Friday, March 28, 2014

Sheep Herder

Promises, promises, promises...

Last week's message ended on a promise.
We were talking about temptation and how God promised that he would not allow us to be tempted beyond what we could bear. He would also provide a way out so that we could stand up under the pressure. This week we look at another promise and a situation & subject that has sparked debate for centuries. Eternal Security.

Knowing that we are secure is a feeling that human have been seeking since the earth was formed. Our enemy knows how to get to us, poke us, prod us, make us feel like there is something missing that needs to be fulfilled. Jesus works out the story of being a "sheep Christian" in the 10th chapter of John.

John 10:27-29

New International Version (NIV)
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

I know absolutely nothing about being a sheep herder.
I did not grow up on a farm. The piece of land where I spent most of my years growing up in Richland County, OH was a farm at one time. But, we tore the old farmhouse down and my dad had the barn and chicken coop removed. There were farms around us, but I never actually got to know anyone. I grew up going to the County Fair (my favorite time of the year). Now, as we have lived in Fairfield and Perry Counties I have seen more closely the rural settings of raising and showing animals. But, I still have no idea what it must be like. The whole life of caring for and raising animals is completely foreign to me. And, so, I needed to do some research.

Since early last year I have been following the Twitter account of the Herdwick Shepherd.
@herdyshepherd1 is where you can follow him. Located in rural Northwest England, this shepherd took to Twitter some time back to share with the world what life was like raising sheep. His name is unknown. The only things that are shared are pictures of his sheep and the 140 character tweet that tells what is going on in the field today.

At this point in late March, the sheep have begun "lambing".
There is no surer sign that Spring has sprung that to see new lambs coming into the fold.
This process of lambing is arduous and stressful. Life in the field raising sheep is not as peaceful as some might think. We imagine the scenery. The trees and the lush fields rolling out before one as the picture Northwest England unfolds. The process of raising sheep, however, is one that demands constant attention. There is not much time to enjoy the scenery.

The gestation period for an ewe can be 144 to 151 days.
At this time the ewe is uneasy, getting up and down, switching her tail and bleating frequently. There may be some straining. This stage can take 3 - 4 hours. Comfort and presence are of the utmost importance. Jesus would state in the taking care of His sheep that, "they know my voice" and "they follow". How is it with actual sheep and how does that translate to what Jesus has to say?

Patricia Steane from the Thornville congregation used to raise sheep as a child.
She had several sheep around during those early years in her life. I wondered about the intelligence of sheep. Are sheep intelligent creatures or is it proper to think of them as 'stupid' animals as some might suggest. Do they wander aimlessly? Will they come when called? Pat stated that they are "fairly intelligent" animals. "More so than cows, less than pigs, verdict is still out on goats..." Sheep tend to be social to humans. Sheep will follow a shepherd's commands and like all animals, they respond to food training. They are not going to come to a human when "called by name", like a dog would respond. You can train them to respond to food, get them to come to the barn or in the moving from pasture to pasture, they will follow.

AH, I knew there was something I could relate to in here. Food.
What person doesn't respond to the dinner bell calling them? "The way to a man's heart is through his belly." Yes, I know what it means to be a sheep, then. My wife has been herding me along for years now. And, while I don't pack it away like I used to, she knows how to satisfy my longings for some good food. There is security in knowing that someone is always going to put a good meal on the table.

Security. There's a word worth taking a look at for a moment.

Definition of SECURITY

1:  the quality or state of being  cure: as
   a :  freedom from danger :  safety
   b :  freedom from fear or anxiety
   c :  freedom from the prospect of being laid off <job security>
2 a :  something given, deposited, or pledged to make certain the fulfillment of an obligation
   b :  surety
3:  an instrument of investment in the form of a document (as a stock certificate or bond) providing evidence of its ownership
4 a :  something that secures :  protection
  b (1) :  measures taken to guard against espionage or sabotage, crime, attack, or escape  
     (2) :  an organization or department whose task is security

Jesus has stated that his sheep are given to him by the Father, and that no one can snatch them out of his hands. Sheep herders have noted that a sheep can die just because of the stress induced from being chased. For us "human sheep", it is important to know that someone has us secured. Jesus wants his followers to know that he has them in his care and "no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand".

is something that Jesus specializes in. Security is used a noun. It's a thing you can make possessive. Your security. He is able to take us into His hands and care for us as no one else can. The problem that sheep can have in their raising is to run when trouble ensues. Predators can sense when a sheep is fearful and frightened and take flight after it. Jesus wants his followers to know that there is no need to run. He has the coverage we need to feel secure. We should stay put and know that He is always there.

