An Opportunity to Help

Janet and I spent Sunday with the Sundance Church of Christ in Sundance, WY. I was asked to teach class and preach, something I love to do. Unfortunately, I woke up feeling a bit off, a bad headache and some stomach upheaval.  I plugged on through the materiel, however my mind would not focus for me. We  socialized during potluck but I passed on the taco salad.

Arriving back to the coach in South Dakota, by 5 or 6p I was in full scale nausea. Thankfully I was feeling fine by morning, just in time to take Janet to the laundromat for her birthday. Never the one to skimp on presents we stopped at Walgreens and I splurged on some raisinets for her birthday. It was an uneventful day, but we’ve had fun together.

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Retired, Almost

Today is my final specific preaching assignment. Today I speak for the Eastwood church in Hutchinson. I’ve been the therapist that they have provided for the church and community for the past 28 years. I’ve seen hundreds of people there over the years, from every walk of life. Some were struggling with childhood abuse, others were currently experiencing abuse as adults. Others were attempting to negotiate the perplexing problems that face people of faith in a contemporary culture.

Sometimes these battles are internal, much like Paul describes in Romans 7, the battle of the flesh and the spirit. As physical beings longing for a spiritual home, we struggle. Sometimes the bright and flashy things that surround us draw us off of our path and we must realign. Scripture calls it repentance, that corrective action that causes us to pull back from a sinful mistake and return to our true pursuit.

It is a sloppy journey toward Jesus, even for the best of mankind. A causal reading of Scripture causes us to be aware of this, just look at the Bible heroes listed in Hebrews 11. There is nothing tidy in our plodding on this earth.

So, I recommend a morning of reflection each day. A quiet time when we walk through yesterday’s choices and consider how they align with our stated purpose. Then, in a season of prayer and focus we can make new choices. Repentance is just a process of realignment with our treasured values.

This morning I asked God to bless each of you, many of you by name. I also asked God to clarify for me a new purpose, a role in his kingdom that I am capable of stepping up to fill. I want it to be a role that Janet and I can function in together. I would encourage your joining me in that prayer if you are the praying kind.

Grace and peace,

Carl

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Faithfulness

I’ve spent much of the past 3 years focusing my studies on the faithfulness of God. For a time, as I read the preserved history of the nation of Israel saved for us in Scripture, I was bewildered by God’s faithfulness to such a fickle people. Even a casual reading of the Old Testament will draw one’s focus to how often the people of God lost their way. Sometimes they wandered from the path through the leadership of a despot king, other times because life got too easy and greed clouded their eyes. Good times, bad times, times of plenty and times of hardship, Israel moved like a pendulum, sometimes toward God but often away from him.

I directed my focus on what caused the change. Clearly God’s lifting up Ezras or Daniels, or Hannahs or Deborahs could make a rallying point. Was it that in times of such perverse evil that these characters stood out? As fine and noble as these people of God were, I came to a new conclusion. One day my focus shifted. I was looking to the example of mankind for the answer. My attention was in the wrong place.

Israel is a mess. All throughout her history she is a mess. Like Hosea’s Gomer, she chased every flashy thing that paid her any attention. It isn’t about man, it is about God. It is all about God.

As God describes himself to Moses, “abounding in faithful love and truth, keeping faithful love to a thousand generations”. His faithfulness reaches the clouds, it is higher than the heavens.

So, as God keeps calling us to return, it isn’t because we got good enough. Our return is not because we found some mysterious, long forgotten formula. We don’t press forward long enough, with endurance enough, or with fortitude enough. In our journey, we simply look up and accept that faithful, ever present love.

For those who enter the covenant with God, over whom he says, “I will be your God and you shall be my people”, he is the one who is faithful and ever loving. We are the beneficiaries, the recipients, not the instigators.

I discovered his faithful love and now I am secure.

