One of my favorite things to do is to go for walk down by the river, under the bridge, here in Llano. I love hearing the water wash over the dam, the cars and trucks driving overhead; I love looking at the granite and the different striations and patterns that came from millions of years of lava, pressed together and then uplifted.
I love taking my kids down there. Most of the time, we don't really want them to get in the water, but they're kids, so if there's water, they're gonna get wet. I like to take the dogs down there, and to just sit by the water and think about how much I am loved by God, and that I am called to follow him wherever he goes to "Feed his sheep."
It's true: we live in a beautiful town. Llano is most definitely a gem hidden away in the middle of the Texas Hill Country. I know most of you have heard the story about us coming here, but I cannot tell you the number of times I have driven through Llano on my way to Austin and though, "I'd love to live here some day."
Well, here we are!
I don't know if you can feel it, but there is a feeling of resurrection about this place. There is a feeling of a hustle and bustle that wasn't found earlier last year due to the virus that shall not be named in this blog. I don't know if it was the full house on Easter Sunday, or if there's just a business because of spring, but I truly feel like we are working toward something special.
I can't imagine what the time after the resurrection was like for the disciples. They had seen EVERYTHING. They saw Jesus beaten, killed, and buried, and now they were having conversations with him. They were having experience after experience. Everything had changed, and so there had to be an excitement that they hadn't felt before, at least not since Jesus called them to follow him the first time.
But Jesus only had 40 days left with his disciples before his ascension. Only 40 days left to get the last of his instructions to them and to prepare them for what was to come next.
But there is this one moment when it seems like Jesus slows down; when he stops to have breakfast with his disciples and he has a conversation with Peter.
This is the moment when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. (John 21: 15-19) And his response, becoming more frustrated every time was, Yes Lord, you know I love you. And Jesus responds, "Feed My Sheep/Lambs."
But then, the last words we read of Jesus speaking to Peter are, "Follow Me." The same words he spoke to Peter at the beginning.
Jesus gives Peter an opportunity to be forgiven for denying him three times by asking him three separate times if he loves him. You see, Jesus takes a moment to make sure that Peter, who would be instrumental in the spreading of the Gospel, remembered his calling to follow him; even though there was so much to do in such a little time.
I hope you will remember that Jesus calls to you and says, "Follow Me." That his desire is for you to become his disciple so that you might make other disciples.
As we begin to return to normal, I hope you take moments to not forget sitting by the river. I hope you take moments to enjoy life. I hope you take moments to remember how Good life is with Jesus at the center.
Life happens fast, doesn't it?
No, I'm not talking about how quickly time flies, I'm talking about how things can change in an instant. One moment you're living your best life, and then something dramatic happens that changes everything.
For 400 years in between the end of the Old Testament (Malachi) and the New Testament (Matthew), there was absolutely nothing from God. No prophets, no wrath, no voice from the heavens, and then all of a sudden something miraculous happened. A young girl from Nazareth got a call from the Angel of the Lord, and the next thing we know, there's a star in the sky, angels are singing, and shepherds are coming to visit a baby in a cattle stall.
Fast forward 12 years and the young boy, Jesus, not quite a man in the eyes of the Jews, is sitting in the temple, teaching men twice, perhaps 3-times his age about God.
Fast forward about 18 more years, and Jesus comes around the corner to the Jordan River, is baptized by John, and a dove appears, coming down from heaven and a voice shouts, "This is my son, with him I am pleased."
Now, fast forward 3 more years and Jesus has entered into Jerusalem, riding on a young donkey to shouts of Hosanna! God Save us! Now it's Wednesday; the middle of the week...the calm before the storm.
You see, Jesus knew everything that was about to happen. He knew that he would have his last Seder meal with his disciples, he knew that Judas was going to sell him over to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver, he knew that he was going to be taken back and forth between the Romans and the Religious leaders, that they wouldn't find any real fault him him. He knew that he was going to be exchanged for Jesus Barabbas, a common criminal, whom he also was going to die for. He knew that he was going to be whipped, scorned, mocked, and killed. He knew it was all going to happen, and yet..
...He was so passionate about you that even knowing all of it, he did it anyway. He could have, at any moment throughout the whole ordeal said, no...this isn't worth it. But that's not what he did. He stayed there. He stayed in Jerusalem. He stayed handcuffed. He stayed on the cross. But there is one place he didn't stay...but that's a story for another day.
