Monday, October 17, 2016

Balanced Faith

Scripture:  Mark 7:1-30

Recently, I heard a story about a client who fired who fired his therapist.  Over the course of 10 weeks, the therapist listened to the man’s story of greed, fraud, anger, and manipulation in his family and business.  Hatred of others showed in the client behind a smiling face in every session.  

Each week in the same conversations, the client would tell stories of his religious life in his church in the community.  He would brag about the church’s size, his regular religious duties, and his upcoming election as a deacon in the church.   With religious fervor he used scripture to paint his life as perfect and the family conflict that brought him to therapy the result of the rest of his family.  

Finally, the incongruity of the situation had become too much and the therapist confronted the man’s hypocrisy.  The religious portrait he painted of himself masked the true, evil self that abused and mistreated everyone around him.  He was a bully wrapping himself in a Christian flag.  Not surprising, the man never came back to therapy.  Unmasking our real selves from our religious portraits is always painful and difficult.  

In ancient Greece Theater, actors often wore various masks to portray the different roles they impersonated.  The English word hypocrite comes from the Greek word for actor – a person who wears different masks.  The word has come to mean someone who acts a role without sincerity, a pretender.  

This therapist unearthed a hypocrite.  The mask of religion he wore so proudly on the outside did not match the darkness of his life and spirit.  

The client’s faith was out of balance.  The outside didn’t match the inside and the inside didn’t match the outside.  

Out of Balance:  Religious Hypocrisy

In Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees in our passage from Mark 7, Jesus describes the out of balance faith of the religious leaders as hypocrites.  They were pretenders – their outward religious rituals masked a hollow faith.  

The most important religious duty of any orthodox Jewish person in the first century was ritual purity.  Much of the confrontations Jesus had with the religious people of his day involved religious purity and ritual.  For example, healing a person on a Sabbath made one unclean.  Touching a dead person made you unclean.  Touching a person who is bleeding or a woman on her period made you unclean.  Even bringing home food from the market could transfer the uncleanness from the market to a person’s home.  

Because being ritual pure was so important, the religious leaders of the day developed a variety of methods to keep a person clean.  We know this was a vitally important aspect of their religion because archaeologists in the Middle East working from Qumran to Jerusalem to the Galilee have unearth ritual baths called Mikvahs.  In this ritual bath, a person who take off their clothes, walked down into square hole with water and then back up.  It was not for outer dirt, it was for religious dirt - anything unclean that had transferred to their bodies and made them unclean.  Can you imagine the stress this would cause in your life trying to maintain this kind of religious purity – wondering what you had picked up during the day?

Here in Chapter 7, the Pharisees confront Jesus and his disciples over their expectation of religious hand washing.  The Pharisees are not wondering if the disciples have not washed their hands before they eat – something we should all aspire too – especially after shaking everyone’s hand today at church.  No, they are challenging them for not ritually washing their hands before the meal.  In fact, in some pious Jewish families they would have several ritual washings of their hands during each meal.  

Jesus pushes back against this out of balance faith.  This stressful view of ritual purity was not in the Torah – in scripture.  Instead, these kinds of purity rituals had been developed over the centuries by rabbis and religious leaders.  This oral law which Jesus calls the tradition of the elders was written down in the Mushing.    Jesus challenges their notion of religious purity by focusing on Judaism’s out of balance faith.  

Jesus said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’  

Jesus calls the Pharisee hypocrites because their outside actions did not match their inside life.  There are out of balance.  

The Pharisees believed that the outside world defiled them and kept them from being pure.  Jesus reverses their understanding of faith and says our inside life defiles outside.  Look at what Jesus says to the disciples when they question him – v. 18 - 23
“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19 since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Out of balanced faith produces religious hypocrites.  

Faithful discipleship balances our inner and outer lives and extends God’s Kingdom.

I’ve been thinking this week about where my faith is out of balance.  Where does my inside life fail to match my outward actions and where do my outward actions fail to meet my inward faith?  
How would this passage from Isaiah describe our out of balance faith?  Perhaps it would say … 
“You say your prayers before meals in restaurants so others see your religious actions, but your hearts are far from me.

In vain you show up to worship once a month, checking off your religious duty, yet you abandon the purposes of God in daily lives.”

Have you ever realized that Jesus saves his most harsh and critical statements about sin for the religious people of his day?   “Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!” 

““Listen to me,” Jesus says all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

The Message paraphrase is even more graphic:  ““Listen now, all of you—take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution.”
 Out of balance faith leaves the world barren, hollow and desolate.  It builds unhealthy family, unhealthy churches, and unhealthy communities.  The most dangerous part is that it gives off the appearance of faith while polluting everything around it.  

Is your faith out of balance?  Do you fight to display the 10 commandments – yet fail to follow them?  Do you post scripture verses on your Facebook wall, then, work hard to tear down friends who look at the world differently than you or have a different opinion or voting preference?  Do you teach your children that Jesus loves the little children, then speak gossip or hatred towards others?  

In a way all of us are hypocrites – we still sin and struggle.  Jesus wants us to know we will never correct our out of balance faith by trying to change our behavior, by trying harder.  Correcting the balance in our faith doesn’t come from without – it comes from transformation from within.  

In Balance:  Faithful Discipleship

In balance faith comes from inside us through faithful discipleship.  Look at the story of the young mother whose child has a sick spirit inside her beginning in v 24.

Geography is important in this story to grasp the drastic difference between out of balance and in balance faith.  

Jesus confronts the Pharisees on the North Shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This region is completely orthodox Jewish.  Everyone looks exactly the same and speaks the same language.  Everyone eats by the same rules.  Everyone follows the ritual.  AND these Pharisees are from Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish faith.  It houses the temple.  These are the most religious, wisest, most respected, most schooled religious leaders in all of Judaism.  The people with the out of balanced faith are the most outwardly religious people you could meet.  

Then in v. 24, Jesus leaves Jewish Galilee goes to a place called Tyre, a non Jewish, Gentile - Roman province. No one here eats the same Kosher foods as the people in Galilee.  They don’t speak the same language.  And they definitely have different rituals and traditions – and don’t know or follow the religious rituals as those religious scholars from Jerusalem.

Jesus brings his entourage of Jewish disciples to Tyre.  We see that his fame follows him when a young mother, a Canaanite, a Gentile, comes to Jesus and falls at his feet.  In the eyes of Pharisee she is completely defiled – there is nothing clean or pure or religious about her.  Yet, like other people Mark highlights as true disciples of Jesus – the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ coat, Jairus, the Jewish leader – this woman’s faith – her inside, not her outside - touches Jesus.  She begs him to heal the evil spirit in her daughter’s life.  She has a beautiful back and forth conversation with Jesus where she acknowledges his mission to the Jews and his openness to the Gentiles as well.  Jesus sees her faith – and says:  “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”

Then – see what happens:  “So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” The woman has such faith that she takes Jesus’ word as authority, believes him and walks home expecting her daughter to be healed.

The woman’s faithful discipleship balances her inner life and her outer life and extends God’s Kingdom.  Her faith spills out to impact her actions. Her actions mirror her faith.  This is the kind of faithful discipleship Jesus expects from his followers.  The Gospel writer Mark sets her up as an example of discipleship for the disciples, for the early church, and for us.  

In these two stories – one in Jewish Galilee and the other in Gentile Tyre, the person with the most in balance faith looks differently than the most religious.  

Purity does not come from the outside – it comes from the inside.  Faithful discipleship balances our inner and our outer life and extends God’s Kingdom.  

Our culture today needs to see Christians with in balanced faith.  Over the last 25 years too many out of balanced religious lives have been on display as representatives of our evangelical world and institutions.  Televangelists preaching against sin have been exposed in their sinful behaviors.  Religious politicians claiming to protect religious values have been exposed in actions against those values.  

Our world today to see real faith in action.  I saw this several years ago when I took Sarah to the Museum of Natural History in New York City.  This museum is full of replicas and models of natural and historical events – but very little of it is real.  The dinosaur skeleton in the lobby is a model – not real dinosaur bones.  Even as a middle school Sarah had an adverse reaction to these non-real museum pieces.  In an effort to counter act her aversion, I saw the museum had an Easter Island Head Statue.  I knew this must be real so we struck out through the labyrinth of the museum to find it.  Finally – there, in a prominent place at the back of a room, sat this large, ancient stone piece carved into a dark head.  We both we amazed and awed at its size and beauty.  Then, Sarah touched the huge stone pillar – it was hollow. It too was a fake.  Face with another forgery, Sarah wanted nothing else to do with the museum.  I couldn’t get her to stop to see the items that we were real.  For her, nothing was to be believed.  

Our world today desperately needs in balanced people of faith leading consistent, authentic lives of discipleship.  This is what wants for you and me.  Our lives don’t need to be perfect or pure or overly religious – we just need to be in balance, hopeful, and faithful.  

This week in your efforts to follow Jesus faithfully, ask Jesus to reveal to you the out of balance places in your life.  Focus less on trying to do the right behaviors to match what you think a Christian looks like and invest your time in becoming the person Jesus most desperately wants you to be – a faithful disciple.  The more you become a faithful disciples, the more your actions will reflect it.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Like many of us, I’ve been thinking about hurricanes this week.  Because I’ve spent most of my life on the Georgia and South Carolina coast, I’ve been glued to the weather channel and Facebook all week.  The first reports from Savannah and Beaufort tell of fallen trees and damaging flooding in the barrier islands with 8-10 feet of storm surge coming in on high tide.  There will be much to clean up and much to work to do in the coming days and weeks to get life back together there.  For some of my friends, the challenge of returning to normal life may seem just impossible.  

Tests:  Impossible circumstances

I can picture the impossible.  

In the fall of 2005, another destructive and deadly hurricane hit the United States.  The name Katrina still sends shivers down the backs of anyone touched by her powerful winds and waves.  

While most of the attention on Katrina’s impact was focused on New Orleans and the failures of its levies, Katrina’s massive storm surge also impacted the small beach towns of Southern Mississippi.  Marcia and I were living in Beaufort when Katrina hit.  As a small coastal community, we were especially sensitive to the impact the storm had on these small towns.  A few days after the storm, the city of Beaufort sent a convoy of volunteers with chain saws, supplies, and healthy backs to work in the community of Long Beach, MS.  With so much destruction, these volunteers filled the gaps when other disaster response teams were deployed elsewhere.  A bond between our two communities grew out of this week of service.  

After the team returned, the mayor of Long Beach reached out again to Beaufort with a strange request.  Storms like Katrina and Matthew disrupt people’s lives, he said.  As he looked over the lives of his community – he realized how far from normal everyone’s life had become.  They were focused on shelter, food, clean water, insurance and survival.  The mayor asked Beaufort to bring some joy to their community.  The mayor of Beaufort after seeing the work of our church in our community, asked my church to lead the effort – and I was recruited to be the leader.   

We decided to host a fall festival for the entire Long Beach community at the end of October.  At the same time, our church had just produced the bluegrass musical – Smoke on the Mountain – so we decided to bring the show on the road to Long Beach.  

The challenge of putting on these two events in a disaster area proved to be impossible.  That’s what it felt like as we began planning.  We had no idea where we could stay.  We had no idea how we could get supplies there.  We had no idea if we would have electricity.  From the moment that we said yes to hosting this event, to the moment the day arrived – the whole idea felt impossible.

Let me give you an idea of what we were dealing with.  Long Beach experienced a 30 foot storm surge that washed a mile inland from the ocean.  Here are just a few pictures of these disaster.   

Katrina and Matthew created impossible circumstances – impossible circumstances test our faith.  
In our two Biblical stories today – we find the disciples facing impossible circumstances which also test their faith. 

[Scripture Passage  Mark 6:33-56]

In the first scripture story in Mark 6:33, thousands of people have gathered on the green hills just north of the Sea of Galilee.  Hour after hour Jesus has been teaching and healing.  Hour after hour, more and more people have been drawn from towns and villages near and far to experience the Kingdom authority of Jesus.  Men with their prayer shawls and women in their dresses hold their children tight while trying to get closer to hear Jesus.  Eventually, the sun moves closer to the horizon and the disciples grow worried about managing all the people.  With this many people gathered, what will they do when they grow hungry and tired?  Fears of violent outbursts bring them to Jesus.  

