Sunday, October 14, 2012


I want to talk to you today about “Affluenza.”  It’s something that is very, very prevalent in our culture today.  I’m going to begin with a little knowledge quiz.  OK?  So take a look up here and see what you think.

1.       Which of the following is comparable to the size of a typical three car garage?
a.       a basketball court
b.      a McDonald’s restaurant
c.       an AV or recreational vehicle
d.      the average home in the 1950’s
What do you think?  The answer is “d.”  Many of today’s three car garages occupy about 900 square feet—just about the average size of an entire home in the 1950’s.  Many people use the extra space to store things.  Often we hear that Americans have lost ground economically and have less purchasing power, but American are buying more luxurious items partly by working more and by deeply into debt.  The homes we live in today and the cars we drive today are often bigger and more technologically advance than those purchased by our parents. 

2.      The percentage of Americans calling themselves very happy reached its highest point in what year?
a.       1957
b.      1967
c.       1977
d.      1987
When were Americans the happiest?  The answer “1957.”  The number of very happy people peeked in 1957, and this is interesting, has remained fairly stable or declined ever since.  Even though we consume twice as much as did in the ‘50’s, people were just as happy when they had less.

3.      True or false?  Americans carry 600 billion in personal debt, not including mortgages or real estate?
Is that true or false?  It’s false.  Americans carry 2.4 trillion dollars in personal debt--approximately eight thousand for every man, woman and child not including real estate and mortgages.  On average Americans save only 4 percent of their income in contrast to Japanese who save about 16 percent. 

Now I’m going to take you back a few years. 
4.      Which activity did more Americans do in 1996?
a.       graduate from college
b.      declare bankruptcy
The answer in 1996 was “b – declare bankruptcy.”  In 1996 more than one million Americans declared bankruptcy as in 1986.  More than a billion credit cards and less than 1/3 of the credit card holders pay off their balances each month. 

I did a little checking on some of my statistics, and actually I found that the bankruptcy rate has gone up to 1.571 million bankruptcies in this past year.  Now what’s interesting is college graduates have actually caught up, but the college graduates are not getting good jobs anymore.  They’re not getting jobs that equal their education, so the economy is getting tough.

This is the last one.
5.      Of American who voluntarily cut back their consumption, what percent said that they are happier as a result?
a.       29%
b.      42%
c.       67%
d.      86%
What do you think?  The answer is “d.”  86% of Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption feel happier as a result.  And by the way, voluntary reductions in consumption are actually growing.  More and more people are deciding to live with less.

Now, I want to talk to you about “affluenza” because in looking at what is “missional” over the next couple weeks I want to talk to you about “missional momentum”--the idea that God wants us to take the love, the grace, the fellowship, and the forgiveness, that he has given us, and move it out to the world with continuous momentum.  You’ve seen this diagram with arrows that point out from a growing heart, a growing faith.  So the idea is that in the next couple weeks we’re going to talk about the momentum that the mission needs.  But truth be told, there are things that weigh in on our heart rather than going out.  These are things that affect us all—money, houses, cars, life style.  These are things that we desire to have in our lives, to put around us, to make us feel good.  It results though, in a self-focus—stuff that just gets into our hearts and make us love and desire things more than what should be the object of our affection and our walk with God.

So, what is “affluenza?”  Actually it is something that psychologists have begun to study in America, because we’ve really got a problem in this country.  I’d like to illustrate that by talking about three factors that mark this condition.  One is the “LOAD.”  The load that we have put on our lives is an amazing.  Our stuff, the things we have around us, costs us dearly.  It’s costing us in terms of financial stresses, of relational stresses, and real physical stress.  We have to try harder to accumulate more stuff.  And it’s harder today than it was twenty years ago to make yourself look affluent and good.  So the load on us is incredible.  It’s big; it’s a burden. 

A second factor is the “HEAD.”  We are striving to keep our head above everybody else.  We are striving to push ahead of others, and it’s resulting in a lot of pride and a lot of difficulty in competitiveness—keeping up with the “Joneses”—certainly a well-known phrase.  Affluenza is going to our heads.  We are trying so hard to stay above everyone else.

The third factor is the “DISORDER.”  The research for most recent revision of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual or “DSM” psychologists use to diagnose mental abnormalities, began to look at the psychological impact of those who are making themselves sick in pursuit of affluence or even, just the appearance of affluence.  So… there’s really a sickness out there, and it’s gripping America today.  A “disorder” is a confusion of what is normally right.  Eventually affluence, like any form of idolatry, can put us out of place in our relationship with God, and that’s the worst disorder we can ever get ourselves into.

Now, this is a sermon in a church.  It’s a church message so I’m not here to talk to you about the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of psychology.  God’s Word has plenty to say to us about conditions that our spiritual lives face.  It talks a lot about our struggle with sin and temptation.  It talks a lot about the stuff that clouds our lives where God belongs instead.  When you heard the Gospel Lesson today you heard about a rich man who came to Jesus.  He said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said, “Well you know.  Do what you’re supposed to do.”  It was a setup.  Jesus knew he couldn’t do all the things he was supposed to do.  This young man said, “I’ve kept all the Laws.  I’ve been a good boy.  My whole life I’ve done well.”  And Jesus said, “Well, then go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and then you’ll have treasures in heaven.”  The Bible said that he went away very sad, because he had lots of stuff.  Do you ever wonder what that might be like today if Jesus said, “You’ve got too much stuff!  Get rid of it.  Come follow me.” 

I’m going to continue reading from Mark 10, where we left off.  Because after this young man went away, Jesus looked at his disciples and he said to them:  “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”  The disciples were amazed at his words, but again Jesus said, `Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.’  The disciples were even more amazed and said to each other, `who then can be saved?’  Jesus looked at them and said, `with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” 

Now, when you read a verse like that we come to the realization that either we need some really, really big needles or we need some really, really tiny camels.  Right?  How in the world are you going to get camels through an eye of a needle?  It’s impossible!  So, how does this work?  What is Jesus possibly saying in this text?  I want to introduce you to something very, very common throughout the world and especially in ancient cities and building.  It’s called a “needle gate.”  A needle gate was a gate that was open after dark when the big gates of the city or the building or the castle were closed.  A needle gate was big enough only for a person—one person—to pass through.  Here are some pictures of needle gates.  This one in the upper left is actually a needle gate in a wall in Jerusalem.  It’s just big enough to squeeze on through.  Isn’t that interesting?  So, my question for you is:  Can we get a camel through a needle gate?  That’s a great question.  Some needle gates it’s possible to get a camel through.  Other needle gates I’m afraid not. 

Let’s take a look at “affluenza” from the stand point of a camel trying to get through a needle gate.  OK?  We’ve got three big problems with that.  First problem we have is this LOAD.  The camel usually has too much stuff to get through the gate--too much stuff.  So when it’s dark I can just see the caravan driver saying, “Come on, come on!  They’re going to close the gate!  They’re going to close the gate!  We’ve got to get in!”  You can just see them looking at their watches and trying to get through the city gate in time, because if they had to get the camels through the needle gate, that load had to go.  It was just too much.  So, to get the camel through the task of lightning the load was really critically important. 

But that’s not the only problem you had getting a camel through the eye of a needle.  Second problem you had was his HEAD.  Just like people’s whose heads are held high in pride, camels love to keep their heads up.  I don’t know if you noticed that, but even when they’re resting their heads are up.  They’re up all the time.  And when they’re trying to get a camel through a needle gate, one of the toughest things to do is to pull that head down so that head can get down low enough to get under the top of the needle gate.  It’s difficult to get a camel through when its head is held high, just like it’s difficult for people to walk closely with God, when their heads are so high in the clouds, with their own self-importance and pride.  It’s not impossible; it’s just really hard to get a camel through a needle gate with that head.

And, there’s still another problem, because even if you’ve got the head down you had to do something that was completely unnatural for a camel.  You had to deal with the DISORDER.  And that is… you had to get the camel on its knees to go through the needle gate.  Load off, head down, on the knees!  If a knee will not bow in humble order before the God of the Universe, there’s a very serious “order” problem.  Yet we bow before so many idols.  God have mercy on us when we get our lives so out of order!

It’s just such a hard thing to get a camel through the eye of a needle, but it’s not impossible—is it?  It’s not impossible.  I think the young man went away very sad because he had so much stuff.  The challenge for us today is to ask:  If we’ve got too much stuff, if our self-importance has inflated our heads so much, if we’re so naturally inclined to worship ourselves rather than our Creator we may as well be a big, old camel, with a great big load approaching the city wall after sundown. 

Now, it could be that Jesus was talking about the needle gate. I don’t know.  It could be that he was juxtaposing the biggest animal that people knew in Israel with the smallest opening they could think about.  Whether Jesus was actually referring to a needle gate and a real camel or the impossibility of putting a camel through the eye of a needle, the reaction of the disciples was very much the same.  They said, “Lord, who then can be saved?”  The young man went away really sad, because he had so much stuff.  Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Jesus dealt with the LOAD, not the load of our stuff, but the load of our sin.  Every lustful, compulsive, consuming thought that we’ve had, every covetous idea, every stolen good, whatever it is, Jesus took that load for all that sin on himself.  It was a bigger load than any camel could carry.  It’s a bigger load than you and I can bear.  But that load went to the cross with Jesus.  I love the Old Pilgrim’s Progress story where that Christian pilgrim with that big pack on his back.  He comes to the cross and it falls off.  The load of sin is gone at the cross, because of Jesus Christ.  His HEAD, his sacred head, was wounded for us.  He didn’t consider his standing in heaven to be something that would be grasped, but he made himself nothing the Bible says and took on the form of a servant.  He was obedient onto death, even death on the cross.  That’s what was in his mind.  The Bible says, “But for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame.”  He got his mind around the fact that he wanted to live with you and me rather than in God’s kingdom.  We talk about DISORDER.  There is none bigger than the disorder in the relationship between broken humanity and the living God.  Jesus put order back into our lives and into our eternity.  Jesus dealt with things that were out of whack.

So, I don’t know how you feel, maybe you’d be discouraged like the rich, young man.  Thinking, “Oh, I’ve got too much stuff!  I’ll never get to heaven because I’ve got too much stuff, if not the physical stuff, there’s certainly the sinful stuff.  Does the Bible make heaven seem as out of reach for the sinner as well as the rich person?  Jesus said, “No, it’s not impossible.  In fact, rich or poor, man or woman, slave or free, with God, the Kingdom of Heaven is open to each one by the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  I’m sharing this “affluenza” message with you to tell you it’s not such a good idea to keep pursuing stuff rather than pursuing God.  Our drive and desire for the affluent way of life can keep us from giving it to others and growing the kingdom.  It pushes our focus in toward ourselves and not out to the world.  I believe that’s what Jesus was trying to say to the rich young man and to you and me.  Thankfully, the message of the cross deals with the LOAD, the HEAD, and the DISORDER when we trust in the finished work of Christ for us all.  He gives us peace and hope!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Families Moving Forward

I'm looking forward to Berea participating in this ministry again. Families Moving Forward helps people in our neighborhood with resources at our church!

Monday, August 20, 2012

“Smile at the Storms”
Mark 4:35-41

Now this is the part of the service where I am going to teach you a new song.  I actually had in mind that I was going to do a Children’s Message, but in the early service there aren’t very many children to bring forward, so I’m going to teach the whole congregation a children’s song.  OK?

Our Director of Music, Susan, asked me where I learned this song, and I have to tell you it was taught to several family friends around a campfire years ago by a Supreme Court Justice of the state of Texas--a very dignified man.  We had so much fun with him as a family.  This is a little song that he taught us about smiling at the storms, which is the message for today.  So this is a song with actions and you all have to do it.

Christ In My Vessel”

With Christ in my vessel I can smile at the storm,
Smile at the storm, smile at the storm,
With Christ in my vessel I can smile at the storm as we go sailing home. 
Sailing, sailing, home.    
Sailing, sailing, home.
With Christ in my vessel I can smile at the storm as we go sailing home.

See what a little vacation does to you—I just feel so refreshed!

Storms happen in life!  Today I want to talk to you about three “C’s, inspired by our text.  They are:  Crisis, Confusion, and Comfort.  All three of these things take place when Jesus calms this amazing storm that comes up on the Sea of Galilee.  First, the Crisis!  We tend to be surprised when we run into crisis.  Our life goes along and all of a sudden we’re faced with a crisis or a problem or a storm of some sort, and we’re surprised, we’re shocked, we’re saddened, and we’re irritated.  It’s always amazing to me that we tend to think that our life shouldn’t ever include these storms.  Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:33:  “In this world you will have trouble...”  We have all sorts of trouble.  We have economic trouble, we have relationship troubles, we have health troubles, we have loneliness, sadness, grief—all kinds of troubles, all kinds of storms; all kinds of crisis in our life.  It’s natural, it’s normal. 