It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
and our sufferings that he bore,
but we thought him afflicted,
struck down and tormented.
He was pierced because of our rebellions
and crushed because of our crimes.
He bore the punishment and made us whole;
by his wounds we are healed.
Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.
(Isaiah 53: 4-6)
Jesus Clears the Temple Courts
Have you ever thought about your image of Jesus? What he looks like? How he speaks? How he acts? Is he meek and mild? Does he have a beard? Long curly hair? What color is it? Is he soft spoken? Does the Jesus you know act like what you read above?
There is this great scene in CS Lewis' the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Lucy is talking with Mr. & Mrs. Beaver about Aslan, the Christlike Lion figure of the series. Lucy asks the question if Aslan is safe, to which Mr. Beaver responds, "Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he is good."
I don't know why or where over the years of American Christianity we began to believe in meek and mild Jesus. The God of all creation, the God who speaks in the fire of a burning bush, who's voice crashes like thunder, who strikes fear in the hearts of those who dare incur his wrath, this is the same God who came in the form of the man named Jesus the Christ.
But, just because he is the God I mentioned above, that doesn't mean he isn't compassionate.
He is fair.
He is just.
He is God.
Let us Pray
God of us all, we thank you for your Holy Justice. We have often failed to treat your house with respect and the honor it deserves. Help us to remember that you are God; that in your anger you are just, but that in your love, you are compassionate, and that ultimately, you are GOOD.
We love you, Father,
In Jesus' name.
Jesus Predicts His Death
Well, our world continues to change around us very rapidly. As many of you may have heard by now, The Governor of the Great State of Texas, Governor Abbott, has declared that as of next Wednesday, March 10, he is rescinding his executive orders about capacity in all businesses, opening up 100%. On top of that, he has declared that the State's mask mandate will also end. As it is with every polarizing issue, there are many who are elated at this decision, and there are equally as many who are angry and/or frightened that this might be a huge mistake. But, no matter where you stand on the issue, our job as Christians is to keep our "minds on the concerns of God, [not] merely on human concerns."
No, this is not the blog post where you get to read Pastor Bryan talk about where he stands on this issue. That is not the purpose of this blog at all.
As your pastor, it is important for me to let you know where we should go as a Church. First and foremost, we should continue to Love God, Love Others, and Make Disciples of Jesus Christ. After all, that is our mandate no matter what pandemic is occurring, or what social and political issues there are in the world.
I won't go into full detail here, but there is a movement in the church (I'm not talking about here in Llano, just in general) right now on how to do ministry in difficult times and in times of waiting. But the reality is, the church should have already been ready to deal with difficult times. After all, it was out of difficult times that the Church was created. We should be used to it by now. But we have become too comfortable...too much like the world, that when the rest of the world is running around like crazies, it is difficult to distinguish the church from the world.
If you'll remember the reading from this past Sunday from the Common English Bible in Psalm 46: 10,
"That's Enough! (STOP IT)
Now know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations;
I am exalted throughout the world!"
In other words, when the rest of the world is freaking out, we should be the the peace in people's lives, because we should have the peace of Christ living within us. We should be least concerned about the worldly things and the most concerned with the heavenly things.
I won't lie, I am frustrated. Not at mask mandates. Not at occupancy mandates,but at the lack of the conviction that the church has. I am frustrated at the fact that we have lost touch with the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives so much so that we fear everything. I am frustrated at the fact that people think it necessary to call people out on Facebook because they believe something...EITHER WAY!
Who are we?
Who is our God?
Perhaps what we need is to hear Jesus say to us, "Get behind me, Satan. You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."
Ouch. That hurts.
Let us pray.
God forgive us. We have too often put our trust in the governments of this world, the platforms we have to speak from, even our churches as an organization. We have failed to be obedient to you, keeping our minds on the heavenly things instead of the things of this world.
Help us to focus ENTIRELY on you. Help us to be more like your Son, Jesus, every day. Sanctify us. Make us Holy. Give us clean hearts to do your will in the world.
In the name of Jesus we pray,
9 About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
One of my favorite things to say to Benji, my 9 year old son, is, "you are my son, with whom I am well pleased...sometimes." I apparently say it enough that even when we talk about him being my son in a serious moment, he will finish the statement...even when it's not an appropriate moment to say it. What can I say...he is my son.
But often, I think about how awesome it is to have a son.
I will never forget the day when Miranda and I found out that we were going to have a boy, and the day that he was born was one of the proudest days, if not the proudest day of my life thus far. I had a son! We were going to throw the baseball together, go to football games together, learn how to shoot and hunt together; it is going to be awesome!
In the Gospel of Mark, which is actually the shortest of all the Gospels, we read this story about Jesus' baptism and his subsequent sending into the wilderness. We read about Jesus coming seemingly from nowhere, and being baptized by John in the Jordan River, and when that happens, all heaven breaks loose.
We hear the story where the Spirit, like a dove, descends and that a voice from heaven pierces the sky and the voice from heaven says, "You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness."
God was pleased with his son Jesus. God was happy because his son was walking the earth and to fulfill all righteousness, he was following in the path that God had laid out for him.
This is the first moment in the Gospel of Mark where we see the Trinity at work. God the Father, the source of all life, God the Son, the one who had come to act in the world on our behalf, and God the Spirit, who is the power behind every Good thing that God does in this world and beyond. If there were ever a perfect moment in history, it would be this moment.
But once the moment is over, its time to get to work.
We often experience moments like this that seem to be perfect, and then when the "high" wears off, we fall back into the routines of this life. But the reality is, when we have an encounter with Christ, that is usually just the beginning of something big.
In our Class Meeting Bible Study, i used a quote from John Wesley that goes like this: "God works so I can work. God works so I must work." In other words, God works in my life so that I am capable of doing good things, and God works in my life in such a way that I cannot help but to WANT to do good works.
In this story, God is at work in all three phases; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the beginning of the work the culminates in Holy Week.
As we continue in this season of Lent, I hope you know that through Your Baptism, you hear the words of God speaking to you; I love you, and I am pleased with you, but not because of anything you have done, but because God is the source of your life, Jesus is the bridge between you and God, and the Spirit is constantly working in your life to bring you to a fuller relationship with him.
Let us pray.
God of us all, we praise your Holy Name and give you glory for all that you have done, all that you are doing, and all that you will do with, in, and through us. Help us to continue to observe a Holy Lent, that we might reflect on our brokenness and need for a savior. Help us to prepare for Holy Week as people who recognize it is you all along who are working to move us toward perfection.
In the name of Jesus we pray.
Joel 2: 12-13
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting,
with weeping, and with mourning, rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to
anger, and abounding steadfast love, and relents from punishing
As the title says, today is Ash Wednesday.
Traditionally, Ash Wednesday has been a day when we take time to reflect on our brokenness, our frailty, and the fact that from Ashes and Dust we have been created, and to Ashes and Dust we shall return. It is the beginning of the Season in the Church called Lent.
This season is a part of the liturgical calendar year that ends on Easter Sunday. In the Early Church, Ash Wednesday was a season of preparation for new believers and served as a season of repentance, reflection, and self-denial for the Church as a whole.
Today, is the first time (in I don't know how long) that I will not participate in an Ash Wednesday service. That kind of thing has happened a lot lately, but today, its not because of the Corona Virus, but its because people can't get to the Church due to the Snowpocalypse 2021.
But, today is Ash Wednesday none-the-less.
Over the last couple of days, I have been thinking a lot about our frailty as a human race. I've been thinking about how we down here in The South have no idea how to deal with weather like this. We don't have salt trucks, snow plows, or insulated houses like they do up north. And let's face it, we just aren't good at driving on snow.
Pretty much all of Texas has come to a stand still, people don't have heat, pipes are beginning to burst, and food deliveries to our local grocery stores have ceased; the shelves are lookin pretty bare.
But, today is Ash Wednesday none-the-less.
My family has been blessed over the last couple of days. Where we live happens to be on the same electrical grid as a hospital, and so we have had power, water, and we made preparations before the weather hit to make sure we had food. But there are many in our community and in our surrounding areas who have been without for days.
Some in our church have come and cooked meals, we opened our Family Live Center as a Warming Shelter, and although we had no guests last night, we live in a community where the Church is truly being just that, the Church. The people of God have stepped up and it is an honor to be in ministry in this community with other Churches like First Baptist Church, Pittsburgh Baptist, First Presbyterian, The Journey, Grace Episcopal, and St. James Lutheran just to name a few.
