There’s a hollow ring to the speeches of people trying to be kind, when what they are really thinking is: It’s about time.

Eli, who had a genuine call from God, should have stepped aside and allowed the people to celebrate his years of work. Instead he stayed, and started listening to all the wrong people. His degenerate sons started stealing the temple meat, but even worse, they lost the ark of the covenant. How do you lose the ark of the covenant?! They took it into a losing battle and lost it. And when their father heard the news, he skipped the retirement party and keeled over. 


When the scripture mentions that Eli was fat, it was not a comment on his physical fitness. He was fat because he too had been eating the fat marbled temple meat. He had benefited from his sons’ corruption. He had truly lost his calling.

Why couldn’t he see it? Why couldn’t he see himself with any clarity? When did he lose his vision?

Dear Lord, guide us in accepting our callings and also in accepting when it is time to allow someone else to follow theirs. Let that be the right person, the one who has a calling too, one who will bring an exciting new spirit to us all, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Hey! Knock it Off!

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” – Matthew 7:3

I wonder if you find it irritating that the Israelis are so insistence on building settlements on disputed, formerly Palestinian, territory. I also wonder do you want to join me in saying: “Knock it off, will you. Give peace a chance.”

Yeah, that is what I want to do. And then I remember mentioning something to Shirley yesterday about old Andy Jackson… and add to that the way we have done things here in the good old USA from the very beginning. We have done some of the same stuff. Including that we Americans were deeply into building settlements on other people’s land ourselves, and calling it “progress,” “civilization,” and even “providential design.”

In the 19th century there was a huge influx of immigrants from the U.S. into the then-Mexican territory of Texas. Illegal immigration from the U.S. to Mexico. Yeah, us.

In other parts of the West, Indians lost their homelands not because they had sold them or given them away, but because the U.S. government allocated their lands to its citizens for their settlement. Settlements. We, in North Carolina, are reminded of the “Trail of Tears” when Andy Jackson sold out the Cherokee Indians and made them walk to Oklahoma. Good going, Andy.

I still wish that today’s Israel would back off on settlements on the West Bank. But maybe we should be a little less self-righteous, a little less sure that we would certainly never do anything like that. Because, well, we have… and worse.

Yes, there is a place for a word of advice and correction to someone else. But there’s a big difference between saying, “I’ve made mistakes and can maybe share something from what I’ve learned,” and saying, “We the righteous will set you straight.”

Remind us again, Holy One: the world does not divide between saints and sinners; but between saints who know themselves to be sinners, and sinners who believe themselves to be saints. Move us into the direction of working together for the peace of the world, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Prayer of St. Francis

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Today, I feel we just need to stop and pray for our world and ourselves this Prayer of Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Grace and Peace
Steve

Really Forgiven

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?” – Mark 2:7-9

I have a theory: there was an 11th commandment that fell off the tablets.  (We already know Moses broke one set, and my tablet breaks all the time, so it doesn’t seem too far-fetched.)

10. You shall not covet…a lot of things. 11. You shall feel incredibly guilty, unworthy and insecure if you break numbers 1-10 or do anything that anyone has ever considered less-than-perfect.

How else to explain what I hear every day?:

“I feel terrible – I was relieved when she died.”  (Said the son who took care of his mother with Alzheimer’s for six years.)

“My kids are messed up forever because I’m repeating my mother’s mistakes.  I once threw a packet of gum into the back seat because they wouldn’t stop fighting. Oh, God, now I’ve dishonored my mother.  Oh, God, – and taken God’s name in vain. Twice.” (Said every parent ever.)

“If I were a better husband/friend/______ (insert your personalized noun here _____!), s/he wouldn’t have _____/gotten sick/taken-scissors-to-the-church’s-upholstered-chairs.”

Sometimes I think that we aren’t that different from the scribes.  We trust a little white pill can heal our bodies, but we are shocked at the idea that maybe, just maybe, the Creator of the Universe can heal our souls.

Yes, we must face our sins; no, we can’t ignore them. But rules are rules because we break them; they aren’t meant to keep us away from God, but to draw us closer.

So how would life be different if you trusted you were forgiven?  Really trusted?

It’s time to figure it out, folks, because the only 11th commandment I know about is the one in John 13 – the one that says to love each other, because God loves us.

Yes, even – especially – you.  
 
Healing God, help me carry your forgiveness with me today like a prescription.  Remind me to take it out and look at it the next time I’m tempted to guilt myself about _____ (“random” example: playing hooky to go tubing on a hot August day…).  Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Put Me in, Coach

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“The Lord does not save by sword and spear.” – 1 Samuel 17:47

You remember Goliath.

He was that ginormous Philistine who challenged the Israelites to a one on one, winner take all duel to the death.  No one accepts, even though Saul, the Israelite king, promised untold wealth, his daughter in marriage and a family-wide tax exemption (I’m not making this up).

A young shepherd boy named David approaches Saul and says “Put me in, coach.” When his qualifications are questioned, David presents a resume in lion and bear slaying. How hard could one oversized Philistine be?  Saul is impressed and puts him in the ring.

Goliath, on the other hand, is insulted. As David steps forward, Goliath starts talking smack: “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks? This boy will soon be bird food.”  David responds, “Oh the birds will feast alright, not only on your big, ugly head and carcass but also the bodies of your army.”  Isn’t that just great dialogue?!

David goes on to give away his battle secret: “You come to me with a sword and spear.  I come armed with faith so that you will know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear.”

Faith, not superior firepower, is what truly counts.  Faith is the greatest weapon there is.

Would that our country remember that when faced with challenging international problems.  Would that you and I remember that when faced with giant struggles and seemingly impossible situations.

Dear Lord, when I am faced with giant problems, help me to remember that you do not call me to be practical, strong, resolute, calm, cool, calculating, patient or frantic.  You do not even call me to be successful.  You only call me to be faithful. Have me to realize that you walk with me in every single battle, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

May We All Be One

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” – Isaiah 11:1

A friend of mine and her young daughter were walking in a shopping mall when the child suddenly stopped, took a panoramic look around and said, “Look, Mom, we are in a forest of people.”

Her daughter is right. People ARE like trees in a forest. Each with roots: some that run shallow, some that delve deep. Each with branches: some gnarled, some reaching, some drooping. Some are tall and majestic, like the giant redwoods of California. Some are gorgeous like the cedars of Lebanon.

Each with blemishes; each with hue. All turning toward the sun. All with a thick exterior covering vulnerabilities with varying degrees of success. Some snapped in half by failing to bend with the wind. Some with lives cut short like the stump of Jesse.

If I were to draw but a single line to illustrate where we are separate from the rest of creation, I would not know where to place it. Instead, I listen to the counsel of a child and I see the tree in me, and the me in tree, and the me in we, and the we in me.

I begin to pray to the God of ALL creation that we may all be one, but I pause to ponder if, perhaps, we already are, but just don’t know it… yet.

Dear God of all, from what is left of me, may there sprout forth the fruit of what is best of me, and may it blessed be, until I find rest in thee. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Myers Park UMC PodCast

I invite all of you to watch (Myers Park UMC) the Reverend Doctor James Howell’s sermon this morning about God’s broken heart. It is very moving. You can do this later in the week (I think after Tuesday). Simply go to this URL: http://mpumc.org/sermons-and-writings/sermons.cfm and click on the words “Click here to subscribe Via iTunes Store” and they will be delivered to your iTunes account each week. They are free and inspirational.

Grace and Peace

Steve

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