 

 

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My Dumb Ol’ Brother, Fred

Before you think it disrespectful, Fred thought it was hilarious. For those of you who have heard me preach over the years, you’ve likely heard “My Dumb Ol’ Brother Fred” stories. Yesterday was the anniversary of his birth. The youngest of 4 brothers, Fred was the big one… 24″ long and 12 lbs. The story is that my mother decided she wasn’t going to try for a little girl after he was born. Enough was enough, and Fred was enough for anyone.

Fred was always looking for an adventure. Hunting, fishing, beaches, trips…  Perhaps more famous were Fred’s great deals. Fred always knew a guy… Someone who had an old motorcycle that was the deal of a lifetime. He would find paint deals, carpet deals, landscaping deals… if you had a project, Fred knew a guy.

Fred was a carpet layer by trade… any kind of flooring, but he liked carpet. He traveled all over the United States installing flooring for Sears stores in particular, but any “mall” was likely to be impacted by Fred and Fox Flooring. Whichever of his brothers who were in the area, you were likely to be put to work. We helped Fred because the quicker he got done, the sooner the fun began. Fred worked hard, but he played harder.

Even when we were little. We went fishing one early spring day. Herb Sands and my father took us four boys and Herb’s daughter Marcia out fishing on a private lake. We were in row boats, two of them. The kids were rowing and relishing getting the fathers wet. There was a dock that Fred was fishing from, and dad had my brothers row over to pick up Fred.

The short version of the story is, Fred left his rod on the dock after getting in the boat. As dad leaned over to reach it, Fred yelled “Shove off” and shoved his oar against the dock. Dad was over extended, his feet hooked in the boat and his hand on the dock, clutching the fishing pole. Fred was shoving for all he was worth, my dad’s big belly quickly getting wetter and wetter.

Herb, in our boat said, “You boys need to get us over there to save your dad.” But Herb was laughing so hard that he could barely contain himself. In my mind’s eye I will always remember Fred yelling “shove off” while the water was lapping at my father’s belly and the boat threatened to capsize.

Fred lived his life always ready to yell “Shove off,” regardless of consequences. He wanted to embrace the opportunities.

Embracing opportunities is a challenge for each of us. Paul and Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, and a host of others were driven by their passion to tell the story of Jesus. It is not as though others were not as passionate, James the brother of Jesus remained in Jerusalem, one of the shepherds of the flock found there. Risking his own reputation, taking an unpopular viewpoint in the minds of his Jewish colleagues to embrace the influx of Gentile converts.

At times, no doubt, the enthusiasm of one created crisis for others. Peter and Paul experienced conflict as recorded in Galatians, over the broader, generally more inclusive message of Paul to Gentiles while Peter’s focus was usually on the Jewish people. Peter had things to learn, as we all do, in setting aside old points of view and embracing what God had brought forth.

So how do you, as a Fred, move forward in boldness, while being aware of the concerns of others? A failure to do so creates conflict in our relationships, something my brother Fred and I discussed on more than one occasion.

How do you, if you are of the more cautious mindset, leave room for the boldness of others? How do you carefully weigh the less important things to embrace the new opportunities discovered by others?

I am reminded of a quote by Daniel Boorstin, from his The Discoverers, 1983. It is, “The greatest enemy of discovery, are the disciples of discoverers.” We want to always keep in check our traditional comforts, so as not to exclude new, important adventures.

May God grant you grace and peace as you explore the grandeur of his creation, both here and in the future.

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Who Are These Guys?

Forgive my lack of posting on Sunday. It was a travel day for us, returning to Kansas from Missouri after travelling to see family. Twenty members of the Feril family got together for our biennial reunion. My brothers and I have not lived within 500 miles of each other for over 45 years, so we’ve only seen each other about every other year during that time. While we check in on each other by phone, it has taken a toll on the intimacy of our relationship. Most of this is my fault, having been the one who has lived away from the rest of the family since I was 18.

Creating meals for some who are carnivores, others who are omnivores, and still others who are herbivores can be challenging. Vegan lasagna, lasagna with meat  sauce , and those craving steak or pork chops is a challenge. That some select a lifestyle because of ethical concerns, others focused on health benefits, and still more just hoping for what they grew up with… well, it presents challenges. Then add toddlers just hoping to find an open candy dish…

Then the other great controversy… that when we say football, we don’t really mean football, at least not all of us. For some, travelling is no object to chasing a football experience, with a round ball. Really, round… on a big grass field… in shorts. So talking about football teams is not limited to Austin.

When we are together, the time is prized by each of us. We recognize that the bond is there, but our shared experiences are limited, shared only by the family heads. On the return trips, family trees are constructed for the  children of the cousins to help them visualize the relationships of earlier generations, with both living and deceased members.

Of course we have to use Google to distinguish between first cousins, second cousins and first cousins, once removed (either called nieces and nephews or uncle or aunt). The kids can be more confused than the parents with all of this.

Grandchildren become confused with the family tree as we lamely attempt to give the genogram meaning until they just say, “But they are family, right?”

Right… exactly right.

Church relationships are similar. As distance, age, and limited interactions are experienced, we may have an emotive or intellectual connection, but feel the strain of a lack of familiarity.  We like things done the way they were “always” done. “Always” only exists for the person desiring it, and it changes as different experiences are encountered. When the connecting time comes, it can be strained. Some use specific terminology for one action, while others use a different. The order of things may vary, along with the time devoted to different features of our worship experience. This is only talking about features of our worship, add Bible classes, or small groups, or specialty topics… it gets more complicated.

If we aren’t careful, we may look around and ask, “We are family, right?”

When Jews were originally introduced to Jesus, some embraced him as the fulfillment of all of the promises that God had been making through Abraham and the prophets. Their “Jewishness” was stamped everywhere. The lens that they looked through was instructed by the Old Law, the tutor that brought them to the Christ. The moral code was familiar, the terminology sounded familiar to their ears.

Then arrives the Gentiles… the mystery hidden from the foundation of the world is that the Gentiles are part of the picture. Jesus loves us all, saves us all, and does it without consideration of our background. A noble idea,  but what a challenge to bring us all into one household.

The moral codes were different. The life experiences were diverse. The terminology  was unfamiliar. A god changed to the God, the Lord our God is one God. But, a large part of the family didn’t always believe that. What had always been, well it might not always be…

In our family, bluegrass had to move over for bagpipes. There is room for both. Is that because, for any sets of ears, the other sound is desirable? Not really. It is because the source of the other sound is family, right? Because family is more important than keeping all things exactly as they have “always” been.

Grace and Peace,

Carl

 

 

 

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Developing A Spiritual Walk

Spirituality is an intentional act. The first step is to avoid hurry. Rushing through life leaves no room for introspection, processing the events that surround us, looking for the hand of God around us. To begin a spiritual walk, one must devote some time to it.

The development of a deeper spiritual walk also requires an acknowledgement of, and gratitude for, the provision of God. As Janet and I drove home last night and observed the lightning display in the storm clouds, we didn’t reflect on how the heavier negatively charged particles were descending in the cloud, reacting to the positive particles producing lightning… it is true but that isn’t where our minds went. We thought of God, his power. We thought of his lovingkindness that reaches the clouds. We observed the way the moon was suspended above the cloud. As the cloud passed over the moon, we could still detect the shine, remembering in the darkest of nights… God is there, still extending lovingkindness.

The next step of spirituality is external. To satisfy a spiritual longing privately, without an external connection to life is both selfish and destroys community. Our spiritual lives are expressed in connection with one another. If loving and worshiping God does not drive you to connect with all of those made in the image of God, you have made God in your own image. We are taught in Scripture that both friend and foe are worthy of, and should be recipients of, our blessing. To bless only those who we care for is selfish and stingy. Rather than being an exercise in imitation of our God, it is replacing the will of God with our own selfish motivation. We exalt our values over his values, while expressing our nature rather than his.

