Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Church Follows

So Say We All. 

Joshua 24:15

New International Version (NIV)
15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The world of science fiction is a special delicacy of mine.
For most folks it is an acquired taste.The genre uses elements and characters from some distant galaxy to convey it's story and meaning. If you're not familiar with or not open to the idea of some story told on a cosmic scale, a venue or a world outside of this place we call earth, then you most likely won't identify with the story as it unfolds. The thing is if we take the time to actually listen to what's being conveyed in a science fiction story we usually see that there are earthly constructs being dealt with inside of the constructs of the sci-fi story. I grew up watching things like Star Trek and then The Next Generation. It didn't take much to realize that they were dealing with earthly social and political aspects with their storylines. If there were currently some issue in the news involves foreign countries dealing with some inter-Americana aspect on a global level, then you could most likely anticipate that they would be dealing with that front somewhere in the Star Trek world.

For many folks the world of Star Wars is the ultimate place to discuss the realms of good and evil. It has been brought to the forefront that George Lucas, the creator of the famous storyline, was raised a Methodist. You can see as he deals with what it known as "The Force" that he is playing out the many dealing we humans think about as we discuss God, the devil, the Holy Spirit, and our inner workings and struggles as human beings. One important note to be made within the movie and TV genre is that things have changed over the years. In the sci-fi/action/drama world there used to be a strong emphasis on a "one man against the world" mentality. We might see that played out still, but not to the degree we grew up with in the 1980's. With the introduction of these science fiction storylines we begin to see more of a sense of community. It
's all of us taking on this inherent evil. One person can't do it all by themselves. I would truly suggest that the idea of one man taking on everything springs from the idea of Christ taking on everything. One man hanging on a cross wipes out sin for all mankind. Why can't we be like that? Why can't I stand against the evils of the world all by myself? Well, maybe because that's not what we are called to do. Even Jesus spoke to his listeners and followers and call them "the light of the world" - collectively. The Body of Christ has many parts, as the Apostle Paul would bring out in his letters, and we need to see how it all works together. 

One of my favorite story lines is that of the lesser known Battlestar Galactica.
A very short lived story that was introduced around 1979-80, it showed us what it meant to try and take on the role of creator and then realize how wrong we were in creating what we could not control only to find the people on the run away from their home world in search of a new place to start over. The 1970's version found new life almost 40 years later as the title was reintroduced with a darker plot twist. These robots known as "Cylons" had been quiet for the last 40 years and then suddenly show up destroying their home world. With really no chance to fight back or recover, this rag tag band of humans gather what resources they have and seek a new place to start over. All the while their creations, the Cylons, are still hunting them down as they try to run away. I want you to see a clip here. This is after the major battle has taken place. The humans have left their solar system and are running. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Displaced. Hungry. Not knowing where many of your family members are or even if they are alive. Morale is low. Confidence is even lower. They stop for a moment to mourn their dead in a memorial service. They read from their sacred scriptures. In what should be a hopeful moment the spiritual leader states the words that the people repeat. But, at this moment their is not much enthusiasm to find. So, it falls upon their military leader to step up and give everyone the much needed "kick in the pants". 

What I want you to take from this is the sense of "community" that happens.
Following is not something meant to be done alone. It's meant to be done together.

(Come to church on Sunday to see the full clip.)

I want you to look past the religious aspects of this fictional story and see the correlation between their world and ours. At the same time we'll bring in the scriptural focus from the Book of Joshua that is before us today. There is much we can make of the plight of humankind and the need for a new start. The people of Israel find themselves in this place over and over again in their journey to become God's people. Just as the people in this fictional story made servants for themselves who rebelled, so we see Israel making gods for themselves who always let them down. They follow the customs of their neighboring countries. Their neighbors are enamored with false gods made of wood and stone. They are promised that if they follow these gods that they will be blessed beyond measure. Joshua has quite a task in front of him. Throughout this book with his name the story says that the land among his people has been divided up. Each tribe has their location and area in which they have settled. There seems to be one last issue to deal with near the close of Joshua's story. This matter of staying on point and following the God who brought them out of Egypt. They have allowed the presence of their other gods to infiltrate their faith and life. That's not why God brought them here. As we have been covering in our Sunday School time, through the video series "That The World may Know", God brought them to the cross roads of the world - between two major continents, so that they could be an influence of the world around them.

