Mission Possible

17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”

18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19 You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”

28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”

29 Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30 will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.” (Mark 10:17-31, Common English Bible)

Friends, before I really get started, I recognize we are repeating the Scripture we used last Sunday. As I was reading it to you, I was hearing that I write another sermon on this Scripture just emphasizing the idea of impossibility. So, writing this sermon was exactly what I did.

Sometimes a story comes around that is so inspiring that it makes you question just what you’re capable of accomplishing in your own life. This is one of those stories…

In 1984, Augusto and Michaela Odone took their six-year-old son to a doctor because he was stumbling, becoming bad-tempered and not feeling well. After a few tests’ doctors diagnosed their son, Lorenzo, with a rare disease called adrenoleukodystrophy.

There was no treatment for the disease. Doctors said little Lorenzo would continue losing his balance, go blind and deaf until eventually dying of aspiration. He wasn’t expected to live longer than two years after diagnosis.

Augusto and Michaela consulted several doctors and specialists about the disease, but everyone said the same thing: there’s no known cure. There is no treatment; it’s hopeless.

Most of us have at least heard of Michael Jordan. He was the Achilles heal for all the other teams in the National Basketball Association. He was arguably the best basketball player ever to lace up a pair of sneakers. He was so important to the Chicago Bulls in an eight year time period, the Bulls won the championship six times, three in a row, twice. What happened to the other two? Ending with the 1994 season, the Bulls had won three in a row with Jordan in the lineup. Following the 1994 season Jordan decided to retire. Without Jordan, the Bulls proceeded to not even make the finals for two years. The Rockets won those two titles. Two years later Jordan decided to impact the league all over again by making a comeback. With Jordan back on the team, they won three more.

There are two more things you should know about Michael Jordan. First, Jordan was cut from the varsity basketball team when he was a sophomore in high school. He got sent down to the junior varsity that season. To think that the greatest (or even the second or third or tenth greatest) of all time was not one of the ten best players in his small high school at any point during his time there boggles the mind. He did make the varsity his junior year and never looked back. He went on to college at the University of North Carolina. Following college, he ended up with the Bulls and later the Wizards.

So, what was Jordan doing during those two years he decided to let the Rockets win their two championships? He decided to try to make a living as a professional baseball player. Jordan decided to retire from the Chicago Bulls to join the Chicago White Sox organization. He moved from being the premier player of basketball to being a minor league baseball player. He never rose above AA ball. After two seasons he left baseball and went back to greatness in basketball. He gave up.

It is difficult to think of examples of people who are famous enough to know and at the same time gave up on something they were doing. Yes, Jordan gave up but he gave up to go back the thing where he was really good.

Jonah tried everything he could think of to give up before he got to Nineveh. He tried to go to Tarshish, he jumped ship, and who knows what else he might have tried but didn’t make it into the Bible. The only reason Jonah didn’t give up was God would have none of it.

Moses didn’t want to go Pharaoh with God’s demands. Again, God wouldn’t take no for an answer. For every one of Moses’ excuses, God had an answer until God finally said in essence, “Quit with the excuses just go do it. Jacob cheated Esau and had to run away. Samson is so taken with Delilah he ends up giving her the secret to his strength.

Elijah had so many miraculous experiences, you’d think that he’d have unshakable faith. After all, he caused the rain to stop for more than three years, was fed by ravens, saw a limitless jar of flour and jug of oil, witnessed a widow’s son resurrected, even playing a critical role in the scene, and he beat the prophets of Baal by calling down fire from heaven.

But when the showdown with the Baal worshipers so angered King Ahab and his wife Jezebel that she vowed to see him dead, Elijah couldn’t take it. The pressure of being such a high-profile prophet of God had gotten to Elijah and he hightailed it into the wilderness. When God met him there, Elijah was undone, feeling like he was the only prophet left—confident that he was completely isolated and imperiled.

Being loud and impetuous was Peter’s calling card. Peter was the biggest personality in any room. It’s no wonder that he’d join James and John as one of Jesus closest friends and confidants. In fact, he was the only disciple willing to try walking on the water and was the first to call Jesus the Christ and son of God.

When Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him, Peter proudly rebuffs him. But that very night, after Jesus is arrested, someone confronts Peter in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin and accused Peter of being a follower of Christ. And, just as Jesus predicted, Peter denies him three times—the third time cursing his accusers. When he realizes what he’s done he breaks down and weeps bitterly. But, Peter found forgiveness and grace sitting on the shore. Peter, do you love me…

Did Peter’s failure exclude him from Christ’s plans? On the contrary, Peter is the first of the twelve that Jesus appears to! He restores Peter in a touching moment on the Sea of Galilee.

In the movie series, Mission Impossible, Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise and series before that, James “Jim” Phelps, played by Peter Graves went out on impossible missions, suicide missions if you will, and somehow, on their own, without divine help, turn the impossible into possible, every time they hear a recording saying, “Your mission, if you choose to accept it…” then at the end of the recording, “Good luck… this recording will self-destruct in 15 seconds.” There is something in there too about being caught and disavowed. Still, they ALWAYS accept the mission and they ALWAYS succeed in making the impossible, possible.

So, what do we make of all this? Peter went on to become the leader of the disciples and an early church father, preaching the first evangelical message after which more than 3,000 people came to a relationship with God. It was something of Mission Impossible moving to “Mission Possible.” “Peter, do you love me? Feed my lambs.” Those are words of pardon and grace.

