Bumper Sticker Theology

Jesus is my co-pilot

Sermon Excerpt from Jesus Is the Answer posted on 11-23-14

There are few things in this world worse than bumper-sticker theology. It is amazing that people try to limit something as far-reaching as faith in the God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ into a few pithy words to slap on the back of a vehicle.

“Jesus is my co-pilot.” If Jesus is merely your co-pilot, I suggest you switch seats. Jesus wants to be your pilot. Jesus wants to be the one who makes the decisions, charts the course, and steers the ship. As Carrie Underwood sings, it is Jesus who needs to “take the wheel.”

“Honk if you love Jesus.” Please don’t do that. The world does not need any more people tooting their own horns. The world needs less noise and more action. If you really love Jesus, do the things that Jesus did. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, love the outcast, visit the imprisoned, welcome the stranger, defend and forgive the sinner, care for the dying and be a friend to the lonely.

“Got Jesus?”  That is such a silly question. For Jesus cannot be “got.”  It is Jesus who wants to get you. He wants to get you to deny yourself, pick up a cross and follow him. You don’t get Jesus to meet your needs or to fulfill your desires. Jesus wants to get a hold of your needs and rearrange them, get a hold of your desires and transform them. You don’t get Jesus as some sort of ticket to heaven. Jesus wants to get you to bring heaven to earth.

“Jesus is the reason for the season.” Isn’t Jesus reason for all of the seasons? Jesus wants to be the Lord over every season, every month, and every day. Jesus wants to be the reason you get up out of the bed every morning.

“Keep Christ in ‘Christmas.’” Why don’t you first try to keep Christ in “Christian?” The reason so many people are turned off by Christians today is because many Christians act nothing like the Christ they claim to worship and serve.

With our bumper stickers on the back of our vehicles, we look like pompous people who are trying to arrogantly impress others who follow us, instead of a humble people who are trying to selflessly love others as we follow Jesus.

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Grace of Froot Loops

Froot Loops

Excerpt from Check Your Oil for The Farmville Enterprise.

How many times have you heard “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”? You don’t know what you’ve got until a relationship ends, a moment is lost, or a freedom is taken away.

A woman suffering with cancer, who lost her ability to perform even the most mundane tasks, once told me: “It is amazing how much we take for granted every day. Oh, how I would give anything in the world to be able to get up out of this bed, walk into my kitchen and just pour me a bowl of Froot Loops.” She went on, “When I was healthy, when I could get out of bed and walk to the kitchen, when I could feed myself, when I could chew and swallow my food, I don’t believe I ever thanked God for something as boring as a bowl of Froot Loops.”

Who in the world even thinks about the awesome gift of being able to do something as mundane and as boring as pouring a bowl of Froot Loops? Someone who can longer pour a bowl of Froot Loops thinks about it.

Who in the world thinks about the miraculous gift of being able to walk? Someone who has lost the ability to walk.

Who in the world thinks about the gift of healthy lungs? Someone living with COPD.

Who in the world thinks about their kidneys or their liver? Someone on the way to a dialysis thinks about their kidneys. Someone living or dying with cirrhosis thinks about their liver.

And who in the world the world truly thinks about the miracle that is their life, the miracle that is this creation? People diagnosed with a terminal illness do. Those who have recently lost a loved one to death do.

In one of his parables, Jesus said that some foolish bridesmaids missed the whole dance, because they forgot to fill their lamps with oil and did not see the bridegroom when he showed up. Jesus ended the parable with the admonishment: “keep awake” (Matthew 25).

Keep awake. Check your oil. Keep your lamp burning. Don’t miss the dance. Keep watching and keep looking, recognizing that we are never promised tomorrow. Take nothing for granted. Don’t wait until it’s gone to know what you’ve got. Treasure your lungs, your kidneys, and your liver. Cherish the ability to walk into the kitchen and pour something as mundane and boring as a bowl of Froot Loops. Relish every taste in creation. Revere every sight and every touch in this world. For in life, nothing is ever mundane. It is never boring. It is all miracle. It is all gift. It is all grace.

Sermon Excerpts about Church

As we renew our mission to be the church, here are some thoughts about the church from a year’s worth of sermons.

Be the church

Going solo with faith

I have a confession to make. During my break from pastoral ministry, I often felt the temptation to go solo with my faith. I would go for a Sunday morning run along the Tar River in Greenville. There, I would pray and enjoy being alive in God’s creation, and think to myself, “This is the way to do church! There is no one to disagree with me. There is no one sharing their problems with me, making me uncomfortable, and taking up my time. And I must confess, it was rather nice!

However, I must also confess it was very selfish. It was arrogant, and it was self-righteous. The truth is: it was the very antithesis of who Jesus calls us to be as his disciples.

From People Grumble But Angels Sing

The church is the light of the world

We are to shine our lights by lifting up, accepting and caring for all people, especially those the world leaves behind. We are to light it up by loving, accepting, and caring for the least among us: the poor, the weak, those who need mercy, the marginalized who hunger and thirst for justice, the obviously flawed but pure in heart, and the troubled who yearn for peace.

Will we look like fools? You bet. Will people say that the way we accept and love and affirm others is socially and even theologically unacceptable? It’s likely. Will we be demeaned and even persecuted by others in the community, even other churches? Perhaps.

From Light It Up

Got Jesus? Oh God, I hope not!

If Jesus is something or even someone that we get, then church becomes just another product whose members are mere consumers. Thus, like going to a store, the spa, or the local cineplex, church becomes some place we go to get something. Some go to get fed. Others go to get nurtured and pampered. Some go to get entertained.

However, if it is Jesus who gets us, if Jesus is about us giving ourselves to the God revealed in Christ, then church means a radical, self-denying, sacrificial way of living.

If Jesus is about giving one’s life away, then the church becomes something much more than a self-help center offering self-improvement workshops.

Wednesday night becomes less of a time to get fed, physically and spiritually, and more of a time to pray for others, celebrate the joys of life with others, and even suffer with others. It becomes a time to build a community of selfless love and forgiveness with others. Bible study becomes less of a time to acquire more biblical knowledge than others and more of a time to consider how the scriptures inform our service to others.

Sunday morning becomes less about what God has to offer us and more about what we have to offer God.  When we eat the bread, we do not consume it. When we drink from the cup, we do not merely swallow it. We allow it to consume and swallow us, every part of us. And we commit ourselves to presenting our own bodies as living sacrifices for others, pouring our very selves out for others in the name of the God who emptied God’s self out for us.

And every day of the week, we become more than Christians who possess exclusive tickets to heaven in hand. We become the Light of the World.

Got Jesus? O God, for the sake of this community and for sake of this world, I pray not. Amen.

From Got Jesus?

 It only takes a spark

The truth is, when our church becomes nothing but a safe, static sanctuary, a place of secure stability where nothing really ever changes, where we can cool off, cool down and just for sixty-minutes a week, chill out, we are not fulfilling our purpose as the children of a dynamic, dancing God.  We are not the incendiary force that Jesus ignites us to be.  And we are one boring sight—to God as well as to the world.

Yet, when we be become ignited, fired up, disrupted, when we allow ourselves to be engaged by the Christ, when we truly decide to follow him, each of us using the gifts we have been given by the fiery Holy Spirit to serve him, to truly love all people, to meet the needs of our community; when we lose ourselves and become caught up in God’s dance, discover God’s purpose, we become a purifying and warming blaze, and it is, I promise you, a glorious site to behold, to God, as well as to the world.

When others see that that we look like the fiery Holy Spirit of Jesus—when they see us mowing a neighbor’s lawn, growing fresh vegetables for the needy, serving the soup kitchen, giving to help the poor in our community with rent and utilities, delivering meals on wheels to the elderly, adopting a nursing home resident, planning to help repair a stranger’s home in West Virginia, going back to Nicaragua, when they read on our sign, “All Are Welcomed to Worship and to Serve”, when they see that we are always willing to change and adapt, even reorganize—others will want to join us and serve alongside us.

From I Smell Smoke

The church is in the clothing business

I believe with all of my heart that this is one of our primary purposes as a community of faith. We are to always be a community of grace. If people cannot come through the doors of the church and take off their masks, stop the charade, and honestly lay bare all of their sin and all of their grief, knowing that they will never be judged, looked down upon or condemned, then I do not believe we are a church. I am not sure what type of business we’re running, but we are not a church, we are not a community of grace. As a church we are to always be in the business of yearning to meet people where they are, so we can be with them, so we can walk alongside of them, so we can listen to them, learn from them, forgive them and love them.

From Grace in Genesis: Adam and Eve

The first word people should hear from the church

The first word they hear from the church should never be judgment, condemnation or some loud, angry, hate-filled rant or protest. It should never be that God took her or snatched him, or is punishing them, or trying to get their attention because of some sin. No, the first word they need to hear from us is “peace.”  They need to hear God say, “Peace. My peace I give to you. You are my sons. You are my daughters, I have always loved you.  I still love you. I will love you forever. I am here with you and for you, always working all things together for the good.”

I believe people in our world who have locked their doors to the church are thirsting for this peace. They are thirsting for a group of people in our world that have the audacity to truly live as the embodiment of Christ in this world offering the first word of Easter, the peace of Christ to a fearful world through selfless, sacrificial love and service to others. They are thirsting for a church that seeks to be, not an institution, but the living embodiment of Christ in this world, serving the poor, and those whom society has marginalized, offering grace, acceptance, love and peace.

From The First Easter Word

We learn from others

Dare to leave your comfort zone to minster to those who are struggling somewhere in a foreign state, but when you go, it is important to realize that you do not go as if you are one with all of the answers, possessing all of the faith, going out as if on a crusade to save all those with less faith. Because oftentimes, says Jesus, it is the one living on the edge, the foreigner, who can teach us a thing or two about faith in God and salvation.

From Welcome Home! Too Bad You Can’t Stay

Embracing Diversity

Therefore, if we ever act or speak in any manner that denigrates or dehumanizes another because of their race, language, nationality or ethnicity, we are actually disparaging the God who willed such diversity. According to Genesis, diversity is not to be feared, avoided, prevented or lynched. If we want to do the will of God our creator and redeemer, diversity is to be embraced. In other words, if we love God, we will also love our neighbor. And this is what God wants us to be united by. It is why Jesus called it the greatest commandment—love God and our neighbors as ourselves. Love is what should unite us; not racial pride or patriotism.

From Grace in Genesis: Tower of Babel

Allowing the words and works of Jesus to interpret the Bible for us

From Baptism Obstacles

The world would be a much better place today if more people understood that the Bible needs to be interpreted. I do not believe God ever intended for people, on his or her own, to pick up the Bible, and arbitrarily lift scripture passages out of their contexts, and try to understand it or follow it. I believe this is one of the reasons that baptism statistics are in such a decline today. Too many Christians are using the Bible out of context to support all kinds of hate and injustice. And because of that there are countless people in this world, countless people in this community, who are the victims of bad religion. They feel marginalized and disenfranchised by the church. They have been taught their entire lives that God despises them. They have no idea that God loves them and has a future for them— All because no one has interpreted the Bible pointing to the Jesus who came into the world, not to condemn the world by to save the world, to love the world.

Luke tells us that the Spirit had to urge Philip to get up and go to the chariot to see this Eunuch from Ethiopia. Go to the chariot and meet this strange foreigner; this victim of bad religion who had been ostracized from the community of faith; this one demeaned and exploited for his sexuality; this one who has been clobbered by the Bible by those who arbitrarily pick and choose scripture passages like Deuteronomy 23:1 that says they are forbidden to enter the temple; this one who has been taught his entire life that he is despised by God. Go, Philip, and meet him where he is. Do not stand above him or over him. Do not judge him or condemn him. Join him. Get into the chariot and sit beside him. Ride alongside him. Engage him. Listen to him. Learn from this other, this stranger, this foreigner.