There is another major issue. They have been running.
At first, they were out running their oppressors, much like the people in this fictional sci-fi story. They are looking for a new home. A promised land. Then, in the course of their running, they find there are many issues within that they must overcome. There is griping and bickering and complaining. There is a struggle for what a few want versus the needs of the community. Most importantly, there is a growing distrust for the God who set them free. They can't seem to grasp the concept that the reason they have been wandering so long out here in the desert is because of all the mistrust, the complaining, the griping. God has not done them wrong. He has fed them. When complained about meat, he gave them meat. When they were thirsty, he gave them drink. He led them with a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke. There are plenty of centering moments in their journey where the law is brought out. It is read and conveyed to all that God is what is most important.

What major parallels might we draw from our fictional and biblical stories. What applies to us?
We might start by asking, what are we running from? If we call ourselves Christian then the truth of new life in Jesus means that there was a point in time when we started following. This alos means we left something behind. We have been cut off from a past with no future. But, that doesn't mean the old life just gave up and quit pursuing us. there is guilt from former statements and actions. There are consequences from things that we have done and said. What we'd truly like to do is leave all that behind. We'd like a fresh start. We'd like to stand up feel refreshed, to feel forgiven and free. When I invited Jesus into my life back June of 1992 I was into rock 'n roll. I knew I wanted something similar to listen too, but with a Christian focus. The first Christian song I got attached to was by Geoff Moore and the Distance. A song called "Rescue Me".

"Running all my life, running all my days.
Running through the night, it seems like forever.
Take me now. I'm so tired. Take me now.
This time forever."  - from the album "Pure and Simple", Geoff Moore & the Distance - 1992

All of that parallelism and correlation might apply to some of us on a personal level, but what about the church? What kind application can we make that would apply to us all? Is there something the church is running from? Or, maybe, it's not a matter of running from anything, but now we feel like we are wandering. We remember the good ol' days when this seemed easier and better. Our church was full. The coffers were stuffed. It didn't seem like it was such a struggle to make it. Churches seem to dwindle down and down in a spiral decent to irrelevance and decline. Where will we go? What will we do? How much longer will we make it given the current circumstances? Last year we lost a six-pack of saints. People who, in their lifetimes, gave all they had to ensure that others had enough. Feeding. Clothing. Visiting. They'd give you their last dollar if you needed. Would it be better if we were one of them and now gone from this world. That what you're thinking isn't it? To escape this world with it's troubles and hardships. We're a long way from 1960 something, when the church was full and things were easier. Where shall we go? What shall we do?

All I know is this. If we follow the promises set before us and forget about what we want on a personal level, then God will bless us mightily. "Deny yourselves, pick up your cross, and follow me", our Lord and Savior said. I look out at you today and approach you in the spirit of Joshua. I plead with you to follow the Lord with all your heart. But, if following this path seems too hard for you, if following the Lord seems undesirable for you, then choose this day whom you will serve. Whether it be your own personal desires that will surely lead you astray, or some other religion with no promises of forgiveness and peace. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

It has been said, "Don't write checks that your butt can't cash."
I tell you today, we will become the church Jesus wants us to be.
On the memory of those saints who have gone on before us and banking on the promises of our Lord and Savior, we will hear the words "Well Done, good and faithful servant."
This church will be full again. And, we will serve the Lord with all our hearts.

So say we all.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Church's Calling

I hear Jesus calling.

Matthew 25:31-46

New International Version (NIV)

The Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

The 25th chapter of Matthew lays out for us three parables, with all of them touching upon end time variables.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins simply shows us that the time is short and that we have a limited supply of resources. We shouldn't waste what we have or be silly in spending it. Stay focused. Realize that the time is short and utilize the resources we have to make it through. 

The Parable of the Bags of Gold show us that we should looking towards the end of all things with a stark realism that we have been given a gift in which to use. Before it all ends, the master of the house will return and want to know what we have done with that gift. While some strive to make use of the gift and multiply it's worth, some will simply sit on theirs and do nothing. 

What Jesus shows his hearers in The Sheep and The Goats at the end of this chapter puts a face on the need and an actual place to spend the gold and burn the wick. There are people with needs that are to be met and we have the resources to meet those needs.

