Thursday, July 23, 2015

Boat or No Boat, We are Walking on Water

Technology has changed a lot of things since I was a kid, so much so that my kids can’t understand what life was like before now. If I were to mention that I had a black and white TV, or even just a TV without HD (high definition), their minds would be blown. If I were to tell them stories of how we had to record shows with a machine because we couldn’t pause them, they wouldn’t believe me. They wouldn’t understand how I could get my fingers stuck in the garage door as I tried to open it manually. Not everything has progressed at the same rate. Some things are still pretty much the same, and we’ll have to wait to see if/when/how those things will change. One thing that is slowly changing is how a child learns to ride a bike. It used to be that a child would learn by using training wheels on his/her bike, but now glider bikes are becoming more prevalent. Glider bikes eliminate the pedals altogether, and allow kids to propel themselves and balance with their feet.  They end up grasping the concept of balance sooner than with traditional training wheels. It’s funny that this age-old tradition of using training wheels is changing. Yet, the reality is, no matter how my kids learn to ride a bike, the trust is still found in the teacher. My kids will try to understand how I learned to ride a bike and what helped me. They will trust me, whether their feet are on the ground or on the pedals. My reassurance helps them believe that they can do it. Even the most timid, like Gavin, will eventually gain that trust.

This week I was reading the Gospel lesson from Mark 6 where the disciples get into the boat ahead of Jesus. I thought about how true is that when we walk ahead of someone, we expect him or her to be walking right behind us.  Did the disciples just head into the boat in front of Jesus, like no big deal, he’ll be right behind us? But He wasn’t, and then later He shows up walking on the water.  They freak out! Peter gets out of the boat to try to walk to Jesus and he freaks out some more. What happen? What is the difference between the boat and walking on water?

In this situation, as in many, trust came from the assurance of what the disciples knew. They knew boats worked to keep one afloat, and that water was impossible to walk on. Yet they also knew, and had experienced, that Jesus often did things that go against the way they thought things should be done. Walking on water?  Who does that? It was another change in their world; another temporary freak out.  It is just like us, blown out of the water every time a new thing comes into our world. Our trust is re-centered, and we allow something else to become a standard of trust in our lives. For example, my kids trust and expect the TV to work.  A few weeks ago they were getting frustrated when the storms would mess up our TV reception. Now they have a different level of trust in the TV than they did before.  We all rely on what we can trust and hold on to, and when something new enters our world and shakes it up, it creates a new or different level of trust.

One thing Jesus showed the disciples in this passage is that He was, and is, trustworthy. He rescued Peter from sinking in the water, and He calmed the wind that night. He can be trusted.  Jesus shows us the same thing. He was willing to do anything to rescue us from the waters of our own doubt, sin, and pain. He was willing to die for us. Are we trusting Him, whether we have a boat under our feet or not? Does our trust change in a blink of an eye with every new situation? I have to remind myself time and time again, that Jesus is the same, whether I have training wheels, a gilder bike, a boat, or even if He wants me to walk on water by doing something I don’t think I can humanly handle. I trust Jesus, the same Jesus who took on death, and gave me victory! Trust Jesus!  He gave you victory too!

Serving at your Leisure

I was going to an appointment the other day when I saw this kid smiling at me. I thought it was weird, then I realized he was faking me out. He was actually smiling at his mom right behind me. Mom realized that he had forgotten his shoes and she was bringing them back. I got to listen to their conversation all the way up the stairs. Mom complained that he had had plenty of leisure time for gathering his shoes. Ok, she might not have said “leisure,” but you get the point. She attempted to tell him that if the rest of the world lived the way he did, we would be in a whole lot of trouble. Then she told him where they couldn’t go now because he forgot his shoes. Of course he complained. Finally, mom pointed out how funny it is that he could remember his iPad, but not his shoes. Is there a lesson here? Do we ever miss things we could be doing in our leisure?

Summer is a key time for leisure. After all the hard work of life, we expect to have leisure time. Our bosses and friends tell us we deserve leisure time. So, in the summer, we take time for vacation, we spend money on our leisure activities, and we recharge.