But, today is Ash Wednesday none-the-less.
It is my hope and my fervent prayer that we take a moment today and recognize that Ash Wednesday is a reminder as to why we need a Savior. That it is our sin that has caused brokenness and death to enter into our world. That even though we will not be able to gather together to place ashes on our foreheads as a symbolic reminder of our frailty, that we enter into and observe this Holy Season of Lent with a repentant heart.
Let us pray.
God of us all,
You are always more ready to hear our prayers than we are to pray. Forgive us for our sinfulness; for those moments when we turn away from you, when our love fails, and we fail to be an obedient Church. Father, we recognize our brokenness, and we recognize how fragile we truly are. Help us to rely on you as our only source of life.
We thank you for this season of Lent. May it be a reminder to us how much we need you every single hour of every single day.
In the name of Jesus we Pray.
Whatever has happened -- that's what will happen again; whatever has occurred -- that's what will occur again.
As a general rule, I do my very best not to get overtly...political. If I'm being honest, I am tired of politics. One of my favorite sayings (jokingly of course) is, ministry would be great if it weren't for the people. But the reality is, when there are people, there are politics...it is the nature of things.
Jesus dealt a lot with politics. Consistently he was dealing with questions from the religious leaders of the day, who in the time that Jesus walked the earth, were also the political leaders of the day.
Jews, in the time of Jesus, had to deal not only with their own laws and regulations, but they also had to put up with the political and military occupation of Rome, which was not exactly a free society.
All of this though has me thinking a lot about the Church. You know, it wasn't long ago when topics like church split, and Biblical Authority were our biggest issues. I mean, honestly, they really still are, it's just that I think we have become so hyper focused on COVID-19 that we've put all that other "stuff" on the back burner.
But if we are really paying attention to what is going on around us, our national politics, our church politics, even our own local church politics, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes couldn't be more right.
There is NOTHING new under the sun.
I often think about this statement. Every time I hear something on the radio or the news regarding politics, my mind goes to a place where I can see the same dynamics happening in the church. Do you know what this means?
We have become too much like the world and not enough like Christ!
Yeah, I know...I'm meddling now. Which reminds me, I had one of our members send me a link this past week to a song from the band, Casting Crowns. You can listen HERE.
Here are some of the lyrics.
We Want our Coffee in the lobby.
That's just the first verse and chorus! Talk about meddlin...
My brothers and sisters, we are called to be the church. Fear has no place among us. God does not call us to safety...he calls us to freedom. There is a BIG difference.
We know the answer to that. Because "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
Let us pray
God of us all, we repent of our desire to be like the world. We know that by even saying that Satan will try to attack us, but we believe that because we have been crucified with your son, Jesus, that it is he who lives within us and we no longer need to be afraid.
Help us to live as emissaries of your light to the darkness. Help us to truly be free.
In the name of Jesus we pray.
I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be the "Church" lately. I remember when all this "stuff" started happening all of my colleagues and many of the faithful started talking about how "the church is not a building," that we can "worship anywhere, even in our PJ's at home."
And yes, while that is true, I can't shake the idea that we are often much better at talking than we are at doing.
In the very beginning, after Adam and Eve at the forbidden fruit, we read Scripture about how God came looking for them one evening, and we read that God asked the question, "Where are you?"
To which Adam responds, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."
God's response is key to all of this. He says, "Who told you that you were naked?"
There is a word for this. It's a word that we don't like to hear and/or think about. It's Shame.
Shame is not something that God ever wanted us to feel. In fact, never in Scripture does God tell people that they should feel shame, only that we do because of our brokenness. Shame is our own fault...not something God causes within us.
I heard something on the radio this morning that made me think. How are we different from the rest of the world? What makes us different? Is the the fact that we're United Methodist? Is it the fact that we say that we are Christian? Is it that we believe in the Bible?
Honestly, none of that is what makes us different. What makes us different is the opposite of shame: Joy.
When the world looks at us, what do they see?
Do they see people are are fearful like they are? Or do they see people with peace?
Do they see people who are sad and depressed about all that's going on in the world? Or do they see happiness in spite of it all?
Do they see people who are full of shame at their brokenness? Or do they see people who are filled with Joy because Christ died for them while they were yet sinners?
So, I ask the question today: Where are you, Church?
Let us pray.