When the disciples bring their fears to Jesus and suggest he dismiss the crowd back to their homes, Jesus gives them an impossible task: “Jesus answered them, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus asks the impossible from them.  

The second scripture story in this passage occurs the night after this large gathering on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus sends the disciples by boat back across the Lake.  There’s a strong, gusty, hard wind blowing down from the mountains and the disciples strain against the oars in the boat trying to move.  There’s little success.  It’s an impossible task Jesus has asked them to do.  

When was the last time you faced an impossible circumstance in your life?  A mountain too large to conquer?  A hurricane.  A winter storm.  A fire.  A job loss.  A failing grade.  A debilitating injury.  A load of work, not enough time.  I think about all of the impossible circumstances that show up on our church door steps every Tuesday and Thursday as family after family comes asking for assistance with power bills, water bills, doctor’s bills.  The future feels impossible to them.  

The same is true when we look at what’s happening in our culture and church.  We see all of the negative things happening all around us.  The changes in culture.  The changes in community. The changing morals.  We see how church is changing – fewer people on Sunday mornings.  Less people interested in Jesus.  Fewer people holding to biblical truth or following Jesus.  This too feels impossible.

Failures:  Attempting the Impossible on our own.

Most of the time when we face impossible circumstances, we try to solve them on our own.  That’s what the disciples do.  And their feeble attempts only lead to failure.

Looking across the fields of people – thousands and thousands of them – the disciples see an impossible task of feeding them and fail when they try to solve it on their own.   Look at what they say when Jesus tells them to give the crowd food.

“Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii [200 days hard labor] worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?”

What Jesus is asking them to do is impossible.  They see the test before them with realistic, rational eyes – the way you or I would see it.  These disciples don’t have the money to feed this many people; they don’t have time to go to a town to order food to feed them.  [Ask any of our folks who work at the Cornelia Soup Kitchen – feeding lots of people takes careful planning].   When the disciples attempt the impossible on their own – they fail.  

The same is true of when they cross the lake – straining hard against the wind.  They are attempting the impossible the best way they know how – the muscles of their backs.  Tackling the impossible with their own willpower and strength is the only resource they think they have at their disposal.  

And then, when help does show up, they forget all they know about Jesus and react in fear. 

While they are straining in the boat, Jesus walks by them in the pitch blackness of the night – walking on water.  V.  “But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified.” 

When faced with the impossible, we will fail every time we attempt it on our own.  

This was the challenge for our team from Beaufort as we planned for our mission trip to Long Beach, MS.  I remember sitting in one of our planning meetings about 2 weeks before we left for MS.  I led the meeting by trying to answer as many questions for everyone as I could.  Someone asked – what will our sleeping arrangements be like – I don’t know.  Another – how will we get electricity to the football field for the fall festival – I don’t know.  Will there be people to help us when we get to MS – I don’t know.  How will we cook the hot dogs and hamburgers – I don’t know.

Eventually, my friend, Ron, a gruff, former Marine staff sergeant blurted out – “Well, preacher, what do you know?”  
I smiled and said, “Ron, right now this task seems impossible to both you and to me.  There are more questions than answers.  Yet, I have a feeling that God is in this.  And if you trust me, and we both trust God, we might just experiencing something extraordinary.”

Well – Ron, didn’t really like that answer – it was a little too preachy.  But he said – “well, we’ll just have to see about that.”  We both knew that every rational look at this endeavor said we would fail in our attempt.  

You see, when we attempt the impossible on our own, we fail.  When we try to solve all of our country’s problems with a new politician – we fail.  When we try to fix all of the challenges at church with our own ideas – we fail.   Something else must take place.  

Solution:  Act on the empowerment of God for Ministry.  

The secret … the solution … to impossible circumstances comes through the empowerment of God.   

Here’s what Jesus did … “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled.”

I’m always amazed at this miracle and think about what it would have been like as a disciple participating in the miracle.  Jesus gives you a piece of one of the loaves of bread and small portion of fish and sends you to your first group of 50 people sitting on the green grass.  You pass a basket around – watching as each child and mother and farmer take a piece of bread and fish and pass it to another.  You watch expecting to run out of food, but instead, you have just enough to start at the next group.  And when they are done - Still you have just enough.  

Jesus doesn’t accomplish the impossible automatically.  The miracle happens when each disciple has just enough faith to walk to the next group to see what might just happen.  And when they are done – not only has everyone eaten their fill, there are baskets of food left over.  The disciples did think they were accomplishing the impossible, they were just following the instructions of Jesus – empowered by him for the ministry in front of them.  

The same is true with the disciples in the boats.  Faced with the impossible, the wind, and the inconceivable – Jesus walking on the water – the disciples welcome Jesus into the boat.  When Jesus sits among them, the wind suddenly ends and suddenly they are moving again.  

This was my greatest spiritual lesson of our time in Long Beach, Mississippi.  From the moment we attempted the impossible for Jesus, Jesus provided just want we needed when we needed.  The impossible became possible only because God empowered us for ministry.  To this day, I still cannot explain it – I can only describe it.  

When we needed a place to stay, the city offered us cots and a shower.  When we needed a place to hook up RV’s the city provided a parking lot.  When we needed a large moving truck to get all of our supplies to MS, someone in town called and offered us one.  When we needed pumpkins for Halloween, a vendor in Mobile donated them to us.  When we wondered if we had enough food, the Red Cross showed us and started serving steak dinner.  When we wondered if anyone in town would show up, over 3000 people came to the football field in Halloween costumes and enjoyed being a community together, playing fun games, eating carnival food, and thinking about something other than survival.  

That night, when we were done and the lights on the football field were turned off, we gathered our volunteers from Beaufort, and I read them this story of Jesus feeding the 5000.  My friend, Ron, looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I saw Jesus tonight.  Jesus did the impossible.  He empowered our hands for the task.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.”  

FBC Cornelia has seen God’s empowerment of God for ministry too.  We saw God show up when we decided to open our first cold weather shelter.  It was an impossible task – but God provided all that we needed just when we needed it.  

The same is true when our church decided Cornelia needed a soup kitchen in Cornelia.  We said, let’s start to work, and God provided what we needed when we needed it.  And now there is this great place in our community where anyone can eat whose hungry.  

Why do we forget God’s empowerment when it comes to our church or to our lives?  When we see the impossible, we think rationally.  We think about all of the reasons why something can’t work instead of what Jesus wants to do.   Jesus is already here empowering each of us and this church for the things we see as impossible.  

God doesn’t see impossible.  God sees the opportunity for you and me to participate in the Kingdom.  
Don’t be discouraged. Don’t focus on the negatives of your life.  Don’t listen to the doomsayers.  Jesus invites you and me to “Take heart; do not be afraid. Because he is here empowering us for the day ahead.” 

Thanks be to God!  Amen.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Lessons from our Dads

The stories of our lives have much to teach us about life, faith and the Way of Jesus if we take time to listen.  This week, I invited our church and my social media friends to share stories
and lessons from their fathers.  You amazed me at how quickly your stories came off your tongues.  It was as if you were waiting simply to be asked.  And the stories you shared included everything from practical lessons to stories of depth and vulnerability. 

When we tell stories about our fathers, we start with the funny stories.  It seems one thing fathers have it common is the ability to embarrass their children or tell a joke. 

And this is where I want to start with a few jokes from my father.  Like Jack Boozers preach father, Claude Boozer, my father was a humorist too.  They both were quick to tell a funny story or relate a funny experience in their sermons to drive home a point to help one remember the lesson they was emphasizing.  They both loved to tell a joke and to hear one and always had smiles on their faces.
  This week as many of you were sharing your stories, I went through the preaching files I inherited from my dad.  So, to help me get this sermon on Lessons from our Dads started, here are a couple of jokes about fathers from my dad’s file called “Little People Church Humor.”

“One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking in her small boy into bed.  She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?”  The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug.  “I can’t, dear,” she said.  “I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”  A long silence was broken at last by his shaky little voice:  “The Big Baby.” 

Here’s one more:
A father was reading Bible stories to his young son.  He read, “The man Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned to salt.” His son listened, scrunched up his face, and finally asked, “Well … what happened to the flea?”

Bible Exposition
Our Bible passage today comes from Hebrews 11 – the Faith chapter.  The chapter starts with this definition of faith:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  To describe this faith for his readers – to show what this faith looks like in real life – the writer of Hebrews tells stories of faith that had been told in his community for centuries.
·       By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s.
·       By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death
·       By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household.
·       By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance

These stories of faith reveal the deeper truth of the spiritual life:  As followers of Jesus we will always be strangers and foreigners on the earth.  We are the People of God seeking a new homeland.  If the people of faith who came before us had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they – like us - desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” when people of faith choose to live for God’s better country – God’s kingdom – we have this promise:  “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

The stories of our fathers and mothers of faith point us to a land beyond this world, a better land.  These stories invite us to live differently because our lives matter to God and to us 

The same is true in the lives of our fathers.  A friend wrote this poignant paragraph this week in response to my question:  “Father power is an awesome responsibility! God is only perfect Father...the rest of us are merely trying to be the best we can be for our children. We face two key questions as fathers and parents:  What kind of legacy do you want to leave your children? What will they say about you when you are gone?”

Father power is an awesome responsibility.  First, let’s acknowledge the power fathers have in our lives. 

·       Fathers have the power to hurt or to heal.
·       Fathers have the power to nurture or steal our childhoods
·       Fathers have the power to teach both lessons to build a life or lessons to destroy a life. 
·       Fathers have the power to love or to hate.

With great father power comes a great and awesome father responsibility.  There is a reason that fathers often grow quiet and reflective and a little scared in that debilitating moment when the doctor hands us our first child in the hospital:  The power and the responsibility overwhelms us and we wonder if we are up for the challenge. 

How we wield this power and responsibility in the lives of our children will determine the legacy we leave on our children.  Like the lessons of faith the writer of Hebrews departs in chapter 11, let me share with you a few lessons on fatherhood that demonstrate fathers who have gotten this balance of power and responsivity right.  And in so doing, they have molded the lives of some incredible people who have never forgotten the lessons they learned.
Lesson 1:  Fathers teach us the practical ways to live in this world.  Here are a few of the practical ways fathers have taught us to live:
1.    You're only as good as your word.
2.    Whatever you do, do it well.
3.    Family is everything.
4.    Pay your bills
5.    Keep a good credit rating
6.    Never pay the sticker price for a car!
7.    One friend said:  “He taught me how to shoot a gun, drive a car, tie a tie, do basic electrical and plumbing repairs.”
8.    Another said, “My father taught me fiscal discipline. He didn't spare his success stories on investments and savings from his daughters! I am grateful because he was raised in a time when a woman's retirement plan was to marry well. He told me that "Americans buy everything on sale except stocks. If you sell when the price is dropping, you guarantee your loss." As I grew older, I realized that this advice was also a lesson on perseverance and identifying for ourselves what has value.
9.    One friend told me this story about how his father taught him to fish and trust him: “After serving four years in USAF with three years served in Chateauroux France in WW2, my dad took me fishing his second day home from the war.  He gave me his rod & reel with an old six inch lure with three triple hooks. I was thinking what fish would bite this old lure.  Dad said go ahead throw it as close as you can by an old stump sticking up above the water. The lure disappeared and I had a bite.  After several minutes - which seem like a life time - I got the fish close to the bank and dad used a dip net to bring in the fish. I still have the picture with that two pound and another four pound fresh water bass from that day.  Needless to say I never doubted him again.”

Lesson 2:  Fathers teach us how to treat other people. 
Story after story I received this week had some version of this lesson.  It seems our children pay attention to how we treat other people – both those we know and those we don’t.  For example. 

A friend from Oklahoma wrote:  One year, my dad received an expensive pair of insulated overalls for Christmas. After opening gifts and having breakfast together, he began wrapping up the coveralls.  I asked what he was doing. He explained that he had coveralls but a friend- another farmer- was in need of coveralls. Instead of giving away his used coveralls, he gave away his Christmas present so his friend would have a new gift. That life lesson in how to treat other people was seared in my mind and heart!

A friend from Missouri wrote:  My Dad has always taught me not to judge anyone by their external appearance. Growing up my Dad would give stranded people rides, provide them with gas from the farm tank or bring them in and feed them. He grew up with nothing and never forgot it.
Helen Bryson told me this story about her Daddy in NC:  I remember this preacher that lived far back in the mountains and walked to the community on Saturday where he would preach on Sunday. We lived on a river and the bridge was visible from our front porch.  He told us at my daddy’s memorial service:  “I knew that Sam Gibson (Helen’s daddy) sat on the porch and watched for me to come in sight and would always find a reason to come along shortly and provide a ride home.”

It’s not just any person though – our fathers teach us how to treat our mothers.  One friend from Florida wrote:  “My dad’s two big rules growing up were...1. Watch your attitude 2. Don't talk back to your mom.”

Another friend from Savannah said:  My dad always said:  "Don't forget to listen to your mama!”

Dads – how we treat our wives teaches our children how to treat the women around them.

Lesson #3:  Father’s Demonstrate Love for us. 
Finally, of all the powerful stories I received – the ones that came in long narratives in my inbox with the many ways our fathers demonstrated God’s unconditional love in our lives most impacted me.  Here are just a few examples:

A friend who grew up in Virginia wrote:  “My dad taught me what unconditional love looks like. For him and me it was driving 8 hours from Richmond, Virginia to Bristol, Virginia, watching a 45-minute peewee football game and driving back to be at work the next day. Unfortunately, I did not realize it early enough to thank him.”

A boy I grew up with in Savannah wrote this about his dad who died a couple of years ago:  “My dad taught me through his actions and words, over and over again, that Christianity is about love. The action of loving one another. But he also taught me to love football!”

A college friend wrote:  “Hi, Eric, I cannot pass up this opportunity! My dad was always so cool and understanding with us two girls....when I was 16 I had two car wrecks in two weeks! In the first, I ran into a stop sign (because I was trying to kill a mosquito) and scraped the whole side of the car. In the second, I backed into another car in a parking lot and took off the other car's entire back bumper (that car belonged to a young man). After the second one, I thought for sure my dad would be furious with me. He followed me home from that wreck, and I was so upset.  I just knew he was going to yell at me. When we got home, however, he stood in the garage with me and said, "Well, Kendra Leigh"....(a sure-fire notice that a well-deserved punishment was coming my way) and I braced myself "Yes, sir?

He then said, "There are better ways to meet guys." and walked into the house. I stood in the garage for a long time wondering if I was in trouble! That was a great example of a dad who knew his daughter well, that I had beat myself up all the way home, and would not ever do anything so stupid again. He knew there was nothing he could say to me that I had not already said to myself, and worse.

Finally, a friend became very vulnerable to me when told me the story of coming home to her very exacting father to tell him she was pregnant.  She had rehearsed her speech all the way home – just like the prodigal son as he came home empty handed and smelling like swine.  Finally, she stood before her daddy who wondered why she was at home.  After taking a deep breathe, she said, “Daddy, I’m pregnant.” 

To which he responded:  “Every child is a gift from God.”  There was no judgement or screams, no scene, just grace.

That is the greatest gift a father can ever give to his children:    God’s unconditional love, given as the free gift of grace. 

This is how our children will learn the concept of a Heavenly Father – because they have seen the Father’s love in our eyes and hands and our words.

Father power is an awesome responsibility, Indeed!  How we balancing the power and responsibilities God has given you and me for the Sake of our children, our families and our world will determine the legacy we leave with our children. 

This is how we change the world – one father, one mother, one family at a time! 

Thanks be to God!  Amen!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Captured By Love

Let me tell you my love story. 

The story starts in the early 1960’s when a young preacher boy at Mercer University catches the eye of a beautiful secretary and fellow student.   When they marry, the preacher and the teacher dream of a family together.    

The couple spends their newlywed years pastoring a country church.  They learn how to love and be loved among these farmers, doctors and house wives.  These lessons shape their lives. 

In those days, preachers worth their salt attended seminary.  Soon, the honeymoon is over and the bride teaches in a big city school and the groom attempts to master Greek and Hebrew.  Life fills with school and friends and eventually another country church on the weekend.  As the years pass, they watch friends welcome little ones into the world … and they keep teaching, studying and preaching. 

Tests and doctors, questions and fears follow.  Years rolled on.  The world keeps moving.  Soon, something shifts.  Questionnaires and case workers, hopes and dreams develop.  Weeks and months roll together.  The world keeps moving with a skip in its step. 

On Monday, February 10th, 1969 a baby boy bounces into the world loved more deeply than anyone will ever know.  On this day, a young, unnamed, single college student gives the world a lesson in love.  She loves that boy enough to place him in the hands of a nurse and drive away. 

On Wednesday, February 12, the young couple sits down for a birthday meal.  It is their 7th celebration together and still the chairs around the table sit empty.  The phone rings.  A yell ensues.  A baby boy waits for their love.  The bride exclaims with tears in her eyes, “It’s my best birthday gift ever!”

On Friday, February 14, the couple receives a true Valentine’s Day miracle … a deep, intense love moves into their lives with the arrival of a gurgling, smelly, baby boy.  Love invested becomes love received. 

As the adopted son, I have been captured by love in so many ways:  by the sacrificial love of my birth mother, by the invested love of my parents, and by the never doubted knowledge that I am loved. 

Jesus describes God with similar language.  “God loved the world so much, God gave God’s one and only son, so that whoever believes in him, will not perish, but shall receive eternal life.” I grasp this love because it captured me the moment I arrived in the world.  Thanks be to God.  Amen  

Monday, October 26, 2015


Series:  Believe Week 7:  Humanity
Scripture:  Philemon

Date:  October 25, 2015

When I was a little boy, one of my favorite children’s books was called - Fortunately and unfortunately.  The book followed a young boy name Ned who fortunately received an invitation to come to a surprise birthday party.  Unfortunately, the party would be held in Florida and Ned was in NY.  Fortunately, a friend loaned him and airplane.  Unfortunately, the motor exploded.  You get the picture.  Unfortunately, looking back on the book now, I can’t believe all of the harrowing circumstances Ned found himself in.  Fortunately, for me – as a child – I loved each page. 

[Here's the short book if you want to read it too.  :)

          This week as we have been reading our Believe scripture passages on building a biblical theology of Humanity – the back and forth rhythm of my favorite childhood book came back to me.  Here’s why:  I am stuck by discrepancy between how we see other people and how God sees people.  We want God to see certain way and others differently.  These discrepancies point a mirror into our lives and make confront today’s Key Question:  How does God see us?
          Join me for a few moments with a little back and forth between how we see people and how God sees people as we examine – poke and prod our theology of humanity.

 We See:  Evil, desperate, sinful people
We read the papers and watch the news and see stories of mass murder and school shootings.  We are horrified by the actions of humans in war.  We see people denying God’s existence, living sinful, damaging and corrupt lives and wonder what could God ever do with them.  What value are they?

Fortunately, God Sees:  all Humans created as in God’s image.
          In every sinful, desperate, evil person – God sees a man or woman wonderfully knitted, formed and loved into God’s image.  Genesis 1:26 says:  Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image and likeness. And let them rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the tame animals, over all the earth, and over all the small crawling animals on the earth.”
          Each person on this planet is created for a purpose, loved and valued by the Lord God. 
On the opposite side: 

We see:  Good, hard-working neighbors.
          You know, these are kind of people who don’t steal, don’t make loud noise, look after your dog when you are gone, vote regularly, bring casseroles when you are sick, work hard to make a living.  We see these friends and think – they have done everything right.  They are good people.  Surely, they are the kind of people who God desires.

Unfortunately,God Sees:  Sinners fallen short of the glory of God.
          We want to make people’s outward appearances and actions take the place of their inward relationship with God.  Yet, while God sees a person created and formed in God’s image – God also sees each person’s sin of betrayal and it separates them from the life God designs for them. 
          Romans 3:23 says:  Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.
          I love this phrase that has stuck with me most of my life:  the ground at the cross is level.  While we see good people and bad people – God just sees people, God’ creation.  And while we want to set some people above others – God never does.  It is only through the cross that we come into a relationship with the Lord.   
When we are subdividing people – creating our own version of the caste system, we often base our theology of humanity on our own world view.  For example: 

We see:  A broken world divided by barriers of language and borders.
          As much as we hate it, we each carry our own prejudices about people in the world. We divide people by the languages they speak or don’t speak, the ways they dress, the color of their skin, the depth of their education, or the borders that they cross.  We fear people who are different.  We break people down by stereotypes and titles.  We call other human people illegal and we loosen our tongues and forget that the words we use actually describe people loved by God.  Our way of looking at the world becomes the only way to look at the world.

Fortunately, God Sees:  A unified, wonderful world where all are loved.
          Recently, I have been following the photographs of astronaut Scott Kelley who is living for a year on the International Space Station.  Each day, Captain Kelly posts pictures to his Instagram of pictures of the earth – from North America, Europe, South America, Asia.  Unlike our common maps, these pictures show no borders or countries.  We see beautiful mountains and rivers and deltas, cities lighting up the night, and this week a monster hurricane.  I imagine this is more like how God sees the world:  a unified, wonderful creation full of his most prized creation – you and me. 
          The Gospel writer John puts it this way:  “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.”  This was our memory verse for this week.  The verse demonstrates how God’s love breaks down the barriers of our broken, divided world.

Unfortunately, when we see a divided world, we cannot see beyond it.  For example, often:

We see:  Ornery, hard to love people who are against us.
          You know what I mean.  These are the people in our families that drive us nuts.  The employee that continues to complain to the boss about us.  The neighbor who called the police on our kids.  The girl at school who we thought was our friend who told our most private secret to people at school.  The friend who has bi-polar disease or the addict who has burned all of his bridges.  We don’t have to go too far to see people by what they do and how they treat other people. 

Fortunately, God sees:  God’s children.
          As prickly and ornery and spiteful as some people can be in our lives – God still sees them as his children.  God’s creation.  And God still calls us to treat them in the same way we would treat the people who are kinder and friendlier and easier to be around.  Jesus says this in the Sermon on the Mount:  “But I say to you who are listening, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you,”
          God’s Way in the world takes our ways of looking at the other people and turns us on our heads.  Here’s one more example.  

We see:  Brilliant and gifted people who have achieved success in politics, business, and entertainment.
          If you are like me – these people stand out in the world for all that they have achieved.  We gawk at and look up to these people.  We get giddy when we come into their presence.  I’ve not been in the room with too many celebrities, but when I have I know that the intensity in the room changes.  We say – “hey, do you know who is here?”  We might ask for an autograph or a selfie these days.  We increase our standing by being close to one of these brilliant, successful people as we tell our stories of encounter. 

Fortunately, God sees people differently.

God Sees:  Little children with crusty faces, active bodies and curious minds. 
          In a lesson on greatness, Jesus brings a first century, child into the middle of his teaching circle and uses the child as an object lesson for greatness in the kingdom of God.  He says in Matthew 18:3:
Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you must change and become like litt   le children. Otherwise, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
          This is how Jesus views humanity – not by what we can achieve or provide or the extra ability of giftedness that we have – but through our humble ability to trust completely in the Lord of Creation. 
          How does God see us?  God sees us his wonderful creation formed in God’s image who have sinned and need Jesus.  God sees us as one humanity, loved deeply in spite of our ornery natures. And God values us not by what we accomplish but by the faith we exhibit.  This is theology preaches and changes lives and churches and communities. 

A practical theology of humanity can be found in one of the shortest books in the Bible – Paul’s letter to Philemon.  In this short book, Paul challenges all of us to see each other – not as we see – but as God sees.