From Baptism Obstacles

We are born holding hands

This past Mother’s Day, a rare set twins were born in Ohio. They were called mono, mono twins, meaning that they shared the same amniotic sac and thus were in constant contact with one another. However, it was not the mono, mono rarity that got them so much attention this week. Jillian and Jenna Thistlewaite were miraculously born holding hands.

One of the most popular songs when I was born back in 1966 was entitled, Born Free.  “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows, born free to follow your heart.”

It’s a nice song. However, when you take a good look at Jillian and Jenna Thistlewaite, we learn something completely different. We were not born to be independent and free, but we were born to be utterly dependent on one another. We were born to need one another. Jillian and Jenna remind us that Christ has commanded us to love one another, to link up with one another in mutual care and concern, and to feel responsibility for one another. We were born to live in community.

We were not born free, as the song goes. We were born holding hands.

From Born Holding Hands

We must be willing to share in the suffering of others

Another reason I believe people are leaving the church is that they see within the church a group of people who fail to see the importance of true fellowship, of suffering with others.

Today, this can most obviously be seen on social media, especially facebook. Someone will post a tragic circumstance: the loss of a job, the loss of their health, or even the loss of a child. Then come the God-awful comments: “God doesn’t make mistakes.” “God has a purpose.” “God has a plan.” “God knows best.” “God needed another angel.”

For some reason or another, some Christians think it is their mission to help others avoid suffering, as they think suffering somehow means their faith is weak. They believe they must say something to fix the problems of another, to say something theological to make everything better. However, their trite comments are seen as uncaring, unsympathetic, distant, and cold. And people everywhere read those callous comments and think, “If that is the church, then I want no part of it.”

Henri Nouwen has written: “When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those, who instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

From Renewing our Fellowship Mission

Sermon Excerpts about Discipleship

As we renew our mission to being Disciples of Christ, here are a few discipleship quotes to prayerfully consider from a year’s worth of sermons.

 

Do you know what you are getting yourselves into here?

forest-gump1One day, noticing the growing number of people following behind him, like a scene in Forrest Gump, Jesus suddenly stops, turns to the masses and says something like: “Do you people really know what this is all about? Do you really know what you are getting yourselves into here? Because I am not so sure the crowd would be this large if you really knew! Do you really understand what you are signing up for here? Do you really get this journey called, ‘discipleship’? Because, I have a sinking suspicion that most of you do not have a clue.”

The truth is, this road we call discipleship is a difficult and sometimes painful road. There’s even a cross involved. And we are going to have to carry it.

From A Bunch of Losers, September 8, 2013.

For those who believe discipleship is only about a ticket to heaven

Jesus is saying: “It is perfectly is to think and dream about going to Heaven one day. It is fine to have the hope that someday, somehow, some way there’s not going to be anything more to fear or dread. It is wonderful to know a time is coming when there is going to be no more crying, no more pain, and no more death. It is great to sing those old hymns of faith, such as “When We All Get to Heaven,”  “Shall We Gather at the River,” and “I Can Only Imagine,” but if Heaven is the only place your hearts are, if going to Heaven and avoiding Hell is the only reason you are Christians, then you have missed the whole point of who I am and who you are called to be as my disciples.”

I believe Jesus is saying to us: “So don’t come to church looking to avoid a suffering world! Come to church and bear the sufferings of this world! Don’t come to church looking for some fire insurance. Come to church and let me lead you into the fire!”

This is exactly why I believe so many Christians are tempted “go after” those who love to preach about the end of days, especially those who say that it is coming in our lifetimes. For it is far easier to believe that God has already given up on this world. It is much easier to look at the destruction in the Philippines and believe that it is all a part of God’s plan, a preview of things to come! It is far easier to believe that earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes and poverty and wars are all part of God’s apocalyptic will than it is to believe that God calls us to selflessly and sacrificially suffer alongside those who are suffering.

It would be far easier to believe that Christianity is only about getting a ticket to heaven to escape this world than it is to believe that it is about selfless, sacrificial service.

From Heaven Can Wait, November 17, 2013.

Faith is a journey

It is no mere coincidence that all of the Gospels depict Jesus as we meet him in today’s Gospel—as one who is always on a journey, always going someplace, always on the way to see someone, always on the move.

I’m afraid many of us have erroneously learned along the way that this thing we call faith is something that we possess instead of some road we travel, some place we go. We have reduced our faith into some sort of transaction made or some sort of ticket in hand. Our faith is merely some sort of stamp of approval or some kind of Get-of-Hell-Free card.

When we invited Jesus into our hearts, who knows what we thought he was going to do in there! Just come in and sit still? Come inside, lay down and take a nap? Just stay with us, comfort and assure us until we die and go to heaven? We seldom understand that our faith is a journey with the Christ who is always on the move, always going places. Thus faith in Christ is always an adventure, an expedition to places that were previously, without Christ, unknown to us.

From Guess Where We’re Going, January 25, 2014

Our problem

Our problem is not that we are not willing to turn the other cheek and forgive. Our problem is that we are so private, so unconcerned about anyone other than ourselves, that we never cause any confrontations.

Our problem is not that we are not willing to give someone the shirt off our backs. Our problem is that we are never around anyone who needs even our coats.

Our problem is not that we are not willing to go the second mile. Our problem is that we are never in a position to go the first mile.

Our problem is not that we are not willing to give to needy who personally approach us and beg of us. Our problem is that we do not know anyone in need.

Our problem is not that we are not willing to love our enemies. Our problem is that most of us have never created any. We are so self-centered, self-absorbed, and so afraid of any controversy that might cause us a little pain, we simply never put ourselves out there to make any enemies.

From The First Mile, February 23, 2014.

The downward way of Jesus

The scriptures do say that Jesus grew upward in stature; however, the gospel writers continually paint a portrait Jesus’ life as one of downward mobility. He is continually bending himself to the ground, getting his hands dirty to touch the places in people that most need touching.

While his disciples seemed to always focus on privilege and honor and upward mobility, chastising little children who needed to shape up and grow up before they could come to Jesus, Jesus argued that the Kingdom of God actually belonged to such children.

While his disciples argued about who was going to be promoted to be first in the Kingdom, Jesus frustrated them (and if we are honest, frustrated us) by doing things like moving down to sit at the lowest seat at the table, bending down to wash their feet, stooping down to welcome small children, crouching down to forgive a sinner, reaching down to serve the poor, lowering himself down to accept the outcast, touch the leper, heal the sick, and raise the dead.

While others exercised worldly power to move up, climb up, and advance, Jesus exercised a strange and peculiar power that always propelled him in the opposite direction. It is not a power that rules but is a power that serves. It is not a power that takes but is a power that gives. It is not a power that seizes but is a power that suffers. It is not a power that dominates but is a power that dies.

And today, we remember that, nearing the culmination of his downward life, Jesus comes into Jerusalem to save the world, riding a borrowed donkey with a handful of disciples stumbling, fumbling and bumbling behind him. The whole scene, in the words of Henri Nouwen, looks “downright stupid.”

This is the narrow and seemingly foolish way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless–toward all who thirst and hunger justice and compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, not popularity, not riches, not worldly power, but the way to life, full, complete, abundant and eternal.

From This Church Is Going Down, April 13, 2014.

Risky hospitality

And Jesus said to go and do this. Go out, move out, and reach out to strangers. Love your neighbors. Yes, this world is very frightening beyond our walls. And the truth is our neighbors are downright scary. But our neighbors are also thirsty. Welcome, engage, touch. Make yourselves vulnerable to another. For there is no other way to fulfill the purpose for which you were created—to seek and make genuine peace in this world. This is discipleship. This is following the way of Jesus. It is done face-to-face, hand-to-hand, person-to-person. We cringe. Because we know that this kind of hospitality is risky. It involves openness and intimacy with another.

From Ricky Business, June 22, 2013.

Why churches are losing members

I believe one of the reasons many churches are losing members today is because, for many, the church does not look like Jesus. I believe people still love Jesus and want to follow Jesus today; however, the church does not look like a group of people who have decided to follow Jesus. Church members do not look like a group of people who are on a mission for others but look more like some type of religious club created for the members in order to make them feel holier and superior than others.

This is perhaps why the first thing Jesus says we must do once we decide we want to follow him is to “deny ourselves.”  We must learn that this thing called “discipleship,” this thing called “church,” is not about us. It is not about achieving a good, happy and successful life or even an eternal life.

Discipleship is not about receiving a blessing. It is about being a blessing to others. It is not about feeding our souls. It is about feeding the hungry. It is not about finding a home. It is about welcoming the outsider. It is not about acquiring spiritual riches. It is about giving everything away to the poor. It is not about getting ahead. It is about sharing with people who can barely get by. It is not about triumph. It is about sacrifice. It is not about gaining eternal life for ourselves. It is about dying to ourselves.

I believe the reason that many churches struggle today is because, in our attempt to entice, excite and gain new members, we have made the church all about us. We have said, “Come, and join our church where we have programs that are certain to benefit your life!” Instead of saying: “Come and join our church where you will be given opportunities to give your life away. Come and join our church where you will be encouraged to sacrifice and to serve expecting nothing in return.”

From Renewing Our Discipleship Mission, August 24, 2014.

Wise ones still seek him

I believe there is something within all of us, deep within our most selfish, indulgent and decadent selves, even in the heart of sin city, that yearns to associate with those who love others more than self, with those who humbly, courageously and sacrificially serve, expecting absolutely nothing in return.

And I believe there is something within even the most devout church cynic, even within the ones who have all but given up on organized religion, that desires to be more like Jesus. And they still are hoping that somewhere, somehow, some way, a church exists in this broken world that looks and acts like more Jesus than a country club for the pure and self-righteous.

From The Least of These or The Exalted of Us, September 1, 2013.

Church Is Not About Us

Its not about usThe following is an excerpt from Renewing Our Discipleship Mission to be published in the Farmville Enterprise.

I believe one of the reasons many churches are losing members today is because, for many, the church does not look like Jesus. I believe people still love Jesus and want to follow Jesus today; however, the church does not look like a group of people who have decided to follow Jesus. Church members do not look like a group of people who are on a mission for others but look more like some type of religious club created for the members in order to make them feel holier and superior than others.

Mike Huckabee, former pastor, Arkansas governor, and presidential candidate, wrote about why he resigned from serving as pastor of a church to enter politics. He states: “I had been growing restless and frustrated in the ministry,” As a young minister, he said he envisioned himself as “the captain of a warship leading God’s troops into battle.” But he said, what the people really wanted was for him “to captain the Love Boat, making sure everyone was having a good time.”

This is perhaps why the first thing Jesus says we must do once we decide we want to follow him is to “deny ourselves.”  We must learn that this thing called “discipleship,” this thing called “church,” is not about us. It is not about achieving a good, happy and successful life or even an eternal life.

Discipleship is not about receiving a blessing. It is about being a blessing to others. It is not about feeding our souls. It is about feeding the hungry. It is not about finding a home. It is about welcoming the outsider. It is not about acquiring spiritual riches. It is about giving everything away to the poor. It is not about getting ahead. It is about sharing with people who can barely get by. It is not about triumph. It is about sacrifice. It is not about gaining eternal life for ourselves. It is about dying to ourselves.

I believe the reason that many churches struggle today is because, in our attempt to entice, excite and gain new members, we have made the church all about us. We have said, “Come, and join our church where we have programs that are certain to benefit your life!” Instead of saying: “Come and join our church where you will be given opportunities to give your life away. Come and join our church where you will be encouraged to sacrifice and to serve expecting nothing in return.”

Pastoral Prayer Inspired by Dietrich Bonheoffer

Dietrich BonhoefferDietrich Bonhoeffer did not have to help Jews escape Nazi Germany and flee to Switzerland.  After all, he was safe and sound in New York in the early 1940’s. He was free to stay in America and preach the gospel from the safety of a free church pulpit or teach New Testament in the peace and freedom of a university. But the gospel he preached compelled him to return to Germany and stand against Nazi aggression.

Before he was executed by the Nazis in 1945, he wrote the following words that I believe the American Church that is embedded in a narcissistic society needs to hear again and hear loudly:

Cheap grace is the preaching of….forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession…  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate. Costly grace is…the gospel which must be sought again and again. The gift which must be asked for, the door at which one must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs us our lives. It is grace because it gives us the only true life.

The following pastoral prayer was inspired by Bonhoeffer’s timeless words:

O good and gracious God, we come to this place this morning to recommit ourselves to being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. However, if we are ever going to truly follow Jesus, we will first need to repent of our sins that are derived from our love with what your servant Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”

We gather in this place Sunday after Sunday to hear preaching that will remind us that we are loved and forgiven; not to hear that we need to change our selfish ways.

We gather to remember the way we came up out of the waters of our baptism to symbolize life abundant and eternal; not to remember our immersion into the waters to symbolize death to self.

We come to gather around a table to receive the gift of Holy Communion; not to confess our sins and our shortcomings.

We come to this place to receive grace and love; not to be encouraged to share grace and love with others.

We come here to worship at the foot of the cross; not to pick it up and carry it ourselves.

We come here to worship Christ in the safety and comfort of this sanctuary; not fully realizing that the Christ is actually alive today, present  here, calling us, prodding us, pulling us to follow him out into a risky and uncomfortable world.

So, O God, forgive us of our love for “cheap grace.” Help us to truly repent, turn from our wicked ways and seek to live for a grace, in a grace, and by a grace that is worthy of your sacrificial love for us, even if it is “costly.”

May we come to this place to seek this grace Sunday after Sunday. May we keep asking, keep knocking at your door, keep giving our lives away to you, keep denying ourselves, and keep looking to you for the strength we need to pick up our crosses and follow our Lord and our Savior wherever he leads. Because we know that this grace, although it costs us our very lives, is the only way to true life, abundant and eternal. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

God Is Love: Yesterday, Today and Forever

same yesterday today and forever

I hear many people say that the Bible paints two very different portraits of God. They say that the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath, judgment and vengeance, a God of Hell, fire and brimstone; whereas, the God of the New Testament was a God of love, grace and mercy. I suspect this may be part of the reason that while some say they believe in love and grace, they make it very clear with their words and deeds, that they also believe in judgment and condemnation.

However, I believe God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and I believe God is love. Therefore, God will always be love, and God has always been love. Many point to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and talk about God punishing the first two humans by kicking them out of the garden; however, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago in a sermon, the story is about the human consequences of knowing good and evil, and consequently, our shame. And it is a story about a God who deals with our shame by clothing us with grace, as God made garments of skin to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.

Furthermore, in the next chapter, when Cain, who deserves to die for killing his brother Abel, fears that his life is over, God emphatically says, “Not so!” God then reaches down and puts a mark of grace on Cain. Moreover, God’s grace followed Cain, even in that place east of Eden called Nod, even in that place that Cain believed was outside of God’s presence.

Thus, proving in the very beginning of all that is, that there is not, has never been, and will never be, anything in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God.