Lent Sermon 2…

Prayer: Living in Relationship with God – Ephesians 3:14-21

Last week I asked the question, “If you were to teach someone how to pray, where would you start?” This question might sound ridicules for some, but it is a very valid question. You must realize that in the world that we live into today people are not being taught how to pray. More and more people are being raised outside of the church or any religious group. Prayer is something that all religions have in common. I have not come in contact with any religion that does not have prayer as one of its practices. A lot of us want to bring prayer back in the schools when in reality prayer has not been out of schools. This is what I am talking about when I say people do not know how to pray. In all actuality we pigeon hold prayer as something specific, when prayer is something grander and mightier than what our minds can imagine. Continue reading “Lent Sermon 2…”

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Fear Not…

Isn’t it amazing how we can press our fears on other people. What I mean is we become fearful when we see someone doing something we fear. Take for example my children. Every time they do something that I am afraid of I become supper aware of the situation. Now my children are not afraid and probably no one else is, but I am afraid and so I do my best to change the situation so that my fears are relieved.

When I was growing up my older sister, Heather whom I love, used to pin me down and swipe her long hair over my face. She would also trap me underneath the blankets. Now I am not claustrophobic, but now I can not have things covering my face. I know my sister was just being a sister, but she put the fear of suffocation in me. So anytime someone covers their face with a blanket or shirt or any material I begin to get the sense of fear. Now that I have children it is even worse. Both my children like to sleep with blankets over their heads. It drives me nuts. Anna, who is 7, I can’t do much about. Judah who is almost 3 I try my hardest to do something. In fact I wake up in the night still to check if he is still breathing or has anything over his face. Now the possibility that he will suffocate is pretty low, but there is always that chance. It seems like our fears have a driving reaction in our lives, hence I have not had a good nights sleep since Judah came into our lives.

According to psychology when we face fear our brains give us two options; fight or flight. This is how we deal with fear, we either fight for our lives or get the heck out of the situation. My making sure that Judah does not have his blanket over his head probably fits into both. Do we really want to live like this because it seems that our brains only do this to preserve our lives? Fear is a very selfish emotion or attitude. Fear cares nothing for others, it only cares for self. Even if we choose to fight our personal lives are still the subject of the fear. I have seen families cling and fight for loved ones lives not so much for the benefit of the loved ones, but because they fear letting go. How are we supposed to live as Christians who are willing to give up their lives for others when we have fear?

Don’t get me wrong. The two options that the brain gives us are good things, but is their ever a time we stop fearing? As my father was facing death I remember the conversations we had. One conversation we had was when I was cutting his hair for the last time. I asked dad, “are you afraid?” He said, “No. I am afraid of the pain I will endure, but not of dying. I got to serve God as a pastor, I have a family and friends that care for me, and most important I have a God who loves me.” I will always remember those words. They cut me as a knife going through butter. Especially the last part, “I have a God who loves me.”

My favorite verse in the Bible is 1 John 4:19, “We love because God first loved us.” Powerful words to remember. Right before that in 4:18 the words are just as powerful, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” Perfect love drives out fear. God revealed in Jesus Christ is Perfect Love. I know this because Jesus did not let fear control his actions, choices, and teachings. Jesus did not fight or flight, but willingly give up His life on the cross. I have a God who loves me. Does God want us to live in fear?

I lot of people want to quote Proverbs 9:10 to this question, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD…” Notice what the Proverb says, “fear is the beginning of wisdom” not the end. Of course we could talk about the different meanings of “fear” like respect, honor, amazement, but most people equate fear as one thing. I agree God is God. God can do anything because He is All Powerful, Creator of all things, Master, and King, but this is not how God has revealed His heart. No, His heart was revealed in Jesus Christ who loves us. “I have a God who loves me.” I believe that a lot of people come to the knowledge of God through fear, but I also believe this is not how God wants us to be in relationship with Him. God doesn’t want us to fear Him, God want’s us to love Him. As Jesus teaches us, Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor. This is why the Good News of Jesus Christ is Good News based on Faith, Hope and Love. Faith, Hope, and Love stand in opposition to fear.

When perfect Love comes into your heart, what have you to fear? When we start to deal with our fears our lives as Followers of Christ begin to shine brighter. The reason I am willing to sacrifice my life for others is because I do not fear death, “I HAVE A GOD WHO LOVES ME!!!” Yes, I still have a fear of suffocation, especially drowning, but if my suffocation or drowning meant someone would know God’s love I am willing. I am willing to lay down my life for all people. Not because of my own convictions, but because Perfect Love dwells in me. What do you fear? Are you living in fear of God? Fear Not, God loves you!!!