Today’s lesson is another story of someone who just can’t leave his stuff behind. He wants admission to the Kingdom. But there is a price he must pay. He must divest himself of all his wealth and then become a disciple. I am reminded of a story about a wealthy man who over and over can’t seem to let go. In his nightly prayer time, the man continues to beg God. Finally, God tells the man its OK, but he can only bring one suitcase. Peter’s curiosity gas getting to him. As the man passes through the gates, Peter sees the suitcase and must ask, “What was so important you couldn’t leave it behind?” The man smiles and sets the suitcase down and opens it. It is filled with gold bars. He looks up and smiles at Peter who dropped his head and was shaking it side to side. He says, “That’s what you brought? Paving stones?”

That could easily be us. Let’s get back to our lesson. There’s a price he must pay to live in the Kingdom. Oh, wait a minute their preacher!! I thought salvation was a free gift from God, a gift offered without price. Now you are saying the rich young man must pay a price. Which is it?

Thank you for asking. I a so glad you asked. Jesus’ instruction was not about buying anything. The price the rich young man was to pay was a matter of his priorities. Jesus was asking the man to make a choice, God or your money. The rich young man, not being able to lose his money, chose it over God. That is a sad turn of events.

Once the rich young man left Jesus explains to the disciples abut how hard it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom. This is the part of the lesson last week that I believe God was telling me what to do, what to preach.

“It is easier,” Jesus says, “for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom. I can see why the disciples would have concerns. If rich people, with all their wealth and power couldn’t enter the Kingdom, what chance would they have? These guys were far from being wealthy.

Jesus’ answer, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom,” didn’t really give them any comfort. They just didn’t get it.

It doesn’t take a genius to know a camel can’t go through the eye of a needle. There are scholars who have a bit of a different understanding. Some argue that Jesus was not talking about a literal needle. Instead, they believe the term “The eye of the needle” is a metaphor. The “Eye of the Needle” has been claimed to be a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed. That would mean it was possible to enter the Kingdom, but it was not easy.

I think such an explanation is lacking. On our own, we cannot obtain the eternal gift of the Kingdom of God. WE NEED GRACE. And it isn’t that I can get grace by my own hard work. I cannot get grace by myself or with the help of my friends or my foes. I can’t get it without God because it takes grace and that is something, I can’t work for borrow or buy. It is the free gift that lets me pass through the eye of that needle into the Heavenly Kingdom of God.

In the television comedy, The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon and Penny are having an argument and Sheldon says, “Penny, when you understand the laws of physics anything is possible.” That really isn’t true. No matter what your understanding of physics might be you are not going to defy the law of gravity standing on earth. Unless of course, God has an intention of doing what is humanly impossible and defies the law of gravity for us. That, my friends, is possible because for God, nothing is impossible.

Being deaf since she was one and a half years old, Marlee Matlin made her credo a phrase: ‘The only thing I can’t do is hear.’ When she was a child, despite the doctors’ advice, her parents sent her to a public school (instead of a specialized one for the deaf), and with the help of special programs Marlee adapted after a while. It helped her to become the first and only deaf actress to receive an Academy Award. Marlee often says: ‘I work every day to help people understand, like my parents taught me, that deaf people not only deserve respect, they deserve to be heard.’

As a child the late Ray Charles began losing his sight, and before the age of 7 he went completely blind. When Ray was 15 years old, his mother died. The young man couldn’t sleep, eat, or speak for many days. He was sure that he would go mad. When he got out of his depression, he realized that, having gone through this tragedy, he would be able to handle anything. When he was 17, the musician started to record his first soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues singles. Nowadays, many people consider Ray Charles a legend: his works were even included in the Library of Congress. In 2004, after his death, Rolling Stone magazine named Ray Charles number 10 in the top 100 greatest artists of all time.

Those are two of the many stories of people who moved past what many of us would consider an impossible situation and still managed to move forward to find success. Could we move forward in much the same way? The answer to the question is “yes.” We may not be an Oscar or Grammy award winning performer, but we can, no matter what the limitations the world might see, use our God given gifts to make a difference in the world or make a difference in the lives of others. God’s gifts in your life matter and no matter what the stumbling blocks in our paths might be, we need to keep moving forward and let the world see God through us.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Naaman found in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was a great general in the army of the king of Aram. Naaman contracted leprosy. He ended up before the prophet Elisha seeking a cure. Elisha, never leaving his house, sent Naaman to the Jordan River to wash seven times.

        To say Naaman was angry would be an understatement. He believed Elisha was insulting him by not even coming out of the house. He saw going and bathing in any river, much less this “body of water” that was often so dried up there would be no water for Naaman to bathe. Why couldn’t he use one of the far greater rivers, at least far bigger rivers he would cross on his way home.

        As I see the story play out in my mind, Naaman grudgingly goes to the Jordan, griping about the useless prophet all the way. I see Naaman getting into the river, still muttering complaints. He dips into the river once, twice, three times. Each time he looks at the sores on his body he sees no change. He talks about how this is a waste of time and he starts to leave the river saying, “I guess I will live out the remainder of my life in a leper colony.” His men convince him to get back into the water and finish Elisha’s instruction. He does and, in the end, God heals him.

