Show and Tell

“Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.”
John 12:9


Dr. Fred Craddock, a renowned homiletics professor in seminary used to tell his students, “Preach Christ! Use words if you have to.” Dr. Craddock’s point, of course, was that people are much more impacted by what they see than by what they hear. Sermons in the flesh are more powerful and more enduring than moral proclamations and divine meditations alone.

At a certain point in his life, the only thing that rivaled the popularity of Jesus and his message in the Jerusalem vicinity was a living manifestation of Jesus’ power and a living illustration of Jesus’ message. According to John’s gospel, the power and the proclamation of Jesus were manifested and illustrated in the resurrection of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus.

When the crowds that gravitated toward Jesus got word that Jesus was dining at the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, they came to that house to investigate for themselves. They came to see Jesus, certainly, but they also came to see what Jesus had done in the resurrected life of Lazarus.

Every person who has experienced the life-giving power of Jesus is up for inspection. People still want to know, is it really possible to hear the voice of Christ and defy the conscriptions of imminent death? People still want to know, does the eternal life promised to us by Christ make any real difference in this life? People still want to know, does Christ really have the power to give you life in the face of those who are invested in your death? People still want to know, is there any hope beyond the grave?

People still come because they want to experience our worship, enjoy our music and listen to our great sermons and testimonies about the life-giving, death-defying, body-healing, soul-saving resurrecting power of God in Christ Jesus. But they also want to see the evidence of our wondrous proclamations manifested in our everyday lives. They really want to see living illustrations of those who were once dead but who now celebrate life and life more abundantly.

What will they see?  What can they touch?  What will we show them?

Loving Savior, you have made us to be living illustrations of your power over death. Now touch our lives so that we may show forth your greatness and your goodness with gratitude and grace, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

A Pile of Rocks

Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, so that all may know the power of the Lord.”
Joshua 4:20-24a


Have you ever just sat and looked at stones? Some of my favorite are the stones in Jonathan’s Creek in Maggie Valley – near Lake Junaluska. I think Ray Stevens would call them “flat, smooth, river rocks, fit for skipping.” They just seem like special rocks.

Go visit Stonehenge in the English county of Wiltshire and ask some of my kin folk, as people have for centuries, “What do these stones mean?” The only honest answer is “We don’t know” or “Go ask an archeologist.”  If there ever was a plan to pass on the meaning from generation to generation, it didn’t stick.

Go visit the Holy Land and you’ll find rocks everywhere. Big ones, little ones and stacks of them, just like the pile described in Joshua 4 near the Jordan River. As soon as the Israelites stepped in the river, the waters parted, Red/Reed Sea-style, and the whole nation crossed over. It was a moment to remember.

But Joshua was smart enough to know that even mighty miracles are easily forgotten unless we do something to remember them. The twelve stone pillar was meant to arouse the curiosity of younger generations who would see it and naturally ask, “What’s that all about?” We are instructed to answer: “It’s there to remind us God is real and powerful and faithful.”

A common fear for parents of confirmation students is that their child will ask a question for which they have no answer. What’s baptism all about?  What’s communion all about?  And what about miracles, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection?

The honest answer might be “I don’t really know” or “Go ask the pastor.” But if all we offered was the Joshua answer: “Those things remind us God is real and powerful and faithful,” it would be enough.

Today we don’t have a pile of twelve stones. We have a pile of stories, poems and letters known as the Bible to arouse our curiosity and help us remember God’s presence and faithfulness. It’s really the only thing worth remembering. I hope you don’t skip them.

Dear God, help us to remember that you never forget us. You never abandon us. Help us to pile up the stones, the altars along the way to remind us that you are always with us, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Pick Your Battles

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.
Luke 22:24


Most of the time most pastors get along well. Even if they come from different denominations, they still extend to each other a modicum of professional respect.

That was not the case about five years ago when pride came between two preachers. These pastors, whose congregations thought they were in competition, met on the street. One of them coldly said, “I heard you speak the other night and recognized that sermon. You preached it about 14 years ago.”

Somewhat put out by such a direct attack, the other shot back, “Thank you very much. I heard you speak just three weeks ago, and I can’t remember a single word you said!”

The conversation probably wasn’t much different as the disciples disputed about which of them was the greatest.

We expect little children to argue and brag. Children take great stock in telling why they’re the smartest, cutest, fastest and bestest. But Jesus’ disciples should have matured beyond such silliness.

How it must have hurt Jesus to hear them squabble.

His heartache stemmed from the fact that not only were His disciples fighting, but these were the men with whom He had worked the hardest. These were His trusted friends whom He had kept closest to Him, who had seen His miracles, and listened to His sermons on love. These were the ones who would be entrusted with the sharing of the Gospel.

