Monday, May 30, 2011

The Responsibility Factor

And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment,       Hebrews 9:27 (NRSV)
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Matthew 24:36 (NRSV)
Where is the line drawn between prophet and madman?  Ultimately it is in the reliability or truth of his predictions.  Harold Camping was wrong about Jesus and the rapture last weekend.  That is not without precedent; he was wrong when he set the same date in 1994.  His believability is fading, and I am not going to wring my hands over the “end of the world” date he has set for October 21st!
Harold Camping has had plenty of company in the end times date-setting business:
ð In the middle of the 19th century the “Millerites” (followers of William Miller) sold their farms, quit jobs and waited for the second coming between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.  It didn’t happen! 
ð In the late 1800's members of the Jehovah's Witnesses sect set the spring of 1874 as the "Parousia" or appearing of our Lord.  They were wrong.  They were just as wrong when they moved the date to 18 months later. 
ð In 1987 a book caused quite a stir.  The title was “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Happen in 1988”.  There was a sequel in 1989 – “Gotcha”. 
These are just a few of the many hundreds of examples in history of fools and charlatans attempting to do what God says is impossible – set a date.  What is sadder is the “collateral damage” of destroyed lives because of the actions of obsessed madmen like Harold Camping.  One example is Lyn Benedetto, a 47 year old mother of two teenage girls.  She couldn’t bear the thought of her daughters having to suffer through the horrors of Biblical tribulation, so she tried to kill them by slitting their throats the day before Camping’s May 21 deadline.
--- film clip ---
I’d rather not think about it!
There are many responses to all of this, such as
·        Dismissal - avoiding any thought of a rapture or an afterlife
·        Denial that there is a rapture or afterlife
·        Disbelief in God (atheism) and even mocking God or faith
·        Obsession – belief to the point of overreaching and fear
·        Confused paralysis – unable to evaluate, unwilling to be affected
This list could go on and on, but the reactions to events like Camping’s fiasco, while interesting, are not as important as the reason why we react in fear or folly: 
Reality and Responsibility
Whether you bring up the subject of rapture or heaven or simply death itself, there is a finality about this life.  However your life ends, what ends with it is your ability to control anything….ANYTHING! 
·        All of your stuff is left behind
·        All of your friends and family are left behind
·        Any choice you ever made or had before you are now gone
This is the reality of death – you are no longer in charge….of ANYTHING!  This is the reason we cling to life; it is why we fight so hard to stay young.  It’s why we use wrinkle cream, join health clubs and do cosmetic surgery; we would even accept fooling ourselves that we’re not getting older or going to die.  We want to hold onto our choices.  We do not want to accept responsibility for entering life; the reality of death is too overwhelming.  Once you die everything about your life on this planet is settled; all of what you have done is in the record book – there is no more opportunity to change or get it right or make amends…it’s over! Ultimately we are just too afraid to not be in control.
Startling news flash
Well….it (your death or rapture) is going to happen whether you like it or not – or whether you choose to think about it or not! 
With this in mind it is only a short step to the conclusion that, since these “threescore and ten” years of life on this planet is all we’ve got to write the record of our lives, it makes sense to get it right before we have no more choices! 
In the interest of helping us face the responsibility factor of this life, let’s look into what God’s Word says about the reality of rapture or death, which (by the way) are our only two choices.  And remember, whether you are a believer, an unbeliever (atheist) or simply confused (agnostic…who says “I don’t know if there is a god…and I don’t think you do either)…here is a statement we can all agree upon:  It will be either rapture or death… this life will end!  We will go to Him in death or He will come to us in the rapture.
Three statements about death or rapture:
1.           Both ways are unpredictable but certain!
Hebrews 9:27 says that we each have an appointment with death.  Nobody gets out of this world alive!  Psalm 31:14 says that our times are in God’s hand.  That means our time on earth is up to Him, not us.  Who can predict the length of life?  So it is unpredictable, but, without question, certain!
2.           Both ways are sudden
Death’s transaction happens in an instant.  Some people take longer in the process of getting to the transaction, but for each person, one instant there is the spirit of life and the next, it is gone.  Have you ever been with someone when death happens?  You know it; you know when they’re gone. 
We have lost two brothers this year.  One to whom we will say our “goodbyes” this afternoon, had a long trip to the transaction which took place suddenly at 5:09 Thursday.  His brother, in seemingly wonderful health and vitality was taken in an instant.  Both transactions were sudden; simply the timing and process were different.  Rapture or death – it will be sudden.
Hebrews 9:27 says we are appointed to die.  Our time is sudden and, more importantly, in God’s hands, not ours.
3.           Both ways have an outcome that is irreversible and based upon prior choices
The sixteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel shares Jesus’ account of Dives and Lazarus (Dives is Latin for “rich”).  Lazarus was the poor man who sat at the rich man’s gate.  He was a beggar and he had all the homelessness realities:  little food, comfort or even basic human interaction.  His life was merely an existence. 
In contrast, the rich man had life by the tail…he ate whatever he wanted, went wherever he desired, and was respected…he had all the choices and power the poor man lacked. 
Then…as we’ve been talking about…BOTH MEN DIED!  The outcome for the rich man who made poor choices was hell; the poor man went to be with God. 
Here is the conversation which continued between the rich man who was now poor and the God he snubbed in his earthly life:
He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’  But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.  Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’         Luke 16:24 - 26 (NRSV)