We are talking about having a "calling" today.
What is a calling? Well, I completely expected to have a "finger & thumb" up to the side of your head definition from Merriam-Webster. But, picking up the phone had nothing to do with the definition I found. In the deeply religious tone that Noah Webster would have thought about things come the exact kind of definition we read.

Definition of CALLING

1:  a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence
2:  the vocation or profession in which one customarily engages 
It's a noun, and it's only used as a noun. Meaning, it can be possessive.  It's your calling. It's something your were called to do. Nursing is more than just a career. It's a calling. Teaching it more than just a job. Such a career choice involves a feeling or a calling. This is what you are called to do with your life: to meet other peoples needs in such a way. 

There are different ways to think about having a calling.
When people hear the word they usually think about this job I'm doing.
If you're "called" into ministry then it must involve some sort of preaching or public speaking. This viewpoint usually leads people to shrink away from the thought of having a calling. Lots of folks don't want to be the central focus of people's attention. The bright lights and flashy thought of having a calling is where too many minds drift to when approaching the subject. I would suggest that we take a quieter approach to the matter at hand.

Another popular line of thought would suggest that having a calling means being called to a specific line of ministry. We need to debunk this way of thinking also. Back in my Course of Study days I had to read the book "The Preaching Life" by Barbara Brown Taylor. Rev Taylor went to school and became a fully ordained minister, but there was a patch where she struggled with what exactly she was called to do. She took some time away from school and the pulpit early in her life to search and retreat. She came away at the end of it with a sense of epiphany. God seemed to be showing her that she could do anything, and do it for Jesus. "Go pump gas in Idaho, and do it for Jesus." Hey, go deliver ice cream to Walgreen stores, and do it for Jesus. What kind of job is it that you do? Have you thought about the work that you do as a ministry? As a way of meeting people's needs? Isn't that what ministry is - "meeting people's needs"? Or, as our instructor, the Rev. Stan Ling put it in my very last class, "Theology and the Practice of Ministry"- ministry is simply "meeting people".

If I could do anything, and do it for Jesus, how then can I take what I do and also meet other people's needs? More pointedly, could this be our calling? According to this scripture from Matthew 25, the righteous, the people of God who wind up enjoying all the glory of God and come into eternal life, are the ones who are using their resources to meet others needs. Feeding. Clothing. Visiting. Look at this. People are meeting the basic needs of other people. There is no mountain top experience. There is no flashy, billboard sign. It's just people what they do. What they are called to do. It's what Jesus wants us to do.

Maybe having a calling involves God speaking to someone personally or privately. There is certainly plenty of scripture to suggest that. Maybe people have followed Jesus to a mountaintop and seen bright white. They feel like God has spoken mightily or with certainty. I'm willing to bet that most people don't want that sort of experience. There's some scripture to support that as well. How many Moses are listening right now? The stutterers. The quaint and quiet. Those who have gone out of their way to make sure that no one is looking for them. Yes, in certain cases there are burning bush moments to draw out those whom God needs for a specific cause. This kind of calling should not be made the norm. The kind of calling that Jesus wants us to recognize is to follow Him into the world. "Deny yourselves, pick up your cross, and follow me." That doesn't involve a grand showcase. It involves us simply responding to the need. "This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Have you heard the call of the unloved? Have you seen what it could be like if we thought of our "calling" as such?

What might our world look like if we took this seriously?
What might our church be like if we thought of our calling in such simple terms?
Feed people. Clothe people. Visit people. Be there to meet their basic needs. Treat other people like we want to be treated. That's is our calling. We are called to serve others. To forget about our own needs and wants. To think about what others need and put them first. You don't need a mountain top experience to see that. We simply need to see the needs and meet them.

I hear Jesus calling. Take thy cross, and follow me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Church's Baptism

Follow to the water.

Ephesians 4:1-16

New International Version (NIV)

Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it[a] says:
“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”[b]
(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
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.

On this 2nd Sunday in our "Church" series we take a moment to talk about baptism.
Today on the lectionary calendar is specified as the "Baptism of our Lord" Sunday.
So, let jump right into this matter of baptism.

There's two ways of looking at many things in life.
Two sets of eyeballs to see through. Two opposing viewpoints that seem to bash heads.

Liberal. Conservative.
Democrat. Republican.
Catholic. Protestant.
Denominational. Non-denominational. 
Contemporary. Traditional. 

Even in baptism, there are two views to consider - Believer's Right vs. God's Grace. 

I'm sure most people are familiar with the concept of the first, even if they haven't necessarily called it as such over the years. The practice of this first ritual would come from the belief that it is the believer's right to baptized. It is up to the believer to make that decision. The believer in Christ has made the decision for him or herself to follow Jesus. The next logical choice for them to intersect with is a matter of being baptized. 

In the teenage years of my Disciples of Christ experience, I was baptized. In retrospect, I don't know if I would classify it under a believer's baptism. I was still a kid. I was told I was supposed to go to church membership class. I was told I was going to be baptized. I was told what we were going to do and say. There didn't seem to be much choice on my part. I just did as I was told to do. The part that sticks with me was after the baptism. And, in considering past events, I wonder if this part shouldn't have come first. We got out of those wet, white gowns and back into our church clothes. We were brought out to stand on the steps going up to the platform and made to answer the big question. "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?" Our minister went down the row. One by one. Every boy and girl answered affirmatively. Then he got to me. I recall not feeling sure about my answer before he asked me. The question and my answer all happened so fast. I recall looking up into our balcony. I saw a picture of the angel at the empty tomb with two people standing there. They were scared. So was I. Then the sun came streaming through the window just after the minister asked his question. I felt I did believe in Jesus. And, I answered as such. It's a moment that will stick with me for all time. 

I was baptized a second time, early in my twenties.
That one would definitely go under the believer's baptism tag, because I chose to do it. I felt I needed it. I had chosen to follow Christ in 1992. Sure, I said I believed in Jesus back when I was 14. But, I hadn't chosen to follow him. Sure, I said I wanted to be a minister when I grew up. But, that's a different choice. You have to choose to follow Jesus to, not just believe in Him. I finally did when I was 20. It was summer, 1996, when I felt this urge to do it again. I was in a place where I felt this need to be cleansed. A purging of bad choices, bad memories and bad experiences needed to happen. I needed a fresh start. I was not acquainted with the song as of yet, but when I would discover it just a couple years later, it would always send me back to that warm Sunday afternoon north of Shelby.
The summer breeze, made ripples on the pond
Rattled through the reeds and the willow trees beyond
Daddy in his good hat, mama in her Sunday dress
Watched with pride, as I stood there in the water up to my chest
And the preacher spoke about the cleansing blood
I sank my toes into that East Tennessee mud

And it was down with the old man, up with the new
Raised to walk in the way of light and truth
I didn't see no angels, just a few saints on the shore
But I felt like a new born baby, cradled up in the arms of the Lord

Writer: Mickey Cates
Copyright: Sony/ATV Cross Keys Publishing
From the album "Everywhere We Go" - Kenny Chesney

I hung to the belief for a long time that baptism was all on me.
It was my choice. It was about me choosing to follow Christ. It was about me deciding to go into the water. That was the only viewpoint I had ever heard or experienced. Until I became a United Methodist. I'm at my very first church serving as a supply pastor and there are these two guys who wanted to get baptized. I knew enough to understand that I really couldn't perform the baptism ritual myself. So, I called up a senior pastor in town and asked him to come out and help me. We took the two guys across the road to this slippery, muddy mess. Barely got in and out of that little pond. Did the deed and sent them home. No sooner did I get in the door at home than the senior pastor called me up. There was a serious tone in his voice. He wanted to know if those men had already been baptized. I was completely clueless as to the need for such intrusion into the personal realm of these men's lives. Why did it matter if they were already baptized? If they wanted to get baptized again, they should do it. Oh no. The senior pastor warned me that United Methodists did not re-baptize people. We really should have found that out before they went into the water. Otherwise, we would have to refer to it as a moment of remembering one's baptism. I was completely mystified and more than a bit disturbed by all of it. This was the first I was hearing of some other explanation for baptism.

