There was a commercial back in my childhood that every once in a while comes back up for a brand of peanut butter called Jif. The catch phrase went like this:
"Choosy moms choose Jif."
Perhaps you remember it too.
Well, my mom never chose Jif. We always had the Peter Pan brand.
Honestly, I don't think I really cared what brand we got because I just love peanut butter. One of my favorite snacks growing up was to cut an apple into slices, put a dollup of peanut butter on a plate and dip the apples in it. In fact, now that I have written about it, I may have that snack this afternoon.
Anyway...my stomach took over...sorry.
Choices. Every single day we are faced with choices. From the very beginning of creation, we have been given a very specific choice. When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, the choice they had was the most consequential choice ever made...and no, it wasn't to eat the fruit or not.
The choice they were given was to be in relationship with God, or not. Would they be faithful to God, or would they go their own way.
Another choice that was made in the Scriptures was for Abraham. In fact, Abraham had a lot of choices. He could do as God told him to go from the Land of Ur (his home, the place he had known all 70 years of his life at this point) and "go to the place that God will show him," or he could just chalk up hearing the voice of God to a bad peace of Bar-B-Que'd lamb he had just eaten.
Yet another choice for Abraham was to some how get out of the house without his wife Sarah noticing, take his son with two of their slaves and a donkey to mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac, or to roll over and go back to bed.
In our scripture for this week, Joshua called together all the people of Israel at the Tree at Shechem and put the question to them, "On this day, who will you call God?"
The reality is, while there are many things in this life we can choose: Where we eat lunch, where we go to school, and yes...even who we elect for president, those are just minor choices. And yes...I mean that.
The only choice that matters is "whom will you serve?"
Who will you put on the throne of your life? Who will you call Lord?
My friends, I honestly don't know how many people have been reading this blog over the last few weeks, but I do know I enjoy writing them. It is my hope that once a week I can give you a little "pick-me-up" through the middle of the week. Today, if you read nothing else from me, or hear none of my sermons, or go to none of my bible studies, I hope you hear that the best decision I have ever made was to say yes to Jesus.
One of the things I say every Sunday, and I believe it's important to say is: "If there is anyone in here who, for the first time, wants to know what it means to follow Jesus, please do not leave this room without talking to me first, because there is no more important conversation I could have with someone."
I say that because it's true. There really is nothing more important than for you to say yes to Jesus.
So, on this day, you need to answer the question, Who will you choose?
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Do you remember the old saying, "Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it?" Yeah...sometimes prayer is like that.
The beautiful thing about prayer is that when we communicate with God, he hears us. Sometimes the answer is not yet, sometimes is straight-out no, and other times, he says yes. But God always hears.
We read this passage last week in our Sunday Services, but I thought it worth repeating. In Matthew 6, Jesus is wrapping up what we call "The Sermon on the Mount." It is a lengthy sermon where Jesus goes through a bunch of mini lessons on how to live in the world, but not be of the world. Then he gets to the part about prayer, and we read these words:
When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father know what you need before you ask him.
One of the sayings I have picked up over the last few years of ministry, started as a way to transition from my pastoral prayer into the Lords prayer. While I admit, it kind of became a filler to move to the Lord's prayer, over time, it has picked up meaning for me.
It goes like this:
"God, we thank you for your son Jesus, who you sent so long ago to walk with us, talk with us, and teach us many things. One of the things you taught us was how to pray, so that when worlds failed us, and we didn't know what to say any more, we would have words that speak directly to your heart."
If you've been a part of any of the churches I have been appointed to, you have heard me say these words. In fact, I even work it into our understanding of prayer for our Confirmation Students. But I say them, not to be just a filler, but to remind us that when we do pray, sometimes, words fail us. Sometimes, we don't know what to say, and so maybe we just stop praying...or maybe we just babble (which is often my problem).
So, when we pray, it helps to remember that while we pray for specific things, when we pray the Lord's Prayer we are praying first of all about the Holiness of God. We pray about his kingdom and will; we pray about receiving that which we need to survive on a daily basis (bread), and we ask for forgiveness. For lack of a better phrase, we're covering all the bases...not just for the sake of covering the bases, but because these are the things we need.