The outcome was irreversible and based upon prior choices

There was a “great chasm” between heaven and hell; and it was “fixed”.  The difference in outcome, based upon the rich man’s choices when he still had choices, was for eternity; after death…sudden death….no changes – no control!
These lessons teach us that it hardly matters whether we believe in rapture or not – you cannot change how life works.  Life and death are unpredictable.  Death is always sudden, and, either way the outcome is going to depend upon the choices you are now making.  You cannot change how life works – only God is in control, and if you don’t like that…sorry…deal with it.  You might as well try to prevent the sun from rising tomorrow morning.  He is the Creator, and, like it or despise it, He is in charge!
You can ignore the reality of this or embrace it.  Those are the choices that made the difference in the eternity of Dives and Lazarus.  Dives chose to ignore his responsibility towards Lazarus and life.  His consequences were real.
Wilmer McLean owned a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley in 1861.  In the spring of that year two powerful armies met on his property—the Union army under General McDowell and the Confederate army under General Beauregard. The bloodiest war in American history began at Bull Run, a creek that ran through McLean's property.
McLean was not at all sure why the armies were fighting, but he was quite sure he did not want them fighting on his property.  If he could not change the course of the war, he at least did not have to be part of it.  McLean decided to sell out and go where the war would never find him.
He chose the most obscure place in the whole country—or so he thought: an old house in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Four years later General Grant was pursuing General Lee through Virginia. In Appomattox County, Grant sent a message to Lee asking him to meet and sign a truce. The place where they met to sign the peace that ended the Civil War was Wilmer McLean's living room!  Some things you cannot get away from.[1]
·        Your death is unpredictable; you don’t know when it’s coming…but it IS coming. 
·        Your death will be sudden, even if the process is slow.
·        Your death will take complete control of you…UNLESS you give complete control of you to Jesus; otherwise it will be death that has complete control…for eternity.  Your choice – your responsibility.
It’s that simple.
Father, our time on this planet, just like our next breath, is in Your hands.  Help us to make wise choices.  Help us to refuse the voices of foolishness and madmen.  Help us to see our treatment of others as the preparation for the sudden, irreversible loss of control our death, or Your appearing will be.  Help us live like kids of Your kingdom.  We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] James R. Edwards, The Divine Intruder (NavPress, 2000), p.154

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Now What?

This sermon was preached on the occasion of the confirmation for
six of our children at Bethany.  May their tribe increase!
But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.  My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.   Psalms 31:14 - 15 (KJV)
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  John 14:12 (KJV)
A confirmation student was asked to list the Ten Commandments in any order. He wrote, "3, 6, 1, 8, 4, 5, 9, 2, 10, 7."   (At least he knew there were 10!)
For parents and long-time church members, the graduation of a confirmation class is a reminder of how quickly time passes.  It is also a sobering graphic of how God’s ministry through the church is more like a river than a rock.  Time passes like a flowing river; you can never stand still in it – can never swim upstream.  And the second you pause to survey the movement of a culture, or a generation you are swept away by future shock.
From the view of confirmands, today marks the end of months of study and the beginning of “full” membership.  These young people are moving from the baptized to professing membership of our church.  With full privilege comes full responsibility.  I’d like us to think about that responsibility joyfully today.
This is a Decision of Faith
The whole concept of faith is all about trust.  Faith is a “placement” of oneself in someone else’s care.  It’s like the trust exercise where you fall backwards, trusting someone else to catch you in his arms.  Notice how the Psalm text tells us this:
But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.  My times are in thy hand:
Your decision to profess your faith in God today is a statement that says you are in God’s hand…and you choose that; you want that.  It is a decision of faith!    
There are many aspects to this faith; let me just dwell on two of them.  First, this decision of yours is a decision to have:
Faith in God
This decision involves what we commonly call “being saved”.  It is about life eternal.  The first questions you will be asked in the confirmation liturgy are if you vow to renounce evil, reject sin and confess Christ.  It means you know you’re a sinner and only Jesus Christ can save a sinner like you.  It takes a decision of faith to take that stand – to trust Christ that much!
But this decision also makes a bold choice about how you will invest your life.  Your vow today means you will daily exercise your faith in God in at least these five ways:
Your prayers – praying for God’s wisdom and blessing on your neighbor as yourself
Your presence – Being there for others, and regularly attending worship.
Your gifts – Material support of God’s church and His work in the world.
Your service – Ready to help…serving means you get a little dusty helping others!
Your witness – In short, this means your entire life is a text message, a tweet to the whole world that God is good, and you are his.
That sounds like a tall order – and it really is.  The Christian life isn’t a simple thing; it can be really tough.  That’s why God gave us each other in the church.  You were never intended to do this alone.  Take a look around at all the other people in this building – they will also participate in your vows today.  They will be renewing their own vows with you – remembering their baptism, and that they have a commitment to you and each other to love Christ together, and serve him together – to support each other and keep our faith vital and alive. 
This is the purpose of the church – to be knit together and grow strong together.  We are the body of Christ…each part loves and helps the others.
The second part of this decision of faith, besides faith in God is:
Faith in Good
The goodness of God can make a difference in this world.  God has called us to mission and ministry.  Mission is bringing the Good News of Christ to everyone.  Ministry is reaching-out to others with the love of Christ as you see a need.
There is a lot of evil in our world.  You have grown up hearing about wars around the world, and about people doing unspeakable things to hurt one another.  It’s hard to have faith in good when you see so little of it.  And that’s the hard part of the life you’re vowing-into today; you have to be different than what you’ve seen in the world.  You have to be Christ’s picture of good – turn your back on the evil.  And that’s costly – have your eyes open about that – living the Christian life can mean sacrifice – it WILL mean sacrifice!
At this point in our discussion most people would have a little question on their minds….
How & Why Should I Live Like This?

The Why

…is easy.  God gave us a simple reason – there is brokenness all around us.  In the book of Genesis we read of Adam and Eve’s sin; every person since has had the same problem.  That is the reason Jesus came – to reconcile a sinful world and mankind back to relationship with God.  Our life of faith in Christ is a response to God’s forgiveness – we love because He loved us.
The fact is that we are accountable to God for the life we live.  We are (as we also find in Genesis) our brother’s keeper.  We not only love God with all our heart, mind, soul, strength and life – we love our neighbor too…that’s why we live a life of mission and ministry.

The How

…is a lot more difficult to hold up to the light.  There is something of a mystery about how you live a life of faith.  In our text Jesus said if we believe in Him we would do His work….in short, it is faith that does faith’s work.  Jesus came to love people…that was “His work”.  For us to do the same, we must walk every day by faith.  It’s a matter of waking up every day and asking, Father, where is somebody’s brokenness you want me to love today?
Many people have said young folks like you are the church of tomorrow.  I think that’s wrong; you’re the church of today.  Here’s why:  those of us who are old enough to be your grandparents have more than half or even three-quarters of our life behind us.  Our generation is so very different than your generation.  If your generation is going to know Jesus and come to God in faith, YOU have the best chance to reach them.  You multi-task like them, text like them, do homework while listening to an iPod and watching TV and talking on the phone.  We “old folks” have a hard time walking and chewing gum at the same time!
Some people say things are so different now – the church is on the way out.  How can you reach young people when they’re lives revolve around everything but church?  Here is the key – people are still broken.
If I’m a person whose friend or relative just died, I’m broken; someone who will cry with me is much more important to me than a ball game.
If I’ve just struggled through a divorce, I’m broken; a true friend is more precious to me than any job promotion.
If I am new in town and don’t know anyone, someone who will take the time to get to know me will make me forget my video games.
How do you live the life of faith and do the work of faith?  Love people in Jesus’ name.  That’s what these confirmation vows are – you’re being commissioned through this church to love, and help all of us to love.
Father, help us to love like that, and help each other love like that.  We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] The Lutheran online

