A Gospel of Chances

3rd Sunday of Lent
Scripture: St. Luke 13:6-10

As we look at our text today, we see the fig tree and you and I have much in common in our growth problems.

Uselessness invites disaster. Taking only out of something and giving nothing in return, invites death.

There is more than one chance for spiritual life and growth, but there is a final chance.

The fig tree had a choice spot in the rocky soil. The soil was shallow but able to support the fruitfulness of the fig tree. It takes about 3 years for a new fig tree to produce fruit. In all that time, there is no evidence that the tree will bear fruits. If the fig tree or local church family shows no evidence of producing, our uselessness invites disaster. One must prove their worth and effort in bringing forth new life.

The gardener, by his actions of digging around the tree and waters it faithfully, shows that it gets a second chance. However, the story tells us that there is an eventual cut-off of chances if we do not produce what we have the ability to do.

Our local church congregation goes through the same cycle as the tree does. For reasons beyond our understanding and knowledge, other saw a need for an active church on this corner. Countless member have worshiped and served this church, and the Lord has blessed us. We have seen sparse growth at times and abundance in other times. In times of great growth spiritual and physical, we rejoice and praise the Lord. In times of little growth, I wonder if the Lord is testing our faith or seeking to change the direction of our ministry.

We have to face up to the reality that the church and its life are not the main focus in our lives today.

60-70 years ago, our lifestyle was centered around the church. We had Sunday morning worship and a Sunday evening service. Wednesday was used for Bible study and prayer group. Nearly every church was full of children, youth, and young adults.

This is not the churches' reality today, yet I personally believe that the Lord is not ready to throw in the towel (so to speak) in many small membership churches.

He offers us chance after chance to look at ourselves and see a plus or minus in our ministries, for we are both the problem and the solution to bring new life to us and the church community. One step is to realize that we are His hands, heart, and voice in the world today. Society will not respond to us unless we offer more than society offers the people.

Look what society and the 12-hour work shift have done to the church.

A case in point is that a grandson and granddaughter who are RNs both work four 12-hour shifts. They're off 3 days and on 4. Then they works 3 on and off 4. This cycle repeats.

In the oil industry in Alaska, workers are either on a 7- or 14-day turnaround. They fly up to the north slope, work 12 hours a day each day they are there, fly home, and are home 7 or 14 days before repeating the same schedule. One local pastor told me, “It’s like having 2 congregations.”

What does that do to the life of the local church? What does this do to family life? We need to block out a time slot for looking at our particular solution in the middle of Indiana to see how the church can respond to these situations. Worship schedules of yesterday will not do today. Doing what we have done in yesteryears will not bring new life and growth to the church and each family involved.

I don’t know the answers in solving the churches problems in these days, yet she must meet the demands of society to be fruitful. I realize that many small churches are running out of chances of being effective in the mission of the church and we see the results if we don’t try to meet the demands of the people seeking spiritual growth.

Are we willing to try new ways to bring Christ to others and refresh our own awareness of Christ in our lives? We need to brainstorm new and fruitful ministries.

The Lord, being our helper and guide, will help and direct us in the changes we need to make immediately. Amen!

Courage and Tenderness

2nd Sunday of Lent
Scripture: St. Luke 13:31-35

In our scripture we encounter 3 main characters:

  1. the pharisees
  2. King Herod
  3. our Lord

More often than not, we see the pharisees at odds with Jesus, but here we see them seeking to warn Jesus that King Herod is out to kill Him. The pharisees came to tell Jesus to leave the area, for He was in grave danger. The pharisees are much like you and me; like us we don’t all accept Jesus in the same way.

There were 7 different groups of pharisees. We hear mostly of those who are totally at odds with Jesus and call them the "shoulder pharisees." They wore they faith and actions on their shoulders, that all might see them as they keep the laws of Judaism.

Then there are the "wait –a –little pharisees." These men could always find a good excuse to put off a good deed until the next morning.

The "bruised and bleeding" Jewish rabbis would not talk to any woman in public, not even their wives or mothers. They shut their eyes at an approaching woman, thus  often running into someone or tripping over something.

The "humpback pharisees" walked bent over at the waist, always cringing in humility.

The "ever-reckoning pharisees" reckoned that their good deeds would strike a balance sheet of profit and loss with the Lord's love.

The "timid pharisees" or "fearing pharisees," were ever fearful of the wrath of God and what little faith they had brought them very little hope.

Then there was the “God-fearing pharisees” group. This is the group that was drawn somewhat to Jesus and his teaching and warned him of King Herod and his desire to destroy Him.

Jesus called King Herod a fox. It took real courage to call the king a fox.

  • The fox was regarded as the sliest of animals in their culture.
  • A fox is one of the most destructive animals.
  • A fox was a cultural symbol of worthlessness and the insignificant of man.

It took a brave person to call the reigning king a fox. One needed to be aware of what they said about King Herod, who was a very vicious man. Jesus took His orders not from any human king, but from the heavenly King, His Father in heaven.

There is nothing that hurts so much as to give someone your heart and then have them break it, yet all of us break the heart of Jesus from time to time.

As we look at the different groups who make up the pharisee family, we should see that the church today is much like that family. We each have our little special understanding of God’s love that leads to division within the universal church. It also brings down each local church family from time to time, when we must have it our way or we leave that active church family.

Of the different groups of the pharisees mentioned in our scripture, whom do you most identify with?

At the expense of building the church, are we willing to get beyond our differences to glorify our Lord in courage and tenderness? Let us pray.

A Battle with Temptation

1st Sunday in Lent
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God by the devil tempting us and our yielding to that temptation.

I recall a local pastor in Dayton, Ohio on a Sunday morning radio program saying he had not been tempted by the devil to sin since he had confessed Jesus Christ as his savior.

In my understanding, one of 2 things materialized by that statement. He had either lied, or had already sold out to the devil. I base that statement by paraphrasing scriptures: When we are tempted by the devil we can tell him in the name of Jesus Christ, "Get lost. Leave me."  And at that moment he has to leave, but he will return the first chance he gets.

Our scripture today states that Jesus was full of the holy spirit when he returned from Jordan, but was led by the devil, Satan, to the desert, where He was tempted by the devil for 40 days. He ate nothing during that ordeal.

Often, our temptations come in less than 40 minutes, not 40 days.
Jesus' 1st temptation was, after not eating for 40 days, to turn stones into bread. The wilderness was not a wilderness of trees and sand, but a wilderness of limestone, many in the shape of a loaf of bread. The devil told Jesus if He wanted people to follow Him, He could use His power to turn the stone to bread.
Jesus' answer used Deuteronomy 8:3, noting man will never find life in material things.

The real task of Christianity is not to produce new conditions of faith. The church must stand firm in the words of God in an effort to make new disciples.

Jesus' 3rd temptation was compromise. The devil took Jesus to the highest mountaintop, requesting that He look around at all the kingdoms of the earth.

He asked Jesus to fall down to worship him. All this fallen world is his and he promised to give it to Jesus in exchange for worship.

Jesus once again answers quoting Deuteronomy, this time with 6:13. Jesus states there will be no compromises! Right is right, and wrong is wrong.

We are tempted daily to make compromises in our walk with the Lord. The devil looks at things of this earth in a gray color. Our lord looks at all things as only black-wrong or white-right and full of the glory of the father in heaven.

In making compromises, we are looking at life and actions as a color blind state of being.

Jesus 2nd temptation was to use His power for Himself and not for the kingdom of God. The devil took Him to the highest point on the temple, asking Him to fall down off the temple, which was 450 feet high. Jesus replied, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Jesus saw quite clearly that if He produced sensations He might be nothing more than a 9-day wonder. Sensations don’t last; they are like a flash of light in the darkness and are then gone. It is hard to serve the Lord day in and day out without being tempted over and over. And to believe or say that you are never tempted is nothing more than a bare-faced lie. When tempted one should say, "Lord help me with the temptation I am facing. Help me be stronger, that I will not yield to that temptation again.