One of my favorite broadcasts from Focus on the Family years ago was a man named David Ring.  He was a man who had cerebral palsy, and he wanted to preach.  The truth is, he couldn’t talk clearly.  He couldn’t walk straight because of his cerebral palsy.  When he spoke to audiences, he would come out on the stage, limping as he did, and in his halting speech, he’d look at the people and say, “I have cerebral palsy.  What’s your problem?”  We all have storms.  We all have crisis.  I want you to think about something you might be facing right now.  You don’t have to share it with anybody.  I’m not going to preach about it, and wag my finger about your storm.  I left a blank in your sermon outline and I don’t have an answer to insert in that blank because it’s your blank to fill.  What’s your crisis today?  What’s your storm?  Are you grieving, are you hurting, are you angry, are you bitter, or are you afraid?  What’s your storm? 

In this wonderful lesson we have today Jesus and his disciples encounter a literal storm on the lake.  There are some real interesting things about this storm, which leads me to the “Confusion”—that’s the next “C.”  I’ve been confused in times of crisis.  I’ve struggled and I’ve wondered, “Where is God?  Does he even see what’s going on?  Does he even know of my hurts?”  I know that I’m not the only one in this world with those same kinds of questions, with those same kinds of feelings, with those same issues of confusion.  But here it is, plain as day, the confusion was really real on the Sea of Galilee that day.  A furious squall comes up, that’s what the text says, a furious squall.  The disciples are all panicked, they’re worried, they’re concerned, they’re scared, and where is Jesus?  The text tells us that he’s sleeping on a cushion in the stern of the boat!  I wish I could just show you a picture of what that might look like--a furious storm, and a man in the back of the boat just snoozing away.

You know what’s confusing about that?  It looks like when we care, when we’re scared, when we’re worried, it looks like he’s resting.  It looks like he’s not even there.  It looks confusing because we’re scared of the storm, we’re scared of the crisis, and there is our Lord asleep on a cushion!  So if you like to fill in the blanks, the confusion is this:  When we care He rests?  A question mark there!  When we care about something he rests?  Is this really right?  The disciples get up and say, “Lord, aren’t you concerned that we’re going to drown?  What in the world is going on here, Lord, you’re sleeping on a cushion!  Our boat is about to get swamped.”  Have you ever felt like that? 

I’ve got a really good relationship with the pizza guy down the road.  He gives me a great deal on pizzas—had some last night.  I called him to make an order for some pizza last night and he said, “Mark, I’d love it if you’d come and talk to my Dad.  He’s losing his faith.  He says he prays and he calls out to God and nothing happens.”  I think it’s like this confusion here.  When we’re worried, when we’re concerned, when we’re scared, when we care, he rests?  What is this?  If you’ve ever felt like that, and I know I have, we need to turn our confusion around.  We need to turn the words around and make that question mark a great exclamation point--its right there in your outline:  When He cares we rest! 

Psalm 55:22 tells us, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.  He will never let the righteous fall.”  See, really brothers and sisters, it’s the other way around.  We’re looking at the storm; we’re scared, we’re wondering, “Why in the world he’s sleeping on the cushion while we’re the ones that are caring.  We’re the ones that are worried.”  So the issue of him taking a nap is really a-okay.  We’ve taken it all on ourselves.  We’re handling our crisis, we’re handing our storm, and we’re handling our stress all by ourselves.  And as our boat is sinking we get mad at God—“Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”  Cast all your cares upon the Lord.

 Another verse says, “Cast all your anxieties on Him.” because he cares for you.  We say, “Yes, that sounds easy, but boy it’s hard.  It’s really hard.  But when we address the confusion in that particular way, when we take those cares and concerns and throw them at the Lord and say, “Lord, move over on that cushion and let me take a nap there too.  Let me settle down because this storm is scaring me.  I’m going to trust you.  I’m going to put my confidence in you.  I’m going to put my hope in you because that’s what I’ve got.  And as I face this storm I’m going to smile at the storm, because you’re in the boat with me.”

The Comfort portion of the story is really important.  There are two really big things that you and I need to know that will help us smile at the storms.  First, is to believe His Word.  When we take up the Scriptures, believing and trusting in his promises, holding fast to his utterly reliable Word, you can smile at the storms.  He has said, “I will never leave you.  I will never forsake you.”  It says there, we just read it a little while ago in Psalm 55:22, “He will never let the righteous fall.”  When we believe his Word and rest on his promises, and trust in what he has said, you can smile at the storm.  Look at the Gospel Lesson for today, it’s printed right there for you.  What was the word that the disciples needed to believe?  You see it there in the text?  There’s a word there the disciples needed to believe.  Got it?  The word that the disciples needed to believe was this:  “Let’s go to the other side.”  Jesus said, “We’re going to the other side of the lake.”  Right?  If they would believe that Jesus literally said and really meant, “We’re going from this side of the lake to the other side of the lake.”   What difference did it make if a storm came up somewhere in between?--they were actually going to go to the other side of the lake.  Believe His Word.  Trust that what he says is what he means.  What he says is what he will deliver.  Believe His Word.  That’s one of the really big things it takes to smile at a storm.

The second is to acknowledge his presence.  With Christ in my vessel I can smile at the storms! When we know that our Lord Jesus Christ is present with us in the middle of our struggles, in the middle of our crisis, in the middle of our storms, we know that at any time he can simply stand up and say, “Wind and waves, be still.  Crisis, simmer down.  Worry, take it easy.  Pain, go away.”  When we acknowledge his presence with us, in our lives, in our situation, we can smile at the storms.  When this happens it builds faith. 

I read a great book while I was on vacation.  Actually, it was a two volume book.  The first volume, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” and the second volume, “Fresh Faith.”  The author makes the point that throughout the Scriptures it seems that God is looking for faith.  He’s not looking for awesome prayers; He’s not looking for awesome worship; He’s not looking for awesome deeds of righteousness; He’s looking for faith.  Jesus says, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  When we smile at the storms our faith gets stronger, and our ability to trust God deepens, and that’s what God is looking for in his people.  He’s looking for people that no matter what their crisis’s, no matter what their fear, no matter what their pain they find their answer in the grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who dealt with our greatest crisis, our greatest storm, our greatest fear, our greatest pain, and that was sin.  When he went to the cross and paid the price, he calmed the storm for good.

 I know out here in the congregation, just like me, there are plenty of worriers.  Plenty of hurting people, plenty of grieving people.  You say, “Lord, I am still afraid of the storm.”  We can even feel that it might be sinful.  We’re afraid; we have a lack of faith; we lack the power.  And God says, “OK.  I can handle that.  In fact, when you’re weak and when you’re afraid, when you’re worried, that’s when I can be really strong for you.  So I thank God for the cross.  I thank God for my Savior, Jesus who is in my vessel.  I hope that God will fill you with his spirit and with his grace so that you can smile at the storms because he is faithful. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

“Now What?”
Matthew 28:19-20
Pentecost 10
Pastor Mark Neumann

I want to share with you a big question I asked myself on Monday morning.  Monday morning I sat at the desk in, I guess you could say “my office” over there in the corner.  I sat at the desk and asked, “Now what?”  It was an honest question.  I had no idea why I was doing there and at that time.  I just sat there and said, “Now what?”  I had a sermon all figured out—pretty much—and I scrapped it right then and there.  I redid everything, so I could have a different message.  A message that dealt with that question, “Now what?!  Here we are!”

So, I’ve put a sermon outline in your bulletin.  There’s a “Now…” column and a “What…” column.  That’s how I attempted to answer the question earlier this week “Now… What…?”  I have three observations I made about “Now…  Now we’re facing an interim; now we’re facing some challenges; now we’re facing some uncertainties.  Now what?

What I decided to do was to just look at those three things with an emphasis and a focus on either ourselves or the work of God, because that really helps me—at least for now—answer the question “Now what?”  You see, it feels like we’re sitting at an intersection, looking at the signal.  What do we do now?  Do we go, do we wait, do we use caution— what happens now?  I feel like we’re at a little crossroads, and each of these responses in the “what column” can either be viewed from our self-focused perspective or from the perspective of God.


Now we face an interim.  It’s a time in-between.  When congregations face interims, they do one of two things.  They either find themselves waiting—that’s one choice—or going.  So, the “what?” is a choice. Wait or Go!  Now before we start answering the question of whether we should wait or go, the Bible seems to say quite a few very good things about waiting.  Psalm 40:1 says, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”  Hebrews 6:15 tells us, “Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.”  Isaiah 40:28-31 says these beautiful words about waiting “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  He does not grow weary or faint, his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he exercises strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  See, the Bible says some really good things about waiting.  So, should a congregation take interim time to wait? 