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shepherd for LIFE!

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:  he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:  for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.  Psalms 23:1 - 6 (KJV) 

1Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.  But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.  And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him:  for they know his voice.  And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.  This parable spake Jesus unto them:  but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.  Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.  All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers:  but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door:  by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.  The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy:  I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.  John 10:1 - 10 (KJV)

From the Old Testament Psalms through the New Testament’s Gospels, the LORD as our shepherd brings up images of welcoming pastoral settings and comfort.  We like those passages and images.  Many of us can quote the 23rd Psalm, and who hasn’t heard of the “Good Shepherd”.

There was a young preacher, quite “full of himself”, who was conducting the children’s sermon.  He told the children about sheep, that sheep weren't very smart and needed lots of guidance.  He said that a shepherd's job was to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering off and doing dumb things that would get them hurt or killed.  He pointed to all the little children in the room and said that they were the sheep and needed lots of guidance.

Then the minister put his hands out to the side, palms up in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows said to the children, "If you are the sheep then who is the shepherd?"  It should have been an easy answer for the children; he wanted them to see that a pastor is a shepherd for the church’s sheep.  But there was nothing but silence for a few seconds.  Then a young visitor said, "Jesus, Jesus is the shepherd."  The young preacher, obviously caught by surprise, said to the boy, Well, then, who am I?  The little boy frowned thoughtfully and then said with a shrug, I guess you must be a sheep dog.

Shepherd and sheep – the metaphor for God and His people is well known.  In an almost “tacked-on” conclusion to today’s texts, Jesus holds forth the one thought that ought to create in us that thirst for further explanation.  He says:

I am come that they might have life,                                                            
                          and that they might have it more abundantly.

What does it mean to have “life” – abundant life?

What’s the best life you can imagine?
For many people in our culture the best life amounts to what they’d have after winning the lottery, or the Poker World Series, or American Idol, or Dancing  With the Stars.  If you set your sights a little closer to earth, it might be graduating and getting that dream job, house and family.  If you’re an athlete, win the Super Bowl!  At times it may just be surviving the parenting years.

Unfortunately the post-success track record for the big-time winners is less attractive than all the hype.  There are so many riches-to-rags-to-drop-out stories, that the sparkling American Dream, carrot dangling before the eyes, loses some of its promised gleam.

We, who are less than the rich, powerful and adored stand-outs of society, are described as ordinary, or common.  Few change ranks where this is concerned.  Kate Middleton did; she won the prize a few weeks ago, moving from commoner to royalty.  She was an ordinary, but beautiful girl; today she is the Princess, Duchess of Cambridge.

But that is the exception…by far!  For 99.9999% of the population, life is much different than the “best life” when you describe it in terms of material, financial or physical abundance.  We do lead an ordinary or common life.

When Jesus referred to “his sheep” – all those sheep for which he came – and for which he chose to bring abundant life – his eye was not on having us all fitted for General’s uniforms, or palaces with Rolls Royces.  God must’ve had something different in mind; it must have been something far more “common” if it was going to encompass what the ordinary person like you and me would be able to experience and enjoy.

That common factor is not to be found “without” (as in riches) but rather within.  The abundant life is to be experienced within a relationship with God himself.  Kate may have become a princess of Britain’s United Kingdom last month, but each person on earth may be a prince or princess of the Heavenly Kingdom.  Therein we find the abundant life Jesus came to confer upon his flock.

Let’s unpack what it’s like to live into this reality of being heaven’s royalty.

Knowing & Being Known
To know someone is more than knowing about that person; it is to share intimacy of all that we are.  God gave marriage for the purpose of beginning to understand what it is like to experience genuine relationship with God.  This is the essence of what we call love.

This is falsely presented in our culture (by the world) as winning, romance or capturing the dream of your heart.  Abundant life has nothing to do with the pathway to greed portrayed as glitz, glamour, power and materialism seen on TV and Hollywood.  In our text Jesus called that the voice of strangers.  Real sheep know the real shepherd’s voice…and follow the shepherd, not an imposter.

Jesus, the True Shepherd warned:
And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.                Luke 12:15 (KJV)

To know God through Jesus Christ and be known by Him is part of being heaven’s royalty – living the abundant life.  Then also…

Counting and Being Counted
To “count” means that your life is not insignificant.  There is a lot of talk in our culture about relevance – about counting for something.  A life, ultimately, is meaningful intrinsically; we count because God created us, and did so in His own image.  Our existence, standing alone, proclaims we are relevant; we count!  

Again, the world would shout in opposition to that.  The world would say you don’t count unless you’re powerful or rich or manifestly talented.  Two weeks ago our president informed us that one of the world’s richest, most powerful and influential men died.  Since then we’ve seen the information flow overwhelm the news media.

One picture that captured my attention was of the obsessed terrorist viewing his own image on the TV screen.  The sad picture here is of a man who, underneath the powerful façade, had to keep checking to see if it was all a dream….he had to know that he was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  He needed to know if he was still on top…if he counted.  A very rich business developer once said he didn’t care about money; it was just the way the world kept score as to who is “on top”.

The True Shepherd told us that “counting for something” is not measured by what you have, but by what you are able to give away in His name:

For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.     Mark 9:41 (KJV)

The abundant life is opposite of “being on top”.  Counting is all about serving from the bottom – from the dust.  Even the Bible word for “servant” has its etymology in the word “dust”.  Being counted means you serve, not have.  In God’s Kingdom things are upside-down from the kingdoms of the world.

35And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.    Mark 9:35 (KJV)

Knowing and being known, Counting and being counted, and then…

Alive and being a Life-Bringer
Knowing God and counting for something mean your life is on a track that is in line with the life of God.  In a sense it is only when you respond to the inner call, the voca, or vocation – “calling” – doing that kind of thing with passion to which you sense God has spoken to you.  It is “being” – with excellence in the name of God.
Some people call this “finding your niche”.  In vocational ministry clergy often describe it as serving because we cannot do anything else and have peace.  Why do dogs run?  Why do bees seek flowers?  Why does the wind blow?  These are alive with the purpose for which God created them.

In our text Jesus said that his sheep know his voice – his calling – and they follow him.  Sheep may be dumb, but they will run from a strange voice; they know their shepherd.  Jesus said, in essence, if you’re mine, you’ll follow me.
So…what is it like to be alive, and a life-bringer?

If we continue out the sheep metaphor it goes this way:
Sheep follow a shepherd.  Our shepherd is Jesus, and we become his disciples.
Sheep flock together and stay peaceable with each other.  Our Shepherd is the Prince of Peace, and desires his following sheep to be people of peace.
Sheep have more sheep….to be a life-bringer is to see lambs born!

We are created for knowing God, serving to be counted and living the twice-born abundant life of Christ that will multiply as we share the Good News.

The abundant life is within our reach if only we will drink deeply of living water, fill our hearts with love, and create of our lives a masterpiece of knowing Him and being known by Him – of counting for Him and being counted by Him – of living and bringing the life of the Gospel to others.

Harry de Leyer was late to the auction on that snowy day in 1956, and all of the good horses had already been sold.  The few that remained were old and spent and had been bought by a company that would salvage them.

Harry, the riding master at a girls’ school in New York, was about to leave when one of these horses—an uncared-for, gray gelding with ugly-looking wounds on its legs—caught his eye.  The animal still bore the marks that had been made by a heavy work harness, evidence to the hard life he had led.  But something about him captured Harry’s attention, so he offered $80 for him.