"When I realize I have been tempted and yielded to that temptation, cover me with Your grace and eternal love, and forgive me in your precious name.


Ash Wednesday

As I read the familiar story that launches the yearly Lentin fast, i am struck by Joel’s “render your hearts and not your clothes.” I am struck even more by the shameful memories that there are so few things to render my heart these days. I have become inundated by the daily news of senseless street crimes, coupled with that of a school girl kidnapped as a war trophy, political shenanigans, bombings, and the invasions that I have lost the ability to feel the world's pain deeply in my heart.

In a fast-paced, task-oriented world, there is no time to apply. No time for tears, or sorrows. Only work. So we pull down the window shades, avert our eyes, and put bricks in the place that once provided a window to the world.

Use the few tears that refuse to leave for the joy and concerned prayers. Lent is the time to unbrick ourselves, to tear down the protective walls that has kept us from days of continued tears over the troubles of this world.

Joel 2:13 instructs us: “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.” The trumpet has been sounded in Zion and we are called to heart rendering prayers. Between the vestibule and the alter, let the priest and ministers of the Lord weep.

The prophet is calling us beyond one day's ashes, in the sign of the cross to a season of public demonstrations that grieve over the mockery we have become.

We have graduated from giving up chocolate and our favored pleasures to take up the dare to see as God sees things. We are called to look at ourselves in the mirror without makeup, to look across the aisle and across the way without rose colored glasses, and to weep a response at what we might happen to see.

Let us pray!

The Transformation of Jesus

5th Sunday of Epiphany
Scripture: St. Luke 4:28-43

A transformation experience is like a bright light going off in a dark room. Suddenly you are wide awake from an extremely bright light and everything shines like polished gold. Mountaintop experiences are an important part of the Christian encounter.

Peter is one of the closest companions of Jesus. He wants to elongate this experience by building three shelters: one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But the real blessing of these mountaintop experiences comes only as one leaves the mountain and returns to everyday living.

While it is a privilege to witness a miraculous, inspiring, once in a lifetime event, these experiences are worthless unless they motivate us to greater confidence and assurance that new life to others as well as ourselves. Every time we receive validation that our faith is meaningful and based on more than hope or a whim, it should compel us to share it with those who have not yet experienced it as we have. It is never enough that our faith remains locked up in only our hearts. It has to be shared wherever and whenever we have the privilege to share it.

What happened on the mountaintop is important, but it is never more important than what happens in the world and in our lives as we come back to reality.

The real problem of mountaintop experiences is they are so wonderful and so inspirationally filled we don’t want to leave the mountain and move out to face our daily lives, yet we need to go forth and wage war on the evils of our day. Let your transfiguration light go forth into the world. Lead and comfort those who are suffering from sadness, illness, injustice, or oppression. Let us confess to them that God’s name is great and awesome.

In each of our lives, we miss so much because our minds are asleep. There are certain things that are liable to keep our minds asleep. For instance, there is prejudice. We may be so set in our own ideas that our minds are shut closed. The holy scripture records such events, especially among Jews toward Gentiles and Samaritans. God is the father of all the people, yet His chosen ones believed they alone had the keys to the heavenly kingdom.

Our lives are full of actions that shut out God and God’s grace to so many of his children.

Poet Elizabeth Browning wrote these words:
“She looked at him.
He looked at her
As only 2 lovers could.
And suddenly their lives awakened.”

True love is an awakening to a horizon we never dreamed possible. For so long we have lived our lives in a routine like state, half awake and half asleep. In a transfiguration experience one becomes fully awake. One throws off their rose colored glasses and sees life as it really is. Then one cries aloud, “Father God, help me! Forgive me!”

We all need a new and fresh transfiguration as we descend the mountaintop and come down to the reality of our sinful lives. In Jesus’ name we pray.