         What would have happened if Naaman had left the river before completing Elisha’s instructions. Naaman was anything but a stupid man. You don’t become a general in anyone’s army by being stupid. Naaman knew Elisha’s instructions were stupid. He knew there was no way Elisha’s instructions should work. But, as Naaman would learn, God can do the impossible.

        So, what happened to Augusto and Lorenzo? There were failures in Augusto’s effort to find a cure for Lorenzo. But Augusto was a fighter who refused to accept such a terrible situation without expending every ounce of energy he had to overcome the seemingly impossible with the gift of grace and mercy.

Augusto worked to discover a cure on his own. He faced some huge obstacles.

  • Augusto only had a high school understanding in science and medicine.
  • He had to learn everything about the disease from scratch. That includes things like how degradative enzymes cross membranes and how long-chain fatty acids accumulate.
  • After learning about it, he had to discover a cure.
  • And do it all in less than two years so he can give it to Lorenzo.

When they told doctors and researchers about the plan, they heard the same thing:

“It’s impossible. It can’t be done.”

By day, Augusto worked as an economist at the World Bank. At night, he scoured research papers and medical journals from the National Institute of Health. He worked dauntlessly and put all his effort into figuring the disease out.

He finally got an insight from an unlikely source: the oils he used to make spaghetti carbonara. He reasoned that the oils might soak up the deadly acids before it hurt Lorenzo’s nervous system.

Medical researchers thought he was crazy. After all, it’s absolutely unheard of for complete amateurs in medicine to develop a cure to a complex neurological disease that professionals had been studying for decades.

But when they tested the oil on Lorenzo, it made a huge impact on his condition. While it didn’t cure him completely, it did halt the progress enough for Lorenzo to live an additional twenty years when he died from an accident – not the disease.

It took until 2005 for doctors to publish a study to finally prove the treatment actually works – which is now known as Lorenzo’s Oil (which is also the name of a movie about their accomplishment.). In that time, Augusto and Michaela had given it to hundreds of other people and saved lives all over the world.

It all sounds so impossible, doesn’t it?

Someone with only a high school understanding of science studying enough about a rare disease to find a treatment for it? And in less than two years?

We know it’s not impossible though. It happened.

I have to admit that if I had heard about Augusto and Michaela’s plan to find a cure to a disease with little to no knowledge about medicine, I would have assumed it was impossible too. It’s just so far outside of the norm that it’s too easy to dismiss it away.

But it should all give us pause to think about what we consider “impossible” in our own lives.

It seems so easy to define what’s possible and what isn’t. We tend to use our perceptions of things we’ve seen before to help guide us in what can actually be done.

But defining what’s impossible is not as clear as we’d like to think. Perceptions are largely based upon experience. That leaves a big gap of knowledge about experiences that haven’t been tested yet.

The Odones went into that unknown area of experience where no one had gone before. Because it had never been done before, people were ready to dismiss it away as “impossible”. But it’s important to test our perceptions and assumptions – many times they’re wrong.

If Augusto and Michaela had simply accepted their situation, Lorenzo would have died much earlier in his life. The only reason they found this cure was due to Augusto’s determination and willingness to fight.

Make no mistake about it. What Augusto and Michaela did was a long-shot – a huge long-shot. But that’s the strange and beautiful thing about life, sometimes the long-shots pay off. The Odones saw God make Mission Impossible, Mission Possible.

What would have happened to Naaman if he bathed six times and said it was impossible and left upset and angry? He would have missed seeing God turn “Mission Impossible” into “Mission Possible.”

Ethan Hunt and Jim Phelps of Mission Impossible fame might be able to turn the impossible into possible but that is because the writers said so. As for the rest of us, if something is truly impossible, the only way to reverse mission impossible is for God to intervene. When that happens, mission impossible quickly becomes mission possible.

What is God calling you to do that might seem impossible. Will you walk away and see it remain Mission Impossible? Or, will you remain obedient and see God make “Mission Impossible,” “Mission Possible?”

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Sell Your Stuff… Give to the Poor (Sunday Sermon)

17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”

18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19 You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”

28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”

29 Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30 will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.” (Mark 10:17-31, Common English Bible)

               Your soul, not to mention your budget, is in mortal danger as you approach the grocery store checkout line.       

               You ask, “How?”

               You’ve carefully filled your cart with the needed outlined on your list. You patiently wait in line, always seeming to pick the one that’s slowest. Yet somehow, by the time the checker starts tallying the items in your cart, it has suddenly filled up with a pack of gum, a box of Tic-Tacs, a new TV Guide, a four pack of 9 volt batteries, three candy bars, a publication for inquiring minds, and a partridge in a pear tree.

               If your five-year-old is along, you may also have accumulated a Pez dispenser, a Mylar balloon with a Disney character on it, a plastic “cellular” phone filled with tiny pieces of bubble gum, and a children’s book.

               Stores purposefully pack this kind of junky, funky, consumer gunk into the narrow gauntlet, we must run to get to the check-out register. Things we would never intentionally have gone searching for are now right there at our fingertips. They are inviting us, no, insisting to us that we grab them and take them home.

               Although impulsively buying a pack of gum or a candy bar hardly seems earth shattering or soul-threatening, the truth is that the increasing voracious appetites of this consumer culture are being methodically nurtured and stimulated by a crass and crushing consumerism. The worldwide ramifications of such little things as a checkout gauntlet are ominous.

               After a bad day, some would sigh, “The world is going to heck in a hand basket.” Today we can sigh even more deeply on a daily basis that the whole world is going is “going to heck in a shopping cart.” For an increasing number of people, self-identity and life-purposes are summed up by the mantra, “I shop, therefore I am.” Raging consumerism has left Descartes’, “I think, therefore I am” sitting in the dust. Consumer culture has never even heard of, much less considered, God’s revelation to Moses, “I am who I am; therefore, you are.”

               Like the rich young man in today’s lesson, we know ourselves, we identify ourselves, we define ourselves, by our possessions, our things, our “stuff.” This young man was so possessed by his “stuff” that he couldn’t unstuff himself, neither for the sake of the poor, nor for his own sake and his quest for eternal life. Faced with the choice between his old secure, in control, in charge self and the unknown possibilities of life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, the rich young man clung to his human illusions of power and control.

               Who or what controls your life?

               I’ve spent some time contemplating that question. Of course, I would like to say that God does and at least most of the time that would be true. But, the same time, it is also true that I am accountable to other people. I am accountable to varying degrees to all of you. I am accountable to a district superintendent and a bishop. Though I have spoken to the various bishops in our conference, at least while they were still serving as a bishop, in only brief conversations over the past nine plus years, make no mistake, I am accountable to the bishop.

               I also know that while society may say I am the head of my household, I am also accountable to my wife. Let me spend too much money in the wrong place and the wrong time and I can promise you I will hear about it. And friends, you do not want to see her go redhead. It isn’t pretty.

               I am also accountable to various people that expect me to pay my bills. If I fail to pay my bills, it won’t take long before they are coming to me or calling me wanting to know when they can expect payment and if I don’t pay they don’t hesitate to let me know that there would be consequences coming my way in pretty short order.

               All of that led me to think, what would I do if somehow, someway, I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that God was calling on me to sell all my stuff and give the money to the poor. My brother-in-law told me Cindy and I could come and live with him and my sister.  I’m not sure that would be such a good idea. Anyway, I digress. Before a few years ago I think I would have answered that question without hesitation, “Yes, I would do what God was telling me to do.” But then after one move, Cindy had an incredibly difficult time finding a job. Having to live on less money than we previously had in a long time and seeing how difficult it could be to live that way, now, I’m not so sure. To be honest I rather enjoy the lifestyle to which I have grown accustomed. While I am sure we could live on less, I don’ really think I want to. So now, when I am honest with myself, I would have to answer the question, “I am not sure what I would do if God called on me to sell my stuff and give to the poor.

Jesus put rich young man on the spot. Though he obviously didn’t live in our consumer culture, the rich young man had the mindset of many of us today. He had the Jones virus, as in, “I’ve got to keep up with the Jones’.” Mark tells us what Jesus was asking was a big deal to the young man. Further, Mark goes so far as to tell us why. He had a lot of stuff. He saw himself in the things he possessed. We don’t know what he had. Perhaps it was nice clothing or jewelry. Maybe it was horses and oxen and a nice wagon or a chariot. Then again it might have been a three-bedroom two bath house with an attached two car garage. Oh wait, that would be us. I know those kinds of houses didn’t exist in those days, but you get my point. What he had may have been a nice house, more than a single room, with a barn to keep those horses and oxen. Or, could it have been that he had all of that and more?

Could it be that the rich young man had gotten used to a lifestyle where he walked out and got on a horse and went for a ride instead of walking everywhere, he went as most people did during that era?

If you stop and think about it, Jesus’ instruction to the rich young man is radical, even for that day. For most people back then, non-Romans living in a place controlled by the Roman Empire, they had little. The government wasn’t going to let most have much so the rich young man was an exception to the rule.

This young man was more attached to his stuff than he was to God’s promise. He wanted his stuff. He wanted to be in control of his life and what he had and he could not, would not let go.

I think the good news for us in this lesson is, I really don’t think God is calling on us to dispose of our stuff and give all the money away. Wesley did say, “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.” Most of us put priority on earning. A few less would apply the saving part to the equation. Unfortunately, not too many of us, not even we Christians have that giving part down the way we should. This sermon isn’t a sermon about giving. It is a sermon about priorities, but earning, saving, and giving should be a priority for all of us. I am reminded of something I wish someone had gotten through my thick head when I was a lot younger. It is called the rule of 80 and I believe it is both Wesleyan and would fit our priorities. Take your household income. Save 10 percent. Give 10 percent and live on the 80 percent. I puts everything a lot closer to where it should be.

It seems to me we miss a lot in life. We miss a lot because we don’t give. I believe God blesses cheerful givers in ways beyond what most of us can imagine. We miss a lot in life because we don’t always save as we should. For many of us, particularly when we are young. Saving just isn’t a priority. And, we miss a lot when we get caught up in the consumer culture and we are caught up in all our stuff. Always remember, it is just that, stuff.

Whales are some of the most amazing creatures God made. Fin whales can easily hear the bleeps of other fin whales 4,000 miles away, some scientists argue up to 13,000 miles. Humpbacks like to sing in rhyme, and the songs they sing are always changing while at the same time, they are passed from male to male, so that in any one season all the whales of a single ocean will be singing the same song.

In February 1928, a female blue whale who roamed freely throughout the Antarctic for decades was killed. From measurements taken at the time, some scientists are convinced she was the largest creature ever to live on Earth – bigger than any known dinosaur or leviathan.

But the people who had the privilege of seeing her never saw her. They were in such a hurry to harvest her blubber and find other family members of her huge species so they salvaged nothing – not a single picture, not a single bone. Nothing.

What are you missing in life because of the blubber? What part of God’s kingdom are you not experiencing because of the rush to make a living or just accumulate one more item of stuff? What good is “stuff” without the stuff of eternity? Will you give up the chaff for the real stuff… the stuff of life… the stuff of eternity.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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Enter the House (Psalm 5)

Psalm 5

For the music leader. For the flutes. A psalm of David.

5 Hear my words, Lord!
    Consider my groans!
    Pay attention to the sound of my cries, my king and my God,
        because I am praying to you!
Lord, in the morning you hear my voice.
    In the morning I lay it all out before you.
    Then I wait expectantly.
Because you aren’t a God
    who enjoys wickedness;
    evil doesn’t live with you.
Arrogant people won’t last long
in your sight;
    you hate all evildoers;
    you destroy liars.
    The Lord despises people who are violent and dishonest.

But me? I will enter your house
    because of your abundant, faithful love;
    I will bow down at your holy temple,
        honoring you.
Lord, because of many enemies,
    please lead me in your righteousness.
    Make your way clear,
        right in front of me.
Because there’s no truth in my enemies’ mouths,
    all they have inside them is destruction.
    Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues slick with talk.
10 Condemn them, God!
    Let them fail by their own plans.
Throw them out for their many sins
    because they’ve rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you celebrate.
    Let them sing out loud forever!
Protect them
    so that all who love your name
    can rejoice in you.
12 Because you, Lord, bless the righteous.
    You cover them with favor like a shield (Psalm 5:1-12, Common English Bible)

Feeling isolated is not something uncommon. I think at times we all feel that way. The psalmist felt that way too, a lot. The psalms contain five different types of psalms. There are wisdom psalms, enthronement (that is the term I learned in seminary but have since learned, some call them royal psalms) psalms, praise psalms, psalms of thanksgiving, and psalms of lament. Psalms of lament are by far the most common.

Consider the opening verses of today’s psalm, “Hear my words, Lord! Consider my groans! Pay attention to the sound of my cries, my king and my God, because I am praying to you (Psalm 5:1-2)!

In today’s reading, the psalmist wastes no time getting to what is at the forefront of his mind. It seems to me, with the very first words of this psalm, “Hear my words, Lord!” the psalmist has at least some fear that God is not going to listen.

Where the psalmist has no fear is understanding that God has great love, faithful love for all God’s people. It is because of that love that the psalmist is convinced beyond all question, all doubt, that he will enter into God’s house. He knows he will bow down before God in God’s holy temple. He seeks to honor God.

When the psalmist speaks of those who are enemies, they are those who don’t seek after God. They are those who are arrogant, evil, and rebellious to name only a few. They are those he is sure will not be entering God’s house because, the Lord, “…despises people who are violent and dishonest.”

But for those who seek God, there will be celebration. As I read it, for those who enter God’s house, there will be celebration.

Evangelism writer, Tony Campolo wrote a book back in the early 1990s. The book was OK but I have loved the title since the first time I saw it. The Kingdom of God is a Party. I can’t help but think that the psalmist, upon entering God’s house would see that celebration in exactly the same way as Tony Campolo.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

(704)

Sleep in Peace (Psalm 4)

Psalm 4

For the music leader. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

4 Answer me when I cry out, my righteous God!
    Set me free from my troubles!
        Have mercy on me!
        Listen to my prayer!

How long, you people,
    will my reputation be insulted?
How long will you continue
    to love what is worthless
    and go after lies? Selah
Know this: the Lord takes
    personal care of the faithful.
The Lord will hear me
    when I cry out to him.
So be afraid, and don’t sin!
    Think hard about it in your bed
    and weep over it! Selah
Bring righteous offerings,
    and trust the Lord!

Many people say,
    “We can’t find goodness anywhere.
    The light of your face has left us, Lord!”[a]
But you have filled my heart with more joy
    than when their wheat and wine are everywhere!
I will lie down and fall asleep in peace
    because you alone, Lord, let me live in safety (Psalm 4:1-8, Common English Bible).

I am a person who has difficulty going to sleep. The difficulty has always been part of my nights (or days when I worked the graveyard shift). I can lay in bed, for long periods each night and stare at the ceiling. Sometimes I will get up and go do something else for a while. Sometimes I will read a book. As often as not, however, I just lay there, hoping to fall asleep.

The problem? Sometimes I’m just not tired. At other times it is something more. Even if I am tired, I still don’t sleep. The problem is, in my estimation, I can’t shut down my brain. No matter what I try, I am thinking about my sermon for Sunday, I am thinking about how I can best put together an event for which I am responsible. When I was teaching full-time it was lesson plans or grades were due or even what the next day’s lesson would be and how to best accomplish the goal of the lesson. It really doesn’t matter if I have already done the world. I am still thinking about it and how I can make it better.

The psalmist is talking about many things in today’s reading that would have caused many sleepless hours for me. The troubles of life and my reputation can keep me awake.

The psalmist also makes me laugh. He says, “Be afraid…Think hard about it in your bed…” Hey, that is the problem except I don’t have to be afraid. Just about anything can be the source of a sleepless night.

