Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reused Blessings

Reuse, recycle, and don't keep it for yourself.

How many of you are now familiar with the TV show "Hoarders"?
If you've never seen the show or are not familiar with the concept of hoarding here is your brief cap of the show what they deal with in an episode. Someone, a family member or friend, has reached out looking for help in this desperate situation. A person that they know and love has gotten into the habit of keeping everything and throwing nothing away. A hoarder is someone who does exactly what I just described. I have known a few over the years. There was an old man in the church I grew up in who had stacks and stacks of papers throughout his house (among other items). Newspapers, magazines, National Geographics. You name it, he had it. Why do people hang on to things for so long? Especially, if there is no pertinent use for it in their current situation in life, then the items just sit and take up space. I've known folks in their 80's and 90's even who have basements full of things, clothing, shoes, furniture, and won't let a single family member in to even look at the things they have collected. Usually, people have to wait until "so & so" has passed away before they can even begin to unpack and discover all the things collected in a person's home or garage or storage unit.

The idea of hanging on to what we have and not sharing it with anyone is what came to mind as I read into the 4th chapter of Ephesians. Paul will state in this chapter that he would "urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received". Paul would go one to describe all that we have been blessed with, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism". We have a lot to share with God and the world around us. But, what happens if we end up keep all of it for ourselves and not sharing with those in need? Well, by the time we get to v. 28 we hear a warning.
Ephesians 4:28
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

The emphasis is a not so subtle mention to the idea that we should work for what we have. Not just to do some pointless labor, however, but to do something useful. The idea of doing something "useful" is automatically a condition that extends beyond ones own self. I'm sure I heard the phrase spoken to me more than once growing up to "do something useful". The principle for the Christian to follow, in order to be useful, is to have Jesus front and center in our heart and life. Then we find something useful. We find a new relationship with our world based upon a new relationship with God in Christ.

Lets look at this fourth chapter and analyze it's contents.
This chapter is broken down into two sections and the headings are important.
"Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ"
"Instructions for Christian Living"

Back to this idea of hoarding for a moment.
When we are children, the concept of hoarding is not as relevant as it is to the adult life. As children, we have a problem with the simple premise of sharing. We are told when we are having those first few playdates with the neighbor kids that we need to share. Squabbles and fits break out over a certain toy or object of affection. We don't want to share. We want to control the flow and use of the toys in order to make sure nothing gets lost or taken. See the connection if you will from the childlike mindset for sharing to the concept of hoarding. Maybe "so & so" read an article in a newspaper and didn't have time to snip it out and put it in a scrapbook. So, the paper is folded up and put in a place for when we get around to it. The intention is to save those important memoirs and memories until there is time to properly place them in a special place for safekeeping. Next thing we know, there is a stack of memories we want to remember. Then a table full. And, then a room full. Family members are telling you that you should o something about it. Maybe they offer to help. No, you say, I'll get around to it eventually. Well, maybe there are items in there that others would find useful. No, you say, don't want anybody touching my stuff. You know where everything is and eventually you'll get around to sorting it all out.

One essential to having unity and maturity is to share what we have.
Listen to what Paul is saying in verses 14-16 here in chapter 4.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Under his instructions for Christian living, Paul would state that we "must not steal any longer". Now, the idea of stealing can go both ways. When we were children, we desired to "steal" the other kids toys because that kid didn't want to share with us. So, we took matters into out own hands we took what we thought we should have. The idea of not sharing can also be thought of as "stealing". Paul would speak in the second section of chapter four about not living like the world around us. He refers to the "Gentiles". (Anyone outside of the Christian/Jewish faith would have been referred to as a Gentile). He notes how people outside of their faith would live.  Thinking about themselves. Indulging in all kinds of sensuality. Taking care of their own needs. He wants his readers to hear this emphasis: this new life in Christ is directly opposite of that. We don't "hoard" things up for ourselves. We don't "steal" things so that others go without. We work so that others might have a blessings. We work so that we "may have something to share with those in need."