Last week we talked about temptation. Is there a temptation for us "human sheep" to run, to flee? Oh yes, there is. Is there a temptation to push the hand of God away because we think we know better? We can handle ourselves and make out own decisions. Part of the discipleship we take in as Christians is understanding that what security in Christ means. We have covered some scripture from 1 John earlier this year in our discipleship. Here's a verse you might not be as familiar with...

1 John 1:7

New International Version (NIV)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[a] sin.
Notice where security lies. In the light.
Jesus would tell his hearers that he has them in his hands, in the Father's hands. As long as the sheep stay where they need to be they are secure. When the shepherd leads in this direction, they need to follow. Leaving the path and direction of the shepherd can have dire consequences. John would follow that thought in his epistle. We need to walk in the light in order to be secure. Jesus is the light and is in the light. "The light" designates the will of God for us. As long as we are where we need to be in our relationship with Him, we can count ourselves secure. Venture off that path and try to do our own thing, our own way, and we can expect the sharp teeth of the wolf or lion to find us soon.

It's a promise Jesus makes to his followers. Promises are something you can keep.
It might help us to take a look at that word too.

Definition of PROMISE

1 a :  a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified
   b :  a legally binding declaration that gives the person to whom it is made a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act
2 :  reason to expect something <little promise of relief>; especially :  ground for expectation of success, improvement, or excellence <shows considerable promise>
3 :  something that is promised

I like to make light of words that are verbs or adjectives because there is action or description involved. When there is something we are clearly supposed to be doing as Christians then it makes sense to point that out. We should always be doing or putting something into action. In this study of sheep and security it really helps us to know what we possess. "Promise" is a noun just like "security" is also. It can be made possessive. God's promises to you. He will take care of you. He will look out for you. He will make sure the wolf and the lion do not prey upon you.

Security and promises go hand in hand when dealing with God.
A promise is thought of as "a legally binding declaration".
What kinds of promises does God make throughout the course of the scriptures?

To Abraham, he promises his offspring would be a many as the stars in the sky; new lambs to fill the family tree and follow the Lord for years to come.
To David, he promises forgiveness and fulfillment of the promises, even though David had fallen in grace and brought hardship upon himself and his family.
To Solomon, he builds the greatest of kingdoms, making Israel one of the richest and wealthiest kingdoms in the land.
To Jeremiah, he promises to fulfill his plans, to prosper and not to harm. God makes his plan for Israel clear that he plans to restore them and make things right.

Jesus says he knows his sheep. He knows what they are experiencing. In times of sadness and in joy. He can keep us secure and full of his promises. Do you know what that feel like? Do you know security today? Do you know, in your heart, that he will take care of you?

It is in the following, and there's our "action word" in the midst of these nouns, that we find our security. We need to follow. Just as the sheep follow their shepherd and listen to his voice, so must we follow our Lord and Savior in order to find the security and promises we long for in our lives.

Won't you follow the Shepherd with me.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Weight

 History is a heavy load to carry.  

First glance at the title and I'm willing to bet most people will immediately think that we are about to engage in some Biggest Loser talk about losing those unnecessary pounds.
No, "the weight" we are going to discuss today is more of the spiritual variety.
And, while the physical can sometimes be a result of the spiritual, at the end of the day we need to take care of the heart of the problem and not just treat the symptoms.
That is to say, we could talk about the physical weight of a person and beat ourselves up about how we look or dress or our earthly appearance. But, is that really going to address the problem?

We are spiritual beings. We are also rooted in an earthly world where we are hereditarily tied to people and situations all around us where we find ourselves knee deep in history.
History is one of my passions. I like to find out what makes a person or place tick.
And, you will usually find exactly what your looking for in regards to that issue when you dig into a person's history and background.

The Apostle Paul pens one of our most famous lines of scripture here in 1 Corinthians.
What is often missed when this passage is quoted, however, is the rest of the passage that it comes from. Have you taken the time to read this verse in the context of the first thirteen verses of chapter 10? Lets take a look verse 13 and then talk about the larger context.

1 Corinthians 10:13

New International Version (NIV)
13 No temptation[a] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Chapter 10 in 1 Corinthians has the subtitle "Warnings From Israel's History".
Through this first letter Paul has been dealing with Jewish leaders who have come into the fray and tried to get the Christians in this place to follow Jewish Law to a T in order to follow Christ in this new found faith called Christianity. Paul has had his hands full trying to iron out what these Jewish leaders have been spouting off about and teach the new Christians in Corinth what they need to know about following Christ.

By the time we get to chapter 10, Paul uses a very well thought-out illustration right out of Israel's own backyard. Their own history book. Much of his audience are Jewish people who are living in other parts outside of Israel. How did they come to be there? What brought them to these parts of the world? Job relocation. Family business. Maybe some were exiled. Some can't return home to the land they remember. A new life must be found where they now live.

The Jewish history book is something that all Jews would be familiar with.
Hearing the stories from of old and about your ancestors is something I cherish.
I can remember sitting at my dad's feet hearing him go on about fixing cars with my Grandpa Shank.
My grandfather was a parts manager for Hicks & Martin in my hometown of Shelby, OH for about 40 years before he went out to his own home in the country and opened shop in his own garage.
Hearing stories about fixing cars, going to get parts, sitting at the counter at the local parts store drinking a Coke and eating a candy bar while Grandpa Shank waited for his parts order were stories that are treasures to my ears.

My dad had a simple philosophy about life from fixing cars with Grandpa Shank. He passed it along.
"If you want to learn how to do a thing, just watch." That's how dad learned how to fix a lot of things on cars. He just watched. My dad was the youngest of 4 kids. But, my grandpa was 42 when dad was born. You might say he was the 'surprise' child. His 3 sisters were pretty much grown up by the time he came into the world. I can remember dad talking about getting off the bus and running to the garage in a hurry to be there while Grandpa Shank worked on a car. Grandpa would tell him he needed to get his homework done first. So, dad work would go get anything done he had from school and then haul it out to the garage to be with Grandpa.

Dad's stories about the rhetoric in the garage were just a priceless as the fixing of a rod in a 4 cylinder engine. People brought their Ford and Chevy cars and trucks to Grandpa. When someone brought a Chrysler, that was just too much fun to pass up. Never understood what they didn't like about Chrysler made products, but they would call people out on their ownership of such a vehicle.
"Chrysler? Oh geez. You brought that in here. Get that thing out of this garage!"
Grandpa would fix it regardless. He was no bearer of ill will.

The Apostle Paul pulls some famous instances out of Israel's history and helps them to see that maybe that have been harboring some ill will in their own lives. Maybe they are repeating the same history that some of their ancestors have already covered. Check out his opening words in Chap 10.

1 Corinthians 10

New International Version (NIV)

Warnings From Israel’s History

10 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

It seems like Israel's ancestors had a relationship with the Almighty God.
They seemed to be in contact with the Lord on some level. They partook in the blessings of beings God's people. What went wrong? Why were they scattered in the wilderness?
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.

Paul doesn't mince words here
. History is in place for a reason. To show us what we should or should not do. And, that wisdom can be applied to us in the right here and now. What kinds of things did their ancestors do?

Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”[a] We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ,[b] as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

Seems like their were some very specific things that Israel's forefathers were engaged in.
Idolatry - they needed something they could cling to and hang on to. A relationship with a God of fire and smoke, leading through the wilderness, was not enough. We know their story. Making golden calves. Turning to the gods of their neighboring countries. Their gods were made of stone or wood.

Sexual Immorality - In Paul's day there were temples made to false gods and the kinds of things that were doing with the human body are images I will not open the door to in this message. People were doing horrible things to each other in the Old Testament to honor some god made of stone and the same customs were still in place as Paul writes.

Testing Christ - other manuscripts would also say "testing the Lord". The image of Christ and his promise can be seen through the prophecies of the Old Testament. So, in testing God they inadvertently were testing Christ. Abraham was thought to be the Father of the Promise. His offspring the children of God. God wanted to bless them. They grumbled and griped and missed the blessings. Which brings the last item up for business...

Grumbling - isn't that next to impossible to ask human beings to do? Look back on the generations behind us and see what they grumbled and griped about. Now, don't do the same things they did. Don't grumble and gripe like they did. Don't repeat the same things that have already made life unbearable and made situations impossible. What good does grumbling and griping do? Blood pressures get raised. Health gets squandered. All because we can't can't be happy with what we have, so we end up grumbling because we aren't getting what we want. And, our ancestors did the same thing. Where did it get them? Did it get them what they wanted? No. But, it didn't stop them either. And, it doesn't stop people today either.

 George Santayana is famous for this quote: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Paul would tell his readers at verse 11...
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

Many of the Christians of Paul's time frame saw themselves of the generation of the Return. Christ would come back and they expected it. So, before Christ gets here, maybe we should let go of everything we don't need. Including, all this historical weight.

Family history is something that can weigh us down.
In 2010 I went through what I can only describe as a mid-life crisis.
For all the good stories I had growing up of my Grandpa Shank and how he treated his fellow man there isn't much good to share about what I saw my own father doing. He is my step-father. He adopted us. There's a lot of good I could say about that. But, I saw a lot of harshness and hatred there as I grew up. I did not see a man who really acted like he "loved". And, in the hereditary way of following in ones footsteps, I began to act like him. All I ever wanted was to be someone's son. To feel like I had a role model there to follow. And, so, in 2010 it really hit me full force that I was doing the same things I had heard him doing. Repeating the same sarcastic phrases. Using the same harsh putdowns. Talking to my kids & my wife the same way I heard him talk to me and my mom.

Sometimes, our greatest temptation is to simply repeat the same old things our ancestors did.
And, for me, the temptation was to desire my father's approval. Regardless of the consequences it might bring to my family or my marriage. My dad had said this or that about life. He must be right and everybody else is wrong. It's a smack in the face to our ideology when we suddenly realize the way we are treating other people is simply a repetition of the hatred and grief we have already seen in our lives, hereditarily.

Paul brings his readers to their knees.
12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

To those Jewish leaders who were trying to get people to follow the law, like their ancestors tried to follow the law to that T, and they couldn't keep the law, and they all died in the wilderness, what kind of future do Paul's readers think they'll have trying to follow the law?

For us today, as we read the passage, what kind of weight is resting on our own shoulders?
What kind of history are we just repeating again and again?
It is in the context of all of this, that Paul says this verse...
13 No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

There is
a temptation to just do a thing because that's the way our ancestors did it.
That temptation is a weight that human beings find hard to bear.
God doesn't want us to repeat the same old mistakes, the same old failures.
And, so, he makes us a way out of temptation.

Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil.

When we are tempted to repeat the mistakes of the past, he provides us a way out.
And, the blessing is that God keeps his promises.

A promise is a sure thing. Temptation is not.
Standing on the promises that can not fall.
Listening every moment to the Spirit's call.
Resting in my Savior as my All in All.

Get yourself some promises today.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Loud Noises

Only the strong survive.

 Are you scared easily?
Some folks just love going to see horror flicks at the theater. Not me.
In youth group when I was a sophomore, we had one of those all night lock-in events.
While most of the kids were off playing hide and seek throughout the church somewhere I was in the "parlor" (I think that's what it was called) with our two adult supervisors (who were of course sleeping) and one girl from our group. We were taking in one of those "Night of the Living Dead" films. (Yes, a poor choice for a church youth group lock-in.) We were reaching one of those climactic moments where something terrible was about to happen. A zombie creature was about to jump out and grab someone. I don't recall being particularly frightened of the whole scenario. Many of the outcomes in these films are very predictable. The girl watching with me, however, was choking on the suspense. Every time I looked at her you could see the terror growing on her face. When the zombie guy finally did jump out there, she SCREAMED with all her might. She grabbed my arm, which is the tense situation made me jump. Our adult supervisors woke up and jumped. Some of the kids poked their heads in the room to see what was going on. Fear can bring a crowd.

It's hard to be alert and sober when you're drunk on fear. Life is full of problematic issues that cause us to fear. Peter's letter is traditionally thought to have been written to Christians suffering through persecution. There's a word that can cause us to feel more than a bit uneasy. None of us want to truly experience what it is like to be in the face of someone who does not agree with our faith. Peter's audience is living a real life horror movie. To be on the run and daily facing tragedy is no way to live one's life. Peter pens this letter with instruction on how to live the Christian life following the example of Christ in the face of a world that doesn't understand. Jesus went through the same. He ultimately gave it all on the cross for the sins of this world. As Peter approaches the climax of his letter he has closing instructions he would like all his readers to follow.