Similarly, Jesus must be appalled by His present-day disciples who squander the church’s volunteers and resources on insignificant and inconsequential internal disputes. How sad our Redeemer must be when normally sensible and almost always rock-solid Christians jockey for recognition and demand acceptance of their own points of view.

Jesus knew back then, and He wishes His people to know now that the church and its leaders have bigger enemies to fight than each other.

Jesus died and rose so his people could witness to others on his behalf. Jesus died and rose so his people would come to him humbly and acknowledge, “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.”

Dear Lord, forgive me when my pride gets in the way of doing all I can for you and your work. Remind me that I have nothing to brag about. Who and what I am is because of your grace, mercy and compassion. Thank you for loving me enough to restore me to your family, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

We Need the Eggs

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?'”
John 5:6


Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the man whose brother-in-law believed himself to be a chicken. The man finally got fed up with his brother-in-law’s scratching, clucking, and pecking – not to mention the nest-building in every corner of the house.

The man went to see a psychiatrist to explain the problem. The doctor said, “Sounds like a simple neurosis. Bring him in, I’m sure we can cure him.”

“Oh no, Doc,” said the man, “we can’t do that. We need the eggs.”

When Jesus came upon a man who had been sitting beside a healing pool for thirty-eight years without ever getting in the water, he asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

The truth is that in churches (but not only there) we sometimes get a lot of eggs from people who are suffering in basic ways, i.e. deep down they don’t experience themselves as worthy of God’s love and grace. Often those who suffer such wounds deal with their pain by over-functioning – constantly doing for others, taking on every job, or taking responsibility for other people who aren’t being responsible for themselves. We in the church may even encourage this. We’ve gotten used to the eggs.

But here’s the really shocking thing in this story: Jesus asked if the man who had sat there for so long wanted to be healed, but he didn’t wait for an answer. He just ordered the man to get up and walk. Jesus took away the eggs.

So, watch out, because so far as I can tell Jesus is very likely to bust in on our little arrangements and take away the eggs. Jesus is intent on taking from us all the ways we’ve learned to keep true life and real healing at bay.

Come Holy Spirit, break us open and make us new, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Pushing the YES Buttton

For Jesus Christ was not “yes” and “no” but in him it has always been “yes”!
2 Corinthians 1:19


Sitting on the old man pews at Wally World the other day I had this weird thought: after all my groceries and other stuff had paraded down the conveyor belt, I swiped my credit card on the payment box and received that familiar but curious question:  “Your total is $96.23, is that OK?”  Answer options include:  “Yes” and “No.” 

Just as I was about to mechanically enter “Yes,” I thought, “Why am I being such an unthinking conformist?  Suppose I disagree with this total?  Suppose I break away from the pack, take the road less traveled, challenge the system, make a statement of protest and push the “No” button?!!!”

So I asked the check-out person, “Just out of curiosity, what happens if I push the “No” button? Emphatically, she said “If you do, I will have to ring up your order all over again while you and the five people behind you wait!”

I pushed the “Yes” button.

Isn’t that the way it is in church sometimes?  Isn’t it easier to swallow your misgivings about Christianity rather than clog the system with uncomfortable questions? Fortunately you have landed in the United Methodist Church, where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, we welcome you …and your questions.

Does that make us the “Uncertain Methodist Church?” I’m uncertain about that, but certainty is certainly not what it’s all about.  Instead, it’s all about finding and giving a full, resounding “yes” to the One who has already said “yes” to you and me.

Patient God, may your “yes” to us override our doubts about you and overwhelm us with gratitude and joy, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

Love One Another

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
John 13:35


One day, a man was walking across a bridge and saw another man standing on the edge, about to jump off. He immediately ran to him and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!” “Well, why shouldn’t I?” he replied. The other said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!” “Like what”? “Well … are you religious or atheist?” “Religious.” “Me too! And are you Christian or Jewish?” “Christian.” “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “Protestant.” “Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?” “Baptist.” “Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?” “Baptist Church of God.” “Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God.” “Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!” To which he said, “Die, you heretic!” and pushed him off the bridge.

When we get together with our family on Sundays, we often find ourselves discussing and even arguing our views on various topics, political, spiritual, etc. One man said of his family: “You’ve heard the phrase two Jews, five opinions? That’s our family. At the end, we all laugh about who argued best and try to learn from one another.”

The body of the Lord is one big family. Yes, we differ in opinion on some issues. But we are going to be together for eternity and we must learn to live in peace with one another! In order for us to make a real difference in the world, the world needs to see us loving each other.

Let’s not be like the man who pushed the other off the bridge. Let’s laugh about it and try to learn from one another.

Dear Lord, make my circle of love, understanding and acceptance bigger and bigger each day until it includes ALL your people. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve