Monday, July 30, 2012
Here is a summary of the readings many of us wil hear in church this coming Sunday. Even if your congregation doesn't use the general three year cycle of readings, I pray our Lord Jesus will use them to encourage and strengthen your faith in Him alone. The readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost are Ex. 16:2-15, Eph. 4:1-16, and John 6:22-35. Today’s readings speak of the sustenance our Lord Jesus gives us for our journey of faith in life. The Israelites asked, “What is it?” Those gathered with Jesus asked “How do we get it?” And we wonder “how it is” for us. Jesus answers everyone the same: “I am the bread of life.” He feeds us His Word that we may gladly hear and learn Him all the more.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Okay, folks, I have an admission to make. It’s an admission that afew folks in my family have known for the past few years. Not many people who look at me can see it at first glance. I have struggled to maintain my body weight. O”Okay?” you ask. “So, what? Many Americans today struggle with that issues. Some live and let live. Others find a program with they can identify and stick so as to achieve weight reduction goals. Others find some means of exercise to become thinner, fitter, sleeker. Okay, maybe, I’m not admitting so much about me. I’m admitting my issue with the social pressures that jerk us as a culture in two seemingly opposite directions with regard to our weight. You and I notice the type of commercials playing on TV, especially now that the Olympic Games are on. One commercial emphasizes a “sexy,” slim-trim physique so we can look just as good if not better than anyone else. Then, you have commercials that say, “Enjoy the drinking…to your hearts content….But, think before you drink….” My admission, then, is I believe our struggle with weight management goes back to a culture that doesn’t want each person to become contented..with the weight, appearance, or abilities that God gives us. Not everyone who wishes to look good and enjoy a well-built physique has to be a carbon copy of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lockte, LeBron James, or Kobe Bryant. These guys are athlete. Their sport—their vocation in life—demands that they keep their body mass index below 2.5 or 5.0. To swim or play basketball at the professional or Olympic level requires the energy that only a person with such a build enjoys. On the other hand, no one- wants the challenge of struggling with excessive weight gain. Yet, in itself, is such a struggle a sin against God’s Law? No, not unless we intensionally overindulge ourselves to the point of gluttony. And, this point is often relative for each person. It’s not anyone’s fault if they’ve inherited the tendency to overeat and gain weight by leaps and bounds. For health’s sake, I know such folks—many of them—try hard to curb such effects, whether through medical attention, extra trips to the gym, diets, or a combination of the three. Each way of managin our weight is a preference each of us makes. Often, that preference matches with some level of comfort and enjoyment. When I was in elementary school, junior high, and high school, I weighed half again as much as many of the guys who were in my classes. I also stood a head taller than many of them, too. Yet, because I weighed so much more, I developed a stigma. Instead of motivating me toward weight loss, it froze me—that is, until, to conform with unofficial expectations—I joined the wrestling team. Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved wrestling. I thought about competitive swimming for my school. But, I was never very good at either sport when growing up. Oh, I also enjoyed working out with my fellow swim team members in high school when I was the team scorekeeper/manager. Yet, still it was partially due to social conformity. Everyone did it, so I kept up with everyone else. When I entered college, I resumed a struggle with weight that drove me nuts for several years. Suddenly, one day in my second year of grad school, I was feeling a bit happy after receiving an excellent grade on a paper I wrote. I went to my dorm room, turned on the TV, and out of nowhere, started doing a few sets of push-ups. Okay, no play words on here. A weight lifted from my shoulders. I exercised then because I enjoyed it, not because anyone made me. Don’t get me wrong. I knew beneath my workouts, my struggle to maintain a healthy amount of weight remained. If I let up at all, and I have over the years from time to time, the weight crept back on. I’ve tried a couple weight loss programs over the years since grad school. God bless them. Their purpose is fantastic. But, I will tell you. Mentally, I went back to the old fear of compulsion that I faced back in junior high and high school. I never knew what weight to make for the invisible standard that said, “I achieved my goal.” Thanks be to God that such weight management programs exist. They benefit millions. The big one here in Kansas City is KC SLIM. I’m not sure if its affiliated with a larger company nationwide or a particular brand of supplements. But, I know for a fact, and statistics in KC Fitness Magazine and elsewhere bear out-it is a huge success in marketing and helping people with their weight. For me, the solution goes back to my enjoyment. I once heard an interview ESPN did with Charles Barkley some years after he retired from the NBA. The host asked him how he went from keeping his weight down during his playing days compared to regaining a great physique after some leisure time. His answer, and I paraphrase, “Work out more, and eat less.” That advice set no standards for me. It only gave me a simple, motivational phrase. It’s relative for each person and allows for a lot of leeway depending on each of our likes, ability, and limits to which we are able to push ourselves. Okay, I confess I don’t always stick with that simple advice. There are times when my dedication to “eating less” and “working out more” fades. Times bring me back around to where my drive increases. So, when people sometimes ask me, on the way to the gym or grocery store, to know the secret to myphysical comfort level? I admit to them I have no secret. It’s up to each of us to find that combination of health, drive, and enjoyment—whether or not we struggle with our weight. Our lord gifts us each with differing personalities, needs and desires. He gives us our reason and senses, and daily cares for them. He defends us from all evil and, most of all—whether we are heavy, light, thin or otherwise—He enfolds us each who trust in Him in His saving grace.
Friday, July 27, 2012
Tonight, the Olympic games features is opening ceremony. This year, London, England hosts the event—or, should I call it the extravaganza? Coverage of the Olympic Games on TV, radio and a vast array of other media has something for everyone. Do you long to see the best in track and field, swimming or gymnastics? The sites and sounds of English gyms, pools, and tracks will engage your attention. Do you get caught up in discovering all the amazing odds the athletes have beaten? TV, in particular, will tell of Chinese gymnists who departed their five-year old friends and their family to live nothing else than their skills on the uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercises. Think about the physique these powerful athlete possess. Swimmers such as Michael Phelps, basketball players like LeBron James, and any number of our American boxers dwarf the average citizen with their brawn and stature. The bumper music of the Olympics echoes in our heads for a few days on either side of the games and at almost every commercial break. Then again, some broadcasts features other popular music when breaking away for interviews with the athletes. In 1984, Diana Ross’s song, “Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand” spoke directly to the hoped-for unity in sport the would could show in this competition. In 1988, Whitney Houston’s hit song, “One Moment In Time” spoke to the emotions and dreams of those who set so much of their lives aside to play the sports they love. We Americans have added our cheering words to the end of our national anthem. After the tones crescendo with “….Land of the free and the home of the brave…,” you and I shout in unison: “U. S. A. U. S. A.!!!” For us who are sports enthusiasts, these next couple weeks will give us a fix like nothing else for the next few years, until the 2014 Winter Games fills our TV screens. Four years ago, I admitted on a different blog, I am an olympoholic. I cannot get enough of the basketball, judo, trac and field, diving, etc. I must apologize ahead of time to my usual background routine of talkshows and country music. Sorry, KFKF 94.1 in Kansas City, you’ll have to take a backseat to my sports enthusiasm. AT least I can listen to “Hannity” and “Issues ETc.” on demand. Then, again, I do that already. So, folks, let’s “get ready, get set, and go.” With a few soccer games already played, the 2012 Olympic Games is underway.
A familiar voice cheers you when depression clutches you. The knock on your front door relaxes your tension. After an hour’s wait, your ride to the store arrived. Later, you feel your blood boil when the cashier rings your bill up, higher than you expected. Within two hours’ time, you felt half a dozen emotions. You reacted and moved on to the next activities of your day. Whether you face depression, elation or the good old blahs, you show emotions. You learn to be more or less sensitive to others’ needs. You may even let your emotions guide your decision-making from time to time. Who can forget the disembodied voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi telling young Luke Skywalker that very thing in STARWARS? “Trust your feelings!” What a contrast the tin man in the WIZZARD OF OZ displayed! He desired a heart with which to sense the world around him. Whether stable or tossed about, your emotions are gifts from your lord. God provides your senses with your reason so you can empathize with friends who suffer. He blesses you with compassion by which you identify with someone else’s struggle for independence. Our Lord Jesus Christ was no stranger to emotions. He angrily turned over the moneychangers’ tables in the tempole courts. He wept at Lazarus’s grave and cried over Jerusalem who rejected His Word. He grew tired when crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. He sympathizes with you in your weakness and temptation. Rom. 8:15 (ESV) declares: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear but you received the Spirit of sonship, and by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Certainly, your Lord has redeemed you to everlasting life. You have known that from infancy or, if you came to faith later on, for these past few years. Your Lord comforts and sustains you each day in His grace. Still, you feel overwhelmed by many pressures and concerns. Confirmation is that time when seventh and eighth grade children speak for themselves the words which sponsors spoke for them at Baptims. After a concentrated, two years of study that goes beyond Sunday school, public worship[p, and daily devotions—they show receive our Lord Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion for the first time. What an emotionally charged age for them to enter young adulthood as congregational members. For this reason, many pastors become more explicit when inviting these teenagers to confide their struggles and sins to them and receive forgiveness as if Christ Himself declared it in their presence. Still, pressures to rebel against the very Word that brought thejm to faith in Christ arise with every condom the high school nurse hands out. Friends who stop attending church lure them into late nights where they feel like begging for Sunday morning as a time to sleep in. “Oh, they’ll pray by themselves at home!” Not when their old Adam has anything to say about it! So how are you feeling these days? Confused by a myriad of broken relationships around you?...Afraid of future changes our nation holds in store for us?...Happy every time you receive a paycheck or promotion? How is your trust in God holding up these days? You feel the words to the verse: “Just as I am, though tossed about With many a conflict, many a doubt, Fightings and fears within, without…” And yet, by the grace of God, you come to Him in prayer. Emotions change, fluxuate and fade. But, not so the Word of the Gospel! The same Spirit by whom you pray, praise, and give thanks, He reminds you that you are God’s adopted son or daughter. Long before your emotional frustrations, before you cried in anger or sang with joy, Jesus died for you. Long before you let your emotions get the best of you and, in a moment’s notice, proved unfaithful, Jesus faithfully bore your sorrows and griefs ont the cross. Though you have lashed out in your rage, wished death upon yourself in depression, demanded your rights with bitter tears, Jesus has taken your sinful thoughts, words, and actions on Himself in your place. You come to Him in distress because He still comes to you with compassion. In the public words of your pastor and the consolation of friends and family, He never stops forgiving you of your trespasses. Since your baptism, you are an heir of the life Jesus promises you. That life, His risen life sustains your trust in Him. “Come to me, you who are weary,” said Jesus. “Take my yoke upon you. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Come, just as you are, tossed to and fro by your emotions. In Holy Communion, receive for yourself Jesus’ very body and blood. These gifts our Savior gives you forgive your sins and strengthens your fraying trust. Come to worship and hear for yourself the peace of sins forgiven in God’s Word. Your risen Savior assures you in every reading from Scripture, in every sermon that your pastor preaches that He is with you always. His Spirit fills you and forms your prayer to your heavenly Father. In the week from Sunday to Sunday, you catch others’ misspoken words and hurtful actions. You feel angry. Our Lord gives you the release and joy to forgive them just as He has forgiven you. Approach His throne of grace in prayer. He will not turn anyone away who so cries out in His name. The familiar voice jeers you just when you felt everything was going right. You feel exhausted as you turn the key and unlock the door to your apartment. Yet, thanks be to God. His peace fills you with certainty. He is your Lord who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies you together with the whole Christian Church both now and in eternity.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
When God created the world from nothing, He intended man and everything else to live in perfect trust. He sculpted the man an built the woman. He called them to live, day in and day out, filling the earth with life. After six days, He looked at everything and called it “very good”. God set time in motion. He did not make men and women to be robots. He gave them the will that took Him at His Word. Then, the serpent—Satan, the devil in disguise—came in sleek deception. He turned Adam and Eve against their Lord and Creator. Since then, man has rebelled. Creation has faced natural catastrophes. Disease and disabilities became present realities for us. Man has warred against himself. In terms of a portrait, sin, death, and Satan made ugly what God created beautiful. As sin with its fall-out has corrupted creation, it has tarnished how we see time’s passing. Our bodies wear out. Months and years show us the same cycle of emotions and events—from being born to dying, from weeping to laughter, from building big dreams and watching them crumble. Time marches on. One day follows another in pain-staking, agonizing progression. Does beauty rest in the eye of the beholder? On the one hand, King Solomon who wrote Ecclesiastes agrees. There is nothing new under the sun. Everything we do ends up being an exercise in vanity. Who knows if we who work hard at our jobs may preceed someone who is lazy and unproductive? We wonder if our day-in-day-out labor makes any difference at all. On the other hand, as needs arise in our and others’ lives, we find ourselves longing to lend a hand. Work, our service to each other, continues to find its way into our lives. Thanks be to God! We are not left to ourselves with our own perception of time. The Lord makes benefits flow from the work of our hands. He preserves our body and life for the time He allots to each of us. Returning to our portrait analogy, God promised to make beautiful again what sin made ugly. Shortly after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in Eden, the Lord found them dressed in their futile fig leaves. After rebuking them for their disobedience, He promised, then and there, to send