We need God's holiness, we need to recognize that we are not of this world, that God is sitting on the throne, that we need sustenance, both for our bodies and our souls, and that we need his grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
SO...with that, let us pray.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will Be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the Glory
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
. SomeEvery year around this time, I take a week long retreat in Estes Park, Colorado. In fact, as I am writing this, I am sitting in the living room of the cabin where I and 29 other men from around the country are staying. Every day we spend time reading, playing disc golf, and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. But the most important part is the worship. In the evening after dinner, we spend time in the living room (all 30 of us) singing, praying, hearing the word proclaimed, repenting of our sins, and being forgiven and set free from any shackle that holds us down.
The first time I came to this was in 2015, and I have been every year since. I have made a commitment to come to this every year primarily because it is a time where I can refresh, rejuvenate, and rest in the Lord so that I can be a better Husband, Father, and Pastor.
Every year, being that it's in the mountains, it is both figuratively and literally a mountain top experience; much like Jesus big three disciples had when they witnessed the transfiguration.
But what I love about that story is less about the transfiguration itself (although it is super important) and more about how the disciples react.
They want to stay there. They want to build three shelters to commemorate the moment. But Jesus has other plans. He says, no...it's time to go back into the real world.
I love my job...I really do. I love preaching and teaching, I love building relationships, and there is even a part of me (albeit one that concerns me) that enjoys the administration of the life of the church. But it can sometimes be draining. It is so important for my spiritual well-being to get away for a few days, decompress, and to spend time with other like-minded pastors and friends to know that I am not alone.
The world doesn't understand Sabbath. But the reason Sabbath exists is so that we can be the best at what we are called to do. We come to these "mountain top" experiences, not so that we can stay here, but so that we can come home.
My hope for you is that you find your mountain top experience so that you can be the best in your calling. Something different from a day off, or different even from a vacation...but something fulfilling to your soul.
Let us Pray...
God of the Sabbath, we thank you for giving us the ability to rest in you. We thank you for those mountain top experiences that give us a glimpse of what we are fighting for; who we are pursuing. Help us to take a moment to stop to focus solely on our relationship with you. Help us then to come back to the real world and share what we've learned with you!
In Jesus name, Amen.
One of my favorite stories of all time is "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis. First of all, it's C.S. Lewis, and second it's just a great story about humanity; creation, brokenness, sacrifice, salvation, and just an all around great show of the battle between good and evil.
One of my favorite lines in the movie comes pretty early on when Susan, one of the main characters, if having a conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan, who is the Christ-figure in the story.
Mr. Beaver says, "Aslan is a lion, THE lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh," said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't save. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
Over the last 8 months, we have been worried about "safe." Are we safe from the Corona Virus? Are our jobs safe? Our livelihoods? Our kids as the return to school? Safe is a word that we often equate with the word Good.
If I am safe, then all is well, because it's not bad.
But think about this for a second; does "Good" always mean "safe?"
Have you ever thought about what Jesus might have looked like? Do you have a picture in your mind about Jesus? I think for so long, in my mind, his robe always seemed to be nicely pressed, and he had a colorful sash that draped over his shoulder. He has fair skin, and blue eyes, and his hair and beard were neatly trimmed.
Where on God's green earth did that imagery come from?
If you want my honest opinion, it's because that is the "safe" Jesus. That's the Jesus who looks kingly. That's the Jesus who speaks in a mild and meek manner, never gets frustrated, and always as something beautiful to say in the right moments.
But that is not the real Jesus. That is the Jesus made in our image.
There are many times in Scripture where Jesus bucks this "traditional" imagery of Jesus. You know what I mean...you've all seen the picture hanging somewhere in your churches.
Do you think that version of Jesus would use the phrase, "YOU BROOD OF VIPERS! YOU SNAKES!" No...I didn't think so.
In John 2: 13-22, we read the story about where Jesus cleanses the temple.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"
Wow, Jesus. Get yourself together.
...am I right?
No. I am not.
For anyone who reads this blog post, I want you to seriously take note of what is going on in the world. Take note of what is going on in our churches. For so long, our churches have forgotten that we have been given access to a terrifying and wonderful power. We have been given God's Holy Spirit, and for those of us who receive it, we have often squandered it out of fear of being labeled "unsafe."
Just because something is "unsafe," that doesn't mean it isn't "good."
It is time for our churches to reclaim the Spirit that was once given to us. It is time for us to return back to being a church who not only hope and rely on miracles, but expects them. It is time for us as a church to stop being afraid of the unsafe, and put our full trust in God; not just for our salvation, but for our protection and provision.
Let us Pray
We give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! We shout, "his steadfast love endures forever!"
God of us all, help us to reclaim the power that you desire to give us. Help us to be the church in the midst of the chaos of this world, to remember that you may not be "safe," but that you surely are "good!" Forgive us in our weakness, help us to return to our position of strength, not for our glory, but for yours and yours alone. Help us to witness to your power in this world.
In Jesus' STRONG name we pray!
This morning as I was preparing breakfast, I turned on the news, which is a normal occurrence for me. I guess you can say, while I'm making food, I like the background noise. But as I was watching, coverage began for the Funeral Service for the late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg.
While we were watching, a couple of things struck me. I made a comment to Miranda that no matter where you stand politically, when you see a flag-draped coffin, it makes you pause. You begin to think about what that flag means; what it represents, and how much a symbol it has become. You think about the men and women who have given their lives in service of that flag. You think about the the beauty of it and, to some, the controversy. But at the end of the day, it is something that belongs to all of us who call ourselves "American."
While the honor and symbolism is palpable in an event like the funeral service of a Supreme Court Justice, and while I could feel my patriotism flowing through me, this was not what struck me the hardest.
Most know that Justice Ginsberg was Jewish. Her faith was important to her, as it is to us. So naturally, her service was begun by a Jewish Rabbi. When she began the service, she alternated speaking in Hebrew and speaking in English as she read the traditional Jewish prayers and scriptures. But there was one moment when I was overwhelmed with emotion. When the Rabbi recited the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew, I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks.
The words spoken in Hebrew flow with a hauntingly beautiful cadence. Every single word, dripping with a deep and rich tradition. It was almost too much to bear. The weight of the passage was suffocating. Then I thought about what it all means.
This "Song of David" is one that we often hear at funerals, even in the Christian Faith. It is one that speaks hope in the midst of hopelessness, peace in the midst of fear, joy in the midst of sadness, and even life in the midst of death. It is a perfect understanding of the Grace of God; that even in the midst of "my enemies" God comforts and protects, and that even beginning in this life, we can "dwell in the House of the Lord forever."
It is no secret that our country is torn in two. It seems like every single day we hear a little bit more of the velcro that holds the two sides together ripping apart. The longer this all goes on, the more I realize how much our politics is just another symbol of all that is wrong in this world. Hypocrisy, lies, attacks, and media spin, it also is too much to bear.
What a better scripture than the 23rd Psalm to remind us who is on the throne. Who it is that takes us to peaceful places, who takes us to a place where we can drink the living water safely; who it is that restores everything, even our souls, and shows us the proper way to walk. Who it is that allows us to fear nothing in this life; who beats off the wolves, and who provides protection. It reminds us that we are all his children, that our "enemies" are also loved by him, and that it is Him, and Him alone who provides for all our needs.
May you be blessed today by the words of the Psalmist, David. May they bring you peace and comfort.
Let us Pray,
God of us all, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mysteries in this life, that we may see the light of eternity. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you."
One of my favorite stories in Scripture (and let's face it, they are all my favorite stories), starts like this: "There was a man who had two sons..."
Perhaps you have heard this story before? It's about a man...well...who had two sons, and one of them decided that he didn't want to live at home any more. Honestly though, when you think about it, isn't that the way its supposed to be? After all, we read scripture that says: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."
It seems as though we were meant to take off and fly on our own...to leave the nest. But that's not really what happened in this story. Not only did the boy want to leave his family, he told his father, "Give me my share of the estate."
In other words...I want my inheritance now...even though you're not dead yet, dad.
So, the boy went off on his own, and did life his own way. He partied, spent time with women, drank, and spend all of his money. He squandered it.
Did you know that the word "prodigal" actually means wasteful?
Growing up, I always thought that it meant the "returning" son. But when I got to seminary, and I actually looked up the definition for myself, I was floored. Jesus, telling this story, wanted people to focus on the fact that the son was wasteful. He took everything his father had given him and he had wasted it...he spent it on extravagant living, and then when his choices finally caught up with him, he found himself eating pig slop. mmmmmm....
My favorite line in this story comes next: "When he came to his senses..."
This is a moment of realization. A moment where the boy has a "come to Jesus" moment, and he says, what the junk am I doing here? This is not how life is supposed to be. I thought life would be better than this.
Be honest with yourself...have you ever had to come to your senses? Have you ever had a "Come to Jesus" moment? I know I have...a few times.
But the best part of the story is that the boy decided it was time to go home.
Growing up in South Texas, specifically in Corpus Christi, Homecoming was an important event, and living in Llano, I am beginning to see that it is an important event here too. Mums and garters, tuxedos and boutonniere's, beautiful evening gowns...oh...and football! Can't forget that one!
It really is a big party. Traditionally reunions happen, people get together and celebrate accomplishments and really just enjoy each other's company. It is really just a big party to celebrate being alive and being home.
And when the boy gets home, that's exactly what happens. The fattened calf is slaughtered, the great wine is brought out, the feast is on. No more pig slop for the boy.
As long as we have breath in our lungs, my brothers and sisters, it is never too late to come home. It is never too late to come to our senses; to have come to Jesus moment. After all, that is what Jesus wants: for us to come to him.
Let us pray;
Father, we realize there are things we have done that make it seem like you are dead to us; that we do not fully believe in the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. We know that we have failed you in our love and we have tried to do it our own way.
Help us, Lord, to "come to our senses" and to make the decision to return to you. We know that you love us, and you are ready to welcome us home.
In Jesus Name,
Be honest with yourself,
That title made you feel a little uneasy. It's not exactly a title that you were expecting in this week's "From the Pastor." Well, just hold on, I'll get there, I promise.
This last Saturday, I had the honor of walking with a family through a difficult time as they laid their father to rest next to their mother in the Llano City Cemetery. It was a small family from out of town who wanted a Methodist pastor to lead a small graveside funeral service. So, being the Methodist pastor in town, I was given the opportunity to minister to a family in their time of grief.
As per my usual, I arrived at the Cemetery about 15 minutes early in order to collect my thoughts and prepare myself to bring the peace of Christ into the situation. As a pastor, it can be real easy to just walk in to a situation and think you have all the answers, but you and I both know that is not the case. It is important to center ourselves and to focus on what we are really there for, to represent the church and to lead people in worship of the risen Christ; to point everyone to him and preach the Good News.
As I was walking from my truck to the graveside, it hit me: The Cemetery is so peaceful.
I thought about all the people who have gone before us, those who had lived full lives, and even those like my sister who is buried there, who didn't, but are now fully alive in Christ Jesus. I thought about my salvation and how one day, while my body may be buried in a place like that, my soul will be with Christ and I will be fully known and will know Jesus fully, and that peace just washed over me.
During the service I read these words:
There was a Saturday, much like this one, over 2000 years ago, where 11 of Jesus disciples were sitting in the upper room, wondering if they were next. They had seen all the events of the days leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, and I can only imagine the questions that were being asked; namely, why did he have to die?
When we come into contact with death, it makes us feel uneasy. It makes us feel pain and sorrow. But I am reminded of Psalm 30: 5 which says, 'For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.'"
I think it is real easy sometimes for us to forget why Jesus had to come in the first place. As humans, we have to come to understand that we are broken; we are sinners in need of God's grace, but that when we receive that grace, and allow Jesus into our heart, we no longer have to fear death, or the cemetery. In fact, it can become quite a peaceful place. It can become a place that is just another stop on this journey called life as we pass from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God. NOTHING.
So, let us life as people who are prepared to die, but also people who are fully alive in Christ!
Let us pray,
God of all creation, you are good and your love endures forever. Help us to live as people to die, but people who are also fully alive in Christ. Give us peace, O Lord, and help us to be a light shining in the darkness. Help us to be people who, in the midst of death, see eternal life and to be people who proclaim the Good news that Jesus died for us to make us whole.
We ask all these things in the strong name of Jesus, Our Lord,
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 37-39)
This last Friday, I got to do something I haven't been able to do in a while: I got to go to a live sporting event!
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL IS BACK!
....and Oh, was it glorious. Not only did the Llano Yellow Jackets win, but it was just a fun game to watch all around. If it's one thing you'll learn about me, it's that I love football. I don't care what level: High school, College, Professional, or even Youth League. I love to watch the game. It's more than just hard hitting defense, or fast running offense, but when you get into the weeds of it, it's like a chess game.
Every player on the field has to play their part. The offensive linemen have to block, the receivers have to run their routes, and the quarterback has to know where everyone is supposed to be. The best teams move as one unit, everyone knowing their place, knowing their assignment, and knowing the play.
As I was sitting at the game on Friday with our new youth pastor, Ashleigh, and her husband Jordan, we talked about all the cool stuff going on in Llano and in our lives. At one point, our conversation turned to Llano and what we see God doing here; that there is a sense of "Unity" that we have not felt anywhere else.
I cannot speak for the other Churches in the community, but I just feel like God is up to something big in this little town. I feel that there is a sense of Unity in the Spirit; that the churches of this community aren't in ministry to compete, but are in ministry to save souls...it's a team effort.
I am reminded of Paul's first letter to the people in Corinth where he says in Chapter 12, beginning in verse 12:
"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we are all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body -- whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free -- and we were all given the same Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many."
See, we can be from different backgrounds, different denominations, different understandings of Baptism and Communion, and yet, God's Spirit is still the same, no matter what Church we call our "Home Church."
It is my prayer that every single church in the town of Llano continue to put Christ first in all things. In our decision making, in our invitations, and in our cooperation with each other!
And just like a well coached football team, I pray we work together for the common goal; making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!
Almighty and Gracious God,
You are Good, and your Love endures forever. We give you praise for all that you have done, all that you are doing, and all that you will do with YOUR church in Llano. We ask for continued protection for all of our churches as we continue to meet out of faith, even in the midst of this pandemic. We ask that you help us to be of one Spirit as we work to bring people to you. Help us to build relationships with our brothers and sisters of other denominations and backgrounds. Help us all to be your CHURCH in Llano.
In The Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Many of you know I started out ministry as a youth pastor. If I am honest, somewhere in the back of my mind I always knew I was going to go through the Ordination process to become an elder, but I think there was a small....OK...really big part of me...that tried to run from God for so long. I guess you can say that Youth Ministry was the "gateway" for me into what I am doing now. That doesn't diminish the role of a youth pastor, only to say that I believe many of the lessons I learned as a youth pastor have brought me to the place I am today.
In my previous appointment, one of my students always seemed to have a hard time saying the word "pastor;" it always came out "pasture." And so, of course being in youth ministry, it stuck. Now, on my table in my office I have a nice "pasture" with a Donkey and a Cross, and a blanket with my newly coined name embroidered on it. What started as a joke, turned into something special.
Living in Texas, especially in the Hill Country, there are some pretty beautiful pastures. There is nothing better than the Texas Hill Country in the Springtime; flowers blooming cows in the pastures, and and lots of green grass. To me, it is one of the most peaceful things in the world.
As a Pastor, I believe it is my calling to bring the peace of Christ with me wherever I go. There are many stories about Jesus when he would enter the room and he would say something like, "Peace be with you." (Luke 24:36)
There have been many times when I have been invited into a situation where there hasn't been any peace. Deaths, family disputes, tragedies, the list goes on...
And yet, I have been called to bring the peace of Christ with me; to enter in to a moment, walk along side a family and minister.
When Christ came to this world, the world was not at peace (kinda like now). The Romans ruled the known world with an iron fist, there were famines, wars, and life was difficult for many reasons. And yet, Christ entered in, not as a conquering hero, but as a baby. He did things a lot differently then everyone else.
Where winds would rage, Jesus calmed the storm. Where people were filled with demons, Jesus drew them out and cast them away. Where people were sick with leprosy, Jesus would touch them and make them clean.
Peace...Like a Peaceful Pasture.
I hope this week, you experience the peace that passes all understanding.
Let us Pray...
Oh God, you are Good, and your love endures forever. Help us to feel your peace around us, and help us to bring your peace with us into every situation. Calm our hearts, heal our bodies, and wash our lands. Help us to put you first in everything we do.
In Jesus' name,
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD