Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Walls We Build - September 10, 2017

Walls have gotten a lot of attention this past year. I have been thinking of walls and wall building and how it relates to us on a personal level. There is mention many times of walls and wall building throughout the Bible. God has given us scripture that talks of building walls for protection, guarded with watchtowers and gates or even angels. The topic is not new. 

Walls provide a protected space. With a wall the "outside" is separated from the "inside." It is human nature to build walls.
At the same time, walls built against us seem like obstacles or challenges that we often want to tear down or climb. Walls can be barriers against us, keeping us from reaching the place inside that we desire. Ironically, many of the walls in the Bible and in other parts of the world eventually get torn down or broken through.

How many walls are in your life?
Do you have invisible walls that you have created? Many of us have social walls that we build to protect the inner confidence, the inner comfort, or the inner pride. As adults we have all built walls in our life. We may build walls because of life events, bad things happen and we construct a wall to help us cope. Someone hurts us in some way and we build a wall to insulate us and help protect us from further harm. But how many of us have built a wall between ourselves and God?

As children we usually have fewer walls, we are like glass houses, transparent and easy to see. Life gets in the way as we grow older and our walls begin to grow. The older we get or the more life challenges we face, the more walls we build. We should all remember that Jesus tells us to be like little children 
in Matthew 18:3
“Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Our walls often keep us from fully enjoying the life God has given us. Walls in our faith keep us from enjoying the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father. I would like to invite you all to do the same thing I have been doing for the last month or so. Recognize the walls you have and carefully consider how they affect your life. Like scripture tells us walls can provide safety but walls can also block opportunity. Let your faith grow without barriers and open the wall around your heart to God. Let Him in and let Him reside with you in your safe spot. No wall is too great for God to break through! 

As the Psalmist writes in Psalms 18:29 “In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall.”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

God's Tools-July 15, 2017

Scott and I often laugh about how my table talks and those of other elders match what his sermon is for that day. His sermons over the last couple of weeks have focused on various belief systems. This is the topic I began to develop for my talk today even before he began this series of sermons. Something greater than both of us is at work here! 

Those who know me, know I am a teacher. Those who know me well, know I am a teacher of science and know that for most of my life I have worked to combine my understanding of all that is scientific with my acceptance of God and faith.

 I want to preface this by stating that I love and appreciate all of you and in no way am I trying to change the set of beliefs that you have accumulated in your own journey through life. In fact, to me the essence of our time here on Earth is to learn about God in the ways that we individually understand and accept. 

This is done the same way by each of us by using the Word of God, prayer, fellowship with other believers, and mostly growing faith by using the "tools" of understanding God has given each of us.

Tools can be described as things we use to solve problems around us and to gain a better understanding of our reality. A mechanic acquires tools that enable them to do a specific range of jobs. When something new arises, a new tool is created or an old tool is re-purposed. 

This idea is the basis of my understanding of science and how I can at the same time accept God's Word and build my faith. Science to me, is the slow unveiling of God's tools. Natural selection, the Big Bang, genetics and some less desirable processes such as aging, disease, and even death are simply tools of God. His tools are used to create us and the universe and reality in which we exist. 

Problems and disagreements in this world often arise when we believe we know God well enough to think we have all of the answers. Manyh tenants of Christian belief can be found in other religious beliefs as well, including some that are very different than ours. In fact, the God of the Christian is the same as the God of the Muslim and the Hebrew. 

But we have to remind ourselves that we are not Gods, we are humans. We understand our reality through the use of the human brain and not the "mind" of our creator. So everything we know comes from the use of the tools we have on hand right now. Interpretation of our religious beliefs sometimes delays our acceptance of new tools because of our fear of deception by Satan. 

For example, most Christians came to accept a universe in which the Earth is not the center. Eventually other scientific understanding has also changed long-standing religious beliefs in other ways. God has given us a wonderful guide for understanding Him and our universe in the holy bible. I believe it is a tool that was shaped by the hand of God through the writings and recollections of various men of ancient times. 

However, and this is where I may differ from many of you, I don't always believe in the superficial, literal interpretations of the Word. In fact, Jesus often spoke in parables to provide us an opportunity to understand God using our limited human mind. 

I believe we should spend our lifetime reading and re-reading scripture to gain its full meaning to us. If that is a literal interpretation to you, I accept that and love you no less. However continued discussion between all men of God and His Word is necessary not only to help believers clarify their own understanding, but also to help non-believers hear and accept God's Word. 

Among other things we are taught by Jesus to love, to forgive, to surrender, and to pray. We try to live by God's commandments but as humans we all sin and live ungodly lives. Without the proper sacrifice we are unworthy of eternal heavenly lives. 

In our lifetimes we do not ever completely understand all of God's tools and how to use them so human beings should be a little less judgmental and a little more tolerant in our approach to other beliefs. And love everyone, as Paul tells us in I Corinthians 13:13 "Three things will last forever; faith, hope, and love and the greatest  of these is love."

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Pinnacles and Pits - May 21, 2017

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching the Ross baseball team, and my two grand-nephews who are on the team, win the district baseball championship.

On Thursday, I was present at the Ross High School graduation to see one of my grand-nephews, a grand niece, Noah Meyers, and several other young adults graduate and experience one of those pinnacle moments life has sprinkled throughout it. Pinnacle moments help to define a lifetime.

Unfortunately, life also includes moments that are quite the opposite. However, those too help to define a lifetime!

The Rams were down at one point 5-0 and victory was not certain for sure, it was definitely not a pinnacle moment!
Each of the graduates on Thursday could provide several examples of uncertainty with grades, social interactions, or some other non-pinnacle and challenging moments in their high school career. For some graduation was not certain.

What pinnacle moments and negative moments have defined you? What has shaped you as you sit here at this point in your life? Could you write your "definition" using examples of both good and bad?

According to, to "define" means to set forth the meaning of, or to explain or identify the essential qualities of. Pinnacle moments obviously shape us in a way to do this but so do the opposite moments like when we face trials and rejection.

As I planned my focus for today, I was thinking of all of the things we experience that define us as individuals, both good and bad.
Without the "bad," the "good" would have a different meaning and be lessened to "normal."

God provides us with both pinnacles and pits. He is there beside us for both. Building faith takes a lifetime and He is our teacher.

He wants us to be happy and God provides, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”
Paul tells us this in ‭‭2 Corinth.‬ ‭9:8‬

But God also allows us to experience trials as well like Paul also states in Romans 5:3, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

As we shape our lives we can accept trial and grow from it or we can reject trial as "punishment" or "bad luck" and fail to get anything from the experience.
This choice is, as is everything else we do in life, part of what eventually defines us both in life and in faith.

As Christians we proclaim to be followers of Christianity and its teachings. We are presented with the challenge to accept everything in faith and to have or show the qualities associated with Christians, especially those of decency, kindness, and fairness.

If we accept only the pinnacle moments of life with faith and happiness but we reject the trials, without faith, do we really grow these Christian qualities that we proclaim? I catch myself from time to time getting down about things not going as I would have liked them to have gone and not showing the faith I need to grow, I miss an opportunity!

Life is like that ballgame I watched yesterday or like all of the things we experienced in high school, it all matters and it all builds our faith if we let it! The good becomes better and the seemingly impossible trials become easier.

1 Corinthians‬ ‭10:31
“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”‬
Matthew‬ ‭19:26‬ “Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Doubting and Its Importance in Faith-April 2. 2017

 What can we really be sure of?

As a teacher I face doubts of others every day and sometimes feel the overwhelming burden of doubt in myself when a task seems too large to conquer. Doubting and uncertainty are human traits. Should our walk of faith be any different?

Everyone, if they examine their hearts closely, has experienced doubts in their belief from time to time. Most people of great faith have admitted periods of doubt and uncertainty in their own walk.

Living in a world of darkness and seeing humanity at different levels has led me to doubts from time-to-time. I have weak times and stronger times when it comes to my faith.

Is there a place we are supposed to "reach" where we are sure what we believe and how we believe is the correct way? Or is there a single answer to how God wants us to live and what He wants us to believe?

Being "Christian" is a messy proposition, with many twists and turns. God builds us by helping us through crises like doubt.

Pope Francis recently discussed his own doubts and said, “We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith.”

Billy Graham reached a crossroads in his evangelical career in the late 1940s when he faced questions of his own direction and calling from God.

It was revealed that even Mother Teresa had doubt in God's presence in her life for nearly 50 years. Yet, she still worked faithfully as God's servant tending the poor.

So what can we do? Scripture speaks of many people who had doubts in their faith.

Abraham doubted God in Genesis 17:17, Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

Jesus chastised Peter in Matthew 14:31, “Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

And probably the most well-known doubter from the New Testament, Thomas, from John 20:27; “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

Will we all leave here today with strong spirit and iron will? I doubt it. In fact, I will continue to doubt many things, as will you. But let's remember that doubt is a part of growing faith. We just can't leave it to grow, we must nurture it with prayer and a conversation with God to allow us to become stronger when we face it!

One more verse I had written down awhile back to finish, Hebrews 11:1 "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; It gives us assurance about things we cannot see."

Let hope be the way our faith helps us defeat doubt.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How do You Know God? - February 19, 2017

In meditation, while preparing for this table talk, I researched both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln since the Presidents Day holiday that many of us will observe tomorrow is usually dedicated to these two men. While I learned several things about the holiday itself, including the fact that is observed and identified in many different ways througout the country, but what I mostly took from this process was a question, "What were the religious beliefs of our first and sixteenth presidents?"

Washington was associated with the Episcopalian Church and was a freemason. Both of these affiliations were influential in his life, but he was never a regular church member and it is said that he rarely took communion. He is known to have respected all religions of the many soldiers and statesmen he was involved with.

Lincoln was raised in a Calvinist/Baptist family and questioned these teachings as a young man. It was not until his life was impacted by his son's death and the unfolding of the Civil War that he grew strong in faith and prayer. He was never recorded as being baptized and never joined a church, although he regularly attended a Presbyterian Church while in Washington D.C.

I think the most interesting point is that both of these men led a life that made them revered and respected throughout history. Many people believe they demonstrated tremendous faith in God as they led our nation. But both seemed to struggle in their own understanding and acceptance of God and their education in God took their entire lifetime. The personal struggles and trials are what seemed to build each of their faiths and led them to better understand God. This is something that many of us can relate to today. How do we know God? 

Most of us try to understand God through human eyes and a human perspective. This cannot work, God is not human. God understands us because He made us and He sent Jesus Christ to Earth to live and die as a man. We must spend our time working to grow closer to Him and reach a better understanding of Him with every day and every prayer. Accepting Jesus as our savior is the first step in our understanding, knowing God more completely takes a lifetime.

We read the bible and try to understand it with a human mind and with interpretation of human languages. The bible is God's word, but would it be a simple story that He has given us to merely finish reading and accept with faith? Or is it something much greater that we should read over and over again, discuss with others, pray in conversation to God about, and eventually reach an introspective and personal understanding of?

We are not unlike Washington and Lincoln. We are all struggling to better understand God, that is why we are here today. We will likely never stand the test of history like any of the presidents, but most men never do. We are in our own personal walk with God like all men and women throughout time have been. We will all experience our own trials that are as big to us, as a war and presidency were to Washington and Lincoln.

Jesus allows us the ability to overcome the "language" barrier between us and God. He makes us righteous in God's eyes because He accepted our sin when He was sacrificed on the cross. Yes, we were created in God's image. But to truly understand God we need to look for Him with more than simple human language and human eyes. We need to use prayer and faith as our interpreter and follow His most simple rule, to love and accept each other. 

I Corinthians 13:4-13
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

Remember that everyone is trying to understand our Father in heaven better, even the George Washingtons and Abraham Lincolns of the world!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

February 5, 2017 - Brokenness

I attended a family event last month and got a chance to "catch-up" with a few cousins and other family members I hadn't seen for awhile. Everyone, of course, looked older and had changed a bit but as I talked with each one personally, I found that they each had experienced some life challenges since I had seen them last. Isn't that really the case for us all?

Each day offers a new series of challenges and rewards. And...At least in my life...Some days are a bit more challenging than others! Trials are a part of living and growing in Christ. Life in faith is not a promise of no trial or no pain. As Jesus told the disciples at the last supper in John 16:33 when He was preparing them for the challenges they were to soon face, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on Earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."

My cousin Chuck had organized this get-together that I attended in January as a celebration of his Mom, my Aunt's 80th birthday. He has always been a positive and cheerful person as long as I can remember and, being 7 years older than me, was often a mentor as we grew up. I saw Chuck enter the party in a motorized wheelchair and I began to wonder what his issues were. His wife was the one who revealed to me that he was suffereing from a degenerative bone condition in his feet. Chuck was outwardly cheerful and talking to everyone in his normal way, hiding his brokenness.

This experience has kept me thinking about this idea that we are all "broken" in some way. Most of us, most of the time keep our broken pieces hidden under our cover that we share with others. The well-known expression, "You can't judge a book by its cover" accurately describes us all. We are all like a book that has unique and personal story hidden beneath our cover. Our facade often hides the pain and trial we are facing. Even those who seem to have a bright, cheerful cover may be hiding something that needs healing. 

How are you broken? Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, something else? Or is it a collection of things? God wants us to be whole. He wants us to come to Him for healing and He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. As Moses told the Isrealites before they were led into the promised land from Deuteronomy 31:6, "So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you or abandon you."

Surrendering our spirit brings us to God, growing our faith allows God to heal our body and our souls. Faith in Him will heal us and make us whole. As the Psalmist in Psalms 51:17 writes, "The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God."

We all need to open our book and let God heal whatever is broken within us. We need to pray for others who may have a cover that we find objectionable, but which hides something broken within them that we cannot see. We need to understand that what we "see" in others may not be what their soul is. We all hide our brokenness to some degree.

God has given us these reminders each Sunday of the sacrifice of Jesus' broken Earthly body that was made for us, to heal us, to fix what is broken within us. All we have to do is faithfully accept His healing grace. As we take these elements let us remember He is always there, waiting to help mend whatever hidden brokenness we might have.

December 18, 2016 - Positivity in a Negative World

With all of the negativity in the world, how do we stay positive?

Negativity is what we see but positive is what we want to be.

Well, in the physical world opposites attract. Where there is one thing, it's opposite is surely nearby! Opposite charges are found together because positive is attracted to negative.

War ends with peace, fatigue ends with rest, and pain ends with relief. Even though these may happen more slowly than we might like or in a different form than we might expect, these opposite things are always found together.

We don't always see one because of the other. What we want is hidden by what we don't want. Sometimes what we desire is right in front of us but we are blinded by what we are trying to avoid.

The birth of Jesus and the hope and salvation He brings to all who accept him is the good news. But even many of His own people, who were waiting for the Savior, did not at first recognize Him.

From Luke 2:10-14 KJV

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

We still search for salvation from our troubles today without instead depending on our faith in Jesus Christ to guide us. Covered in our worry, pain, sin, or whatever blinds us we forget these "good tidings of great joy" for all of the people.

Jesus' life and death for us is that positive in our world filled with negative.

Jesus was born, a light, into a dark world.
He was a celebration brought into a world of woe.

The life Jesus offers us is opposite a life of sin. He offers a peaceful heart and mind instead of worry and fear. All we have to do is accept Him and let Him guide our lives. A positive that can cancel all of the negativity, if we just see Him!

Have a joyful Christmas season and...God bless us, everyone!