Monday, March 31, 2014

Filling in the Blind Spot (Sermon on the Man Born Blind John 9)

    I want to begin this morning by doing something a little different.  In your bulletin this morning on the insert, you will see something quite strange.  On one side, you have all the announcements and stuff, but on the other, you simply have the letter “X” toward one of the ends.  I’d like for you to take that piece of paper and look at the side with the “X” on it.  Hold it out in front of your face at arm’s length with the “X” either on the right or on the left hand side.  Close the eye opposite the “X” so that the X remains on the side with your opened eye.  Now, stare at the center of the page and slowly move the paper toward your face.  Keep staring at the center and move the paper toward you until you see the X disappear.  If you didn’t quite get it, keep practicing.  Eventually, it will happen to you.  The X will be gone, and all you will see is the blank piece of paper.

    What I have just done for you is illustrate something we all have in common.  We all have a blind spot.  Yes, you heard it correctly.  Everyone has a blind spot on each eye.  Furthermore, did you notice that when you were looking at the paper, only the X disappeared?  Did you notice that there wasn’t a hole in your vision?  Do you know why?  Your brain fills in the blanks.  Yes, that’s right.  That wonderful organ laying between your ears literally fills in the blanks and puts into place what it is expecting to see.  Now, you can believe me or not, but if you don’t I suggest you do a bit of research.  Google the blind spot.  Look it up on Youtube.  Talk to your optometrist.  It’s there.  I promise you.  And it is quite startling for those of us who have believed all along that our vision is totally reliable.  But that’s not necessarily true.  You aren’t necessarily seeing what you thought you were seeing.  Your brain is constantly filling in the blanks.

    I think we need to process this reality for just a moment.  I mean, the implications of this can be a bit disconcerting.  What is reality?  What is the nature of reality if our brains are constantly filling in the blanks?  What is the nature of truth?  Can we ever believe that we have the full picture of things if we all have a blind spot?  These are tough questions.  Tough questions indeed.

    And there are many who believe the answer is no.  Many people say, “Well, everyone has a piece of the truth, but no one grasps the whole truth.”  That’s a fashionable thing to say in this day and age.  Usually, they refer to a well-known parable to illustrate this thought.  It’s the parable of the blind men and the elephant.  Perhaps you have heard it before.

    A group of blind men encounter an elephant.  Each wants to figure out what the elephant “looks” like, and so each begins to feel a particular part of the beast.  After each touches a part of the elephant, the blind men hold a conference and argue about what the elephant “looks” like.

    The first argues the beast is like a hose.  He felt the trunk.

    The second argues the elephant is like a spear.  He felt the tip of the tusk.

    The next argues the animal is like a brick wall.  He felt the torso.

    The next argues the beast is like a tree stump.  He felt the leg.

    The last guy argues the elephant is like a rope.  He grabbed the tail.

    The men argue and argue and argue, each convinced he has the truth of what the animal looks like, but none have the total picture.  Each is right.  And each is wrong.  Oftentimes at this point, someone will say this is the way religious people are.  Each religion has a part of the truth–each religion gets some things right about the nature of God, but none grasps the whole truth.

    The argument sounds good on paper.  It seems to grasp the nature of reality.  It seems to level the playing field when it comes to religious pluralism and doesn’t allow anyone to have any sort of superiority when it comes to beliefs.  Right?

    Well, wrong, actually.  I mean, this parable only works if someone else can see the whole elephant.  No one knows the blind guys are both right and wrong unless he can see the whole beast himself.  In other words, how can you say that these folks are all blind unless you yourself can see?  How can you say that everyone has a part of the truth but no one has the whole truth unless you yourself know the whole truth?  Either you have the whole truth or your are just as blind as everyone else.  Which is it?

    I’ve just shown you through a simple illustration, we all have a blind spot.  So guess what the reality is?  We are all blind.  We are all grasping at reality.  Who really knows what the truth is?  Who really knows who God is?

    This would pose a massive problem for us IF, and I want to emphasize that IF for a second, IF we as humans had to try and discover God all on our own.  IF we had to work our way up to God and try to discover the nature of God using our own devises, we would never, ever arrive at any sort of understanding of the Truth.  We would never, ever come to understand who God is and how God cares for us.  We would never be able to grasp the total reality as our brains would keep filling in the blanks putting stuff in that we want to be there instead of what is actually there.  If it were all up to us, this would be the case.

    Fortunately, it is not completely and totally up to us.  Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem.  Since we could not discover the nature of God on our own.  Since we could not grasp the reality of God because we are blind, God came to us to reveal Himself to us.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him.”  Jesus Christ entered the world to help us see.

    Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the 9th chapter of the book of John.  The story begins with a man who was born blind.  The disciples look at this guy and say, “Jesus, who sinned that this man was born blind?  Did he sin or did his parents sin?”

    Remember, at this time, the prominent belief was that if you had some sort of malady, God was punishing you for your sin.  This belief is still strong in some folks today because it is all about works-righteousness.  If you aren’t doing the right things, God will punish you.  If you are doing the right things, God will reward you.  Jesus wasn’t about the works-righteousness narrative.  Jesus operated and still operates by grace.  The disciples haven’t gotten there yet, so Jesus uses this as a teachable moment.

    Jesus responds, “Neither this guy nor his parents sinned, but his blindness is there as an opportunity to show God’s might.”   This is a radical statement.  Illness?  Disability?  Pain?  Suffering?  As opportunity to show God’s might?  Yep.  As Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”  That’s what grace is.  God’s light breaking into the darkness.

    Jesus places mud on the man’s eyes and then tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  The man does, and low and behold, he can see.

    You would think that this would be an occasion for great celebration and joy.  You would think that people would take note and go crazy that someone had experienced such a miraculous healing.  But they do not.  They become skeptical.  You know, there are those who say that ancient people were ignorant and believed in miracles because they didn’t know anything about the laws of nature and physics.  I submit to you exhibit A that they actually did.  People didn’t fall on their knees praising God and celebrating when they saw this guy now able to see.  They were terribly skeptical and started asking all kinds of questions.  Is this really the guy who couldn’t see or is it someone else?  If this is really you, who made your eyes open?  Question after question after question.

