Triumphing Over The Weeds

georgefloyd-articleLarge

Reading and watching the news of the killing of another black man in Minneapolis and the resulting rage and rioting, do our eyes glaze over?  Or do we get filled with rage looking for who to blame and hurt?

In our hyper-polarized war-zone we call a country, we must look beyond thinking this is a political issue. This is also more than a matter of justice.

Our hearts should break when unarmed black men lose their lives at the hands of individuals sworn to defend and protect their fellow citizens. Those who perpetrate such crimes should be punished to the full extent of the law.  But that is not enough.

As a nation we need healing. As a nation we need to search deep in our souls in order to come together.

Racism remains a deep wound within the American society. The horribly destructive sin of racism scars all segments of our national family from those living in the projects to those living in gated communities. The long history of racism has century old roots which continue to birth its weed as seen in blighted neighborhoods, under-performing schools and jail cells. Even though we try to eradicate it, the seeds of this weed continue to blow and take root.

Jesus says his enemy is the one who plants the weed (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).  Looking at another human being and seeing them as less than human is satanic. Our prejudices of race, sex, religion, etc., within ourselves which cause us to see another human being, as being less than the child God created and for whom Christ died and saved, come from the abyss of Satan. Malice and hatred are the fruits of wickedness and have no place in the life of people cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Gal 5:19, Col 3:8, Eph 4:31, Rom 1:9, Tit 3:3). We must keep our eye on the real enemy if we are ever going to win the war on racism. We must see the spiritual oppression if we are to find healing.

Does knowing that George Floyd was a committed Christian change our perspective of this tragedy?   “George Floyd was a person of peace sent from the Lord that helped the gospel go forward in a place that I never lived in,” said Pastor Ngwolo of Resurrection Church in Houston. Floyd wanted break the cycle of violence he saw among young people and used his influence to bring in outside ministries to do discipleship and outreach in the Third Ward, particularly in the Cuney Homes housing project.  George Floyd always said, “God trumps street culture”.

In this moment, as Christians we must proclaim that God trumps racism. God trumps the wickedness of this world. As we are called to follow God, we are called to witness to His Kingdom. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.” (Proverbs 31:8)  This senseless, wicked tragedy is more than a political issue, more than a justice issue. This is a matter of the Kingdom knocking down the gates of hell.

We are confronted with the wicked catastrophe of human existence every day.  We cannot avert our eyes because we want to avoid the ugly truth of this sin-soaked world. To avoid the ugly truth of wicked weeds of our world is to avoid looking at the cross.

We are baptized into the cross so we can have the courage to look at the world the way it really is. We are baptized into the cross so we can look at ourselves the way we really are. We are baptized into the Cross of Christ so we can look to him for our salvation and hope. We are baptized into the Cross of Christ so we can rely on the Holy Spirit to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6, Eph 5:2)

As Christians we are empowered to lead the way. To confess and repent of this rooted evil. God calls on his children to “fast from injustice and oppression.” (Isaiah 58:4) God promises that this is the path so that “our light will break forth like the dawn.” (Isaiah 58:8) Then we can model the way of Jesus for our neighbors. Then we can imitate Christ in the way of love by giving ourselves as a fragrant offering (Ephesians 5:2)

God Triumphs Over the Weeds. Amen.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give us peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with us all. (2 Thess 3:16) – Pastor Douglas

UNESSENTIAL?  

mask - prayingAfter weeks of our Coronavirus sheltering in place President Trump announced the CDC will classify houses of worship as essential. While governors have allowed marijuana shops, liquor stores, and abortion clinics to remain open as essential services, our society is actually debating whether churches are essential.

The sad truth is that to many people in this country the church is not essential. One fitness minded person complained about churches opening when he wanted the gyms to open. There are many others who want churches to remain close fearing that worship gatherings will be super spreaders of COVID-19.

The sadder truth though is that the Church, the manager of the Gospel, is unessential to many Christians. The sheltering place is hurting our connection to one another. This sheltering in place, this cocooning, is cutting us off from the nurturing message of the Gospel.  No greater example of this than pastors who are unable to visit the sick. This isolation is hurting us.

“You may say, I can read the bible at home.”

“Pastor, I watch your devotions on Facebook.”

All that is true and good.

But faith is a communal experience. We learn to be disciples by interaction with other disciples. This is the pattern that Jesus himself established. In fact, Christ gave himself on the cross for you to be joined to the family of God.

The suffering of Christ is more than simply helping us managing our sin, but to release us to be vessels of his amazing power, not for our self-actualization, but so we could be a blessing to others. Think of how Paul describes the fruits of our faith: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23)   These fruits are to be used to bless the other disciples. Paul goes on to say we are to bear one another’s burden, encourage one another and build up one another.

Facebook emoji’s are nice, but will it help grow a person in faith?

We are in a historic time. A time which has ushered in significant challenges to really every institution in our society: governments, stores, employment, social media, families, sports, and health care.

The Church will be significantly affected by this. Your local church will be significantly affected by this. We will see this in the weeks and months to come.

We need to imagine how we will be in the Church together in new ways. We will need to imagine how we will be the Church for our friends and family in new ways.

We will each need to ask, Is Christ Essential to My Life?

Now may the Lord of peace himself give us peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with us all. (2 Thess 3:16) – Pastor Douglas

Exchanging for Self-Righteousness (Exodus 31:1-20)

Golden Calf

“These are your gods who led you out of Egypt.”   Ex 32:4

The freed slaves from Egypt panic when Moses is gone too long for their liking. They become uncomfortable and unstable. They demand Aaron do something to soothe them. They demand Aaron give them an understanding on their terms of the the LORD who redeemed them out of Egypt.

We are always trying to co-opt what the LORD wills to what we will, to what we want. The LORD who redeems unvalued slaves to become his holy nation of priests bearing his image in their lives. They instead want to revert to a demanding god who expects them to earn their value.

They want a god they can buy off. Buy off with their gold, with their offerings, with their effort. They do not want to be obligated to the LORD who loves them unconditionally. They want conditions.

The Christian faith’s greatest threat is not external persecution but internal heresy. As recently published research shows, so many “Christians” doubt the God who meets them in the Scripture. “A mere one out of three (34%) who have a biblical view of God also believe that He is involved in their life.” (1)  So many American Christians want the LORD to stay at arms length from them.

Truth is, we just don’t know what to do with a God who loves us without invitation, without condition, and without limitations.

“Your people have acted perversely; I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are.”   Ex 32:7, 9

The whole purpose of the wandering in the desert is to give the people the necessary time for spiritual transformation. They cannot and do not want to deal with it. They want to live on their terms.

We always fail to remember that our terms are constantly, incessantly tainted by sin. Sin infests our entire lives.

So what is the perversion and rebellious nature of these golden calf dancers? To reject the LORD of grace to insist on a god of works and self-righteousness. A god that has to be appeased so we can boast in our efforts.

“It is the sound of revelers that I hear.”  Ex 32:18

In rejecting the LORD of unmerited grace, they want a god they can buy off to they can be released to do what they want.  To be released from grace releases us to bargain with the gods so we can revel in what we desire.

What we revel in looks different for different groups, but at its core is a self-righteousness, a self-importance that puts us riding and steering that golden calf. Our world is awash in self-righteousness. This self-righteousness reveals itself in every gloating post about how wonderful my perspective is and how evil and wicked those who don’t tow my line are.

He made the Israelites drink it.  Ex 32:20

We are the ones who suffer when we exchange the grace and glory of the immortal LORD for for idols of this mortal world. The LORD desires us to turn to him and trust him. To trust him even in the midst of uncertainty. To trust his love and forgiveness even though we feel unworthy.

The revelry around the golden calf is a caution not to exchange the truth of God for a lie. (Romans 1:21-25)

 

(1)  Americans increasingly redefine and reject biblical view of God, new Barna research shows  by Adam Ford · Apr 26th, 2020

WHEN THEY RETURNED . . .

Henry-Ossawa-Tanner-The-Three-Marys 1910Big News!

When they returned from the tomb the women told everything. The grave locked down to contain Jesus’ death was found open. Angels clothed in lightening spoke and sent them back to the disciples with big news. (Luke 24:1-11)

Still the disciples hid out in the upper room because of fear. Yet the risen Christ came among the sheltering disciples. Christ declared: “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” Then he breathed on them! No N-95 masks. He breathed into them new life. Then he commanded them, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:19-23)

Curve Flattened

Over five weeks ago we stopped holding public worship services to comply with the governor’s mandate to shelter in place and limit the exposure of large groups. The purpose of the mandate was to reduce the spread of Coronavirus in order to give time for the health providers to prepare for a wave of illness and discover possible procedures that would remedy the illness. The purpose of flattening the curve was avoiding overwhelming the health care system. As a nation we have achieved that. Flattening the curve was not going eliminate the virus. But our national efforts have been incredibly successful. Original models estimated a COVID-19 plague would result in 500,000 to 2 million deaths in the US alone. At this time we have a little more than 60,000. While those deaths are mourned, as a nation we have avoided the worst-case scenarios.

As the health care system makes advances in testing and treatment, the guidelines are changing. Even here in California, the governor will be lifting the sheltering in place mandate. Our society will re-open. Our society must re-open or the carnage of economic disaster will be far greater than it already is.

Re-Opening

After more than a month of hibernation re-opening our society will all feel very weird. We will feel like waking from a mushroom induced dream in Alice in Wonderland where we have been hanging around with the hookah smoking caterpillar and the question rings “Whoooo are youuuuuu?”

The congregational council discussed restarting public worship at their April meeting recognizing this will be a bumpy process. When the county health department lifts restrictions we will resume worship. We anticipate the process of returning to worship our whole community will be a gradual process.

Taking Responsibility

The decision to return to worship is an individual decision. You are responsible for your own personal health. If you decide to stay away for health reasons, we honor that decision. We do request if you do not feel well that you remain at home.

We encourage people to take sensible mitigation efforts.

  • The sanctuary is large enough to have social distancing. (There are always those pews down in front.)
  • We will be refraining from physical greeting for the time being.
  • You are encouraged to wash your hands. Before and after worship.
  • You are welcome to wear masks in worship if you wish.
  • Offering plates will not be passed for the time being.
  • Sunday school will not resume at this time.
  • Online worship will be available through Facebook and YouTube if you choose to stay home.
  • If the response to worship is so great that we need to have more space, we will implement more worship services.

There are passionate views for or against continuing the sheltering in place orders and the shutdown of businesses and other agencies. We caution our church family. We ask that you honor one another. We are to be patient with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to empathize with their perspective.

We are learning more about this virus on a weekly basis. We will adapt as new information becomes available. We will always act in the best interest of our church family.

When We Return

As we wake from this stupor we will answer the question “Who are you?”  We are the Easter people sent by Christ to witness to the Resurrection! Christ has sent us to share the big news: “Christ is Risen!”

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

 

 

 

Staying Blessed (Exodus 20:1-21)

Moses_on_Mount_Sinai_Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-1895-1900

During this pandemic we are practicing social distancing to stay healthy. In Exodus 20 the LORD speaks to Moses about how the people of God can stay blessed.

This guidance about how to stay blessed is called the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments serve three purposes. First, it serves as a curb to retrain sin and give order in the world. Second, it serves as a mirror to reflect our rebellion against God and drive us into his grace. Third, it serves as a guide so we will live a blessed life in the midst of a broken world.

The real source of health for living a blessed life here, with others, is our relationship with the LORD. The first commandment is the source of all others. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20:3)  We blow past this commandment all the time. We put all kinds of things on the top shelf of our lives rather than God. We put our jobs, our sex life, our family, our sports, our wealth, our politics, and on and on.

The reason the LORD comes first is that no other thing we worship and invest our lives in can create us or redeem us. “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of slavery” (Ex 20:2) We are warned that if we bow down or worship these graven images, these idols, it will harm us and our children. But the LORD also gives a promise if we honor and revere Him with our lives we know His love and blessing. Very simple.

The second command encourages us to use the Lord’s name for praise and worship and blessing, not cussing and cursing.

The third command promises us that if we will observe the Sabbath, a day of resting in the LORD, we will enjoy balanced lives. What is sad is that while we know that murder, adultery, stealing, false testimony and coveting are wrong and hurtful, we think nothing of breaking the Sabbath not recognizing the damage it does to us.

All the other seven commandments flow from the first three.

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and smoke on the mountain with Moses they trembled with fear. Moses told them not to be afraid for God wanted to speak to them to bless their lives.

They kept kept their distance from God. “Do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Ex 20:19)  They would rather stay distant from God than die to sin and live a new life. As Luther once said, You cannot preach the Law and Gospel without offense and tumult.

Don’t Wear Ourselves Out (Exodus 18:1-27)

download

As Moses is leading the people of Israel around in the wilderness, his father-in-law Jethro visits him. Moses relates all the victories and hardships he has gone through.

As Jethro hangs around he watches his son-in-law’s workload. He asks what is wrong with Moses. He works from morning to night. Every little detail is put into Moses hands. Which means he is a bottleneck to the organizational efficiency.  Jethro asks, “Why?” (Ex 18:14)  Why are you doing everything? Why does every dispute have to be decided by you?

Jethro doesn’t just warn Moses. He warns all the people of God. “Y’all are are going to wear yourselves out.”(Ex 18:17)  Then Jethro gives some sound organizational leadership advise. Delegate.

The first step is to stick to your core calling. He tells Moses, “You must be the people’s representative before God.” His responsibility is to bring his people before the Lord as well as sharing God’s word with the people (Ex 18:20).  To lead God’s people Moses is called to:

  • Teach them the Lord’s word, God’s vision for their kingdom future.
  • Show them the way they are to live
  • Show them how they are to behave

The next step is lifting up leaders. “Select capable individuals from all the people who fear God” (Ex 18:21).

Notice that we are to look from leaders from all the people. Not just one group. Often people we might overlook are the ones God is lifting up.

What determines if someone is capable? Certainly leaders need skills and talents. But often those can be learned. What God finds capable is frequently the heart we have for others. Like Moses found himself drafted because he cared about the Jewish people.

Fear God?  A lot of meaning is packed into the Old Testament phrase “fear God”.  Rather than a dread of God, it means you respect God enough that you don’t think you are a god. Being in awe of God means trusting God in all circumstances.  For leaders in the Church “fearing God”, revering God, relying on God, loving God is more important than any skill or talent. If God can make Balaam’s ass talk, he can use anybody who fears God enough to let God work in their lives.

One of the amazing truths in the Church is that as people grow in faith they grow as leaders. In my years of ministry I have seen over and over that the pathway of leadership is individuals who desire the Lord.

What an immense blessing because every believer has the potential to grow as a leader. The church is a learning organization where the people of the church grow in faith and knowing the LORD, grow in His Word and his way of life, and thus grow as leaders.

Then as a typical consultant, Jethro went back home to let Moses deal with the huge mass of people (Ex 18:27).  🙂

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

Is the Lord Among Us or not?! (Exodus 17:1-7)

Moses rock water

The people are constantly grumbling. They are grumbling because things are not like they used to be. They are grumbling because they are fearful of the future. They are grumbling because they do not trust the LORD to deliver even though he has delivered them before.

Today people are complaining and griping. Complaining that the leaders don’t care about them. That life is not the way it used to be. Grumbling that the leaders mean to hurt or kill them. Complaining that they don’t have what they need. These days there is so much complaining because they lack faith in the God of the Bible.

So too, Moses faced the same grumbling with the people led out of Egypt. They complained about the lack of food and water. They said they would rather be slaves again with bowls of cucumber salad than the free people of God. They doubted God. They murmured that Moses led them out of Egypt, out through the desert, just so he could starve them all to death. They feared their situation. They despised the Lord.

“If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! (Exod 16:3).

Into the chaos Moses prays on their behalf. The Lord gives them an abundance of manna and quail.

Then they complain about a lack of water. They quarreled with Moses and grumbled against the LORD. Again, they do not trust the LORD to provided for them. Even more they say the LORD is a malevolent God. They say that God is evil who desires to kill them.

“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exod 17:3).

These days there are many people who say the God of the Bible is an evil being. They do not trust God. They despise God’s servants just as the Israelites despised Moses. They despised Moses so much they were ready to stone him.

With Moses, we servants of the Most High God cry out, “What are we to do?”  What are we to do to bring faith instead of fear, to bring peace instead of discord?

The LORD instructs Moses to go over to the rock at Horeb and strike the rock. Moses walks and acts in faith. When he strikes the rock water flows out.

Many years later the Prophet Isaiah wrote:

They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
he made water flow for them from the rock;
he split the rock and water gushed out.  (Isa 48:21).

As we face uncertain times, we Christ followers are being pressed:

“Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exod 17:7).

As Christ followers we know that the Spiritual Water flows out of the Rock, the stone, that was rejected.  Christ the living stone is the source of a new life. A life that blesses and fills us even in the midst of challenges.

Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (John 4:14).

As the Church, God’s people, we have no reason to grumble.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17). 

We have hope. We have the  Christ Jesus, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him” (1 Pet 2:4).  We have the living stone who pours the water of abundant life into us.

Yes, we know the Lord is among us.

 

 

 

 

American Worldview Inventory 2020 from The Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University

 

Giving Credit To God

parting-the-red-sea-earl-mottAfter the Israelites fled Egypt, going through the desert, being chased by the Egyptians chariots, crossing the sea and watching the sea engulf the Egyptian pursuers, Moses and his sister Miriam led Israel in a song of celebration.

Moses sang about how God was a warrior who shattered the Egyptians army. He describes how a blast from God’s nostrils piled up the waters. Moses engages in poetic license because he did not see God’s nostrils. He did not see God’s breath breathing.

Rather Exodus tells the miracle of the parting of the sea in just one verse.

“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided.” (Exodus 14:21)

A natural phenomenon of a sustained east wind gale explains how the sea is parted. This phenomenon could easily be used, and has, to dismiss any involvement from the LORD.

Moses, however, did know his desperation when he was at the edge of the water, praying for a miracle. He did know that God had promised to deliver them from the oppression of the Egyptians. And He knew the exultation that they were delivered from their oppressors.

Recently Gov. Cuomo explained declining COVID-19 cases in New York this way: “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that”

Yes, when human beings go through trying times there is a lot of pain and suffering. Yes, God calls us to be faithful servants in the midst of all circumstances walking by faith even when we feel dread. I can appreciate this governor is giving credit for all the sacrifices that have been made to make a difference.

But as people of faith we also know we cooperate with God in his saving and redeeming work in this world. Often when we are in the midst of desperation we are finally ready to call upon God to aid us.

We will move through this health crisis and in time mitigate the devastating effects COVID-19 has on vulnerable individuals. We will develop procedures, remedies and perhaps even vaccines to battle this wretched virus.

But that is not say where God’s influence is being felt. We cannot say where God’s inspiration may be occurring to give doctors, researchers and others leaders discernment, inspiration and wisdom. We cannot take away the courage and strength that doctors, nurses, first responders and other care givers receive through their reliance upon the LORD.

So we can join Moses and Mirian in singing to the LORD:

“In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” (Ex 15:13)

Often ordinary miracles are the most extraordinary.

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

In The Panic Focus on The LORD (Exodus 14:5–31)

parting the sea_Sitarchuk_2005.jpg

After the plague of death the Egyptians begged the Israelites to leave. They threw their gems and gold at them to encourage them to leave. But after the shock of death of the firstborn wore off, now the anger and resentment kick in. Pharaoh says, “What have we done? Why have we let them go? Why have we let go of their labor, their services?” (Ex 14:5)

The Egyptians assemble their rapid response troops, the chariots, to go racing after the Israelites. The text said the Israelites had marched out boldly, but once they see the Egyptians bearing down on them they loose their composure.

Immediately whining, complaining and panic set in. “Why did you have to set us free from being slaves??!!  Didn’t we beg you not let us leave our slavery? It would have been better for us to be slaves than to die!”

Wow! Really?  It would be better to be slaves than to die.  There is a great line from Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here: Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

Being a Christ follower can be a scary thing. Walking by faith rather than by sight. 

Moses tries encouraging the people. Don’t be afraid. Stand firm in your faith. You will see God act on your behalf. (v.13)

Often the way God acts is to delay. To stretch out what we need: time, patience, money, thinking.

So the LORD delays the Egyptian army with a pillar of fire and cloud. The Egyptians are threatening. The Israelites know the Egyptian army is bearing down on them, but not yet.

Then Moses standing in the water prays stretching out his hands over the sea. The LORD then beats back the sea with a strong east wind. The waters were divided.

The Israelites were not looking for this solution. They wanted the LORD to smash the army before their eyes. Instead the LORD provides a way for them to flee, to escape.

While they are still running for their lives making their way through the wet pathway between the waters, the LORD is carrying out his vengeance on the Egyptians. The Israelites will not see it. They didn’t need to see it. They need to keep their eyes on God’s provision.

When we feel threatened and panicked, we are called to cling to our faith and focus on the provision from God. Don’t worry about all the other unimportant side issues. Focus on being God’s child.

Put your trust in the LORD.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