Finally the final step is to process the day with God. Rehearsing the day’s events, how you focused on denying self and imitating Jesus is the only way we can develop better spiritual habits.

I am pleased with how far we have walked together. Let’s not give up.

Grace and Peace,

Carl

Perhaps my favorite weekly task as your preacher has been to write a weekly article. This will be the last, the bulletin taking a new format next week. If you  want to continue to read, you can do so at my blog that you can locate through Facebook.

 

 

 

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What Is the Message?

What is the Gospel? That was a question that I was asked this week. I thought about it for a time, then I knew my answer.

For a long time, if asked that question, I might have responded with a person’s response to the gospel, a message about believing, improving, acknowledging and being immersed. No doubt true that we must react to the message, but more fundamental is the question of what the Gospel actually is.

When we consider what people had believed about deities in the past, it is easy to see how suspicion and distrust became a part of it. Satan’s initial ploy in the Biblical narrative is that God limited mankind because he feared man becoming like him.

Later information about God was distorted, then abandoned for fanciful notions of tricky deities playing games on each other and mankind. The result was an idea that deity could not be trusted, sometimes acting in our behalf and other times enjoying our despair.

The good news of Scripture is that God is now, has always been, and always will be, on our side. He desires relationship with us, going to any and every imaginable extreme to accomplish that goal. The pivotal point of Scripture being the story of Jesus, standing in for us and taking our place on a cross. The evidence of our reconciliation being the resurrection on the third day.

That earth shaking revelation becomes the core message proclaimed to every nation under heaven. In Jesus, there is life. In Jesus, there is hope. In Jesus, we live and move and have our very being.

What is the gospel? Very simple really… God loves you and is on your side always.  The narrative can be tracked through every story in the Hebrew Bible. It is the core message of the four gospels and the letters that follow them.

Push aside the minutia, the little details of Jewish laws around clothing, foods, and religious expression. Push it aside to see the God of Scripture going to every extreme to bring us hope.

We can, likewise, set aside the details and asides that have caused division and distortion of the message from the New Testament. Don’t let other things move your eye from the message. God loves you, wants you, and provides for you.

This is the good news.

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How You Read….

How we read material has a great impact on our understanding and application of it. I read history, philosophy and theology mainly. From time to time I may include other genres but not often. I’ve noticed over time that when one begins reading a book, if you start with the assumption that you will not agree, you will probably end that way. To a large extent, we find what we are looking for.

This has a great impact on our understanding and application of Scripture. To see the Bible as primarily a book of rules and regulations, makes it about as enjoyable as a shop manual for a piece of equipment. We might know what part fits here, and what connects to what, but while it may be informative, it is devoid of joy.

I’ve begun to see Scripture as the story of God as he reveals himself to his creation. Sometimes the Scripture is giving us backstory, filling us in and bringing us up to date. The account of the creation in Genesis is like this. While it answers the questions of man about “How did we get here?” (God created you for here) Or “What am I doing here?” (You are charged with taking care of all creation), it isn’t designed to answer with great detail or fine precision. God is just saying that from when time began, He has been the one of began all things, and sustains them even now.

Through the very general history of early mankind, amid all of the early stories, with the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the beginning afresh, we see the ebb and flow of humanity. As man struggles with sin, God intervenes to set things back in place.

If God was about to bless or call someone to a task, he appears benevolent. His call of Abram to begin his people is an example of that. When man has entered into sin, we might come away thinking that he is stern, strict, or exacting. Stories of the Judges, or the accounts of the kings of Israel would demonstrate this.

However, an overarching principle in each story is God taking the initiative to give us a new start. God’s love for mankind in general is so strong and deeply rooted in his character that mercy is evident on every page of Scripture.

God’s offering of Law is an effort to offer a framework for living that allows for health in relationships between us, and satisfaction within us. We are challenged to live above “simply surviving” and offered an opportunity to fulfill and enrich all who are around us.