    And the guy is dumbfounded.  I mean, really, he’s dumbfounded.  He couldn’t see and now he can, and everyone is asking him 20 questions.  He knows the guy who healed him was Jesus, but he’s never seen Jesus.  He hasn’t seen anyone until this point.  There is no way he would recognize Jesus at all.  All he knows is that Jesus healed him.

    This fact actually gets him into more trouble.  The religious leaders catch wind of what has happened.  Jesus is a threat to these religious leaders.  Jesus is breaking through their facade of works-righteousness.  Jesus is telling folks they don’t have to earn favor from God but that God loves them–even sinners.  When your power is threatened, you react.  The scribes and Pharisees do just this and question the man who was healed, and then the man’s parents, and then the man once more.  You can go through and read this for yourself again if you like later.  What is interesting to me is how they blatantly refuse to see what is right in front of their faces.  Do you remember when I said that everyone had blind spots?

    The Pharisees rant and rave and even say they don’t know where Jesus comes from.  They are blinded by their own position, and in an interesting twist, the guy who was once blind strives to help them see.  “32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

    And what was the Pharisees’ response?  They cast him out.  They threw him out of the synagogue and forbid him to worship with them any longer.  So, let’s look at this for just a second again.  When the blind guy has an encounter with Jesus, Jesus heals him.  And what happens?  Everyone is skeptical of him.  He is questioned thoroughly by the religious authorities, and he is excommunicated.  So much for your life becoming perfect when you have an encounter with Jesus.

    And the guy may have thought just that until his eyes were opened a second time.  The man who was once blind has one more encounter with Jesus.   35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ 36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

    Grace does that.  God in human flesh does that.  When the Word became flesh, the nature of God became known.  God revealed Himself to us.  The truth either opens your eyes, or it makes you want to purposely close them.  You will either embrace the truth and enter into the peace that it gives, or you will go to war with it choosing to remain in your blindness.  But thankfully, because it is all about grace, the truth will not fight against you.  It will wait patiently for you embracing you though you may not embrace it. 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Twas blind, but now I see.  Amen.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Disappointment (It's Not what You Think)

Last night, I went to choir practice. 

We had to have the obligatory litany.  You know, the one that starts off by someone saying, "How is everyone?"

I changed the litany last night by saying, "Disappointed."

Everyone kind of looked at me funny.

I continued, "I'm disappointed that my daughter isn't as good as I am yet."

That elicited a few interesting looks, so I knew I'd better get the story out.

"You see, because the kids had piano lessons today, they (and we) all ate at different times.  My middle child wanted to go play really badly, but she also knew she needed to finish everything on her plate.  Because I wasn't sitting at the table with her, she hatched a plan.  Went into the kitchen to get a drink, but she took her plate with her.  She took it outside and dumped it."

Snickers came from those gathered.

"Ah, but she made a mistake.  A little later, one of her friends needed a bicycle tire aired up, and she asked me to help.  I walked out the door, and I saw ketchup, peas, and chicken laying on the ground.  'Kaylee!' I yelled.  'Come here.'"

She rode her bike up to me.

"How did this chicken, ketchup, and peas get here?"

Kaylee then got the "look."  It's the look every parent knows.  The look of being caught red handed.

"Poor kid hasn't quite figured it out yet," I finished.  "She should have given her plate to the dog, and I would have never known."

"Did you tell her that?" one of the congregation members asked.

"Hell no!" I responded.  "She will hopefully figure that out one day, but for now, I'm disappointed."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Changing Your Assumptions

Many of us who lead in congregations have common things we struggle against.  One of the more insidious struggles is dealing with those who choose other activities over worship on Sunday mornings.  More and more this has become common.

It's not only sporting events (as I confronted in my last couple of posts).  There are many, many other things.  Weekend get aways dominate some people's lives.  There is the desire to escape the daily grind and play as hard during the weekend as one works during the week.  There is the thought that in sitting out in nature one can "commune with God" and "be just as spiritual" as if one were sitting in church worshiping.  There is the thought that "Sunday is my only day to sleep in and rest," so I don't do anything on Sunday mornings.  These are just a few of the things many clergy see happening but feel powerless to confront or change.

My buddy and I talked about this just the other day as we carpooled together heading to a class we both take. 

"I really let folks have it in my newsletter article," he said to me.

I understood exactly where he was coming from as he spoke about folks in his congregation who purposely avoided worship on Sunday morning. 

"I told them that at worship, we encounter God in the Word and Sacraments.  I told them that through worship and hearing that Word, we grow into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  I told them that you don't get such things out in nature or in the ball field or by watching stuff on television at home.  I told them that it is through worship; through confession; through hearing sermons; through taking Holy Communion that our faith is made deeper and stronger."

"I agree," I replied, "but you are making an assumption."

"What's that?" my friend asked.

"You are assuming they want to grow in their faith.  You are assuming their hearts are oriented toward God and that they want a deeper and stronger relationship with Jesus," I said.

A momentary pause. 

"You are right," he said.  "I am."

"Take away that assumption and think about how it changes your preaching and what you write in your newsletter," I said.

"That would change things a lot."

Yes.  It would, and I told my buddy then that this is where I am at in my ministry now.  I have made the assumption for years that everyone who becomes a part of a congregation wants to grow deeper and stronger in their faith.  I have made the assumption that their hearts and minds were oriented toward Jesus and that they longed for a deeper sense of God's mercy and grace.  I made the assumption I simply needed to remind them of their responsibility to be at worship and to do what Christ calls us to do.

Growing up I was always told not to assume anything because it makes an "ASS" out of "U" and "ME."

What if there are those who indeed want to grow stronger in their faith in Jesus but there are many more whose hearts and minds are not oriented toward God?  What if there are indeed those in the church who know that it is in worship that we encounter the living God, but there are just as many others (probably a whole lot more) who do not realize this?  How does one go about orienting their hearts toward God?  How does one go about changing their minds?

I think I've learned a hard, hard lesson.

You can't.  I can't.  There is no possible way of bringing such folks around.  There is no technique to use.  There is no program to initiate.  There is no technology which will manage it.

There is only one thing that can orientate a person's heart and mind toward God.

God Himself.

"No one says 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." St. Paul once wrote.  (1 Corinthians)

And one comes to belief in Jesus by hearing the Word--the Word of grace--the Word of the gospel.  And not the social gospel.  Not the prosperity gospel.  Not the self-righteousness gospel.  Those are not the gospel.

I am speaking of the gospel that St. Paul waxed eloquently on and said, "There is no other gospel!"  The gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected. 

Only this changes hearts and minds.  Only this.

If you wondered why John 3:16-17 (the gospel in a nut shell) has appeared so often in my sermons, now you know.  I've changed my assumptions.  We'll just see what happens next.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Punishing Children for what Parents Decide

In my sermon on Sunday, I added a bit of an ad lib in our second service.

When speaking about the false idols we pursue in society and their unforgiving nature, I brought up the subject of kids' sports.  I know I am tackling one of the major false idols in our society right now.  Kids' select baseball, volleyball, and basketball teams have exerted an amazing reach in the past decade or so.  Where once Sunday mornings were reserved for worship, kids' athletics has moved in to offer its own form of worship.

And it is demonic.

Yes, I used that terminology, and perhaps I have made you stop reading right there.  I offer no apologies, but I do ask for a moment to convince you of my argument.

Sunday morning, in my ad lib, I basically said the following:

These false idols are completely unforgiving.  They will punish you and eat you alive.  Think about kids' sports.  What happens if a parent says, "I want to take my kids to church or to another activity."  How does the coach respond?  Is he or she forgiving?  No.  They basically say, "Well, your kid will lose his/her starting position and I don't know if he/she will get it back."  There is punishment.  Now, think about how I react when you tell me you are going to miss church.  Do I punish you or make you feel badly?  The false god is unforgiving.

I have heard such commentary about how missing a game or tournament is dealt with.  The stories are all the same.  This is not the exception; this is the rule.

Now, let me ask you: when actually thinking--thinking, mind you--about this particular methodology, what parent would expose his or her children to an activity that purposely and intentionally punishes a child for a decision a parent makes?  What parent would involve his or her kid in an activity where someone holds a parent hostage--by threatening to emotionally hurt that parent's child by benching him/her--if that parent does not meet the coach's demands? 

Don't respond for just a second.  Read those questions again and think about them.  For those parents who involve your kids in such activities, see the demands of sports in a different light.  Perhaps you have never thought about what is happening in this fashion.  Perhaps you just went along with the flow and thought you were doing the right thing.  Maybe you have convinced yourself that you are doing the right thing.  Maybe you have convinced yourself that by keeping your kids in these activities they will develop character and honesty and goodwill toward others.  These are some of the promises being made to you.

But look at what these idols are demanding of you. 

They demand your time.
They demand your money.
They demand your energy.
They demand your child.

You are sacrificing all of these things.
And what are you getting in return?

Are you finding yourself satisfied?  Fulfilled?  At peace?

Or are you finding yourself harried, frenzied, stretched thin with your emotion, time, and budget?

Most folks I run into fall squarely in that second category.

And it would be easy for me to tell you to just stop, but I know that you can't just stop.  I know that you feel trapped.  I know that you don't see any way out. 

But there is grace.  There is a real God who desperately is seeking to bring you satisfaction, fulfillment, and peace.  He took on human flesh and lived among us and died for us so that we may have such things.  He showed us a tremendous love--a love that cost Him His life: and He does not demand anything of us in return.

He does not demand your time.
He does not demand your energy.
He does not demand your money.
He does not demand your children.
He does not punish your children for something you do.

He loves you and then gives you the choice to return that love.
And He forgives you when you don't.

And when you are captured by this love--this grace.  You find that peace and fulfillment you were seeking through all those other things.

And now, I won't lie, there is pain.  There is pain when you begin rejecting all the false gods and idols.  First, they raise a ruckus and throw all sorts of guilt your way.  They try to bring you back to worship them, and their appeal is tremendous.  (Yes, I speak from experience.  Even as a pastor.  My idols were just different.)  They then try to scare the crap out of you and threaten you with all sorts of trial and tribulation.  They use friends and family to draw you back.  And it hurts.  It hurts because you truly wonder if those moments of satisfaction and fulfillment will still be around. 

The answer is: yes.  They are.  And they are richer, deeper, and much more fulfilling.  For they come from an eternal source.  The pain turns into the peace which passes all understanding.

I know that you may not believe this.  I know many will probably say, "I can handle what is going on.  I understand my strengths and limitations.  These things don't own me.  I am in control of my life, and I could stop anytime I want.  My kids' sports don't control or own me."  And you will continue to involve yourself and your kids in them.

My objective is not to dissuade you from involving your kids in sports.  Mine will be involved in them as well--just like I was.  My objective is to get you to think about whether or not those sports have become idols--false gods and whether or not they do indeed have a hold on you and your family.  You will have to decide that for yourself.

Just remember, if you find yourself tired, burned out, hurting, and at the end of your rope--there is One to turn to who offers healing.  He will not disappoint.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Seeking Fulfillment

    Recently, I had an interesting discussion on an internet message board.  One of the frequent posters had started a thread saying he had become an agnostic.  What was his reason?  He said that he had become frustrated with the way some Christians were acting.  He did not appreciate the things they were saying and doing and because they were not living up to the way he thought Christians should act, he questioned the existence of God.

    Internet message boards are not great places for interaction in such matters.  Usually, there’s a whole lot of underlying emotion going on in people, and they are apt to read your responses wrongly.  In fact, I told the guy that I would rather discuss this matter with him over a few cold beverages, but I did push him a little bit.  In as tactful of a manner as I could think of, I asked him, “Who did you put your faith in?  Did you put your faith in God or in people?”

    It’s an important question, I think.  I mean, I’ve run across this kind of thing numerous times.  I’ve had people tell me they’ve quit coming to worship because of something someone else said or did.  I’ve had people tell me they don’t attend church at all because the church is full of hypocrites.  Oftentimes in congregations, personalities come into conflict; people don’t like decisions that are made; people don’t like a particular theological stance a pastor takes, and the end result is nearly always the same–they either stop giving or stop attending.  They generally give the same sort of reason for their actions: I didn’t like what those folks did.

    I ask again this morning, “What was your faith in?  Was it in God or in people?”

    I mean, there is no mystery that people are sinful.  People are not perfect.  People will always let you down.  Let me say that again: people will always let you down.  That’s not a comfortable thing for me to say while standing up here before you this morning because I have to face the fact that I am a person.  I have to face the fact that when I look in the mirror, the person staring back at me has let people down.  I have not been perfect.  I have not always been there when people want me there.  I have not always made the best decisions.  I have not always agreed with others and told them what they wanted me to say.  I’ve missed appointments.  I’ve missed calling people.  I’ve allowed other pursuits to take me away from responsibilities at times.  If we are honest with ourselves, we have to say the same thing about ourselves as well.  If you put your faith in people, you will end up hurt.  You will end up angry.  You will end up frustrated and upset.  People are fallible, sinful beings.  This is just a fact of life.

    To take this further, we must ask: then what can you put your faith in?  Can you put your faith in your job?  In sports?  In money?  In acquiring possessions?  In your family?  In your children?  In the government?  In technology?  In science?  In your hobbies?

    Here’s a dirty little secret that no one really talks about.  You can certainly try to put your faith in these things.  You can certainly become very involved in these things.  All of them in some way, shape, or form offer you a promise of fulfillment.  All of them offer you the promise of contentment and happiness.  But stop and think about these things for a moment.  If you are involved or over-involved in such matters, have you found fulfillment?  Have you found peace deep within yourself?  I’m pretty certain I can say that you haven’t.  Why?

    Because all of these things will never stop placing demands on you.  They will actually try, in the long run, to consume you.  They will disappoint you.  They will frustrate you.  They will tease you and ask for investment after investment after investment only to suck you completely dry and leave you wanting more.  That is the cold, hard fact.  Everything that we seek satisfaction in and put our faith in will demand more and more of our worship only to leave us highly unsatisfied and empty.

    You may not believe me, but let me share with you something a very, very successful author once wrote.  Maybe you know the name David Foster Wallace– he was not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination.  He rose to fame by writing and was invited to speak at numerous events.  Unfortunately, he eventually killed himself.  Shortly before he committed suicide, he gave a commencement address at  Kenyon College, and he made this statement, “Everybody worships.  The only choice we get is what to worship, and the compelling reason to maybe choosing some sort of God or spiritual type thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.  If you choose to worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough.  Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age starts showing you will die a thousand million deaths before they finally grieve you.  Worship power and you will end up feeling weak and afraid and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect being seen as smart and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud always on the verge of being found out.  But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is they are unconscious.  They are default settings.”

    That last statement is a bit disconcerting, yet, I think true.  It is our default setting to look to such things to worship: to look to money, sports, people, possessions and other such things for our worship.  In the Church, we call this original sin–seeking to depend upon ourselves to be god.  And the result is always the same: emptiness.

    Jesus offers us another path.  In our Gospel lesson, He has an encounter with a Samaritan woman at a water well.  Now, Jesus actually does some quite amazing things in this encounter.  First, He overcomes some major cultural barriers.  No Jewish man would ever be caught talking to a woman by himself.  No Jewish man would ever be caught talking to a Samaritan because they were considered enemies.  No Jewish man would ever dare to use a Samaritan’s cup or bucket to drink out of because that would mean defiling one’s self.  Yet, here is Jesus doing all of those things with this woman.  It surprises her greatly. 

    But there is a reason for Jesus acting in this manner.  We know that Jesus came into this world for a reason.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.”  Jesus is reconciling the world to God–even the world that was not a part of Judaism.  Jesus wanted to offer this woman salvation, and He had to crash through all these barriers to do so.  If he would have acted as most Jews acted toward Samaritans, the woman would have rejected Him outright.  Therefore, Jesus leads with a very compassionate attitude.

    The woman is taken aback, “How is it that you, a Jew ask me for a drink?”

    Jesus knows He has an in.  He knows He has shocked this woman and piqued her curiosity.  He delivers a very important statement, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

    If you knew the gift of God...what is the gift of God?  Well, it’s grace.  It’s Jesus.  It’s God’s reconciliation of the world through Jesus.  But the woman doesn’t know that just yet.  She’s still having to work through things.  Jesus still has to get her to the point where she will get this and understand it.

    “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?” the woman asks.  Clearly, she doesn’t get it yet.  She’s still got her mind set on earthly things.

    Jesus continues, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

    This really gets the woman’s attention.  “Give me this water!” she says.  But she still doesn’t get it.  She thinks this is all about physical thirst, but Jesus is going deeper.

    “Go call your husband,” Jesus replies.

    “I have no husband,” the woman retorts.

    But Jesus doesn’t let this pass.  He is now getting to the heart of the matter.  “You are correct in saying that you have no husband,” Jesus says, “for you have had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.”

    The woman is taken aback by this, “Sir, I know you are a prophet.”

    Let’s stop here a moment because Jesus is really confronting this woman’s attempt to get fulfillment.  Some want to argue that this woman is doing nothing wrong, but living with a man who she is not married to immediately makes her a social outcast.  She would have been shunned by the fact that she had five husbands and was now shacking up.  There is a reason she is coming to the well at noon instead of early in the day like everyone else would have done.  She doesn’t want to deal with the cross ways looks that everyone else gives her.  She doesn’t want to see them snickering at her.  She comes to the well when no one else is around to avoid all that.  Fortunately, she runs into Jesus.

    The woman had spent her life seeking fulfillment through her relationships with men.  This is where she thought she would find fulfillment and satisfaction, but all it led her to was relationship failure after relationship failure.  It led her to shack up with another man before marriage.  It led her to become an outcast and distrustful of everyone else in her village.  Jesus confronts her on this in a loving, compassionate way.  This woman was worshiping the wrong things.  And Jesus diligently leads her to true worship.

     “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

    If you knew the gift of God and who is speaking to you.  The woman now knows the gift of God.  She now knows who is speaking to her.  And her life becomes transformed.  Her life is changed to the point where once she was outcast and afraid of others.  She once hid from others and avoided them.  But, after encountering Jesus and His grace, she runs to tell them.  She exposes herself, warts and all, to those around her and invites them to be transformed by the gospel as well.  Her fulfillment is so complete after meeting Jesus and knowing the gift of God that she no longer allows the emptiness and shame in her life to dominate.  She is at peace with herself.  She can look at those who once scorned her and be in relationship to them.

    Such was the transformation when she came to know the gift of God.  It transformed her.  If you knew the gift of God, it would transform you as well.  Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Moral Superiority and Social Media

As I was reading a particular Facebook post yesterday, it occurred to me to read said post through the eyes of a complete stranger who just happened upon the conversation.  I was struck by how I read the post with such eyes--even if those eyes were a sort of guess.

I thought to myself, "Man, this poster and several of those who are responding sure do come across as holier-than-thou."  Of a possibly more fascinating note, the particular poster and many of those who responded to the post oftentimes decry "fundamentalist" Christians who believe they are somehow more morally superior than others.  Yet, I do not believe they would see themselves as being morally superior by their own actions or words.

Yet, they were.  No doubt in my mind.  And it got me thinking--particularly about many of my own posts and blogs.  And I shuddered.

I mean, I don't think, I KNOW, that many of my postings and blog posts come across in exactly the same way.  I know that of the several times I've posted on message boards, I've come across in exactly the same way.  There is no doubt in my mind I have come across thinking I am morally and intellectually superior than others.

I apologize.  I won't say it wasn't intentional, because as I think back, I am sure it was.  I wanted folks to think I was right.  I wanted folks to think I was intelligent.  I wanted folks to think that I had moral insight and superiority.  There was and still probably is a lack of humility on my part.  Again, I apologize.

But please don't think that I am backing off of any claims of truth that I have made.  I do not believe a person can live without making some sort of truth claim.  I mean, if no one makes truth claims, then all really and truly is relative.  All really and truly is socially constructed, and right and wrong is simply a matter of what society chooses it to be at any given moment in history.  If a society decides killing off a particular race or religious group is okay, there is nothing to appeal to other than brute force to stop such behavior--unless there is a truth claim honoring the basic human dignity of another.

Truth claims are important to make.   They govern our behavior, but the problem as I see it with much of social media and even blogging is a lack of humility when posting about our truth claims.  I've done it.  Someone will probably think I am doing it now.  Maybe I am.  I hope not.  I don't feel morally superior or intellectually superior to anyone while writing this post.  In fact, if we were sitting down visiting with one another, I think you would discover that very quickly.

But, we are not sitting down talking to one another.  You are reading this post.  I am writing it.  We are separated by a huge gulf.  Instead of seeing my facial expressions, reading my body language, and hearing the inflection in my voice, your brain is left to add all that stuff in.  Depending upon your mood, how you understand my stance, and your assumptions about my character, you will read this post perhaps in a very different manner than I personally intended.

This is one of the major problems with social media.  Even though it claims to connect us, it only does so superficially, and I have yet to figure out how to make truth claims without coming across as morally or intellectually superior.

I do know, in the deepest part of my heart, that coming across with any kind of moral superiority or intellectual superiority is contrary to the Gospel.  For if we are indeed saved by grace, then we cannot feel morally or intellectually superior to another.  It's an impossibility.  We know we cannot save ourselves by our morality or our intellect.  We are helpless to do so.  We are totally and completely dependent upon God for salvation.  This leads directly to humility, but that humility is so, so difficult to express through words on a screen--140 characters on Twitter--even in the short amount of space in this blog post.  Even in large tomes read over e-readers or on old-fashioned paper humility is hard to see.

I am not sure what the answer really is.  In this digital age with the entrapment of social media, I wonder if we are left to divide ourselves further and alienate one another more and more because of an inability to come across humbly AND the way our brains intentionally fill in information that cannot be seen.  I wonder if it is possible to entertain claims of truth over social media without coming across as morally and intellectually superior.  I just don't know.

It is my hope, after seeing the things that I saw, that somehow, my words presented on Facebook and through blogging may express my convictions without coming across as haughty.  My apologies if they do. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

And Who is My Neighbor?

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 While camping at my property in Rocksprings this past Spring Break, I stumbled upon a little bit of an unfortunate circumstance.  My truck battery died.  Completely.  Utterly.

This wouldn't have normally been a bad thing.  I mean, I've got one of those portable jumper things.  I just happened to have left it at home.  I could easily call for help, but there is VERY limited cell phone service and I knew virtually no one. 


Things have a way of working out.  Earlier in the day my truck battery died, I met a group of guys who own property out there as well.  They gave me their names and numbers.

Earlier that day, my wife had placed her purse on the trailer I had towed out there.  For some reason, at intervals, the spot where she placed her purse received cell phone service.  It wasn't constant, but it was there.

I placed my cell phone in exactly that spot and waited until I saw there was signal.  The signal maintained for just long enough for me to make a few phone calls.  People called people, and before I knew it, I had numerous offers of help.

At 9 p.m. that evening, one of the folks who lives out near my property came driving up the road in his Mule (the Kawasaki kind).  He had a generator and battery charger.

"I understand you need help," he said.

I'd never met the guy.  He'd driven by my place earlier and seen my kids and I out playing.  He was afraid they were in the tent asleep and that he'd wake them.  (They were in San Antonio with their grandparents in a much warmer situation than I was.)

His help was much appreciated.  He cranked up his generator, plugged in his battery charger, and was talked and waited for the battery to charge.  Of course, he eventually found out I was a pastor.

"I'm not much of a church goer.  I drink.  I smoke.  I cuss.  I've done a few things that aren't to be proud of.  Maybe I'm not too good of a person."

Me: Let me tell you what I think.  I'm really not trying to butter you up or anything, but it seems to me Jesus had a whole lot less to say about those kind of things, but He did have a lot to say about dropping everything and helping out a neighbor who was in need.  You've come out here in the middle of the night to help out a complete stranger, and in my book, that carries a lot more weight than those other things.

"Hmm.  I think you are right about that."

I know I am, but that's beside the point.  The point is I was this guy's neighbor, and he responded when I was in need.  No questions.  No asking for payment or anything from me.  He simply was doing the right thing.

Would I do the same?

I hope.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

At What Point...

Do we become slaves to technology?

And sports?

And money?

And possessions?

And activities?

And busy-ness?

And pleasure?

And social media?

And blogging?

Some might go so far as to say that such things are actually modern day idols--false gods.

I've just come off a week of Spring Break.  I didn't blog at all.  Got back to the office yesterday and had a class to attend.  Normally, I would have rushed to put together a blog post.  "If you don't keep it up, people won't read."  Such was the advice I heard repeatedly to be a "successful" blog.

But I was different after coming back from Spring Break.  Something happened to me while I was gone.

I spent a couple of days on a piece of property my wife and I bought in Rocksprings, TX.  The land is completely raw.  No electricity.  No telephone.  No running water.  Nothing.  Cell phone signal?  At intervals--depending upon where you stood and how the wind was blowing--literally.  No internet through the phone.  No ability to check Facebook or blog.  No way to stay connected to the outside world.

Somewhat of a detox occurred.  It was quite heavenly.

No.  I didn't hear God's voice telling me to stop using Facebook or quit blogging.  I didn't see a vision of a technology free world where people actually talked to one another instead of spending time glued to cell phone screens.  Nothing of the sort.

In fact, all I heard was nothing.  No airplanes.  Few vehicles. Not even a coyote at night.  Quiet.  Stillness.

Do you want to get away?

Yeah.  I did.

And I started to realize just how much time I spent on Facebook.  I started to realize how much time I spent blogging.  I started to realize these places were places I was trying to find some sort of worth.  (How many hits did your blog get today?  How many likes did you get on Facebook?)  Does it matter?

Not in the big scheme of things.  Such idols demand a lot and offer little in return.  They beckon with promises of fame and fulfillment, but they never deliver. 

Only One gives such fulfillment.  Not these modern day idols.  Only One isn't a false god. 


I'm not going to stop blogging, but I will be doing less of it. 

I'm not going to stop using Facebook, but I'm not checking it numerous times a day.

Technology and social media won't bring members to the church.  It's not likely going to influence many people to become Christian.  It's more likely to suck you in and dominate your life.  It had a grip on mine.  Perhaps it's trying to wrap its tentacles around me once more.

No thank you.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

You are More than Dust: Ash Wednesday Sermon

How do you measure your worth?
Think about this question for just a moment or two.
How do you measure your worth?
Do you immediately think about your bank account?
Do you immediately think about your house and the items in it?
Do you immediately think about your family; your wife; your children?
Do you immediately think about yourself; your personhood; and your rights?
Do you think about that sign that was around for many, many years that said, “I know I’m somebody ‘cause God don’t make no junk!”
How do you measure your worth?
Do you think about the value you have to the company you work for?
Do you think about the history of your family and how deep your family’s roots run here or wherever you hail from?
Do you think about the things you have accomplished in life?  The trophies both real and imagined that you have gathered?
Do you think about the work you have done to help others?
What is your value?  Is it possible to measure?
On the one hand there are those who will tell you that you are more precious than anything in the world.  They will tell you that your value is tremendous.  They will tell you that you have certain rights, and that no one can take those rights away from you.  Most of us who grew up here in the U.S. have been told this over and over and over again.
But then, we fly straight into reality, and reality fails to match what we have been told.  Do you think I am making a false claim?  Do you think I am standing up here this evening to tell you lies?  “Prove it to me!” you may want to shout!  “Prove to me that I’m not valuable like I’ve been told.”
Fine.  I will, but please don’t shoot the messenger.
If you think you are so valuable, try to sway the next election on your own.  See if your vote really does make a difference.
If you think you are so valuable, go apply for a job, but try to do so without appealing to any degree you have or any experience you have.  Try getting that job simply because you are you.
If you think you are so valuable, dress in rags and then try to go to any business around and beg for a morsel to eat telling folks you are unable to pay.
If you think you are so valuable, go tell someone they are completely wrong in how they live their lives and that they should do what you tell them to do because, after all, you are valuable, and folks should listen to you.
If you think you are so valuable, try to contemplate just who will remember you 200 years from now.  Try to contemplate whether or not you will simply be a name on a gravestone or a name on a family tree.  Who will remember you after that amount of time has passed?
What gives you value?
My God, how we want to be valued.  We want to leave our mark.  We want others to see our accomplishments–to be more than just a name.  We work and we slave.  We give up our time.  We live vicariously through our children and grandchildren.  We invest in our families; in our work; we run our selves frazzled.  And for what?  What difference do we really make? 
The end result is much the same for many of us: stress, burnout, worry, fear of losing our jobs, our homes, our possessions, and our freedoms.  We become obsessed with doing everything, seeing everything, having everything or making sure our kids can have all the things we never did.  And all it ever earns us is a hole in the ground.  Six feet deep and three feet wide.  Or it earns us an urn full of ashes.  Eight inches by ten inches to be placed on a mantle and forgotten or simply scattered around.
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
This is the reality each and every one of us face.  All our work.  All our striving after value.  All our attempts to make ourselves shine and look good.  All our attempts to have bigger houses and faster cars and multiple bank accounts and stock portfolios end in one thing: death.
And what will we be worth then?  What will our value be at that moment?
As your pastor, I wrestle with such things.  I am caught in a very vicarious position.  I know my job is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I know my job is to lead a people in being faithful to God.  To do this job faithfully means that sometimes a congregation will grow and sometimes it will not.  Sometimes people will accept the words I preach and sometimes they will not.  I know this, but it is difficult to put such a thing into practice?
I’ll tell you why.  Because I like to be liked.  I don’t like it when people disagree with me.  I don’t like it when people say that I am wrong or that my leadership needs tweaking.  I don’t like it when people stop attending church for one reason or another.  I want everyone to come and get a long and be happy.  I want a congregation to keep growing and growing and growing and adding programs and staff.  I know that oftentimes pastors are not judged on their faithfulness but on whether or not worship attendance keeps going up and whether or not offerings continue to be at a level where they keep the bills paid.  I know that pastors who are considered successful have huge followings on Facebook and on their blogs and they write books and they are invited to give lectures at congregations and conventions.  These are the pastors who have everything.  They are very much valued.  And if any of these things don’t happen, or if worship attendance declines or offerings slip, the easiest thing for a congregation to do is simply say, “It’s the pastor’s fault.”
I know this.  I know it very, very well.  And for the longest time, I thought it was my job to make a congregation grow.  I thought it was my job to make a congregation get along.  I thought it was my job to bring people in and make them stay.  My worth was tied to worship attendance and offering and seeing people in church on Sunday morning.
And I was stressed.  And I burned out.  And I got depressed.  And I’ve had to heal.
During Thanksgiving, my family and I traveled up to Arkansas to see my 94 year old grandfather.  He was extremely excited to see us, and we spent hours just sitting and talking.  Grandpa shared the stories of his time serving as a pastor in mostly rural congregations.  At no time did he ever preach at a mega-church or have several hundreds in worship.  But that didn’t seem to bother him.  In fact, I know it didn’t bother him because at a particularly crucial junction in our visit, Grandpa looked at me and said, “I didn’t accomplish much in the eyes of the world, but the Lord and I are on pretty good terms.”
And my eyes became teary.
In one fell swoop, Grandpa had cut me to the core and helped me see what was really important as a person of faith.  Not worship attendance.  Not building up a huge church.  Not making people get along.  None of these things impacted my value.  None.  The value I have comes from the Lord.
The value we all have comes from the Lord.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.”
You are more than dust.  You are a child of God.  Turn to Him and you will truly find out how precious you really are.  You will understand why St. Paul writes, “...we are alive; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”  For when you realize God has worked through Jesus Christ to redeem you, you will know that you have all you need. Amen.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

No, Dammit, That's Not How God Works!

It's four hours I will not soon forget.

The County Sheriff is a member of my congregation, and he asked me to visit a local family who suffered a tragic loss.  In a small community like the one I am a part of, when tragedy strikes, everyone is affected.  When that tragedy involves horrific death and suspected murder, folks get sent reeling--especially in a place where "that kind of stuff doesn't happen."

As the pastor of the only congregation within a radius of 11 miles, essentially, I am the community pastor--not just the pastor of St. John Lutheran Church.  Sure, not everyone in the community is a member of my congregation, but I serve this community, and we are charged with reaching out into this community to deal with its needs.

The Sheriff sensed a need, and he asked me to go.

I went.

Making cold calls to a stranger's home is not the most comfortable thing in the world.  You never really know how you will be welcomed--or not welcomed for that matter.  Fortunately, the folks in this case were very receptive.  They had many within our community reach out to them during their time of trial.  At first, I was just one more in a long line.

But I am a pastor.  In times like these, whether or not I like it, I represent God.  I'm a messenger.  That can make a big difference.

Working through grief is an exhaustive process.  Working through anger and frustration and pain is an exhausting process, but you have to stick with it.  You can't just spend 15 minutes, tell folks we're thinking of you, offer further assistance if they need it, say a quick prayer and walk out the door thinking you've really dealt with things.  To really make any kind of impact, you've got to stay.

And I did.  The process was overwhelming at times, but there was a lot to work through.

The family was not only dealing with the grief of losing their loved one, but there was more.  Much, much more.  This death was not the only tragedy experienced.  A son/grandson had died while drinking and driving.  Years before rape had happened.  All of these wounds were touched by the tragic events of a few nights before.  Accumulated guilt, anger, sadness, and frustration bubbled--no, erupted--while I was there.

It didn't bother me to be a part of such an event.  Sometimes, the doctor has to lance the boil to get the infection out.  Only then, can healing salve be administered.

"I've spent the last two years angry with God.  I've cussed Him.  I was told He made my son die so that I would get my life straight.  Is that right?"

I hate it when folks say such things.

Don't get me wrong.  I know where it comes from.  I know in the Older Testament, there are numerous occasions of God punishing people for their sins.  There are numerous instances of death and despair and illness falling upon folks who disobeyed God's commands.  David had his son die.  The Israelites had serpents sent among them to bite them.  The ground opened up and swallowed those who sought to lead a rebellion against Moses.  And so on and so forth.  In the Newer Book, there is even a scene of God's vengeance poured out against Ananias and Sapphira.  One can create this image of God who punishes us for our sins and indeed sends us messages of death so that we get our lives straight.  I understand folks who make sense out of tragedy by saying such things, but this is not the narrative revealed through Jesus Christ.

"No," I replied.  "God didn't kill your son to get your attention so that you would become a better person.  God doesn't operate that way anymore."

Oh, the conversation wound around more and more.

"We are no longer under the discipline of the Law.  Mind you, the Law is still in effect, but we are no longer under its discipline."

"God was not responsible for your son's death.  The reason your son is dead is he drank, drove into oncoming traffic and hit an 18 wheeler."

"So, he's responsible for his own death?"

"It may sound harsh to say it, but yes.  I have to tell the truth.  Just like God is not responsible for your sister's death.  The person who killed her is."

"God does not make us suffer so that we 'get our lives together.'  God does not say, 'Get your stuff together or else you will go to hell.'  God says, 'I love you.  I died for you.  Now, become obedient to me.'  God's love always comes first.  He loves you now.  He always has."

"Thank you.  For the last two years, I've hated God."

"I bet you have.  But He's never hated you."

Enough said.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

How Do You Know Christianity is True?

    A brilliant magician was performing on an ocean liner. But every time he did a trick, the Captain's parrot would yell, "It's a trick. He's a phony. That's not magic." Then one evening during a storm, the ship sank while the magician was performing. The parrot and the magician ended up in the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other, neither saying a word to the other. Finally the parrot said, "OK, I give up. What did you do with the ship?"

    Funny enough, the parrot had a problem.  The parrot couldn’t distinguish between what was real and what was fantasy.  The parrot couldn’t distinguish between what was truly an act and the tragedy that had befallen the ship.  Sometimes, I wonder if we don’t have the same problem.  Why do I say that?

    How do you know Christianity is true?

    Perhaps you have never thought about that question.  Perhaps you have simply assumed its truth as something taught to you by your parents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, or other such authority figures.  Perhaps you have simply been raised as a Christian and so the question has never bothered you.  Perhaps you simply haven’t taken or haven’t had the time to deeply reflect upon this faith you have come to participate in this morning.  Perhaps you are one of those sitting out there who has had such doubts as you have run into more and more people who have become a part of the fastest growing religious group in our nation: the nones–but you have been afraid to voice your doubts for fear that someone will be disappointed in you or that someone will automatically condemn you to hell.  The reasons may be many and varied, but this morning I want to put it front and center in our conversation. 

    How do you know Christianity is true?

    On the one hand, you may simply answer: I know it is true because I have felt a deep, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  I know it’s true because it helps me order my life; it makes everything fit; or as C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  For some of us, the answer is as plain as this.  Yet, in our world today, this point of view is often rebutted by someone saying, “Well, that’s fine for you.  What is truth for you isn’t necessarily truth for me.  What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for me.  Truth is relative.”

    And their rebuttal works...IF, if mind you, truth is simply something that works.  If truth is simply a way of making sense of the world, then there are myriads of ways of making sense out of life.  Who is to say which one is right and which one is wrong?  But what if truth isn’t simply something that works?  What if truth isn’t just something that gives a person a frame of reference?  I mean, we do know that certain frames of reference are better than others, do we not?  We know that Mother Teresa’s way of looking at the world is better than those who flew their planes into the world trade centers, do we not?   We know the liberties we experience in this nation are better than the brutality experienced by people in dictatorships, do we not?  If we begin making such claims, then we are appealing to a higher truth. 

    And how do we come to know that higher truth?  How do we know we simply haven’t created it on our own?  Let’s try to work our way through this just a little bit this morning.  Mind you, I don’t quite to pin everything down in 15 minutes or so, but I want to begin making a case for the truth of Christianity–a truth you can understand and begin to share with those who offer their doubts.

    We will begin with the opening statement of our second lesson this morning from 2 Peter chapter 1 verse 16, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

    Stop right here a moment and process this statement.  The author of this book, who Christian tradition attributes to St. Peter is blunt.  “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Apparently, there were those who were spreading this thought regarding Christianity.  There were those who believed that the whole shebang was completely and totally made up.  There are those who adamantly say this about Christianity today, so really, as the Church, we are not facing anything we haven’t faced before.  Peter doesn’t mince words, he draws a line in the sand and says, “Nope.  This isn’t some kind of cleverly devised myth.”  What does he appeal to next?

    Again, listen to this carefully, “we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.  19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.”

    We were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ majesty.  We heard the voice on the mountaintop.  We were there watching this all transpire. 

    Now, we need to deviate for just a moment.  Some scholars have often said that the way the Bible developed is that over a span of decades, people started telling stories.  Those stories became embellished as folks told of Jesus’ words and deeds.  As time passed, it was thought it would be a good idea to write the stories down and what got written down was the embellished tales and not any sort of historical truth.  The myth was written; the truth was lost.  This train of thought assumes a couple of things: it assumes that the stories about Jesus were written long after his original followers had died off, and it assumes there were no checks and balances going on in the early Christian movement.  It assumes that the eyewitness testimony of the disciples was less important than the embellishment.  I think their assumptions are wrong.  I’m not the only one.  Why is this important?

    As people we are geared to accept and trust the eyewitness accounts of people–unless we have a good reason to distrust those accounts.  What do I mean by that?  Well, let’s say you are having dinner one evening with your significant other.  You arrive at a restaurant and are making pleasant conversation.  Your significant other begins telling you about her day.  She says, “I had a very productive day.  I went to work and managed to handle several important cases in a matter of hours.  I counseled a couple of junior employees and they are better equipped to handle their jobs.  After work, I enjoyed a brisk work out at the gym and am feeling fantastic.”

    Would you then look at your significant other and say, “Sounds interesting, but do you have any evidence to back your assertions up?”

    How do you think the rest of your evening is going to go? 

    We are programmed to accept eyewitness testimony unless we have a good reason to distrust it–the person who tells us is found to be a liar; we discover evidence to the contrary; we find others who testify a different set of events. 

    2 Peter 1:16 is an intriguing piece of scripture as it claims to be eyewitness testimony to the transfiguration.  Peter claims to have been there, seen that, and now we have to decide whether or not to trust the account.  “We did not follow any cleverly devised myths.”

    Let me take just a moment to say a word about this before trying to bring everything together.  We know how many world religions got their start.  We know what most of them teach.  Islam started when the Muhammed wrote down the Koran.  Buddhism started when Siddartha Guatama wrote down the eight fold path.  Mormonism started with Joseph Smith wrote down some intranslatable tablets.  In every one of these religions, the founders wrote down what it means to get into God’s good graces.  In every one of these religions, it’s about what I have to do to attain salvation.  In every one of the world’s major religions, it is up to us as humans to appease God by our actions and our beliefs.  In every one of the world’s other major religions, God asks for obedience before showing mercy.  Each of the religions is cleverly devised to show this axiom.  Only Christianity is different.  Only Christianity begins with God coming down and bestowing grace and then asking us for obedience.  Only Christianity has God dying for the sake of humanity, offering us His love, and then asking for obedience.  One could call this clever, but one could also say this represents a radical departure from human understanding.  One could say this represents a tectonic shift in an understanding about God and God’s love.  And it all centers around Jesus.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.

    How do we know this to be true?  First off, it’s based on eyewitness testimony, and I do not think we have had anything which has shown this testimony to be absolutely untrustworthy.  Second, Christianity presents such a radical departure from the norm, that it could not have been devised by human thought, but it had to come from outside of ourselves.  It is the only faith that does not have humankind work its way to God, but has God work His way to humankind.  “We do not follow cleverly devised myths.”  We follow Christ, and we seek to Live His Word Daily.  Amen.