God was all about rest that is for sure. It is interesting to me that in our reading this week it mentions that the disciples and Jesus did not even have enough leisure time to eat, which is why they were headed for some rest.  The word “leisure” stood out to me because we don’t use this word that often. We say vacation or rest time. However, as usual, a crowd gathers anyway.  Jesus notices that they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He has compassion on them. He begins to teach them, speaking the Word to them, and eventually tells the disciples to feed them.

The disciples were probably grumpy. They hadn’t had any leisure time to even eat, and here goes Jesus off working again. The disciples were frustrated that Jesus asked them to feed these people. Jesus, having compassion on them, wanted to feed both their bodies and their souls. Yet, if rest is necessary, what is Jesus teaching the disciples here in this moment? Is He being contradictory? God calls us to rest, but doesn’t He also call us to joy and peace? So how do all those things work together? Are we willing to trust God with our leisure time? Are there times when we are in our leisure that others may need our help, guidance, or just a conversation?

I think at times God’s call for us to rest, can become a selfish excuse, like “Sorry, I am resting right now. I don’t have time for you.” At times like this we can be like the Pharisees who ask why are you picking up wheat when you are supposed to be resting on the Sabbath. Most of us would be like, “That is ridiculous. This is not work.” Yet, we can easily fall into that if we are not ready to serve at/during our leisure.

Remember how Jesus noticed that the people were like sheep without a shepherd? We are like those people. There are many times we are broken from how our sins, or the sins of others, have impacted our life. God sends someone at His leisure to feed us in our current needs. God sends someone to love us and to remind us of the victory we have and what amazing leisure we’ll experience with Jesus forever.

I used to have a college professor who would say, “Let’s go read Greek on an island and drink margaritas.” His point was simple – leisure or rest is the break of the daily grind of the work and toil of the earth. In the Garden of Eden we were sentenced to work, tough work. This idea of serving at our leisure is the good kind of work. The work we will do in heaven, living in the love of the Lord and serving one another.

So, if I’m laying out on a towel this summer by a pool, and someone comes and lays on the chair next to me and starts talking about the pains and struggles of their life, do I say, “Sorry, I can’t talk. I’m on vacation,” or do I serve them at my leisure?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Promises to Sin

We have all been in a situation where we feel stuck and pressured to do what someone else is telling us to do. It may have been our first 10-foot high dive. It may have been eating something gross. The worst is when we were actually convinced to to do something we knew we shouldn’t do – to sin. Perhaps it was drinking too early or too much, having sex before marriage, having a different definition of marriage than Scripture, painfully hurting someone out of anger, or gossiping about someone and harming their reputation. I know these situations are “taboo” and you may be shocked that I said them (or in this case, wrote them down), yet they bring us back to a place where we remember being tempted. Maybe it’s a part of your life you would like to forget.  We all have those situations were we debate good and evil. In some cases, for whatever reason, we know what we should do, what we want to do, but we fall into sin anyway. We know what God wants of us, and we may have role models in our lives that show that us as well, but we go ahead with the sin anyway. In an essence, the moment we fall into sin, we “behead” those models so they are silenced. It is a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling.

Last week we read about Jesus telling the 72 how to share the Gospel, and this week we move into a reading where people are confused about who is Jesus. They are so confused they think He is John the Baptist. Herod, knowing he had killed John the Baptist, knew that wasn’t true. To me, this is one of the oddest readings in Scripture. In this story, we see odd details like the fact that Herod didn’t want to kill John the Baptist because he knew John was a holy and righteous man. Yet, one night Herod is partying with his friends at his own birthday party when his niece comes and dances for them. Herod promises to give her anything she wants, and after conferring with her mother, she says she wants the head of John the Baptist on a platter. No doubt Herod felt trapped, just like we do when people are encouraging us to sin.

Herod was in one of those moments where he fell to sin, but there is a big difference between him and us. Herod didn’t have Jesus in his life to know forgiveness and to move forward afterwards. Herod had to cover up his sin, or keep justifying to himself. No matter how hard a person tries to bury a sin, however, it always resurfaces.

Mindy and I have watched it happen in some real life mysteries. Recently, we watched one about a young man who killed a girl working at KFC. Now, 23 years after the incident, he had become the chief of the fire department, and he thought he had gotten away with his crime. In the end, a tiny piece of foam from his shoe left at the crime scene linked him to the murder. Whatever pressure he felt to kill that girl 23 years earlier, had affected the rest of his life.