I was blessed this week with a reused blessing myself. Melissa wanted me to put a book she had read back in the Little Free Library outside our office door. Upon arriving at the church I thought I would take a look at what was in the box currently (as our 'inventory' changes consistently). I chuckled at a few titles that I picked up. There are a few narcissistic titles in there. "The Magic of Getting What You Want" by David J. Schwartz - the blueprint for personal fulfillment in the 1980s! Wow. The review at the bottom of the front cover says it all. "This is magic that really works!" - Denis Waitley, author of The Psychology of Winning. Well, birds of a feather... I saw a seemingly harmless title, "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" by Dale Carnegie. Well, I'd like to quit worrying so much and focus outwardly. The problem with much of our self-help training given is that it turns us into exactly what it suggests. "Self" help. In the process of learning not worry, following the teaching a book such as this, the process leaves us focusing on ourselves constantly to make sure we're not worrying. I have seen first hand how self-help teaching leaves a perfocused inwardly instead of seeing the holiness of God and the freedom he offers. Even the holiness preaching I experienced in the 1990's while hanging around with the Nazarenes had this self-absorbed twist to it. We seemed to focus too much on keep our own holy garments white and unstained by the terrors and sin of the world. Instead of making sure we worked to meet the needs of others the emphasis seemed to be upon keeping ourselves separate from the world. I felt as if we took a self-absorbed twist on Romans 12.1-2.

We live in such an independence centered society and culture here in America, and it's no 'new' infatuation. The idea of  'independence' as presented in our free society keeps us separated from one another. We don't end up serving one another. We end up focusing on our own needs and then throwing a few dollars at this cause or that offering plate and just hoping that covers it. In the Little Free Library box I did find this title that caught my attention. "If You Can't Lose It, Decorate It" by Anita Renfroe. The idea she present of reusing items you have lying around finds it's way across the gambit of life. From the closet where our clothes are stored to the hold up of feelings you might have about your neighbor, the presumption is that we all have things we are sitting on that we cannot seem to let go of. As her title suggests, we should decorate those things we have trouble letting go of. If I could see that item or problem in a new light after redecorating it, maybe I could see it as something to be re-purposed and reused for something. It no longer becomes an issue to sit on or a belonging to stuff in an old drawer. How can I bless others around myself with what I have? Some people might suggest that have nothing to bless others with, and I want to walk into the 'house' of their heart and fling open the door of all the room and help them to see the many blessings they have. To often we act like hoarders. We have so much in our lives we could bless others with but it seems as if we are 'stealing' the blessings from others because we cannot let go of what we have.

Look around us. I'm going to bring it right home for all of us to deal with today.
Look at this sanctuary. Who owns this place? This church and all we see here. Does it belong to you? You might think that it does and I would suggest that you're sitting on a blessing and keeping it from others. It does not belong to you. It belongs to the One who gave to us. It was built by people who were here long before we were thought of and will stand long after we are gone. And, here's the real kicker - you can't take it with you. Same goes for the money in our pockets. You didn't pop out of your momma with a wad of bills in your hand and you can't leave this world with any of that stuff either. So, what do we do with it while we are here? We can hoard it all up and make sure we are taken care of - OR - we can use it to bless the ones around us. How could we bless others with this church? Think for a moment about the building we have. How could we use it? Take a long moment to really think about what you have in your life. What you can see and touch should be the obvious items for discussion. Go beyond the physical and think about what you like to do. Think about what you are skilled to do. The abilities you have and job you do. You might not like the job you have. Give that work to God and let him do what he wants with it. You might find something you actually like to do if God leads the way into it. "If you can't lose it, decorate it." Take that item and turn it on it's head. Make it a blessing to someone else. 

Listen to how Paul finishes this chapter.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We all have the capacity to be a blessings to those around us. I'm thankful for the example of those I have witnessed since I got to Thornville. I didn't get to know him personally, but I wish I had. Lester Anspach kept together a viable and personable history of his family and the town he loved. He could have sat on it. Kept it under lock and key. Never let anybody in to see it.  But, he gave it away. It's now a part of the our county's historical society so that others might know of our town and country's great history. Then there is Marie Worland. This lady would give her last dollar if you needed it. Even fighting through the pain of recovery after cancer surgery she finds a way to drive up here to the church and drop off some Velveeta cheese so we have the items we need to do our Comfort Food Ministry. Or, she goes and buys some styrofoam bowls or cutlery we need in the kitchen for a community dinner. Never thinking of herself first. Putting the needs of others above her own. Lester and Marie have seen hard times. You probably have too. Instead of being bitter or harboring ill will, they have found a way to be a blessing. Lester with his smile and humor. Marie with her wit and generosity. How can you and I follow that example and be a blessing to someone else?

God has blessed us with so much. It's time to quit hoarding it up.

You wouldn't want the local cop to arrest you for stealing.
How much more will the charges be severe if we wind up in front of our Lord with 'stealing' charges brought before us? Lets give it away and make our lives a blessing to others.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Microwave Meal

 Comfort food doesn't come in a box. 