The story of Jesus is a highlighted section of Scripture where God says, “Look at me, see me for who I am.” Unfortunately, those who held to the rulebook mentality didn’t recognize him.

We must do better.

 

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How Do I Want to Think?

If you got dressed this morning, beginning by putting your  right sock on, you likely put the same sock on first yesterday. As you seat yourself to drive, you will likely run through a habitual routine of preparation. We are creatures of habit.

Habits can be good or bad, some chew their fingernails, while others begin the day with exercise. What most people don’t recognize is the importance of establishing good habits, in religion they are called spiritual disciplines.

A morning begun with a season of prayer and meditation, or perhaps reading a good devotional book can be a habit that shapes the rest of your day and ultimately your life.  That time you take with the Bible and a cup of coffee or tea in the morning is training your brain to think in a specific focused way for the remainder of the day. It is the way we train our hearts and minds.

A caution for those of us who engage in social media, when you begin your day on Twitter or Facebook, we are doing the same thing. We are replacing the age old habit of these spiritual disciplines of prayer or Bible reading with a seemingly benign habit of “checking on the world” by reading whatever pops up on our screen.

Rather than being intentional about our lives, we unintentionally replace a choice of shaping ourselves spiritually with a decision that replaces a daily devotional feed with Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

The clamor that took place this last year over Facebook, Fake News, and  the foreign influencing of our elections is all confirmation that we are shaped by what we read. The same way that we’ve worried about young children and too much TV time or internet time. We have to be sensitive to how we shape our own lives.

My point is not to say that we should listen to one media stream or another. It is rather to say that to do anything repeatedly, routinely, is training us about what to focus on and how to see it. We will never fill that void, that hunger that craves relationship with God on social media. People of God desire for his word to shape them, to mold their character into the image of the Christ.  Substituting, intentionally or not, different less healthy habits, becomes an inadequate diet for what we crave. We will read more and more of the same thing, never being satisfied, increasingly less prepared for the spiritual battles that we will ultimately face.

I am not dropping my Facebook account, but I am more judicious regarding the amount of time I participate. I am increasingly focused on the information that I place in my mind as my day begins and ends. I know what it is that I value, who it is that I love. These are the influences that I willingly put before me.

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Nothing or Everything

Janet and I are like many working couples. We say our goodbyes before 7a and greet each other again around 11-12 hours later. It is pretty typical to ask how the day went, any intriguing happenings or things that went awry. Once in a while the report is “nothing”.

“Nothing” doesn’t mean we sat in a vegetative state staring at the walls all day. Usually it means that we are in the midst of projects, not bringing anything to completion, but putting in the time with research, reading, or in accumulating and compiling information into usable forms. So “nothing” doesn’t mean void or empty.

Reflecting on this recently I thought about the life of Jesus. We read about events from his life. The time he met lepers on the road, or the time he met a woman at the well on the outskirts of town. In neither of these situations, and most of the others that are recorded for us, was Jesus seeking out the person that is described in the Scriptures. They were just “who was there”.

Asking Jesus about his day would not have resulted in “I healed 26.32 people today. I met in the synagogue to discuss Scripture with 14 rabbis…”  Often the significant events in his life happened on the way to other things. It was the opportunities that came up while pursuing his other plans that make up our Bibles.   As he was approaching… Crossing over the sea, a storm arose….

The healing of the woman with the issue of blood occurred while going to heal Jairus’ daughter. As Jesus left the mountain, returning to town at the Sermon on the Mount, a leper approached him and received healing. Unplanned, but significant. It was an aside, not a designed event. These things happen because he was working from a designed script.

When John, in prison, sends disciples to see Jesus, his reply reveals the script. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

It is going according to the plan, that was the message of Jesus. It wasn’t happening as he spoke, but that was his life story.

So, press on. Keep doing what God has called you to do. Don’t worry if today seems dull or mundane. When the moment arises, if you are doing your job, the good things happen.

 

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