God of us all, you are always more ready to hear us than we are to pray. Help us to be a light in the darkness. Help us to be people of Joy in the midst of a world that is joy-less. Help us not to hide in our shame, but to give you Glory in our salvation.
In the name of Jesus we Pray,
Here at Lutie's Place we have been in a sermon series called "Covenant," where we are making our way through the 5 different covenants that God made with people in the Bible. The first week, we talked about Noah and the Covenant that God made to not destroy the world, placing a rainbow in the sky as a sign.
This past week, we talked about the Covenant that God made with Abram (changed to Abraham) and how God promised to make Abraham's descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.
I have really enjoyed this series as it has been fun to read about these special people in the Scriptures and how they interact with God, but more importantly, how God interacts with them.
In the VERY long story of Abraham, we read about how late in life, Abraham and Sarah finally have a son and they name him Isaac, which in Hebrew means "he laughs." This is a recollection of how Sarah (then Sarai) laughed at God when he told them they would have a child at such an old age. Honestly, If I were 100 years old and God told me I would have a child, I'd probably laugh in disbelief too.
When we get to the story about Isaac, it's as if the story becomes very dark, very quick. God tells Abraham to take his son "his only son," Isaac to the mountaintop to offer him as a sacrifice. It's as if the laughter immediately stops and turns to a bleak seriousness.
We read these words:
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.
Now, the rest of this story is one I'm sure you've read. They get to the place of sacrifice, Abraham goes to follow through in obedience to God, and God calls out and says, "Do not harm the boy!"
But where I stopped reading just a moment ago stuck out to me.
Over and over again, Abraham has had to have faith in God. That God will provide. I've often wondered about how Abraham felt about this moment. Did he know God would provide another sacrifice? Did he think God would raise Isaac from the dead? Or did he have faith that God would make for him another heir?
We don't know.
But we do know that Abraham had faith that God knew what he was doing.
That's where my heart is. I am beyond frustrated with this world. I am frustrated with politics, with epidemiology, I'm even frustrated with the Church and how divided we seem to be. I guess you could say, with my frustration, I am at rock-bottom.
But every time I've been here, there is Jesus, waiting for me. Just like he was waiting for the woman at the well. You know, the one whom he told all the sins she had committed? The one who was a Samaritan and had no right to talk to a Jew, let alone a Jewish Rabbi? Yeah.
God knows what he is doing. Even though I cannot see it, even though I cannot possibly know what he is going to do next, God Always provides.
Has God ever asked you to do something that either didn't make sense, or you just knew it would get you some push-back? Perhaps from your friends or your family? Maybe even the community?
If it is one thing I have learned in my reading of Scripture, it is that more often than not, God asks the people in the Bible to do CRAZY things.
When God told Noah to build the Ark, the size alone was crazy. At approximately 510' feet long, it would have been able to carry 3 of the NASA Shuttles and would have been as tall as a 4 story house.
With the primitive technology, it would have taken FOREVER to build. It was not an easy undertaking. And yet, God called a man who the Scriptures say was around 480 years old. I'm only 36 and while I just got some new tools for Christmas and my birthday, I would not be able to pull that off.
Why does God ask us to do seemingly insane things?
I have often heard the statement, "God doesn't give us more than we can handle." And in my nice preacher tone, I would say, "That is absolute....ly not true."
I believe there are a lot of things in this life that we cannot handle. There are a lot of things that are "impossible" for us. And yet, God still calls us to do impossible things because I believe that God want's us fully...entirely focused and reliant on him. Yes, he wants us to participate with him in ministry to the world, but he wants us to know that without God nothing is possible.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.
Oh My. That's crazy talk. A camel through the eye of the needle? Sheesh.
Oh yes, I believe we often get more than we can handle...on our own. But I NOAH guy who did the impossible because he walked with the Lord. In fact, the Scriptures are filled with men and women who did impossible things because The Lord was with them.
Let us pray,
God, sometimes we are overwhelmed by our circumstances. We grieve because of loss, we fear because of the unknown, we stay in the shadows because of our sins. But you remind us that through you, all things are possible.
Help us to put you at the center of all we do; help us to walk with you so we can partner with you in doing the impossible!
In the strong name of Jesus,
Growing up in the United Methodist Church, I have always had a passion for ministry. Now, I have been called to serve the people of Llano at an awesome place called Lutie Watkins Memorial!