Some food is better if you wait and reheat it later on.
Some food needs to be eaten as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Lasagna is one of those meals that can go either way.
I have been blessed with two of the greatest lasagna makers in the whole world.
My wife and my mother-in-law have never made a bad lasagna (in my humble opinion).
Now, they might be critical of themselves and their creations as they exit the oven, but my tummy has never rejected an offering of this magnitude. They are the best. The matter up for debate is simply whether or not the the offering is in a more solid form as it is cut from the serving dish - OR -  is it more soupy and runny in texture. If the latter is true and it's running all over your plate, some folks might like to let it sit for a day. Which then means that we are going to be putting that plate in the microwave most likely to heat it up again.

Here's the problem with heating stuff up in the microwave.
While the microwave does a decent job, it doesn't heat it up thoroughly.
I mean, getting it hot in the center. Microwaves never really get it back to the way it was when it was first served, hot out of the oven. Microwaves do an OK job depending on what it is and how long you leave it in there. Which means you have to stand there watching it. Then you take out, stir it up, put it back in, take it out, test it with a sampling, put it back in, now it's TO HOT. You have to let it sit for a while. The whole process takes the joy out of eating.

If left in too long, the outside might be really hot or even charred all in a hope to get the center hot enough to eat. Otherwise you have a lukewarm or even cold center while the outer edge of an item is hot enough to scaled your lips and tongue. The microwave process is really imperfect.

I'm sitting here reading this scripture from 2 Corinthians and this idea of something being hot and fresh is what is rolling around in my head. Imagine, if you will, a freshly baked loaf of bread on the table and the aroma that fills the house. Which would you rather have? A slice of white bread out of a bag from the store - OR - a warm slice of homemade bread fresh from the oven. If you have to stop and think about it, then we need a good class on baking here in this church. It should not be a difficult decision.

2 Corinthians 5:17

New International Version (NIV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!

The idea of having something "new" is one that brings with it some mixed emotions. We get used to having the same old things in our lives. The same old chair. The same old food. The same old restaurant every morning. Something new should be really exciting and full of promise. No other word in the english language, however, is met with more demise than this simple word. Upon looking up the word I expected a ho-hum "Yep that's what I expected to see" kind of definition. There's some lines here that will make you stop and think.

Definition of NEW

1:  having recently come into existence :  recent, modern
2 a (1) :  having been seen, used, or known for a short time :  novel <rice was a new crop for the area> (2) :  unfamiliar <visit new places>
   b :  being other than the former or old <a steady flow of new money>
3:  having been in a relationship or condition but a short time <new to the job> <a new wife>
4 a :  beginning as the resumption or repetition of a previous act or thing <a new day> <the new edition>
   b :  made or become fresh <awoke a new person>
   c :  relating to or being a new moon
5:  different from one of the same category that has existed previously <new realism>
6:  of dissimilar origin and usually of superior quality <a new strain of hybrid corn>
7 capitalized :  modern 3; especially :  having been in use after medieval times 

Food is a priceless vehicle and illustration for use in a message and I can't think of any other illustration that fits here better. As we think about food, let us contemplate for a second which we like better: something out a box - or - something made from scratch. Lets think about it in another way. How about something you have to heat up or re-heat in the microwave or  something your mom or grandma made with their own hands. Again, if you have to stop and think about it then we need some remedial classes on food and eating around this church. The new stuff is always going to find a place at the top in my heart and stomach.

Why do we have such a hard time with parting with the old? Some folks really would rather drop a frozen lump of something in the microwave every morning and stumble through a cup of coffee than take the time to put a good healthy, tastes great, awesome breakfast in front of themselves. Hey, maybe it's a time constraint issue. You have to get going to work. You have to get on the road. Please don't feel as if I am badgering you into something you have no time for. This is all simply illustration to make a point. But, wouldn't it be nice if you did have the time? To make something "new" and to give up something you had to re-heat and plop on a plate?

One of my favorite shows on TV right now is called Restaurant Impossible. A chef from England named Robert Irvine has taken it upon himself to go around America finding old mom and pop restaurants and turn their way of thinking and their business upside down in order to show them a different way of doing things. With 2 days and $10,000, Irvine will come into your business and make everything brand new. You have to consent to let him run your business for the next two days and let him do whatever he wants to do. The things he has found! Oh my! It turns my stomach to think of something to infestations he has come across. The service that does not meet peoples needs. Management issues that have never been resolved. People who have no idea how to run a restaurant went in with good intentions, but have found themselves in a mess anywhere from 6 month to 3 years into owning their new business. Places that once thrived under different ownership or management now lie in ruin with the possibility of closing their doors forever if something does not change soon.

Irvine will come in, survey the land (so to speak), order some food, meet the help and the owners, and then tear the place apart and put it all back together with a completely new decor and menu. If God wants to make everything brand new in our lives, what must he tear apart and turn upside down in order to make "all things new"? What we must take a moment to discuss here is the contrast between instantaneous delivery and progressive growth. We live in a society that marvels itself in how things can be done in an instant. Contemplate the microwave for a moment.We want things to be heated up - instantly. In other places in our lives, we want this paper to be written - instantly. We can't even put our fingers on a keyboard anymore. We get a voice-speech service like Siri to do it for us. We don't want to be fat and overweight, but we don't want to do the work of having to lose the weight. Here, take this pill and shed those pounds - instantly.

Life is a process marked by moments were things seem to happen instantaneously. What we seem to miss is all the work that led up to the moment when the great event happened. We come in and the meal is spread out on the table. We miss all the work that mom put into preparing the meal. We simply see the finished product sitting on the table to partake. In our lives, we see the great moment when Jesus entered. Did we miss all that went into helping us come around to make that decision? I remember the moment when I invited Jesus into my life, but there was so much that went on the 6 or 7 years prior. I remember being 13 or 14 and standing down front on the church to answer the big question. "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?" I answered "Yes", but I could not have explained to you what that meant. It took several more years before I was 21 and in my apartment kneeling in front of my sofa after listening to my best friend, Matt Holcomb, go on about how important it was to accept Christ as your Savior. There was so much in that 6-7 year stretch I look back on with amazement.

In this passage from 2 Corinthians we see Paul with a different emphasis than in his first letter to these same people. He is looking ahead. He sees a moment when we will crossover into uncharted territory. In a moment, a the twinkling of an eye, we will be changed. All things will be made new. The old will go away. We will not see this life any more. The word "new" will find great context here. "made or become fresh" Like a loaf of bread right out of the oven. There's nothing quite like it.

Now, that's comfort food.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Walk By Faith

Lester Anspach Funeral
I sit here with the bible of a man who truly treasured what he had.
I have never seen a bible quite like this one. I have seen my fair share of bibles down through the years. Some of them have had writing in them or small amounts of notes. Nothing could compare with what I see here. This book has truly been used. This book has been read and re-read. (And, then re-read again.) The amount of notes, cards and scripture references, jotting down on things and then stuck in the book is mind boggling. Who does something like this? A man who truly understood just how important this book is for his life. I say "is for" because his life is not over. I truly believe that.

"Why" do I believe that, you might ask? Lets take a look at some of the items placed inside the binding of this cherished book and I think you'll see the answer becoming clearer for us to see. There was a stack of index cards inside the front cover. The first card on top of the stack reads...

For we live by FAITH
and not by SIGHT
2 Cor 5.7

As I thumbed through this tattered and worn book, now holding itself together with tape that had been placed on it's spine several years ago and is itself now showing wear and tear, I see this card as the theme for why this man has kept this book as he has all these years. When the Apostle Paul is writing this second letter to the Corinthians, the over nature of the book has shifted from the intent of his first letter. The first letter to the Corinthians was an explanation of scriptural, biblical, and practical law. The second letter shows us a man who is clearly looking ahead to what lies beyond. There is preparation in what he says and thinks. Paul is obviously looking beyond. He knows what is coming and what to expect. Although he cannot see the entire picture, what he expects is to see Jesus and to leave this earth. Listen to the context around chapter 5, verse 7.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8

King James Version (KJV)
Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

What Paul really wanted was to be here and working. But, he also confesses that he would like to leave this body and go be with the Lord. And, so he is torn. To be with the people here and working in their midst would benefit those reading and listening. But, to be with the Lord is what every follower of Christ desires. The owner of this bible I now hold seemed to be looking for something. There was something important here. Every time he finds something he deems important he circles and underlines, scribble and leaves note for himself to remember the truths he discovers. He has done this so much that the book has a hard time holding itself together. It has been opened and closed so much that either oil from the fingers used or coffee stains now cover the center of the pages as you flip from page to page. Another index card reveals truth about how this man lived his life.
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
                                                                                        Malachi 3:10
 Giving seems to explain the reason for all this man did. And, God blessed his life for it. Look around at the pictures his family has shared. See how there was "not enough room to receive it." He gave by taking care of what he had. The town of Thornville was a treasure to him and he felt the need to walk around and make sure all was in it's proper place. A story was shared with me last night about how the owner of the beauty parlor came out her back down to see Lester's car parked out back, doors open, engine running. No Lester to be found. After calling for him and not seeing him anywhere she finds him in the bottom of the nearby dumpster yelling for help. "I'm not you out of there. You're all covered in grime and gunk now." Why in the world was he in the dumpster in the first place? He probably found something wasn't where it was supposed to be and figured he'd take care of it.

Taking care of things was what he did. Picking up trash around town or taking care of his family and his church, the center of life was following what he felt the Lord wanted him to do. There is an index card here that simple reads...

Proverbs 18.22 READ IT!!

Ok..I looked it up.

Proverbs 18:22

King James Version (KJV)
22 Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.

Ah! We see a large window into the life of a man intent on following the Lord's will for his life.
He knew he needed a good woman in his life in order for life to be as it should be. And, he found a good one with his Mary. Take a look at the pictures. I don't see said faces or sour looks. I see smiles. I see all out laughter at times. Part of that "favour of the Lord" must be to be happy. This man is happy. And, it shows in what he does. Part of what makes him happy is being in God's house, with his wife and his family. I have been shown the place where he and his wife sat in church, every week. The floor is worn from where their feet were each week. This was not to be missed. You better have a good reason for not being here. These two did not miss. Church was that important. God was that important. This bible was that important. FAITH was that important.

So important that he bolded it out and underlined it on that index card.
The two key words in that verse were in contrast and he wanted to make as he read it again and again that he would always know how important they were. FAITH and SIGHT. "We walk by FAITH, and not by SIGHT." The Christian life is about believing in something you cannot lay a hand on and say "There it is!" As Lester worn the binding off this book, he began to see what was on the other side more clearly, and yet, he did not become overwhelmed or consumed by it. He was still a man in touch with his world and his people. Ornery would be a good word to describe him, many would agree. I'm told he had a fantastic sense of humor. Always liked a good joke. Always liked to laugh. Always seemed to be smiling. Happy with life and content with what life gave him. he couldn't see what was coming. Rarely do we see what coming around the corner. Our minds begin to break down. Our bodies begin to get frail. We need other to take care of us. Because of how he lived his life, taking care of his town and his people, in turn, his people and his town took care of him. The care he received in his last years and days was wonderful.

And, now, the mantle is passed to you.
Could you possibly do what this man has done? Is this bible held as near and dear to you as it was for this man? Could you possibly mark a book up with as much shear desire as this man did? Does the scripture that God wants to speak to us from hold as much importance for your life as it did for this man? Does family means as much to you as it did to this man? Does loving your family and caring for those around us mean the same to you as it did for this man?

If family get-togethers were something you did while these two special people were alive, then don't let the specialness fade or the spirit die. Get together with those near and dear to you and keep the tradition alive. Sunday dinners, if that's what you did. Keeping track of family and town history. Going to church, either by yourself or as a family. If this man and his life are that important then keep his memory alive by living as he did. He walked by FAITH. He didn't looked forward to what he could see. He looked forward to what lie ahead. Let our focus be as his was. Let us have the same resolve to hang on to our FAITH. To love our families. To love our church and our community.

With all the talk of how things used to be and how good things were when men like this were around permeate our conversations, let us remember: it was because of men like this that things were as good as they were. If we want things to be good again, if we want to see good times and good things happening in our midst, then lets follow his lead. Through his FAITH, he laid a foundation we can build upon. A firm foundation that does not crumble or shake under our feet. A love that cannot be moved. We need more Lester Anspach(s) in the world. Maybe someone sitting here has the resolve inside them to do as Lester did. To make his/her world a better place. Simply by being faithful. Simply by walking by FAITH.

Every piece of trash you see in a front yard.
Every oatmeal creme pie you partake.
Everytime you pick up your bible.
Every joke you tell and smile you bring.
We follow his example and see what the Lord wants us to be.

Walk by FAITH, not by SIGHT.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Promise

A father's love never ends.

The life of a father revolves around promises.
More so than another person in the family tree, it seems that this one man has the weighty job of making sure that everything and everyone is taken care of and looked out for. Mothers also have a monumental function in our lives concerning our well-being and upbringing. The character sketch of a father, however, brings us a slightly different look into the intertwined working of how and who this person become who he is - father, dad, pops, "the old man". The two worlds of mother and father take on a different persona all their own. There are things you would only talk to dad about that you would never say around mom, and vice-versa. The car company Hyundai in promoting one of their vehicles put together a cute commercial where Dad takes the kids through several moments of high angst situations all with the simple instruction - "Don't Tell Mom". (And, yes, it goes both ways, as the commercial would reveal at the end.)

Don't know many moms that would take their kids fishing and handle all the yucky worms. That's usually a dad's responsibility. Without dad, the car would not get it's oil checked or the engine worked on. And, what about granddad. That opens the door to a whole other spectrum of memory. Grandpas seem to think it's their work to spoil the kids and show them how to be as ornery as they can be. My poppaw was the one who showed me how to twirl my spaghetti on my fork (a trick I still use to this day) instead of cutting it up on my plate. I'm sure I tend to be a little more like my grandfather in my everyday dealing with my kids. He used to have this thing for gritting his teeth when he was playing with you or tickling you while he was talking to you. He used to say, "The boy makes me grit my teeth." Ornery the man was! I get it honest.

What father has not heard the infamous phrase, "But, dad, you promised!"
It is the father's work to make sure that everybody gets what's coming to them. Good and bad.
One promise we probably did not want to see fulfilled was the promise of discipline if we did not do as we were supposed to do. The paddle or belt was a fixture in my family until I was a teenager and then my rear end could absorb the blow. I never will forget the first time I stood up and laughed as I walked away. Dad knew he would have to use a different psychology to reach the hard headed person inside. And, he did too. He found things that meant a great deal to me and would cut me off from those incentives. A stereo or a party. Whatever it took to make sure that I knew who was the one in charge.

Growing up I was the world's greatest fan of America's #1 dad - Bill Cosby.
In the 60's and 70's Cosby was known for his stand up comedy and we had all the albums.
On a cassette titled "200 M.P.H." where he spends most of his act talking about automobiles and sports cars Cosby spends a few moments talking about the differences between Mothers and Fathers. As a kid I memorized all the great skits and routines. If you're reading the blog, you should shoot over to YouTube and take in the classic routine. If you're in church on Sunday, you're in for a treat.
(I, of course, will tweak it up a bit for the church crowd.)

What Cosby seems to understand from his deal with his father was who was in charge.
Jesus seemed to always know who was the one in charge. He knew that it was not himself.
He always gave props to the Father and intentionally gave attention to the One who made all things possible. The scriptures abound with the promises of God. Jesus made sure his disciples knew that the Father wanted to bestow good gifts on them. Namely, the blessings of his Spirit. In the midst of an explanation on discipleship Jesus would mention a promise.

John 12:26

New International Version (NIV)
26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

 Good gifts are the blessings of a father who cares.
I can remember distinctly how my grandfather always took care of his own.
He helped me get back into a car after my first one had broke down and I spent the better part of 4 years walking or riding a bike. When the head gasket blew in the engine of the first car my grandfather helped me get he found another and got me behind the wheel of that one.

But, the thing I recall the most were shoes.
On several occasions when I would stop out to see my poppaw he would excuse himself from the room, go back to their bedroom and return with a pair of shoes. During the early to mid 1990's over what was probably a 5 year stretch I don't recall having to ever buy a pair of shoes. It might have been a few months between visits to their house. Sometimes my visits were more frequent.I didn't get a pair of shoes every time I went out to their house. Every few months, though, you could count on him leaving the room and returning with a near perfect pair of shoes. "Here, I broke these in a little bit. You and I have about the same size feet. Why don't you try them on?" I never asked. I really had no idea the blessing was coming. Without speaking it, he gave and provided.

Promises are usually unspoken.
A person don't usually come right out and say they are always going to take care of you.
The love of a father is most generally a thing that he does not a declaration he makes.
Luke 11 might just be a really good place to look at on this special day.
This passage of scripture is mostly known for the prayer that is taught to the disciples.
People learn these famous words, "Father, hallowed by thy name...", from right here. 

What is missed is the story Jesus tells afterwards. There seems to be a man who is in need and he has come late at night to ask for help. There are visitors coming to his home and he has nothing to give them. This man is hoping that his neighbor will have something, anything that he could use to meet the needs of those stopping by his house. The provider has become the beggar. How it must cripple a man to have to ask for help. My dad raised us in the light of what he was taught. To be self-sufficient. To not have to ask for help. It was thought of as sin to need to ask someone for help on anything.

I wonder what is going through this man's mind as he knocks upon his neighbor's door this night. What kind of response does he think he will receive? He is hopeful for help. The words from inside do not encourage his hopes.
‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I know my father and grandfather probably would have shooed them away. But, even in the rough and gruff moments of life, there is tenderness. Like the time I busted the control arm for steering on my '83 Chevy Cavalier Station Wagon. My dad let it sit there until it was cold outside. It was back to riding the bus or my bike. In the coldest winter we had for some time, my dad drug me down to my Grandpa Shank's garage and had me shivering in my shoes through that cold afternoon as we worked to replace that control arm. He didn't have to. He could have let me ride the bus all winter. The man in bed with his children doesn't have to get up and do anything for the man pounding in his door. But, because of his persistence, he gets up and gives him whatever he needs.

Jesus equates that moment of giving to a total stranger with how God deals with us.
God is our father. We are his children. Stop for a second and ponder it some more.
Who are we? We are the children. We are tucked away in bed. The message of the story here is about perspective. We might feel helpless and hopeless at time, like a stranger banging on the door at night. That is not who we are. We are God's children. He has us in the house when night time arrives. He has promised to care for us and provide for us. And, that he does. With the utmost care for his children and his neighbor, he meets the needs of those in need. My relationship with my grandfather taught me to honor these words.

"Ask and you shall receive.
Seek and you shall find.
Knock and the door will be opened."

When I was 18 and had a falling out with my dad, I had no where to go.
I drove out to my poppaw and mommaw's house. I came in and sat down.I needed a place to stay, but I couldn't pull it together to ask him. I left after 5 minutes and began to drive away. That notion of not asking for help was strong. But, I had nowhere else to go. Over the years my grandparents had, in part, be responsible for raising nearly all of us in the family. And, then, we made the return visit home to live in their basement. I knew this was what I needed. My destiny, if you will. But, I couldn't ask. And, yet, I knew I had nowhere to go. So, around I turned and back to their house. I walked back in. "I thought you had something to ask me, but you just couldn't spit it out." I move in for a few months. He put up with me and my habits and behaviors until it was time for me to get my own place. His promise to me, though unspoken, was to take care of his own. And, he did that unwaveringly.

Now, it is my turn. As I see my son sitting in the big chair in the living room this morning he repeats the phrase, "I am daddy. I am daddy!" In many ways, I hope not. In some existential way of caring and forgiveness from times gone by and through the channels of history, I hope he gets something good. I can only hope to share with him the specialness of a couple people who gave all they had to make sure I made it in this world.

A promise is a promise, forever.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Covenant Maker

 Forever and ever. Amen. 

How familiar are you with this word, covenant?
It is not a word that finds it's way into our everyday use.
It is a very spiritual and religiously used term.

The area where most people get to experience the idea of this term the most would be in the moment of ceremonial bliss. The joining together of two people in holy matrimony. Here is special place where two people have come together and have stated that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. They love each other so much that they can't imagine being without one another. When two people come together in such a way, vows are taken. Scripture is read and recited and repeated. Blessings are given upon the parties involved and upon their families. Such steps that are taken should be decided upon with the utmost thought and commitment. This is a decision for the rest of our lives upon this earth. Do you really see yourself with this person for all your days? Is this simply a means to an end? Is this joining together of two people simply a way to get some thing you want?

This time of year is perfect to think about covenant making and to use marriage as the stepping stone to get there. Many people have their wedding in June or early spring. It's a time of newness with life returning to the earth. Everything is green and lush and full of beauty. That's what we want ofr our lives. In the Old Testament, God wanted to be in covenant with his people, Israel, in order that they might have a deeply committed relationship with each other. God promises to watch over them, take care of them. In return he wants their complete devotion. In the New Testament, we find that those same words spoken nearly two thousand years prior are still at the forefront of their spiritual and religious lives. One person decided to question Jesus about those words.

Matthew 22:36-40

New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Are you a perfectionist?
Do you find yourself trying to get every little thing just right? If you're a teacher, maybe your perfectionism surfaces in the classroom, trying to make sure that every child does exactly what they are supposed to do and learn exactly what they need to learn in order to succeed in this word. If our a farmer, maybe your perfectionist mindset comes out in how you take care of your field and your animals. If you work in an office, the numbers and the paperwork have to be just right so that the ebb and flow of all things office related work and rhyme so that the people can get their jobs done.

If you've read anything from the gospels it should be easy to see that Jesus is dealing with a bunch of perfectionists. They have taken things to an extreme level in their spiritual lives, however. They have added their own explanation to how exactly the law is to be lived out. They have burdened the people and themselves down with unneeded weight of keeping this covenant with God just so. They have defined in strict regulations what "work" is how many hands it takes to do work and how often it can be done. They have regulated who they can associate with and whether or not it's proper to eat with this person or that. Regulations have been put in place to make sure that everybody does exactly what they need to do and how they need to do it in order that the relationship between God and man is at the correct ebb and flow for religious life to be at an all time high.

I remember my old Nazarene days very fondly. I recall old timers talking about all the regulations that had been put on the people back int he 60's and 70's. It had come down to how exactly we should express our Christian faith. How we should live our lives in this world while telling others about Jesus. Something as simple as drinking a can of pop should not be done in the front window of one's home because somebody driving by might look over and see you standing their drinking from said can and improperly think it was a beer can and that you, in turn, were drinking alcohol.

In our Gospel account on this day, Jesus comes along and shows the people that there is one issue they have over looked in this covenant. One word that should define all that the people do. Before we delve into that word, maybe it would help us to know exactly what a covenant is.

Definition of COVENANT

1:  a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement :  compact
2 a :  a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action
   b :  the common-law action to recover damages for breach of such a contract

You can see where someone might get a little off track. It's legal and binding.
If something was put into contract and stated formally for all to hear and see then maybe it's so important that we need to make sure it is never broken or changed.

Where else in the scriptures do we see covenants being made?
Maybe Genesis 15 would be a good place to look.

God comes down to speak with Abraham and to make a covenant with him.
The Lord has called Abraham "the father of many nations". The Almighty has tols him that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the shore. But, Abraham wants to know, for sure, how this will happen. How can he know that God will truly bring this into being?

The account at Genesis 15 is the only place we see something like this.
Now, sacrifices are made all through the Old Testament. Animals are slain and then offered up on an altar to remove sins and bring forgiveness. But, this sacrifice is strange. God asks for specific animals to be brought. He wants Abraham to find a place where to hills come together. Abraham sacrifices the animals by cutting them in two and places the halves on either side of the crevice so that the blood can run together, forming a stream and a path. Maybe you can see what is coming.

In Abraham's time, if two parties wanted to make a covenant with all the binding agreements, this was how it was done. Blood has always played a significant role in the covenant making process. We see throughout the discourse of scripture. When Adam and Eve sin, an animal is sacrificed and the skin of the animal is used to cover them. The entire religious system for Israel is built on the sacrificial blood of a lamb that would cover the sins of a family for the year. Bulls, rams, lambs are given in such a way as to say to the Lord that he matters more than all we have or want or need.

This covenant with Abraham is special because of what is done. In a normal covenant made of this kind both parties need to walk through the path of blood. In making this covenant, both parties are saying, "If I don't keep my end of the bargain, if i don't do what I say I'm going to do, then you can do this to me." The blood, the animals sacrificed here, is a gruesome image to bear. It is quite a sight to take in or even imagine. The strange thing here is that after Abraham does all the work of preparing this path of blood, the scripture says he "falls into a deep sleep". God causes his to be taken out of the equation here so that the Lord can do something special.

God walks the path.

1500 years before Christ comes, more than a thousand years before it becomes clear that Christ would come and give his life in the sacrificial act as the Lamb of God, God makes a covenant with Abraham that says exactly this, "If I fail to make this promise true, this promise that your descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky, If I fail to remember you and fulfill my promises, then you can do this to me." But, it goes deeper than that. Both parties are supposed to walk the path. Both parties are supposed to take this agreement upon themselves. Abraham fell asleep, remember? God is the only one who walks the path. SO, what is God is saying? "You can do this to me if I don't keep my end of the bargain here. AND, if your family and your descendants don't keep THEIR end of the agreement, someone will need to be punished. And, you can do this to me."

God agrees to take the punishment upon himself. To cover not just his end, but our end also.

Would the people keep their end the agreement? What is their end of the agreement?
If we are reading carefully, we see that there isn't much laid upon Abraham's shoulders here.
A promise is given. What Abraham and his descendants do with the promise? Believe in it.

In believing in it, they need to live their lives according to the promise.
In the days ahead, God would rescue the people from their bondage in a place called Egypt.
Would they listen? Not all the time. Would they continue to believe in the promise? Many fo them would complain and bicker and gripe. At one point, on one day, three thousand of them would be lost to their sins in the desert. A sign that God would not continue to put up with the sin and their disobedience. But, the course of history would show itself to be true. By the time we get to the Gospel account and this person questions Jesus about the greatest commandment, Jesus knows he will be heading to the cross for that sacrificial act. The people seem to have lost their way. They seem to have missed the central point of the covenant.

SO, Jesus shows them through the giving of his life.
He allows his life to given for the sins of the world, for not keeping their end of the covenant, for not believing and staying true to the promises given.

On this Pentecost day, we remember a great message given. Peter and the disciples standing on a balcony. They share the message of what Christ had done. The crowd that masses itself around is said to be around three thousand, that day. A covenant is made here.  Someone in the crowd asks, "What then shall we do?" And, Peter clearly states, "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you".

Join into covenant with God. Show God how much you love him. Put him first in your life.
Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength. Give God everything you have.
And, love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. If God is first in your life, then it shows.

It shows up without all the need to make everything perfect.
Love is perfect. It is the defining characteristic that God wants to see in our lives.
God loved us so much that God gave all in the form of Jesus, the one and only son, the sacrificial lamb, so we could be forgiven.

How much do you love God today?