It was snowing when Harry’s children saw the horse for the first time, and because of the coat of snow on the horse’s back, the children named him “Snowman.”  Harry took good care of the horse, which turned out to be a gentle and reliable friend—a horse the girls liked to ride because he was steady and didn’t startle like some of the others.  In fact, Snowman made such rapid improvement that a neighbor purchased him for twice what Harry had originally paid.

But Snowman kept disappearing from the neighbor’s pasture—sometimes ending up in adjoining potato fields, other times back at Harry’s.  It appeared that the horse must have jumped over the fences between the properties, but that seemed impossible—Harry had never seen Snowman jump over anything much higher than a fallen log.  But eventually, the neighbor’s patience came to an end, and he insisted Harry take back the horse.

For years, Harry’s great dream had been to produce a champion jumping horse.  He’d had moderate success in the past, but in order to compete at the highest levels, he knew he would have to buy a pedigreed horse that had been specifically bred to jump.  And that kind of pedigree would cost far more than he could afford.
Snowman was already getting old—he was eight when Harry had purchased him—and he had been badly treated.  But, apparently, Snowman wanted to jump, so Harry decided to see what the horse could do.
What Harry saw made him think that maybe his horse had a chance to compete.

In 1958, Harry entered Snowman in his first competition.  Snowman stood among the beautifully bred, champion horses, looking very much out of place.  Other horse breeders called Snowman a “flea-bitten gray.”
But a wonderful, unbelievable thing happened that day.  Snowman won!

Harry continued to enter Snowman in other competitions, and Snowman continued to win.  Audiences cheered every time Snowman won an event.  He became a symbol of how extraordinary an ordinary horse could be.  He appeared on television. Stories and books were written about him.

As Snowman continued to win, one buyer offered $100,000 for the old plow horse, but Harry would not sell.  In 1958 and 1959, Snowman was named “Horse of the Year.”  Eventually, the gray gelding—who had once been marked for sale to a low bidder—was inducted into the show jumping Hall of Fame.

Snowman was created to jump.  That was his calling – that was how he responded to the voice of the Shepherd who created and loved him.  As a plow horse he was only counted for $80.  As an abundant life jumper he was priceless!

Your abundant life in Christ is also priceless…so priceless it took the blood of Jesus Christ to provide it.  You cannot purchase it under any conditions and for any price.  It is grace; God did it for you.  The only thing God wants in return is for you to respond to the calling to live-into that life of grace and love.

That calling is the little voice you hear sometimes when you’re thinking very deeply, or when you’re grieving over a loss, or a best friend has betrayed you.  It’s that hurt you feel when you’re alone; the forsakenness you feel when someone should have supported you, but joined in with the crowd.  It’s that nagging embarrassment you feel when you did something you know you shouldn’t have.  That’s God calling!

Do you hear the voice of the Shepherd?
Do you know Him?
Are you counting for something more than American Idol or Lottery wishes?  Are you getting, or giving away?
Are you really alive….or are you checking the DVR to see if you’re still on top of the world’s heap?

The Shepherd created you for LIFE!  Step into His grace and go live it!

Father, the call of the majestic King of Heaven is laid before us in the call to a life of true abundance.  Help us to respond to the sound of Shepherd Jesus
We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Gravel Gertie and the Helpless Preacher

This Ever Happen To You?

Having dodged most of the assorted germs, flu and nasty little airborne viruses this year, the tenacious bug finally sank his viscous little fangs into this preacher. Well, talk about crash & burn!  Monday afternoon my wife and I had eaten lunch with my Aunt and Uncle from Port Richey.  By Monday evening I felt so bad -- body aches, weakness, fever -- I was popping aspirin and invoking the chicken soup clause from our wedding vows (...and promise to pamper my husband’s boo-boos, etc.).

You may have guessed I am not a very silent sufferer.  When I am sick I really don’t want company -- only a card that says your heart is broken, and for you, the meaning of life is now uncertain because of my pain.  Sympathy is a wonder-drug to us wimps.

Allow me to continue this shameless begging for sympathy.  By Tuesday morning my poor little body had a temperature of over 101o.  I was sick of chicken soup, and my thoughts had drifted to trying to recall where I put my last will and testament.  Tuesday night I lay in the bed figuring I would die soon -- by 3 AM I was afraid I wouldn’t!