a Savior. The woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head. Throughout the Old Testament, God continued to bring order to the days and years of those who took Him at His Word. Now, He calls us to look back to His promise accomplished. In the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4-7), He sent His Son to save our fallen race. He calls us to continue taking Him at His Word. He will return to judge between those who have trusted Him and those who have not. In Christ Jesus our Redeemer, all history and time is driven by God’s promised salvation. Though Holy Scripture narrated the events surrounding the people of Israel, that nation was called to be a light to the whole world. Everyone would look at how the One and Only God dealt with them and turn away from idolatry. But, Israel failed to walk according to the plan. Instead of showing the light of life, they compromised their trusting the Lord alone in favor of including idols into their worship. Instead of God’s blessing, they incurred God’s wrath and punishment, making themselves a spectacle like other nations. Amid their rebellion, God spoke through His prophets for anyone to hear and believe. That is why the Lord sent other world powers to take them captive in exile. First came the Assyrians, then Babylonians. These nations tore down the temple He called His people to build. They perverted the ceremonies He commanded. Yet, as His chosen nation was scattered, He sent His written and preached Word with them. When the land was laid to waste, after about seventy years, He worked through an emperor’s decree to bring His peopleback to their homeland. From the West, the Lord permitted time for powers like Rome and Greece to rise. Along with a revived Egyptian empire and others, they lay in wait for opportunity to seize control of the Middle East. As these nations gained power, the Jews again scattered to cities such as Alexandria, Thebes, Antioch, and even Rome. They scattered, taking the Law of the Lord with them. The world was right for the coming of God’s eternal Son. Then, after His death and resurrection, His called apostles took the Word of His promise fulfilled worldwide. The New Testament tells of the lengths to which these apostles wento telling the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ that both Jew and Gentile alike would believe. Yet, you and I wear down as our years go on. We gasp in amazement at the way advances in computers both help our independence and confuse many we hope would employ us. Despite the drive for diversity and equality in employment, we still wonder when those with disabilities will enjoy equal standing and access to mainstream society. As urban sprawl takes away the neighborhoods we once considered safe, we feel isolated and afraid to go very far to find social outlets. With our emotions drained, time may still feel as if it just marches on in chaos. I am not advocating, here, that we see ourselves in this way, portrayed by Jim Morrison of The Doors as “riders on the storm”. Yet, the reality of our fallen human emotions remains, we struggle against lethargy. The portrait remade beautiful seems disorderly and distorted in our daily lives. Nevertheless, God’s Word still comes to us with comfort amid this chaos. He has made all things beautiful in His time. Amid the doom, gloom, and decay we witness, He bids us to look up. His redemption, His promised second coming is drawing near. He is giving time for unbelievers to repent and come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Peter. 3:9) In the meantime, He sustains us through His Word and gifts. He gives us friends, relatives, and coworkers who forgive us of things we’ve said or done wrong. And, we rejoice in likewise forgiving them. Normally, the sight of blood tarnishes and appears gruesome. This is true as far as how we in our sinfulness shed blood in battle and as abortion take the lives of the innocent. Blood splattered in cases of medical malpractice puts a damper on some people’s willingness to cooperate with a system designed to save life instead of terminating it. The blood of Jesus, shed once for all the world splashes its beautiful redemption across all of human history. Christ’s death, though gory as an R=-rated crime scene, makes the portrait and reality eternal life beautiful. Our Beautiful Savior laid down His life for us to take it up again and direct our days and our deeds in His peace. The Lord promises that even the feet of those who run swift to declare His good news are beautiful (Rom. 10:15) since His Word will not return empty but will accomplish that for which He sends it. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, (1 John 1:7), even us who trust and tell that simple Gospel message in our lives. Jesus Christ will return and take us who trust in Him alone to everlasting life in heaven and consign forever all unbelievers to hell. At that time, He will show the portrait in our sight of His salvation accomplished, the portrait He now shows us through faith. He has made all things beautiful in His time and promises to preserve our body and life till He comes.