The simple story is this.  Paul is in prison in Rome.  In prison he meets a runaway slave name Onesimus.  Through the friendship of Paul and the grace of God, Onesimus commits to follow Jesus.  Paul loves Onesimus and wants him to serve as an associate with him in the service of the gospel, but he had neither a moral nor a legal right to retain him.
Legally, Onesimus belongs to a Christian man named Philemon in Colossae.  Philemon is an active believer and spiritual leader.    He hosts a church in his home.  Paul knows Philemon – most likely because Philemon heard Paul preach in Ephesus. 

The theological question that faces us faces these three men:  How does God see us? 

To Philemon - Onesimus is a runaway slave, a piece of property who most likely stole from his master when he left.

To Paul, Onesimus is a brother in Christ.  The barriers between slave and Roman citizen have been broken by the love of Jesus.  So – Paul sends Onesimus back to Colossae with this letter for Philemon. 

I, Paul, an old man now and also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, 10 am pleading with you for my child Onesimus, who became my child while I was in prison. 11 In the past he was useless to you, but now he has become useful for both you and me.

Paul is challenging Philemon to see Onesimus no longer through his human eyes – as a slave – but through God eyes, as a useful child of God. 

[he is]16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a loved brother. I love him very much, but you will love him even more, both as a person and as a believer in the Lord.

When Onesimus shows back up at Philemon’s door with this letter from Paul - Unfortunately, from the human perspective, nothing has changed.  Onesimus is still a runaway piece of property and a thief.

Fortunately, from God’s perspective everything has changed. Onesimus is no longer a slave, he is a brother in Christ.

When we begin to release our way of seeing and receive God’s eyesight, today’s key idea becomes a bold experience of God’s grace and glory. 

Key Idea:  I believe all people are loved by God and need Jesus Christ as their Savior.

I am convinced when we allow this belief to settle from our heads to hearts – it will have the greatest impact in how we live our lives as any of these beliefs.  The virtue of gentleness will no longer exist in patches around our lives – but will settle into a new way of existence on our daily living.  What a glorious and marvelous day that will be.  Thanks be to God.  Amen. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Morphing: The Goal of the Spiritual Live

Romans 12:2
New Revised Standard Version
Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Phillips Translation
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

The Message
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Many of you know that Marcia, Sydney and I took Sarah – our oldest to college this week.  Like some of you, we unloaded a pile of belongings, decorated a dorm room, and left her on a strange and beautiful college campus – Samford University in Birmingham, AL.  One benefit of college is that now that Sarah is 18 and on her own – I no longer is obligated to pay her $1 every time I use her name in a sermon illustration.  We just ring it up to the cost of growing up in a preacher’s home.

On the way home yesterday, my mind began creating montages of her growing up years. I thought of the many good things I had done as her dad – picking her up at school, coaching a little league softball team, and traveling to every out of town Raider football game. 

There were other images, too, though, darker images.  I remembered the moments I failed as her dad:  The nights I lost my temper, yelled too loud and made her cry and the days I let being a pastor come before being a dad.

If I allow myself to be honest – I realize I had a pretty high expectation of being her dad and most days – reality never caught up.  Even in the great joy of being a dad, this discrepancy creates disappointment.  I call it the disappointment gap – the gap I feel between expectation and reality.  What I want to do and what I actually do.

This disappointment gap includes much more than my skills as a parent – it covers every
area of my life:  my marriage, my work as pastor, my spiritual life, my life as a friend, my social media life, my prayer life. There is much that I want to do or not want to do and it seems I do the opposite.  I live constantly with a disappointment gap.  And – if you allow yourself to go there – you do too. 

Some of our disappointments are trivial – I need to get in better physical health or do a better job on my finances.

Some of our disappointments are neurotic – concerned about the expectations other people have for me. 

Some of our disappointments, though, run much deeper and darker.  So deep we will never share them. 

We stand in good company with our disappointment gap.  Listen to the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:14 as he talks about the power of sin in our lives:  “In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate.”  Paul had certain expectations of what he would do and not do – and reality set in and he did the opposite. 

We do the same thing in our spiritual lives – we have certain expectations like – I will forgive this person, I will become a person of prayer, I will invite that person to church, I will offer to pray for my co-worker – and then reality sets in and we live in the disappointment gap. 

What do we do with our disappointment gaps?

For some of us – we have learned to rationalize our disappointment gap.  John Ortberg in The Life You’ve always Wanted, calls this the Popeye approach.  Many of us will remember these old cartoons – or maybe the 1980’s movie - about an old crusty sailor named Popeye The Sailor Man.  When Popeye was frustrated or wasn’t sure what to do or felt inadequate, he would simply say, “I yam what I yam.” 

“Popeye wasn’t a sophisticated guy.  He had never been to therapy and was woefully out of touch with his shadow side and his inner child.  He didn’t have much education.  He knew who he was:  a simple, pipe-smoking, Olive Oyl-loving sailor man and he wasn’t pretending to be anything else.”  He “owned his story.”  Sound like anyone you know?

Ortberg notes a bit of sadness in Popeye’s expression, though.  He offered this expression as an explanation of his short comings with nonsense that he could ever grow or change.  He was saying – ‘Don’t get your hopes up.  Don’t expect too much.  I yam what I’m yam and that’s all that I yam.” 

I bet you have said those same words too – I know that I have.  “I am what I am and that’s all that I am – I will never be able to change.”  We get caught in the struggle between our disappointment gap and God’s hope. (John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 2002),14).

God desires a better way out of our disappointment gap.

If fact, God has designed a better way.  When we are experiencing life in our disappointment gap – we have dis-appointed God – we have removed ourselves from the life God appointed for us.  We have refused to let God be God.  Acknowledging God is the first step. 

          Do you remember the name God gives to Moses at the burning bush?  Back in Exodus, Moses has run away to the desert to escape.  Then, one day, God comes to Moses in this great burning bush – a tree burning, yet, not being consumed.  God calls Moses back to Egypt to lead the Hebrews out of slavery.  The task seems too enormous and Moses gets a little free with God and asks:

          “Who are you?  What if I go to the people and tell them the God of our fathers has sent me, and they ask me his name – what should I tell them?” Do you remember what God says?

          “I am what I am.”  It’s the powerful word in Hebrew we name YAWEH.  Literally Yahweh means:  “I was what I was.”  I am what I am.  I will be what I will be. 

          While we may struggle with a life of disappointment gaps – rationalizing our disappointment to God and ourselves – “I yam what I yam,” God gives it right back to us:  “No – I am what I am.  There is no situation, no sin, no mistake, and no disappointment that is too big for me.  Get your hopes up.  You know me.  I yam what I yam!”

          Get this into your head:  God created you as a great piece of art.  And now God calls us to become the person God had in mind when God originally designed us to be. 
          Soren Kierkegaard has this wonderful prayer.  It simple says, “And now Lord, with your help, I shall become myself.”  Do you remember God’s Name?  I am who I am!  This is the hope in the midst of the disappointment gap!

          During college, I had the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world – St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. It is filled with some of the most beautiful pieces of art in the world.  In one enclave towards the back sits a piece of renaissance art called the Pieta by Michelangelo.  Even as one unschooled in art – this piece of art spoke to me and took my breath away.  It’s a marble statue of an anguished Mary holding the crucified Christ.  I stood staring at the statue for several moments taking in this scene.

          What I didn’t know was that in 1972, a fanatic nationalist rushed the masterpiece and began smashing it with a sledgehammer.  Although there was much damage, the Vatican artists restored it to near perfect condition.  The damaged piece of art became beautiful again. 

God wants to do the same thing in each of our lives.  Each of us are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God – and yet, our sin has taken a sledgehammer to that image.  God is determined to overcome the defacing that sin has caused of his image in us. 

          God does not want the person that we are now to be the end of our story.  God desires for us to become something more.

          Let me invite you to take answer a simple multiple choice question.  It’s on your sermon guide and here on the screen.
“The purpose of my spiritual life is:
       To Be Good
       To learn about God
       To go to church
       To serve others
       To make a difference in the world.
       All of the Above
       None of the Above

Now - Listen again to our scripture passage Romans 12:2 (MSG):

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out”

God’s goal for our spiritual life is:  Human Transformation – changed from the inside out.

          Each of these answers to the question are good answers – yet, God wants something deeper and longer lasting.  God wants to change you – from the inside out. 

          The Greek word used in this passage in Romans 12:2 is Metamorphoo:  It means to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure – from the inside out.  This greek word became our English word metamorphous which we use to describe the transition that takes place between a caterpillar and a butterfly.
This is the Greek word translated as transfigure when Jesus goes up the mountain with this disciples and the disciples see Jesus for whom he really is.  Matthew describes it this way:  “Jesus "was transfigured [metamorphoo] before them; his face shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light.”

          Paul says in Romans – this is what God wants to do to us.  “Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed [metamorphoo]  by the renewing of your minds.”

          The image of Jesus lies dormant inside each one of us – and like a beautiful butterfly emerging from its cocoon, God wants to slowly, sometimes painfully, bring that image out in each of us.  God wants us to become something new.  In Corinthians, Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

          God desires the transformation of you and me – from lives lived in the disappointment gap – to lives lived mirroring the face of Jesus in the world. 

          Do you remember the tv craze back in the 1990’s called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?  The show was an unlikely hit – originally produced on a very low budget in Japan and badly dubbed into English.  The show and its characters continue to have their supporters – I still see Power Ranger costumes at Halloween and I learned this week there will be a new movie arriving in theaters in 2017.

          The key to the shows appeal was the character’s ability to morph.  Ordinarily, they were normal adolescences, but as needed they would access a power beyond themselves to become martial arts heroes for justice.  Their rallying cry in moments of crises was “It’s morphing time!” and they would transform with the ability to do extraordinary things.  Since then, the word “morph” has become a part of the American vocabulary (The Life You've Always Wanted, 19).
          In reality, we all desire deep down to be able to morph, to change from the inside out, to be transformed.

          Here’s the Gospel for you and me:  The possibility of transformation lies within each of us.  This is the essence of hope.  Ortberg says this:  “We are pregnant with possibilities for spiritual growth and moral beauty so great that they cannot be adequately described as anything less than the formation of Christ in our very lives.”  Wow!

          The goal of the spiritual life is our transformation from a life defined by our disappointment gap into an expression of Jesus.  Jesus wants to morph you and me!
          And when our morphing happens, we don’t just find ourselves doing the things of Jesus, we find ourselves wanting to do them.  We start becoming the kind of person Jesus wants us to be.  

I would like for us to learn a new litany to use in the coming days, weeks, months and years.  It points us to the heart and goal of our spiritual life and the life of our church.  It’s simply this: 
Pastor:  It’s Morphing Time
People:  We shall morph indeed!

          Let’s try it. 
When we morph into the image of Jesus – the world sees the changes and responses. 
Last week, I spoke about the shifting of our world. I challenged us to not just be afraid, angry, or apathetic – but instead to approach this new world with the excitement of a new adventure in faith.  The only way this makes any sense is when we are morphing more and more into the image of Jesus – as we begin to think, act, and become like Jesus.

When we do this – the world will be changed.  When we are transformed, we live by different rules – Kingdom living – than the surrounding culture.  Early Christians lived this way, attracting attention from outsiders and ultimately won many of them over the ways of Jesus.  Here is one report from a Christian sympathizer inside the Roman World:

“[The Christians] marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring.  They share a common table, but not a common bed.  They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh.  They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.  They obey prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives.  The love all men and are persecuted by all.  They are unknown and condemned.  They are put to death and restored to life.  They are poor, yet make many rich.  They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything" (Phillip Yancey, Vanishing Grace (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2014), 73).

When we morph into the image of Jesus – everything changes. 
Jesus desires us to morph – he wants to destroy the disappointment gap.
Our family needs us to morph – they want the best for us.
The world needs us to morph – they need to see Jesus.

What will you do?
Pastor:  It’s Morphing Time
People:  We shall morph indeed!

Thanks be to God.  Amen.