On Wednesday morning Elizabeth called the doctor for an appointment (guys and other mule-like life forms do not call doctors).  Elizabeth had informed me it was a toss-up whether she would call the doctor or the Beggs brothers (local funeral director).  She said my eyes were fixed and dilated.  She chose the doctor when she became convinced I was still alive.  What convinced her was when she tried to take the Nyquil bottle from my hands -- I growled and bit her.  (If I’d bitten a second time, she would have called Beggs -- She would have killed me!)

There were some really unique experiences attempting to get a semi-delirious preacher dressed, and loaded into the car.  Later I was told I wanted to ride the motorcycle (our lawnmower) to the doctor.  However, Elizabeth finally got us to the doctor’s office...and that’s where the point of this epic came to boil.

When we walked in to the overcrowded waiting room, there were no seats available.  I volunteered to stretch out on the floor, but they put me in a wheelchair.  Now, I want you to know my doctor is a caring, compassionate healer.  It was NOT my doctor, however, who put me in that chair -- it was the nurse from Auschwitz.  I believe she is related to Heinrich Himmler, or maybe Adolph Eichman.  Most nurses I have known have reminded me of the sweet fragrance of Florence Nightingale -- this one brought visions of the Marquis de Sade.

I had taken too many pain pills, and was having difficulty remembering how to do difficult things (like keep my mouth closed & not drool).  Gestapo Gertie was giving commands that required hand-eye coordination, and utilization of the brain -- I had neither.  For instance, you cannot
stand still please
on the scale if you do not know where you put your legs.  You certainly cannot
keep that thermometer in your mouth, Mister,

if the feeling left your lips a few minutes after you took those six cute little pills.

Now, I am not a very cooperative patient when sober.  If you make me chemically drunk, adding a side-order of mild delirium, you will have a virtual zombie on your hands.  Most of the time in that office I could not have told you my name.  With me in that unusual state, Nurse Goebels told Elizabeth to take me over to the hospital for an X-ray and blood test.  I remember thinking, Free at last, Thank God-A’mighty I’m free at last.  But it was not to be!  Gertie Goebels insisted on wheeling me all the way to our car, which was parked on the grass in front of the office.

It doesn’t sound ominous -- a ride to the car.  However, Gertie’s training had included the obstacle track and bruise maneuver.  With every fiber of my being aching and crying for a final resting place, my chauffeur d’jour hit every bump, hole and uneven place on the ramp; she worked the parking lot like a pro, turning pebbles into boulders, causing exquisite, torturous waves of cranial pressure echoing off the sides of my temples.  This was a downhill run with the precise execution (no pun) of a Picabo Street.

Approaching the finish line, I figured the worst was behind.  What does a dead man know? The car was in the grass, this patient’s torture chamber rolling along the pavement.  Gertie was going for it all.  As we neared the end of the pavement I heard a gasp from behind (much like the accentuated grunts Andre Agassi makes when he hits a searing ferocious backhand cross court for a winner).  With a second grunt, the nurse from Hades kicked the wheelchair from LaLa land into high gear, to navigate a worm hole at warp speed.  Her calculation was perfect. Instead of sailing over the lawn to the car, the wheels dug in the turf, locked, pivoting all the weight forward, and somersaulted the ecclesiastical baggage headfirst onto the lawn -- a perfect four-point landing!

Moving in for the kill, Gertie shouted Get up!  I meekly replied, You the man!

I usually visit the weak and failing -- the powerless ones.  I am a Pastor, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  This experience, however, turned the tables.  I was the one in someone else’s hands -- my fate under someone else’s whim.  The Apostle Paul said that he had learned during the weak times of his life -- the times when he put his own agenda down and just trusted God for everything, that God’s strength showed brightest.  Now, I was not weak by choice -- nor was this a spiritual weakness.  But the analogy serves Paul’s intent. 

My nurse missed several opportunities to be a source of compassionate healing and comfort.  She allowed a sense of frustration with my weakness to ruin her faithfulness to her nursing oath.  She did not see the pain in front of her eyes -- that need for which she was trained, and had dedicated her strength.  She missed the boat, because someone in front of her was not cooperative.  Christians are to overcome that kind of evil with much good.  It’s hard, but it’s better than dumping those in need on the front lawn!     J