“But you, Israel my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham, whom I love, you whom I took from the ends of the earth and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant; I chose you and didn’t reject you”: Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.”  Isaiah 41:8-10

Lent Sermon 1…

Yesterday I started my Lent Sermon Series entitled “Prayer!” It will consist of 5 sermons with the theme of prayer at the center of each sermon. I don’t normally write my sermons, but something moved me to write out this series. Not that I believe that I am a great preacher, but I have really enjoyed putting this series together. Anyway, some of my congregants wanted me to post my sermon on my blog. So I will do that each week for this series. Now Lent runs 6 Sundays, but one of the Sunday’s I will be at a spiritual retreat at a Monastery in New Mexico, so there is only 5 sermons. You can read it if you want, or just ignore my sermons. Even though I wrote out my sermons does not mean I preached it verbatim, but what I post is the bulk of the sermon. Also, please excuse my punctuation and spelling. Enjoy!!!

Prayer: The Heart of the Matter – Ephesians 1:3-10

What is prayer? If I was to ask you to teach me to prayer where would you begin? How would you describe it? Do I sit, stand, kneel, lay down to pray? Do I pray alone or with others? Do I remain silent or do I speak it out loud? The most basic understanding of prayer that I found is, “A devout petition to God or an object of worship.” Wow, how underwhelming! A devout petition to God or an object of worship. Does this seem to answer all our questions? Another understanding is that prayer is a “religious observance.” How exciting! If someone was to ask you “what is prayer?” is this where you would start? If not where do you start?

Some might say that prayer is how we talk or communicate with God. In fact I remember how prayer was explained to me as a youth, “Prayer is like making a phone call to God.” Isn’t that nice; prayer is like picking up the phone dialing a number and talking to God. What if I dial the wrong number? What if the line is busy. I can just picture heaven having a connection room where angels are like telephone operators connecting millions of lines to God’s phone. He probably has different phone colors depending on the situation with a big red phone that only rings when something cataclysmic is going to happen. Is this the best example we can give? Or do we need to dumb down prayer so that people will understand? Or do we dumb down prayer because WE really don’t have a full grasp on what prayer is?

I think that prayer is hard for us because we have never truly sought the depth of prayer in our lives. I remember a man named Darrel who was dying and he didn’t know if he had ever prayed because he never understood prayer. This might sound sad, but I bet if you looked deep within yourselves you might just have the same fears. No, I believe we have so much trouble with prayer because we truly do not understand WHY we pray. So lets get to the heart of the matter.
To get to the heart of the matter about prayer we must look at our own existence. Why are we here? Why did God create us? These questions seem like they do not fit with prayer, but I assure you they have everything to do with prayer. In the beginning God created everything and called it good, but when He created humanity in His own Image, He called it very good. All of us, all of humanity was created in the Image of God. Thats right, all humanity that was and will be are created in the very Image of God. From the most perfect human to the most devilish human, we were all created in the Image of God. This was God’s purpose for humanity, to be His Image in creation. We believe this, either all humanity was created in the Image of God or none of us were. But, what is this image?

The best way to understand God’s Image is what we call “Holy Love.” God’s image is Holy Love. God is Holy. He is completely set a part from everything else because there is nothing like God. God is outside of everything. He is perfect and nothing compares with God. He is Uncreated. He has always been and will always be. God is love. Unconditionally perfect in compassion, grace, joy, and justice. He brings happiness and compassion. He gives forgiveness and acceptance. He proclaims favor and encouragement. He is gentle and kind, who does not easily get angry and never remains angry. He is patient, hopeful, faithful, and always has His creation at the center of His thinking and feeling. But most of all Holy Love is transformative. It transforms and creates. It changes and molds everything it comes in contact with. If I was to explain God to someone I would use Holy Love and we, all of humanity, are created in the Image of Holy Love. This is why Paul explains God’s plans in Ephesians as “bringing all things together in Christ, both on earth and in heaven.” Through God’s Image all things are united and equaled and changed to co-exist together in Holy Love.

The problem is that we are not like this image. It seems like every time we turn around we fail to be the Image in which we were created in. But here is the good news and here is where prayer receives its meaning, “God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to b e his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love.” This is the heart of prayer to become holy, blameless and God’s children through the love of Jesus Christ. We pray because it is what we were created to do. When we pray our hearts join Jesus’ heart to bring “honor and praise to God” who is Holy Love. Prayer is the “heart language” of our very being. The Psalmist got it right when he stated, “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord of heavenly forces! My very being longs, even yearns, for the LORD’s courtyards. My heart and my body will rejoice out loud to the living God!” Listen to it again… Now that is prayer. Prayer comes from the depths of our very being. It cries out to the One that we are drawn to. Saint Augustine of Hippo said it best, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.” I will say it again… Even though we are not like the Image God created us to be, our essence or heart yearns for this. Our hearts yearn and long to be in the very presence of God and to be like Him. Our sin redirects this yearning toward something else, but prayer redirects it back. Prayer undoes the sin in our lives!

