Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16, 2010, "The Power to Trust"

Acts 16:16-34

Garrison Keillor story from Civil War … “run toward the river, or run toward the smoke” …

Inspiring stories inspire us … I guess that’s why we call them inspiring.

Think of the word “inspire” … literally, to breath in … something is taken into us, and we walk a little taller … we believe that we could do it.

Yesterday, saw the new Robin Hood.
A story a thousand years old.
But it never grows old.
The story of personal courage.
To see an injustice and do something about it.
To see a need and fill it.

We love stories like this:

Something gets inside of us, and opens up a possibility.

Acts chapter 16 … inspiring story …

The heart of the story: Paul and Silas trusted God …
And because of their trust,
They put themselves on the line.
They risked everything for the cause.
The chose the jailor rather than themselves.
They ran toward the smoke!

Women’s Bible Study this week – Abraham Maslov’s hierarchy of need … the bottom line, food and water, physical safety … but those shining moments when we put ourselves out for another, for a cause … when we look risk in the face, and say, “Bring it on” … when we run toward the smoke.
Few of us will ever have a moment like Paul and Silas.
But all of us have our moments …
A choice to make:
Run toward the river, or run toward the smoke.

Don’t for a moment doubt your own spirit on this one.
Paul writes to his young friend Timothy,
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
But rather a spirit of power and love [2 Timothy 1:7].

The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way:
We are not among those who shrink back [Hebrews 10:39].

We all have depths of courage.
Hope and love.

It’s all there, in your heart!
You have been brave a thousand times over.
You have made remarkable selfless choices.
You have endured and you have persevered.

Satan tells us we’re cowards.
But we’re not.

Every one of us in this place is brave.
We are fighting the good fight.
We are running the race.

Turn to one another,
Take a hand,
And say to your neighbor:
You are a very brave person!

And then say,
Thank you. You are, too.

It’s as simple as faithfulness to life:
We get up in the morning, go to work and do the best we can.
We read the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.
We think and we pray.
We help others.
We extend a kindly hand.
We put up with difficult people.
We walk on the sunny side of the street.
We apologize when we’re wrong.
We forgive others their debts.

We put on a happy face because that’s our gift to the world.
We try and we try again.
We don’t give up.
We stay in the saddle.

And if we’re bucked off, we hang on to the ear.
Just like the cowboy in the Remington sculpture …

The courage to live.
The faith to hope.
The love to run to the smoke.

I like Emerson’s notion of success:

To laugh
often and much,
to win respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch, or a
redeemed social condition;
to know even one life
has breathed easier
because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

May 9, 2010 - "The Power to Change"

Acts 16:1-15

Paul and his companions are faithful!

Doing everything right …
Right on target …
Across the western half of present-day Turkey…
Preaching the gospel.
Sharing the good news.
Doing God’s will.
Planting churches.

But the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
Road Closed!
The Holy Spirit kept Paul and his companions out of a province called Asia …
And when they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus stood in the way …
This far, and no further.
Road Closed!
You’ll have to turn around.

I can only imagine their thoughts.
What’s up God?
Have we done something wrong?
Did we miss a piece of the puzzle?

No answers given.
Road Closed!

Ever been there?

Of course you have!
We’ve all been there.

The school on which we had set our heart sends us the “small envelope” …
The promotion we plan on falls through …
The company we work for closes its doors …
The love of our life goes haywire, and there’s nothing we can do about it except pick up the shattered pieces.

Our Bithynia.
Road Closed!

A thousand questions play in our minds.
Why now?
Why me?
Where do I go from here?

Paul and his companions head to Troas … we’re not told why they go there … just that they do.
To collect their thoughts?
Gather their wits?
Catch their breath?
Now what?
What’s next?
Anyone got any bright ideas?

That night, they go to bed with a road closed.
But in the night, a vision.
A man from Macedonia, cries out to Paul, Help us. Please come and help us!

They immediately get ready and set out for Macedonia by ship, across the northern Aegean Sea …first, to the island of Samothrace, and then to Neapolis, on the northeastern edge of present-day Greece.
And from Neapolis to Philippi.
A Roman Colony.
A leading city.

On the Sabbath day, they go to the river looking for a place of prayer …
And there they find a group of women.
And Lydia, a cloth merchant.

Lydia, a worshipper of God, it says.
She’s already on her way to faith before Paul arrives.
Because God is always at work, ahead of the curve.
Long before we show up.

Lydia is a Gentile, but like many Gentiles in the Roman world, she attached herself to a local synagogue … to find meaning and purpose in the teachings of Moses and the prophets …
When Paul shares the story of Jesus with Lydia, the Holy Spirit opens her heart.
She becomes a disciple of Jesus.
She and her entire household are baptized.
And that night, Paul and his companions have a place to stay in Philippi.
A church has been planted.
And the rest is history.