In the last couple of years my sleeplessness has gotten better (except when it decides at times other than the hours of sleep). In the past I would lay awake and think. Now, even if I am thinking, sleep can come on quickly. And, most of the time, I am thankful for that.

The psalmist closes these thoughts saying, “I will lie down and fall asleep in peace because you alone, Lord, let me live in safety.” Those are words for me and all you who are like me. God is with us. We need not worry. And, if we do our part, do our work, the rest will likely take care of itself.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

(703)

Restored By God (Psalm 3)

Psalm 3

A psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.

3 Lord, I have so many enemies!
    So many are standing against me.
So many are talking about me:
    “Even God won’t help him.” Selah
But you, Lord, are my shield!
    You are my glory!
    You are the one who restores me.
I cry out loud to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah
I lie down, sleep, and wake up
    because the Lord helps me.
I won’t be afraid of thousands of people
    surrounding me on all sides.

Stand up, Lord!
    Save me, my God!
In fact, hit all my enemies on the jaw;
    shatter the teeth of the wicked!
Rescue comes from the Lord!
    May your blessing be on your people! Selah

I wish I had thought to take a picture of the acoustic guitar I am working to restore as a before picture. It isn’t finished yet but it looks better than when I began. Considering the state it was in when I got it, just to put new strings would have been an improvement. It was completely unplayable when I got it. When it is finished in will be a loaner guitar for Guitars 4 Vets.

Guitars 4 Vets is an organization I ran across a few months ago that uses music to help veterans suffering from conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. Being a vet myself, the son of a vet, and the father of a vet, I am very thankful that those issues impacted us personally. I was in the Navy during peace-time and such was a non-issue for me. For my dad, he served on a fleet tanker and was in and out of war zones on a regular basis during the Korean War refueling he fleet. As for my son Wayne, he was on the ground in Iraq when Iraqi Freedom began. I could name others in our family as well. Unlike many during so many conflicts, our family is fortunate. I am grateful.

To look at the Fender Telecaster above, gives me happy feelings. The person who restored this once beautiful guitar, bringing it back to its original beauty did a wonderful job.

The psalmist knows the feeling that goes with restoring something special. That something was a someone and it was him. We don’t know of any particular malady from which the psalmist suffered other than, he apparently had a lot of enemies. Feeling alone and under attack constantly can eventually make one feel like we need restoration.

The psalmist recognizes all God is in his life. God is a protector, a listener, one who answers, a savior, and a rescuer. I am sure we could all name several more things God does. The psalmist names one more too, God is a restorer.

God is in the restoration business. We call it healing. It seems to me, that when we go before God, requesting God heal us, we are asking God to restore our life back to what it was before something tore us down. But, it is important to remember, what God is most interested in restoring is not the body, but the condition of heart, soul, and spirit.

There are more programs out there than just Guitars 4 Vets. I have a cousin who works with wounded vets teaching scuba-diving. There are others too, “X-Sports 4 Vets” seeks to get vets past their troubles by using involvement in extreme sports. “The Sierra Club” has a military outdoors program that works to get vets outside to find healing in nature. “Veteran Expeditions” seeks to aid vets and their families with travel and adventure. “Pets 4 Vets” pairs shelter dogs specially selected to match the personality of the vet. “Heal Our Vets” provides many programs and retreats for veterans with PTSD. “Project Healing Waters” uses fly fishing to help these veterans in need. I haven’t even mentioned programs like the “Wounded Warrior Project,” “Fisher House,” “Disabled American Veterans (DAV),” “Hire Heroes,” and “Project Homefront.” They too work to make the lives of these vets better.

None of us can support all of these but I believe each is a place, a tool God can use to restore the lives of these vets. There are other people in need of restoration. There are probably programs out there that can be God’s tools to do just that.

Perhaps you are a person who needs to know God’s power to restore your life. Do not suffer alone. Reach out to someone. Ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You have already shown your strength, you have nothing left to prove. Let the people who surround you, let the people who love you, let the people who have worked to find a way to use the gifts God has given them to help you, that God might restore you through them.

I am not the greatest guitar player around, but I love guitars and I love vets and I am thankful for what they have given to all of us. I am also thankful I can combine those two loves to make a difference. Find what gifts you have that God can use to make a difference in the lives of these great men and women.

I have chosen Guitars 4 Vets. I would ask you to keep that program and me in your prayers. The closest chapter of Guitars 4 Vets to Lufkin TX where I live, is in Houston. It is 2 1/2 hours away. The program tries to establish chapters where there are VA medical facilities. We have a VA out-patient facility here. I have applied to start a chapter in our community and I will interview for that later this week. I ask that you help me this way, to help the vets of this community.

The most important thing, however, is, open yourself to be an instrument of God to restore people around us. God can and will make a difference. God is giving you the opportunity to be part of God’s restoring grace.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

(702)

Facing the Red Sea

Sermon from Huntington UMC, Hunington, TX 1/19/20

19 God’s messenger, who had been in front of Israel’s camp, moved and went behind them. The column of cloud moved from the front and took its place behind them. 20 It stood between Egypt’s camp and Israel’s camp. The cloud remained there, and when darkness fell it lit up the night. They didn’t come near each other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord pushed the sea back by a strong east wind all night, turning the sea into dry land. The waters were split into two. 22 The Israelites walked into the sea on dry ground. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians chased them and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and cavalry. 24 As morning approached, the Lord looked down on the Egyptian camp from the column of lightning and cloud and threw the Egyptian camp into a panic. 25 The Lord jammed their chariot wheels so that they wouldn’t turn easily. The Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites, because the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the water comes back and covers the Egyptians, their chariots, and their cavalry.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. At daybreak, the sea returned to its normal depth. The Egyptians were driving toward it, and the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the cavalry, Pharaoh’s entire army that had followed them into the sea. Not one of them remained. 29 The Israelites, however, walked on dry ground through the sea. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left.