The next moment for confronting this issue came when my daughter was baptized. At six months old we prepared to take her into a church service where we would baptize her. That was an important note. We weren't dedicating her. We were baptizing her. Some churches do a dedication of a child. Because, the child cannot choose for him or herself as to whether they want to be baptized yet. The connection between baptism and choice is a difficult one to severe. There is stringent belief in the Protestant community about a person's need to choice to follow Christ. How can a child who isn't old enough to decide for themselves or even speak an intelligible sentence supposed to make that kind of decision? However, I struggled with the idea of baptizing a child and calling them a "child of God". We've all seen families who come and baptize their child and then disappear, never to be seen again. Theologically, there seems to be some loose connection to a "once saved, always saved" mentality. I baptized my kid. God made him/her his child. I've done all I need to do. My kid will go to heaven someday. No, I'm not comfortable with kind of thinking. And, I don't want my child baptized with those kinds of precepts. Of course, it's my choice to have my child baptized and my responsibility as a parent to raise my child to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Whether or not we choose to call it a dedication or a baptism, much of the load is shouldered by the parents.

The following year as I approached Local Pastor's Licensing School, I felt a change was about to happen. In the Christian life we must learn to let go and let God lead the way. So it is as a minister. So it is as a parent. So it is as a Christian. We discussed the Sacraments and Rituals of the Christian faith that week. We, of course, covered baptism from a United Methodist perspective. And, something changed in my heart. I'm not sure why or how, but something about the language of grace surrounding baptism made sense that week. Something about God reaching down and wrapping His arms of love around us in that moment made sense. We don't re-baptize people because a person doesn't need to be made a child of God again. What God has done is enough. When we come to God and are sprinkled or poured or immersed, then God brings us into the family. And, family is for life. That is a moment and an event that does not change. Whether or not we stay with our family or choose to move away from that center, the results do not altar where God has brought us from and where he has placed us. There might be moments where we need to be reminded of our baptism. There are times where we need to be reminded of the new life we were supposed to live. And, so, we "remember our baptism". And, we are glad. Glad that God, in His grace, has made us his child. That he had mercy on us. And, gave us a place where we belong.

So, we come today. On this Baptism of our Lord Sunday, we come with a desire to follow. To do what he did. To live as He lived. To surrender ourselves. To give over our lives and follow as Jesus did follow the Father. We want to hear good words. "This is my Son, with him I am well pleased." If God loves his own Son in the moment of his baptism, won't he love us as well? Won't God be happy with a people who want to follow? Let us cast off our every care and the sin that so easily besets us and follow. And, in choosing to follow, we find grace that leads us to eternal life.

Maybe there's something in the water. That slippery slimy muddy water.
Maybe there's something to this following bit. A life that we can count on.
Maybe there's something about giving up ourselves. We find that our choice is not that important.
God's love and grace have been waiting.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Church's Reputation

Paint the picture you want others to see. 

I bring to you a message from the Fried Chicken & Burritos blog.
This is a message I have preached many times in church of all sizes. 
The subject is serious, to me, and to the church.
I pray you'll listen and receive with an open heart. 

Luke 17:32-33
New International Version (NIV)

32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

This scripture puts me in auto drive and I immediately head back to Genesis 19.
It's impossible for me to hear the words "Lot's wife" and not drift back to the original story.

There is a bit of 'back story' before Genesis 19 we should probably look at first, however.
A conversation between Abraham, our Old Testament father of faith, and his nephew, Lot.

It is Genesis 13 where Abraham and Lot part ways.
Their possessions and people had gotten to large to co-exist in the same place.

 5 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.
8 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
So, they part ways.
For the best description, Abraham heads to the hilly, rocky country.
Lot heads to the lush, green land of Sodom in the Jordan Valley.

And, the scripture reads...
13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
We'll come back to that later.

In Chapter 14, Abraham would save Lot's hide from the king of Sodom.
In Chapter 18, when the message comes that Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be destroyed, Abraham intercedes.
And now, we wind up at Chapter 19, where Jesus makes his reference and the story unfolds.

Sodom was a city notorious for its sin.
 In other terms, that was it's reputation.

Definition of REPUTATION
1 a : overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general
   b : recognition by other people of some characteristic or ability
2: a place in public esteem or regard : good name

Sodom had everything you could ever want and more. Meat, drink, excess, debauchery, sex.
It had an awesome location, resources galore, and an expanding population.
The opportunities to make money there were sobering.

After that conversation in Genesis 13, it was here that Lot decided to make his home and raise his family.
Sodom was a place where the meat market thrived. Lot, of course, brought that livestock business here and soon turned it into an empire. Because of his shrewd business mind, Lot soon became a leader in the community, sitting in the gate of the city, presiding over it's affairs.

I dearly enjoy the video series "That the World May Know", presented by Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson.
The video's host throughout the series in Ray Vander Laan, bible teacher and historian.
He took a group on a walk through Israel in the early 90's when they made the series of videos.
At one location he showed the group the uncovered remains of a city gate, most likely from the Solomonic time period.
It might not be exactly like the gates a few centuries prior at Sodom, but it was enough to understand the culture.

A city gate would have small chambers on the inside walls behind the gates.
It would be here that one would come to meet with an important official to settle a dispute.
The king or one of his representatives might come here to meet with common people.
"I believe this man cheated me in a business deal, what should I do?"
"Lot, I'm think about starting a business. What should be my first steps?"

This became Lot's reputation.
A man you could approach and ask advice of on a subject.
A man you could trust, so they let him be a leader in the community.

I can't help but wonder...
What is the reputation of the town where you live?
The village of _____________
Better yet, what is your reputation?
What do people think of you?
What do they think as they pass by you in the grocery store?
Or, drive by your house during the day?

To take it a little farther, what is the reputation of your church?
The _____________ United Methodist Church.
What do people think about your church in the community? Do you know?
What do they think when they drive by and see your sign out front?
"I've been in that place. You don't want to go in there!"
"Those were some of the nicest people I ever met."
"Man, God is really with those people!" (1st Cor. 14.25)

Now, our attention turns to Lot's wife.
We don't know her name.
All we know from Genesis 19 is that she has been planning the weddings of their two daughters.
And with Lot being such a prominent member of the community, the guest list gets longer & longer.

Put yourself in her shoes for a moment.
As a young woman, dreaming someday of having daughters to raise.
If you were a mother, and all you have thought about and waited for is to plan the wedding of those two girls you have raised.
And, then suddenly, two strange visitors show up and shred those dreams.

Leave town? Leave my home, my way of life?
What about the weddings? What about all my plans?

My wife had to come to terms with the reality of selling our home and moving into the church's parsonage.
I can't even imagine what Lot's wife must feel about leaving the home behind they have raised their family in.

The two angelic messengers lead the way, followed by Lot, then by his wife and two daughters. Their husbands-to-be stay behind, thinking it all so much religious nonsense. As she passes through the slumbering neighborhood, maybe she begins to think it nonsense too.

 After their breathless uphill trek to the small town of Zoar, the morning dawns.
Slats of sun fall across the Jordan Valley, revealing an ominous billow of black clouds roiling toward the lowlands.

And Chapter 19 reads,
24 Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. 
The Lord spoke. He told them not to do it.
Maybe what was back in that town was more important to her.

Those twelve words in the Old Testament paint the only picture we have of Lot’s wife.
Three in the New Testament put a caption beneath it.

“Remember Lot’s wife.”

Entombed in a pillar of salt, her life stands as a monument of warning:
“Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”

 What must her daughters and husband thought?
One second their mother is following them.
The next she is gone.

What kind of example do we set for our children to follow?
Do we realize that their are eyes and ears listening to what we say and what we do.
One of those phrases I heard a lot growing up was, "Do as I say and not as I do."

And, here is where reputation is so important.
People are watching us.
People will decide on whether they want Jesus in their lives based upon what they see in ours.

It came to me as I pondered deeper into this subject...
In the area of Evangelism, what people think of us means everything.
In the area of Persecution, let it roll off your back like water.
That's why it's called persecution. It's their opinion and they can say what they want.
In Evangelism, what they see in us, hear from us, receive from means everything.

Of all the people’s lives that have set the example, that have showed us how to live, and give, and receive, none set the example better than our Lord and Savior.
He etched in our minds an image of tenderness when he invited the children to come to him.
He showed us a picture of compassion when he raised the widow of Nain’s son.
He silhouetted a profile of courage when he stood against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
He sketched a mural of meekness when he rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.
He sculpted the form of a servant when he washed the feet of his disciples.
He drew a portrait of a friend when he surrendered his life for us.
He showed us with graphic realism what it meant to love our enemies when, impaled on a Roman cross, he asked the Father to forgive those who had put him there.

Max Lucado said it best,
"God loves us just the way we are, but He refuses to leave us that way. He wants us to be just like Jesus."

Remember Him.

Remember Lot's wife.

And remember that one day you will be remembered too.
For the things you say.
For the example you set.
For the reputation that goes before you.