1 Peter 5:8-9

New International Version (NIV)
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

At the website there is a listing of the top 10 countries in the world where persecution is at an all time high. (Not sure how they got these rankings unless persecutions are being reported in some sort of professional fashion.) Maybe these countries simply have that reputation about them. Word has spread that it not fashionable to be a Christian in these places.
  1. North Korea
  2. Saudi Arabia
  3. Afghanistan
  4. Iraq
  5. Somalia
  6. Maldives
  7. Mali
  8. Iran
  9. Yemen
  10. Eritrea
Why is it so hard to live as a Christian in this world?
Well, we're not of this world. Has that truly occurred to you? We don't belong here. This is not our home. This is not our world. Who runs this world? Paul would say in his letter to the Corinthians that the system of sin in this realm is run by "the god of this world". Peter would refer to him as a "roaring lion". Peter says he "prowls". Many of the Christians on the time frame would have felt like someone was prowling around looking for them. A hungry lion wants something to devour. If you've taken in any show on National Geographic or Animal Planet then you maybe have seen a show on lions. How they go to great lengths to track down their prey. How treacherous they can be in overpowering the one they are attacking. Once they have sunk their teeth in they never let go until they have their prey down for the count. Our enemy can be just as villainous. Just as treacherous.

Is persecution quite like this for us in our comfortable country? I think not. There are certainly people who do not agree with our faith around us, but I'd like to think that we live in a much more stable environment where people can live together without fighting over our religious issues. Many of the so called "persecution" issues I've seen and heard about in our country can be attributed to people who think everybody should listen to them and what they want. People in our western culture bring much trouble on themselves because we tend to be a people who are self-absorbed. Maybe our enemy has worked on us in a reversal mode of attack. Paul would talk about our flesh being the enemy. The devil certainly knows our weaknesses and how to get us all twisted and turned about issues and people who are truly out of our control. Blood pressures sky rocket. Physical problems and sicknesses get us side tracked. Emotional and spiritual issues have us wrapped up in a hot mess. Truly, our enemy is just as villainous and treacherous whether the opposition is external or internal.

How do you handle somebody like that? Paul, Peter and even James, the earthly brother of Jesus, in his short letter would all state the same - resist him. Sounds rather simplistic. Just resisting him is all we do and he just goes away? You've most likely been telling him to go away for years and you don't think he's getting the message. Maybe there's a little more to it than that. Lets look closer at what Peter and some of the other writers have to say on the matter.

1 Peter 5:9

New International Version (NIV)
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

It is not enough to just tell him to get lost. He has to know we mean it. Standing firm means the other party knows we mean what we believe. I know much about having to stand up for what I believe. I was the classic nerd in school. I lived a sheltered life growing up. There was lots I didn't know or understand as I came up through the grades in school. Then came the moment when I decided for myself what career path I would follow. It's not easy when your family doesn't understand and your classmates can't embrace the idea. It forces you to stand firm or melt in the heat of pressure. 

James 4:7

New International Version (NIV)
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Maybe one of the most famous verses that comes to mind when dealing with the enemy. Also one of the most misquoted verses I have ever heard. Many good meaning church folks will be quick to state that we should resist the devil and mention scripture from James. What too many people miss is the first part of the verse - Submit yourselves, then, to God. It's really hard to stand firm in your faith, as Peter suggests, unless your life is in the hands of God. I didn't stand firm real well when I was a kid in junior high or high school. The harsh words and the oppression came and by the time I was a sophomore I gave up the idea of ministry and by the time I was 18 I gave up on church. If we want the devil to know we mean what we believe, then our enemy needs to know who we have given our lives to. Submit means someone else is calling the shots. Not us. The devil doesn't stand a chance if God is the one in control. 

Ephesians 6:10-12

New International Version (NIV)

The Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We all want to be strong. Peter and James helped us to understand how to be just that. We need armor to take on such an enemy. Paul elaborates on how to stand firm as Peter suggested. This is Paul's most famous piece of work when referring to our enemy. There is also a verse that gets overlooked. In order to take on such a task we truly need to understand who our enemy is and it's not who we think it is. Christians who are facing persecution and oppression need to understand who they are up against. It's not the ruler of their country that truly oppresses them. It's not the physical or emotional hardship that is our enemy. It's not that person who is trying to make our lives impossible. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood... Our problem is not something we can actually lay our hands on. It requires us to realize we that our answer must come from the same place - in a realm we cannot lay our eyes upon at this moment. 

One other thing we can draw from Peter's passage...

1 Peter 5:9

New International Version (NIV)
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings

I don't wish trouble upon anyone. Most of the time, you don't have to ask for trouble. It will come find you. It is comforting to know that others are going through similar things. God is our biggest ally and can crush the enemy under his feet. Other human beings can be our greatest supporters if we can find people who are going through similar issues. Support groups and counseling & therapy are some of the biggest growing fields in America today. Do a search over at Google and find out what kind of resources we have at our disposal. It's kind of depressing to see all the trials and issues people have to deal with in this world. It also turns out that we can get together and help each other in our hour of need. 

Just like a friend staying with you through a scary movie.
Or, sitting beside you through a medical nightmare.
Or, standing up for you when you can't stand up for yourself. 

When dealing with a lion, it helps to know a Lion yourself.
Be strong. Growl back. And, know your enemy doesn't stand a chance.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Doing the Walk

 Four is the number of freedom.

I recently came across Franklin D Roosevelt's address to Congress on January 6, 1941.
It was called "The Four Freedoms".
From a human standpoint, FDR's words could not have been more sufficient and precise.
Freedom of speech. Freedom to worship God. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear.
The United States, and the whole world for that matter, was faced with a dreadful regime in Germany as Hitler was slowly achieving world dominance. Rolling through one country at a time, Hitler sought to move into the far reaches of Europe in a search of his purpose as the ruler of all.
Roosevelt was one of our country's greatest speech givers. In a time when things seemed their bleakest he found words to encourage and inspire, keeping the hearts and hopes of many alive.

FDR had in front of him was what we refer to as a "quadrilateral".

In geometry, a quadrilateral is a figure with four sides and four angles. 
In Wesleyan thought, the quadrilateral proves itself as a way to help the Christian think things out in a methodical and thoughtful way to understand the will of God.
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, or Methodist Quadrilateral, is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. The term itself was coined by 20th century American Methodist scholar Albert C. Outler. This method involved scripture, tradition, experience, and reason as four different sources of theological or doctrinal development. - taken from the Wikipedia page on The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

When trying to think things out and get the proper perspective on what God's will is for our lives it helps to have a basis of thought to follow. After reading and studying much of Wesley's writings and work Outler saw a pattern to the methodology. Wesley had 4 things he seemed to always cover as he made his point or explained his message. Tradition. Scripture. Reason. Experience. Four areas that came to the forefront and could guide the Christian to understanding how to interpret the Will of God.

We are going to look at some scripture while covering the four sides of the quadrilateral.
As we cover all four sides we'll take some kind of issue or situation and see if the quadrilateral can help us understand what God would want for us.Lets work with the inspiration that comes from the first verse of scripture we are to read.

John 1:37

New International Version (NIV)
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
Disciples are people who follow. Church history would prove that in the presentation of seeing a religious leader with a quest or ideal and encouraging people to follow. When we approach the notion of tradition we must take into account what people would have done historically. This is not a personal examination to see what we ourselves would do. It is not a delving into what our local church has even done historically. Tradition involves the whole of Christianity from a historical perspective. If "following" were our subject to analyze and a scripture like this is laid out before us the first thing we'd want to do is take a long look at what other Christians down through the ages did in the "following".

We would want to take a look at what other Christians have believed and thought and practiced as a result of their following. Where did they go? What did they do? WHOM did they follow? (There's an important point...) What kinds of things were they taught and what did they pass along to the next generation? The ideals and philosophy of our church fathers feeds into what we do and how we do what we do even today. The theology that they taught. The songs they sang. Their charitable nature. Their faith and their trust in what God can and will do. The history goes on and we add to the legacy. Tradition means following the example set before us. Their intentions. Their meaning. We must contemplate all of this as we try to figure out for ourselves what God wants for our lives.

John 2:5

New International Version (NIV)
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 
Seems like a self-explanatory word. Until you see what Webster's has to say.


noun \ˈrē-zən\
: a statement or fact that explains why something is the way it is, why someone does, thinks, or says something, or why someone behaves a certain way
: a fact, condition, or situation that makes it proper or appropriate to do something, feel something
: the power of the mind to think and understand in a logical way

This is my reason for doing this the way I did.
Ah, but it's used as a verb also. It's something we put into motion or action.


: to think in a logical way
: to form (a conclusion or judgment) by thinking logically

See the tie in with tradition. In tradition we want to know what exactly our church fathers would have down historically. IN reason, we want to know the reasoning behind it. In tradition we ask alot of who & whom, the "how", the "when". The one question left out that applies to reason is the "why". Why did they do what they did? Reason isn't just a noun, a stately thing that we posses. It's also used a verb. It's something we use that causes us to go forth and do something. If we understand the reasons behind the motivations of a person, then we understand better what is trying to be accomplished.

If John Doe in your local church is reaching out to the poor and neglected in his community, the question might arise, "Why is spending so much time with those people?" "What is his reason behind it?" "Why does he reason that this thing is so important?"

If a person is cut and bleeding, what do we reason is the right thing to do? That should be a no brainer. We go find a band-aid and cover the wound and help it to heal. If we see a person following God as their forefathers did, we might ask what they are doing and then ask why they are doing it. From that we formulate and reason that maybe we should follow God also. The reason we follow leads into the next point in the formula.

John 5:14

New International Version (NIV)
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
Many of us could tell about what we have been through in life. Experience has to do with what we have felt and gone through. The 19th century revival moment that spilled over into the 20th century was built on experience. If you came down front and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, what you felt after that moment was very important to a person's faith development. Testimonies built off of that movement. People shared their personal experience of going through trials and hard times and then asking Jesus to come into their hearts. It wasn't enough to have mental fortitude and understand doctrine as it was read off a page. A person had to have experience in what knowing Jesus was about.

I will never forget my experience. I grew up in church. I had been baptized at 13 or 14. I had gone though the stately and formal motion of joining the local church, but in looking back there was no moment when I actually invited Jesus into my heart and life. A scripture like Revelation 3.20 can stop a person in their tracks if it become real to them. If Jesus is standing at the door and knocking,is it my heart it wants to enter? Have I ever actually invited him into the center of life? Turned it all over to Him and said, "Take Me". An experience like that can change a person forever. And, so it was for me. In the afternoon of early June day as I lay there trying to get some sleep before I went into work that evening, I tossed and turned. This subject of knowing Jesus and inviting him into my life was going back and forth in my mind. At about 3 o'clock I got up and went out to the sofa and knelt. I wasn't sure what to say or ask. I just asked him to come in. I slept like a baby. I got up and went to work that evening with a big smile on my face. It would take time to explain it and understand what had happened. But, there, at that moment, was the beginning of something life-changing.

John 8:12

New International Version (NIV)

Dispute Over Jesus’ Testimony

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 
Probably the most controversial of all the points and a good one to end with in this quadrilateral.
Some view scripture as inerrant, unshakeable, word for word written by God. Some take a more liberal view seeing scripture as the joint work of a frail human kind in league with the God of the universe. Whether we see scripture as the unmovable Word of God or whether we see it more as inspiration coming from the relationship of God and man, this entire quadrilateral does not work without scripture at the center of it. Our motivation and essence as Christian comes from what we understand about God. And, we find God at the center of the scriptures. This book is about him, not us. This is not a self-help book where we try to find the answers to help us be a better people. What we will experience as we read this book is that God will make us better people. It's not something we can do on our own.

What do the scripture say to us about following God?

Galatians 5:22-23

New International Version (NIV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

If we follow God, as our forefathers did, giving up all they had and inviting Jesus into their lives, it stands to reason that we will become the people that God wants us to be. Who's fruit is this in the scripture above? It belongs to the Spirit. The fruit comes from the Spirit being in our lives. It's not something for us to live up to or take on and try to accomplish. What do we have to accomplish. Follow. Do the walk. Drop what we have in our hands as the disciples did that day, as we have seen other do down through history, and just...follow. In following, we find not just purpose, we find that we are who we are supposed to be. Simply, God's child, filled with the fruit of God's promise.

One more thing I would add to this quadrilateral list. Faith. Following this list of 4 thought provoking items will certainly increase your faith.
Your trust and belief in God's will for your life is going to go up. Way up.
Our most important commodity in this Christian life is most certainly our faith.
Understanding God's Will for our lives and following Him is what strengthens that commodity.

Faith is the victory. And, there is a way to make it stronger.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Imposition of Ashes

 Ash Wednesday

We are here tonight to receive some ashes.
It doesn't take long in reading some scripture to come across a passage referring to "sackcloth and ashes". The idea of ashes being used in some form of sadness, penitence, or repentance is a common sight, especially during the times of the kings.

Who in the world thought this idea up? To have a service where people come forward and have their heads marked with some black ashes. It is an idea that still permeates much of our Christian thought and tradition.

During the time of early Church Father Tertullian, ashes and sackcloths were used as severe penance due to grave sin. Ashes, mixed with sackcloths represented a gruesome image of penance and humiliation; a form of penitence associated with those who violated Canon Law in the early church. Since this time, the public imposition of ashes sometime 40 days prior to Easter has been observed in the Roman Catholic Church later revised by the widespread granting of plenary indulgences.
- taken from the Wikipedia article on "Ash Wednesday"

Indulgences. There's an interesting word. I had to delve in Webster's and see what was going on there. Wikipedia also has a nice page explaining the word. I think we all have a grasp on how the word would normally be used. An indulgence would be something you splurge on. Something that you normally would not do for yourself. "I'm going to indulge myself with this chocolate cake this evening." Leaning over to a friend who is sharing some especially form of gossip, a person might say "indulge me" as they seek to get more information on the subject at hand. In the world of religion, though, the idea is different. As indulgence is thought of as a way to remove the harshness of church law in dealing with sin. Instead of being brought to shame for a past sin one has committed the seeker is told to do something less painful to make up for one's sin.

This service would be referred to as "The Imposition of Ashes". There's another interesting word. Imposition. If we impose on someone it means we are asking them to do something that were not planning on doing. We are intruding in their privacy. We are cutting into their family time. We are asking to fix something that is truly not their problem. Think of it in terms of this service and what we are about to do. Our forefathers would have been told to come forward and receive ashes on to their foreheads. This would not have been done in the evening where in about an hour, most of us would be going home and hopping into the shower or tub and those ashes would be washed off. No, the imposition would be used as an indulgence. A lesser form of punishment. An outward sign of our inward grovelling. "Here, take some ashes. Now, go walk around the rest of the day and let people see how sorry you are for your sins."

The church I grew you in didn't do the traditional take on Lent and Ash Wednesday. I do remember some Maunday Thursday services. We'll get to that in a few weeks, ourselves. Later, as a Nazarene, there was no mention of the Lenten season. No ashes. More of an emphasis towards Good Friday and Easter. The time of taking inventory on ones sin and remorsefulness was missing in those earlier circles in my life. I look back now and wonder why.

This is a time to remember. We have already approached the table and taken time to remember. Remembering what our Lord did in that time of with his disciples. How he took bread and broke it. Mentioning that the bread was his body, broken and abused. He would later lift a cup, proclaiming his blood to be the drink, poured out for the sins of many. See the indulgence of forgiveness being extended to the disciples and for all of mankind. In John's Gospel, it says that Jesus took a basin of water and towel and actually went around the room washing everyone's feet. See the imposition of uncomfortableness as the Master and Teacher take the lowliest servant's role of washing feet. A further sign of cleansing to remove sin. A sign they would not understand until later. An epiphany that would have its own time and place.

We approach tonight with many things on our minds and hearts. We know what kind of people we are. Whether we choose to admit it is another issue. We come to these ashes tonight to completely honest about our sin. It's bad and we need a remedy. This time of Lent is time to go without things and to focus on God. Instead spending the hour of television, indulging ourselves, we should spending that hour reading the Word or in prayer. Instead of indulging ourselves with that chocolate cake, we should take that couple of dollar and give the food to a homeless shelter or food pantry. Instead of spending time on that social media outlets, lets unplug from those and go out and get some real, wholesome, human contact.

We come here tonight to remember our sin. And, to say goodbye to it.
As we did on Sunday, I implore you to take a small card with a picture of your church on it.
On the back of it I invite you to write what your giving up for Lent. Write down what sin or addiction or area in life you want to give to God. Maybe, you don't need to write anything. The picture of your church on the front is what you're giving away. You want God to take this church into His hands and do as he pleases with it. Maybe there is some other issue or situation in life that God needs to take from you. Write it down and when you come forward to receive ashes, after your forehead has been marked, leave your piece of paper at the altar as a sign that God has that issue or situation or person now. It belongs to Him, not to you.

I hope its not to big an imposition. Indulge yourselves in the forgiveness and release God gives.