Like Herod and the killer above, we are also people who have caved into those pressure situations and to the promises we made to sin. Unlike Herod, we are redeemed by the grace of God, because of the promise Jesus made to us through dying and taking those sins on Himself. This week, we’ll spend time on this odd story in Scripture, realizing we can relate. However, thanks be to God we no longer have to live in the eternal consequences of our promise to sin!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pre-Dust Shake

Have you ever been in a conversation about who cleans your house? It seems to be kind of top secret these days. Growing up, I found it was almost always the woman in the house taking care of those chores. Now our world has changed, and in a marriage the chores are not divided like in days past. This leaves us with the top-secret question – who is cleaning your house? Is it the husband? Is it the wife? Is it the totally top-secret house cleaner? I find that these conversations happen in couple-on-couple situations. We secretly try to find out how the other couple does things to see if we are normal or not. Perhaps another hidden agenda is to gain firepower against our spouse when we find out someone else is working harder. I am a pretty open guy, but I am not going to tell you who does those chores in my house. (If you guessed Abby, well, you are right. J) No matter how those couple-on-couple conversations go, I have noticed that no one likes to dust. I have even heard it said, “We dust twice a year whether it needs it or not.”

Dusting is confusing to me. Where does dust come from? Why does this special spray help dust to disappear? Are there really dust bugs that God created, and why? Are they a product of sin? This is the point in the blog where you might be thinking, “Pastor Will, your mind has been ruined by your constant theological thinking.” Nevertheless, nobody likes to dust. We find it disgusting and want it out of our lives. I’m sure we have all been to a very dusty place where we sneeze and sneeze, and need to get out of there as quickly as possible. We hate dust. Yes, I just said hate, and because of that, we have a problem.

Unlike other readings in the Bible where we have to explain what it means, this is not the case for our text this week. In Mark 6:10-11 we read,And Jesus said to them, ‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’” Shake the dust off your feet is such a common saying now that it even finds its way into songs. We hate dust, so of course, we shake it off. If someone doesn’t receive the words we are sharing about Jesus, then we shake them off like dust. Those are strong words, but this action is intended as a last resort. Jesus first mentions staying there until you leave. He encourages them to share the Gospel first, and then only if it doesn’t work, shake the dust off their feet.

I think that we hate dust so much that we do a pre-dust shake off. Trust me, we could go into any house in America, or the world for that matter, and find a little dust. Dust returns as soon as we clean it. Look hard enough and you can find some dust, and therefore there is always some to shake off. Sometimes I think we want to find the dust in the lives of people we are talking to, which gives us a reason to not even share the Gospel. We want to jump to shaking off the dust. It becomes our excuse. If there is dust, we’ll probably need to shake it off, so we don’t even need to spend the time sharing the message of hope with them.

Looking at our own lives, we know that if Jesus did this to us, we would be doomed! If Jesus just looked at our dust and didn’t help to clean our house, we would be headed for hell. Praise be to God that He sent Jesus to clean our house, and then gives us the Holy Spirit to continue working on our day-to-day cleaning!

It is 4th of July weekend and most of you will spend time with friends and family, just like Jesus was doing in our reading for today. Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth. He was struggling with the people there because they were questioning Him, and they did not believe what He was teaching. You might find yourselves in a similar situation with your family and friends. Sharing the message of Jesus can be hard. It means we have to step outside of our day-to-day lives and care about the lives of others. Besides, some of these people already know we are Christians, so they could just come ask us. Yet, Jesus sends us out the same way He sent out the 72. He prepares us to be ready to share the victory we have in Jesus with others. He asks us to share the way we have seen our personal lives cleaned of dust. Jesus shared this message with His disciples to tell them, and us, that sometimes it is not the right time for someone to come to faith, or we aren’t the right person. He doesn’t want us to get frustrated, but He also doesn’t want us to give up before we start. He doesn’t want pre-dusters. He wants us to go into the situation looking for any opportunity to speak of the joy, love, and forgiveness we have in Him. This weekend we will talk more about this. I pray that God opens doors in your conversations this holiday to talk about the wonderful gift Jesus is in your life, and how He has cleared your dust away.