Some years later, Paul writes one of his most personal notes to the folks in Philippi … the letter to the Philippians … I thank my God every time I remember you … and I know that the good work God began in you will be carried on to completion. I have a great place for you in my heart.

All because the road to Bithynia was closed.

How do we deal with life’s disappointments?
When Bithynia is taken from us.
When life closes down our road.
And we have to travel a strange road to a strange destination?

Life is a strange business.
Rarely plays out like we plan.

As the saying goes, If we want to make the gods laugh, tell ‘em our plans.

But this morning, we’re not talking about “the gods.”
We’re not talking about fate or fortune.
We’re talking about the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ.
To whom we belong, in life and in death.
In all things now, and in all things to come.

Life is not about chance or fate.
Life is all about faith.

And it’s not our faith, though our faith is important.
But it’s the faithfulness of God that counts!

When Josh was a little boy, we went to a restaurant, and when the waiter came to the table to take our order, he turned to Josh, and Josh said, “I’ll take the steak.”
The waiter said, “What size? 6 ounce, 10 ounce or 14 ounce?”
Josh didn’t think twice … didn’t ask me or check on the price.
He just said, “I want the 14 ounce.”
Not only a big appetite, but he knew his parents!

God is faithful to us.
In all the bits and pieces of life.
That’s why we have faith.
Though it be the size of a mustard.
So tiny, you can hardly see it.

But it’s not our faith on trial.
Never is.

It’s the faithfulness of God that counts.
When all the world should fail, God stands firm with love and hope.
If humankind should choose the dark way, God’s light shines all the brighter.
Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more!
We know our heavenly Father.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Paul and his friends didn’t quit at Bithynia.
They didn’t give up.
They turned around.
And kept on going.
All the way to Troas.

Over the years, I have seen Paul and his companions many times over …
Folks who’ve met crushing defeat.
Closed roads all over the place.
But they turn around and find their way to Troas.

A widow walks tearfully away from her husband’s grave and slowly picks up the pieces, one painful day at a time … she winds her way down to Troas, to fine another chance.

A man loses his job after twenty-five years.
He doesn’t have a clue, but somehow or other he has the capacity to let go of the job … to let go of the past … let go of the shame of it all, the kind of shame everyone feels when the road is closed … but the man heads to Troas … and waits … because he knows that something good is coming his way.

I have watched people turn around when the road is closed and they keep on going.
It’s an amazing thing to see.
Faith, hope and love.
They take a beating, but they’re not licked.
They’re down for awhile, but not for long.

On to Troas.
On to Troas.

We believe in tomorrow, because we believe in God!

We may be in the wilderness for a while, but there’s a Promised Land ahead.
We may be hoisted on someone’s cross, but there’s a day of resurrection coming.
The life we hoped for may be finished.
But there’s another life coming our way.

So long Bithynia.
It’s okay.
To Troas we go for something more.

I don’t think any of us let go very easily.
I think it’s hard to let go.
When Josh went off to college, we kept his voice on our answering machine for quite awhile, and I remember the day we changed it.
And that was only college.

A friend of mine left his wife’s voice on the answering machine for months after she died.
Her clothes in the closet.
Everything just as it was.

It’s hard to let go of our Bithynia.
I’m not saying it’s easy.
But it can be done.
We’re surrounded by a host of witnesses who’ve done it a thousands times for us.
And we can do it, too.

For every closed road, a choice to make.

We can sit down by Road-Closed sign.
Set up our camp there, and there we stay.
We look down that road in the morning.
We look down that road at night.

We blame ourselves.
We blame others.
We get negative and edgy.
We send out invitations to our pity party.
Folks get sick of us.
And we get sick of ourselves.

Because we’re stuck.
Stuck in time.
Trapped on the road to Bitynia.

But we can make another choice.

There’s always more to life than Bithynia.
There’s always Troas.
Troas may not be our first choice.
It may not even be our second or third choice.
It may not be what we want at all.
But what do we know?

We can walk away from Bithynia.
All the way to Troas.

And from Troas, to Philippi.
And in Philippi, down by the river, someone waiting for us.

The best is yet to come!
No matter what we’re facing.
No matter the odds.
No matter all the closed roads.
God at work.
God at work for good.
Building new roads.

When the first road is closed.
Turn around.
When the second road is closed.
Change course.
When the third road is closed.
Get out a new map.

Look straight ahead.
Dare to believe.
Think big.
Trust God.
There’s a Troas, straight ahead.
And a dream for you.
A promise.
A Philippi.
And Lydia down by the river, waiting for you.

Life anew … all over again!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May 2, 2010 - "The Power to Grow"

Crisis - something comes along to upset our equilibrium.