I think now we can start to see why prayer is so important. Prayer is not just something that we do. It is not just communicating with God. It is not just a religious action. In fact prayer is not something we do at all. Prayer is the heart language of our lives. Prayer is not something we do, but something that is done to us. To understand prayer properly is to consider this. Is prayer something we do, or does prayer do something to us?

You see we understand that prayer is a Means of Grace. It is a channel that God has ordained so that God can give or bestow to us His grace and love. Grace is always transformative. If grace does not change and transform you then it is not grace from God. It might have the same characteristics, but God’s grace is always transformative. As our scripture explains, “We have been ransomed through his son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding.” God died so that we would be transformed back into the Image of Holy Love. Our hearts desire to become the Image of God because the One who created our hearts wants us to be His Image in creation. Prayer is our hearts crying out to God and to the world to reveal this same want. Prayer is our heart language and through our prayers we are transformed because in prayer we encounter the very Presence of God.

Teach Me…

Yesterday was an amazing day. I got to take my daughters training wheels off her bike and teach her how to ride a bike. I believe that this must be some kind of rite of passage for fathers. To teach their children how to ride a bike brings about a certain pride. I really don’t know how to describe it. It seems silly to think that I would receive a sense of pride to watch my daughter fall off her bike, but then turn around and get back up again. It is amazing to see my daughter, who is a real girly girl, fall and not cry and keep trying. Then I think to myself, “I taught her to ride her bike.” Just a day later now and she is a pro at riding her bike. She can now start without my help, turning without falling, and getting to enjoy life on a bike. She gets to feel the freedom of the wind blowing in her hair and laugh as she screams, “watch me daddy.” I have experienced a lot of moments of joy, but this one is definitely a top moment.

I think one of the best feelings I got yesterday was the fact that she asked me to teach her. She came to me and said, “Teach me…” When someone asks you to teach them, they are putting a lot of trust in you. They are putting their trust in you to lead and direct their path. One of my greatest fears that I have in life is to lead people down a wrong path. As a minister I believe that all pastors should have this fear. One way I get through this fear is to pray, “Lord, if I am wrong, change my ways. Change my way of thinking and acting. Change what I believe. Teach me the right path that leads to your glory.” Psalm 119:33-34 states this, “LORD, teach me what your statutes are about, and I will guard every part of them. Help me understand so I can guard your instruction and keep it with all my heart.” How many of us pray like this? Lord Teach Me…

Over and over again in the Gospels, Jesus is called Teacher. Jesus is the Great Teacher. As Matthew states it many times, “Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people.” A good and faithful follower of Christ should always ask God, “Teach Me.” We should never lose the thirst and hunger for God’s teaching. One of my favorite examples that the Disciples gave us was when they asked Jesus to Teach them how to pray (Luke 11). By asking God to teach us, we truly show a sign that we have put our complete trust in God. Where are you struggling in your life? In what way does God need to teach you? As the Psalmist says, through God’s teaching our hearts are able to be moved and changed. From our heart comes our actions, re-actions, and thoughts. Our heart guides and leads us. Only a heart transformed can follow Jesus completely. A heart transformed is always asking God, “Teach Me…”

When we follow God, I truly believe that He takes amazing pride in us. Especially when we cry out, “Teach Me…” Yes, we will fail and we will fall, but when we allow God to teach us it will not always be like this. Soon we will be like Anna who falls, but gets back up and tries again and then rides like a pro, all through God’s instruction. When was the last time you turned toward God to teach you? When have you cried out to God for instruction and teaching? We should never forget that we have so much to learn. We have so much to be taught. Remember, God would never teach you if He didn’t believe in you. God believes in you. God has faith in you. When you ask God “teach me,” He will not disappoint. May you never lose your thirst for His teachings. May you find and feel the freedom that comes from His ways and instruction. May you always cry out, “Teach Me…”

 

Time…

As I sit here in bed next to my wife who is asleep, I remembered that I have not made a post in a week or so. It is not that I haven’t wanted to, it is just finding the time. This has been a very busy week. My brother has visited us this week and now one of my sisters in Christ is visiting. In between visits is cleaning and catching up on work that I put off while people visit. Along with the work I put off are the trips to doctors that were scheduled for the family and visits to parishioners in the hospitals. Lets just say that it has been a busy week. Now it is midnight on Saturday night and this is when I decide to write a post. Well I guess if that is the time that fits, then do it. Continue reading “Time…”