March 26, 2015

Easter: Look Up and Out

I don’t know which we do first―looking upward or looking outward?  Sometimes having a powerful worship experience helps us feel more connected with Christ, which causes us to reach out to the "others" God wants us to include in his family.

But sometimes it is looking outward first that leads to a fulfilling worship experience―as we reach out, we feel a need to worship the Creator of us all.

Easter reminds us to do both: look up and out.

The universe, human existence, and redemption are all gifts from God.  The greatest gift of all and the model for Christian giving is God’s gift of his Son.  For this reason, we look up.  Paul writes, “You will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contributions for them and for all others” (II Cor. 9:13).  Paul, here, is connecting the two truths of Easter.  Look up, acknowledge the gospel of Christ, and look out (reach out) to show others what God’s generosity looks like. 

By looking upward and outward, our spiritual lives flourish.  The same holds true when this principle is applied to the life and work of the church.  By looking up and looking out, through the church’s work, the gospel is preached and people are reminded of the good news of Easter.

To make the Easter journey, then, is to walk with others, caring for them and being supported by them as together we look to the cross.  This was the way Jesus made the journey; there is no other way. 

Historic St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Schaefferstown, PA

March 18, 2015

Jesus, only a man... they thought.

Men and women everywhere saw Jesus tired and hungry, weeping and praying, persecuted and killed and thought he was only a man.  They thought they knew what a savior would look like and should look like - we think we know too - we think we've journeyed as far as we can in our spiritual lives - that we have everything all figured out - and are shocked when God challenges us and our biblical concepts are stood on edge and our sound theology is flipped upside down.
BEFORE the resurrection Jesus was found in a manger - at a wedding - in a fishing boat - at a neighbor’s house - in the village market place - in the countryside - in the city - in a field - at a banquet - at a well - by a pool - in a desert and in many other places and with many different types of people.

Jesus went everywhere and avoided no one!

AFTER the resurrection Jesus was found in a cemetery garden - in an upper room that was securely locked where a group of men and women hid in fear - He was made known during a supper - He was discovered on a dusty road - He was seen on a mountain - and was recognized on the seashore cooking breakfast.  

Because of this, many people said that he could not be the Holy One because he was often found in the places where holy people would not dare to go. They missed out on recognizing Jesus because they did not expect to find a savior in any place other than in the only place where they believe God existed.         
How tragic it would be if we too go through life and end up missing-out on the Lord’s presence in our lives because we do not expect to find a savior in any other place than in the one place we believe God exists.

March 12, 2015

Hand to the Plow

"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back 
is fit for service in the kingdom." 
—Luke 9:62

What, Jesus, are you talking about?  I look back all the time, we all do! We look back to analyze life, to reevaluate, to reflect.  The good news is, in our need to look back (thank God) God has the ability to re-route our attention back to the future, or at least to the present moment.

If you have cultivated corn for the last time before it becomes too tall for the tractor to pass over the top of the stalks, you know the importance of looking ahead as you plow.  When you hear the crinkle-plop that indicates a corn stalk has fallen to the ground, the temptation is to look back to see what has happened.  When you look back, however, you begin to hear, like rain, even more crinkle-plops than before because looking back will cause you to lose your concentration and bring all kinds of damage.  

What Jesus seems to be saying to them back then (and to all of us today) is that kingdom work is serious business!

Be careful not to look back too long;
don’t let your mind mosey too much;
or those nice rows you spent so much time creating
will become useless zigzags in the dirt.

Moral of the story — not giving full attention to the kind of seeds you're sowing or the contour of the rows you're tilling may result in "inferior" kingdom work.  And we wouldn't want that to happen now would we?  God certainly doesn't.

Gettysburg, PA 

March 8, 2015

Rest Where You Are

When spurred by tasks unceasing or undone
You would seek rest afar
And cannot, though the rest be fairly won,
Rest where you are.
Not in event, restriction, or release,
In journeys near or far,
But in the heart lies restlessness or peace,
Rest where you are.

poem by: Charles Poole Cleaves
stained glass windows / St. Paul's UCC, Schaefferstown, PA

March 7, 2015

Psalm 147:16 - Snow

Psalm 147:16 
"God spreads the snow like wool."

It snowed and snowed… and then snowed some more.  Our daughter is elated.  Our son is putting his boots on the wrong feet.  My wife is in the kitchen cooking a pot of vegetable soup.

“Hey dad,” my daughter says with a grin, “I have an idea; how about building an igloo out of snow so we can have a picnic in it?”  I take a deep breath… and out spews all of my rationalized reasons why that is not a good idea.  A compromise is eventually reached.  No igloo.  Just a soup-in-the-snow picnic.

Later that evening while thinking about her request, I realized something.  I realized that what I thought was a highly unreasonable request wasn't really that unreasonable at all.  I remember building one or two igloos with my dad when I was young, so why can’t she?  Why was my first reaction a groan and a sigh?  

Why were the first words out of my mouth a spew of rationalized 
why not’s instead of a soft spoken let’s go try?

I wonder how often we react like that toward God. “Let’s go try,” God lovingly says to us.  “But,” we say to God, “I have so many rational reasons why I cannot.” 

March 5, 2015

Meeting God

Where do you go to meet God?

“Now when Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him.”
(Genesis 32:1)

The interesting thing about having the goal of “wanting to meet God” in mind is that often we end up trying to do something extraordinary in order meet God:
1)         we expend extra effort
2)         we set aside treasured time
3)         we go somewhere that is drastically different
4)         we seek out personal privacy or the company of clever companions
we do, we try, we go, all with the goal, a good goal at that, of meeting God.

But what if God does not meet us according to only those things we do, those places we go? What if God meets us more truly, more closely in the lack of expectation?

“A thing long expected
takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.”
Mark Twain

March 2, 2015

Abraham and Sarah

How often are we like Abraham and Sarah? How often do we laugh when God says something to us? How often, despite our best intentions, do we doubt God? (Genesis 17:1-10, 15-19).   
            I think it is very common, and I think it happens more often than we like to admit. It is easy to trust God for the things that we have some control over, but it is awfully hard to trust God for the things that we don't control; for things we can't do anything about.
            When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” for example, most of us in America understand deep down in the back of our minds that if we did not truly have bread for today, we could easily find some.
            But what if you were a refugee forced to flee your home? According to the UN the number of people forced to flee their homes across the world has exceeded 50 million for the first time since WWII. Half the world's refugees are children, many travelling alone or in groups in a desperate quest for “Daily Bread”, and often falling into the clutches of the wrong hands.
It is easy to trust God for things we think are possible, 
but hard to trust him for things we have no control over

            When God called Abraham to leave the familiarity of his country and family, he made several promises to him.
            One of these promises was that Abraham and Sarah’s descendants would be a great nation.  Abraham believed God’s promise, even though its fulfillment appeared impossible to him. It seemed ridiculous, Sarah, pregnant at age ninety.  But God was not laughing, and he asked Sarah a very serious question: “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”
            God fulfilled his promise to Abraham and Sarah by intervening in a miraculous way... thousands of years later God intervened once again in the lives of a couple: Joseph and Mary. God again performed a miracle, and his own son was born in human flesh.  Abraham and Sarah were very old; Mary was very young. Abraham and Sarah had a son when they were beyond the age of childbearing; Joseph and Mary had a son apart from the natural way; Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost. 
            In both cases, the birth of the son occurred because God stepped in and kept his promise to his people through miraculous means. God’s purposes are never frustrated by difficult circumstances (even though we may not understand what those purposes are) God, the creator of life, still sustains life.
            God’s promises are not thwarted by our narrow definition of the possible. In fact, God’s promises are always accomplished through his power, which is most clearly demonstrated in “impossible” situations. Nothing is too difficult for God. The challenge for us is to believe in the same way Abraham and Sarah did—by faith.

Photo taken at The Great Smokey Mountains