Every crisis: a moment to decide.
James Russell Lowell:
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some new decision,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.

Challenge - retreat or advance ... no one can stay where they are; because the world is changing ... in a crisis, temptation: o rely on what we already know.

When RCs don't know what to do, they hold a Latin Mass, and retreat into past pactices.

GM and Chrysler were terrific at doing what they knew best, even when it was no longer paying off. Ford took the uncommon road of innovation - there was no payoff either, but someone at Ford saw the future and said, "Let's go."
I should have bought Ford stock last year.
But GM has caught up. Good things ... but it has to be advance, into uncommon corridors; the unexplored is where we need to be.

Stan Ott: when what we know no longer serves us well.

Wall Street is facing a challenge; the instinct are to retreat into the tried and true, so to speak; but just how true it is remains to be seen.
Will Wall Street rise to the challenge?
Will it advance into uncommon corridors or will it retreat into it's old ways?

Great video out on Domino's Pizza ... check it out ... folks said their crust was like cardboard and their sauce had no flavor.
They didn't just add salt;
But back to the drawing boards. They didn't tweak what they were doing; they stopped what they were doing. They started over again.

Donna worked for a real estate company that used to be on top; 50s & 60s, but when the world turned and all the new franchises began to gain market-share, they decided stay with what they knew.
They assumed that people would still do business with them.
But their old customers were old; and new people moving into the area didn't know who they were.
Donna and other agents left; within two years, the once proud company folded. They tried a few things at the end, but to no avail. It was too late.
They clung to what they knew too long; they looked inward, when they should have been looking outward.

Each of us face similar challenges: at work, the way we related to people, the way we think - easy to slip into the "tried and the true," even when it's not working any longer.

Think of it as small and large ...
First instinct - be small.
The in-crowd of Jerusalem wanted to be small, but Peter's words were persuasive, backed by the Spirit.

Judas chose to be small when he betrayed Jesus, and then it was too late. He either took his life, or had a fatal accident – we’re not sure, but when Judas how small he was, it was too much for him; he couldn’t bear it any longer.
If only Judas had waited.

Peter was a small man when he denied knowing Jesus.
And when Peter saw what he did, he wept bitterly.
But Peter hung in there.
He stayed near Jesus, and Jesus restored Peter.
Smarter and wiser.

Saul was small, and then he met Jesus on the Damascus Road, and he got so big, he needed a new name. The old name was too small to hold the new person. So Saul becomes Paul.
A new name for a big man!

Folks in Jerusalem pointed to the temple and said, "Nothin' bigger than that."
They pointed to their laws and regulations, and said, "Nothin' bigger than that."
They took Jesus to the cross and said, "Nothin' bigger than that."
But God said, "There are bigger things. Much bigger. And God rolled the stone away!"

Jesus was a big person who pointed to the biggest thing of all - the Kingdom of God.

Folks who wanted Rosa Parks to sit in the back of the bus and shut up were small, but when Rosa refused, she ignited a huge revolution, and big people came to the front and changed the laws of the nation.

A. LIncoln was a big man with a big vision.
So was Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.
Their big vision kept them going when small people wanted to take them down.

A new book – a 14 year old boy in Africa:
He didn't have money. He didn't have supplies. All he had was a book with pictures. He went to a junkyard, found a bicycle rim, PVC pipe, an old tractor fan.
Built a windmill to power one light bulb. And then a few more, and larger … he’s 22 now, and featured in a book:
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Vision and dreams.
Big things.

Big people point to big things.

Process - gain and loss ... always a trade-off. Sure, the familiar is comfortable; the uncommon can be unnerving - "uh, we've never been here before."
The last 7 words of the church?
“We’ve never done that before!”

Many years ago, I had an elder who always asked, “Is anyone else doing this?”
He was an engineer for Chrysler.

And finally I said to the Session, “Do we really care if anyone else is doing this?”
“Maybe we should be a pioneer and be the first!”

Positive attitude vital - trust in God, sense of adventure, there's always more ... there is no destination, but always the journey. God is infinite, so there can never be an end to our exploration of love and life. Donna: "We're never lost. We're right here!"

Larger view of the world is the pay-off. Those who move into a larger world, experience the gift of peace and confidence, and a higher level of faith. It’s easier to live in a large world.

Like a pair of shoes that fit well.
Or a comfortable couch.
A fine dinner.
It’s good to live in a large world.

"The world's well-travelled people must always traverse the corridors of the uncommon." - an ad for a fine hotel.

Uncommon corridors?

Of course …

Jesus did … and says to us, “Don’t be afraid.
Life will take you into many a strange place.
But in every place, a moment to decide.

You can do it.
You have the power to grow!

Amen and Amen!