30 The Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the amazing power of the Lord against the Egyptians. The people were in awe of the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses (Exodus 14:19-31, Common English Bible).

God is faithful! It is a statement most of us would say we believe. Are we sure? Are we sure that when we are facing a big and very real problem or decision that God will be with us and see us through our problem and that everything will be ok? Well, since we are so sure, what would we say to someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

        The late Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my favorite theologians. He is challenging but he is also one of the easier theologians to understand. I have learned a great deal reading and studying his theology. But from learning his story, I have come to respect this man as more than just a Theologian. During his life he has made history. Through the end of his life and death, he has become an inspiration to many, both those who witnessed the last years of his life and death, and people in generations since.

        I don’t know how many of you have heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was born in 1906 in Germany. During his formative years he saw Germany defeated in World War I. He went, first to college and then on to theological school. He even came here, to the United States and studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He made may friends here. He was also an ordained clergyman in the Lutheran Church of Germany.

        Around the time Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, Adolph Hitler came to power. Bonhoeffer and his brothers in the clergy (at that time, the clergy was still an all-male profession), had to determine what it meant to be a faithful witness for Jesus Christ and His Church. On the one hand, you have Hitler doing things to Germany and its people that quickly proved to be evil by the standards of most anyone who would call themselves Christian. On the other hand, you have what Jesus and Paul said in Scripture about duty to the governing authorities. It would not have been an easy decision for me to make, and I doubt it was easy for many members of Germany’s clergy.

        Many of those clergy did align themselves with Hitler and his Nazi German government. Bonhoeffer, a theologian often labeled a pacifist, a tag that, in my opinion, is not all together accurate, went in the opposite direction. He spoke out boldly against the atrocities of Hitler’s Nazis.  For obvious reasons, Bonhoeffer’s life was in danger. His friend here in the States did have some power and influence and managed to arrange an offer of political asylum. At that point Bonhoeffer could have gotten out of Germany, and he did manage to get his family out, but he knew that the flock God had called him to lead was not in the United States. It was in Germany. He continued to speak out against the government. In 1942 the Nazis arrested Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They accused him of being part of a plan to execute Hitler. He floated around between several jails and concentration camps. On April 8, 1945 the Nazis executed Bonhoeffer. The war in Europe would end just after a month later.

        So, after hearing that, do you think God was faithful to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Here is a man that if you read his story and any of his writings, you would know he was a man of great and uncompromising faith. He truly believed God was with him and would see him through all his trials. And yet, he died anyway. An evil government executed him because he was faithful to God. WHY DID GOD LET THAT HAPPEN? Many theologians call this the theodicy question. Why does God allow evil to happen?

        You have heard it before, maybe not by that name, but you have heard it. It goes something like this, “Why do bad things happen to good people? Another version might say, “Why are the wicked allowed to prosper?”

        They are tough questions. They are questions that have no easy answers. And, to make matters worse, there are those who, because they don’t know the answers and cannot find the answers are quick to blame God or say there is no God. In short, these questions keep them from the faith.

        Our lesson this morning is about God’s faithfulness. It is a familiar story. When we hear it many of our minds spring to images of Charlton Heston as Moses in the old movie, The Ten Commandments leading the Israelites across the Red Sea and suddenly seeing the waters come crashing over the top of the Egyptian army. We can easily remember it because that is the point of the movie that had the greatest visual effects. Our kids look at those affects and are not impressed at all, but at the time they were special effects.

        What we may not remember of the story, or even the movie for that matter was that when the Israelites were moving through the wilderness they were running from Pharaoh’s army. Now, with the army hot on their tails they suddenly find themselves facing the Red Sea. And, they started to grumble. “Why Moses, did you pull us away from Egypt and bring us out here in the wilderness to die.” They were afraid of the sea. They were afraid of Pharaoh’s army. They didn’t trust God.

        How like us humans. Remember that God sent Moses to free the Israelites because they were crying out in the suffering of their slavery. And now, because they were facing the unfamiliar, they were ready to go back. To quote the old cliché, “Better the devil we know.”

        We too have our Red Sea moments with Pharaoh’s army on our tails. We live complicated lives and have complicated decisions where none of our choices seem to be the right choice to make. If we move forward, we think we will drown in the sea, and if we move backward the coming army will stampede us. What should we do? It seems a no-win situation.

        I feel certain that Dietrich Bonhoeffer must have felt that way when he saw what the Nazi government was doing. If he spoke out against them, he moved into the Red Sea, he risked his life and seemingly spoke against what Scripture said. But on the other hand, if he retreated to Pharaoh’s army, stay quiet and let the government continue unchecked, he risked the lives of others and went against what he believed, jeopardizing his soul. You can almost hear the torment in Bonhoeffer’s words when he prayed, “Whoever I am, I am thine.” I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer was facing the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army hot on his tail.