The Bible also says some pretty good things about going too.  Genesis 6:14, God said to Noah, “Build an ark.”  God approached Abram in the land of Ur—Genesis 12:1 and said, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.”  In Exodus three we read how Moses caught sight of a burning bush and from that burning bush the voice of God spoke to him and said, “Moses, I want you to go and set my people free.”  In Matthew 4:19 Jesus approached some fishermen and said, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  And then, of course, a portion of Scripture which I want to meditate on today, Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Brothers and sisters, as we look at an interim time, a space of time that we are pretty uncertain about, we need to ask ourselves, “Well, should we wait or should we go?”  As I look at these Scripture passages I’ve just shared with you, and others in the Bible, it looks to me as though the Lord encourages his people to be patient and to wait for the things that pertain to them personally.  Did you notice that when I read it?  Those verses seem to imply that we’re waiting for the Lord to act for us.  But, the verses that talk about “going and moving and obeying” all tend to be about God and his will and his ministry.  So I want to encourage you to day to think about how we look at this time for ourselves, and how we look at this time for the Lord and the work he has for us.  I think he’s saying “Go!  Go!  Go and make disciples.  Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  These are words of action!


The other thing I noticed about “now” was that we face some challenges.  We face challenges.  All churches everywhere face challenges.  There are different kinds of challenges.  We can look at those challenges either as obstacles or opportunities—that’s the next choice—either obstacles or opportunities depending upon your focus.  If our focus is on our self-intrests then these challenges become obstacles because they get in our way.  James 4:1-3 says, “What causes quarrels, and what causes fighting among you?  Is it not this that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and you do not have.   You kill and covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” 

And who could forget, when Peter was chastening Jesus for tell his disciples that he must suffer and go to the cross?  Jesus turned to Peter and said, in Matthew 16:23-24 "`Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me; for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of men.’  Then Jesus told his disciples, `If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  You see, my friends, challenges that get in our way, that personally block our pleasures and our passions and our happiness, they become obstacles.  Or, they could be opportunities—to deny ourselves, and point the way to others. 

In Matthew 5 Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

I Peter 3, Peter tells the Christian church that we should be ready—ready to give an answer.  God gives us opportunities to share his love and his grace with others, so that when we face challenges we can personally say, “Boy, this is just getting in my way.  It’s getting in my way of being happy and content and at peace.”  Or we can say, “No, this is an opportunity to share the love of God with others.” 


Now, probably the biggest observation I made on Monday morning was uncertainty.  Right now, we face—some uncertainty.  And again, we can look at uncertainty either from ourselves or from the perspective of God’s amazing grace.  There’s a choice to embrace either fear or faith when we face uncertain times.  I think, you and I are quick to face fear when we look at our own resources, when we look at our own strength.  We read the book of Ecclesiastes—the whole book seems to be saying over and over again, “There’s nothing new under the sun.  Life is empty; it’s a struggle.  Just go about your business.  Try to make it the best you can.  That’s depressing isn’t it? 

Romans 7, Paul goes over and over again, “Oh, I wish that I could do well, but I seem to be making more mistakes.  I want to do righteous things, I want to serve the Lord but sin is right there.”  This big struggle is just making a mess of things.  At the end he says, “Who will rescue me from this mess that I’ve made.  What a wretched man I am.”  When you look at your own strength and your own resources and you face uncertainties, the most natural thing is to be fearful about the future.  But when we focus on God and his provision, we are amazed that he increases in us faith and love.

In II Corinthians 12, Paul is writing to the people in Corinth about a problem that he had—it was a weakness that he had—and we’re not sure what it was.  He calls it “his thorn in the flesh.”  He writes to the Corinthians, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, `My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Paul realized, as the Lord shared with him this amazing gift of grace, that it was more than enough to help him with the uncertainties he faced. 

The prophet Isaiah wrote in the forty-first chapter of that book, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

And Jesus, in Matthew 28, the last part of verse 20 says, “Behold, I am with you to the very end of the age.”  As we ask ourselves the question, “Now what?” we can have a distinct focus on who’s going to answer that question.  Is God going to answer that question?  Or are we going to answer it out of our own weakness and shortsightedness?  If we let God answer that question I have a feeling he would tell us, “To Go!  Make the most of every opportunity and grow in our faith and our trust.”  I’m afraid if we listen to ourselves we might be stuck saying, “Well, let’s wait.  Let’s realize that there are a lot of things in our way—there are a lot of obstacles.”  Might even say, “The future looks fearful--now what?” 

Our tendency is to look at things “now” from the weaker perspective of our self interests and limited resources.  Thankfully, Jesus showed us something very different.  He denied himself, and took up a cross.  By his grace, we are offered forgiveness for our self-centered focus and given the strength to see a different vision, one that comes from him.  Brothers and sisters, I say we open our eyes and our ears and our hearts and say, “Lord Jesus, lead on.  We will follow you with great joy—with faith and with hope. 

Gracious Lord, thank you for giving us this time together.  May we remember Lord, that you set before us kind of an in-between time—an interim—with challenges and uncertainties.  Lord help us to look to you to seek direction from you and to rejoice when you clearly give us your Word and blessing.  Fill us today with a sense of your nearness to us, and give us your peace for Jesus’ sake."  Amen.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Now What?

It looks like I'm the NEU mann at Berea Lutheran Church in Richfield Minnesota!  As of July 1st, I am serving the congregation as their full-time Interim Pastor.  I am so excited to be back in ministry full-time!  Driving semi-trucks and big motorcoaches was cool for a little while but not really what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  Since the time I was about three years old, I've loved the church and I've loved being a part of its ministries from the time I was a choirboy at my home church in Roseville, Michigan.
Berea offers me the opportunity to work with a well, established congregation that is in the midst of major transition.  It is a congregation that is looking for what they are calling, "missional leadership."  That amazing word is one of the popular buzz words in the Church today.  It has as many definitions as there are Christians who are willing to discuss it.  Since two pastors have declined their call to serve Berea, the call committee is returning to the drawing board and the leaders have asked that I spend this transitional time as their pastor.  So, over the next few months we are going to seek the Lord together and discover the movement he is making in this group of Christian brothers and sisters.  I bet we'll make more headway on the definition of "missional", in the process.  Friend's, I covet your prayers.  My role is to prepare the congregation for its next pastor.  Earlier this week I sat at the desk in "my" office and began with the question, "Now what?"  I had not anticipated this part of my life or this strange new role.  But, I want to start answering that question this week, on the basis of God's Word.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles!

George Macleod, the founder of the Iona Community, once wrote,

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek . . . at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died; and that is what he died about; and that is where church people ought to be and what church people should be about.

Three Words That Mean A Lot To Me Today

"God's words make mountains tremble, scatter kingdoms, and move the whole earth. That is a language different from ours. When the sun rises, when the sun sets, God is speaking. When fruit on the tree grows in size, when human beings are born, God is speaking. Accordingly the words of God are not empty air but things very great and wonderful, which we see with our eyes and feel with our hands. Whe the Creator said, 'Let there be...,' things happened. His Word accomplished its intention." - Martin Luther (Lecture on Psalm 2 - 1532)
Three words which God spoke on a dark Friday afternoon mean more to me than anything. "It is finished." To me they are the greatest words ever spoken by the greatest man who ever lived. they are three little words that terrified hell and its minions forever. I am a "NEU mann" because Jesus faced the cross for me and finished the work he had come to do. What took place on the cross was an amazing transfer of my life and his. He took my wretched sin and impoverished failed life and gave his holy, innocent, perfect obedient life for mine! God doesn't see the "old man" when it is finished. He sees the life of his Son in me. It's a righteousness that perfectly satisfies the Holy God who wants me to live in his presence forever! It's the amazing "GOOD" in Good Friday. It's Jesus! Savior, my Lord, and my Treasure forever! It is finished and I am forever the NEU mann*.

* I like using these two little German words for some reason Neu=New and Mann=Man

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Friday, March 09, 2012

I just read this in a magazine article...

God never separates His assignments from the sanctifying process of the leader. That's why there's always a horrendous gap between what God tells you to do and where you are. It's always way out ahead of you. Look at David. When he was too small to even wear Saul's armor, God was teaching him that "I am the God of the gap."

...I wonder what God will do with our "gaps" if we let him be who he is.