        We know what happened in the lesson. God told Moses to hold out his staff and the sea split and the Israelites crossed on dry ground. As expected, Pharaoh’s army followed the Israelites into the Red Sea. After all the Israelites had crossed, God had Moses hold out his hand again and the waters closed over the top of the enemy army. In the lyrics of an old youth camp song, “all of Pharaoh’s army did the dead man’s float.” In this lesson we see an example of God’s faithfulness. As Moses and Israel faced this problem, God was faithful to them and saw them through.

        But can the same be said of God in all the problems we face? Can the same be said for Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He died. The Nazis executed this great man of faith. Where was God’s faithfulness as Bonhoeffer faced his Red Sea?  Why didn’t God open the Red Sea for him? Again, there are no easy answers. But I believe God was there. I belie God was faithful to Bonhoeffer. I believe Bonhoeffer knew God stood with him and that God was still faithful to him.

        On the day the Nazis took Dietrich Bonhoeffer away to his execution, he preached to his fellow prisoners. He preached from Isaiah 53:5, “By His stripes we are healed.” One prisoner said Bonhoeffer found just the right words to express the spirit of their imprisonment. Immediately following the little service the guards came for Bonhoeffer. Everyone gathered knew where he was going. He told an English prisoner, “This is the end – but for me it is the beginning of life.” A doctor who witnessed the execution said that just prior to the event, Bonhoeffer knelt and prayed. The doctor said he had never seen anyone go to the gallows so serenely. Bonhoeffer could do that because he knew God was with him.

        You see, we must remember that even when we face the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army hot on our tails, God is faithful. But we also must understand God may not be faithful in the same way we picture in our mind. Our focus is on the army and on the sea, but God knows what is on the other side. We see the problem, and we may think we know the solution, but God knows it far greater than we.

        God knew the Israelites needed to see divine power in order to truly know who was leading them. God needed to get their focus moved from their problems and onto God so God could lead them in the difficult days ahead.

        In Bonhoeffer’s case, I think he was already focused on God and what God was calling him to do. And, I believe God did open the Red Sea for Bonhoeffer, perhaps not in the way any of us might imagine, but God opened the sea none the less. God opened the Red Sea by making a way for Bonhoeffer to preach, at least for a while, to people who needed the Good News in their lives. God granted to Bonhoeffer the opportunity to preach against the terrible evils of Nazi Germany. God allowed Bonhoeffer to touch the lives of prisoners who needed to hear that God was still with them. And, through his writings, we can see the blessing of God even in the darkest hours of human life.

        We all, at times in our lives, face the Red Sea. I think most of us also know that it feels like to have Pharaoh’s army chasing after us. We all have problems that seem to have no solutions, at least not any good solutions. We face problems as individuals and as a congregation. Moving forward seems difficult at best, we might even have to swim. But going backward is impossible. When we face those problems in our personal lives or when we face them together as members of the church, we can be like the Israelites and stand together as members of the Church, we can be like the Israelites and stand around and complain about the mess we find ourselves in. We can dream about how good things used to be while fearing the future. Or, we can remember that even in this time, and this situation, God is faithful, and that God will see us through. God will open the sea in front of us, perhaps not in the way we imagined, but the solution will come and we will move forward on dry ground. The requirement for us is to remember we are God’s children. We need to look forward and watch and see the power of Almighty God!

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

If it Feels Good Do It (or not)

16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, 20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, 21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom (Galatians 5:16-21, Common English Bible).

It was a rallying cry of the 1960s and 1970s. Who that lived through that era did not hear the words, “If it feels good do it”?

A couple of weeks ago I preached a sermon where I talked about slang in general and used examples from each decade. Remember the 80s when “Bad” was good and the 90s when it was all about the bling. You don’t hear that much about “Bling” anymore. Such terms tend to come and go. Another example from the 1960s was “Keep On Truckin.'”

There are other words and phrases that seem to transcend time and generations. The word “cool,” meaning great is a good example. Another is, “If it feels good do it.” While you usually don’t hear some of the other words and phrases from the time like one of the biggest buzzwords of the 60s, “Groovy,” seems to all but have disappeared. The same can be said for, “Keep On Truckin’.”

And then, there is, “If it feels good do it.” That phrase was license to do pretty well anything you wanted. It is a phrase that has transcended the 60s. But then again, it has transcended the firs century.

Contrary to what children of the 60s might think, they did not coin the term. Paul uses it in our lesson today. The big difference between the two is, those in the 1960s used it as a license to carry out whatever they wanted to do. Paul, on the other hand, uses the phrase as a warning. Paul even gives us a short but inconclusive list, telling us exactly what he means. Paul warns against immoral sexual behavior, sexual motives, moral corruption, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that.Paul tells us it isn’t a comprehensive list.

There is nothing wrong with doing things that make us feel good. But that also means there is something more here to consider. We find that in verse 17. Paul writes, “A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires.” As I read that verse, it seems to me that the key is in, “our selfish desires.”

As I consider Paul’s words, I can’t help but think he means when we live in an attitude of, if it feels good do it, we are living for ourselves instead of living for God.

I have to ask, when we work out our selfish desires, are we living for God or are we living for ourselves.

If it feels good, do it, as long as you are doing it for God. With God, nothing will ever feel better than anything else. So, if it feels good, DO IT, just make sure you know who you do it for.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

In Search of the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved