Who is Welcome?

I posted on Facebook yesterday what I thought was a pretty innocuous thought about unity in the church. Wow I was dismayed and surprised to see the “controversy this stirred up! My hope is that if we each ask ourselves this one simple question and be willing to take personal responsibility to reach out that each of our churches will be the better. Have a blessed day!

“Will folks who think or look differently than we do feel welcome at our church? If God wanted us all the same He would have used plastic and not dust when He was forming man.”

 

All kinds of folks

How Big God is Your God?

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

Jesus isn’t sitting on His throne hoping for a nice flowery formal prayer. If you have just a small faith in a big God don’t be afraid to pray. Jesus is waiting at for us at His throne of grace. Our God is big enough to move any mountain with faith smaller than a tiny seed!  KIMG1199

The Farmer and the Seed

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering his seed, some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. Matthew 13:3-8

 

Do you remember church bulletins, hymn books or microphones mounted solidly to large wooden pulpits? Technology has certainly changed everything about our worship services in the 21st century. While many of the changes have been great the issues of the human heart haven’t really changed at all since Jesus talked about the farmer’s day of planting 2000 years ago.

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Some of us come so busy glancing our smart watches and text messaging our friends that the word just bounces off us just like the seed that fell on the path. We come to church and return home with no idea of what was said. Other Sundays we think the message was great and head home enthusiastically entering into our calendar the five AM prayer time and the second Saturday of the month leadership training course.  But as we drive the office calls and asks if we could come in extra early on Monday and we get a text from our son’s school asking if we could volunteer to coach the soccer team this spring. Other times we  do continue the outward motions of the commitments we have made but remain in ungodly relationships and activities that clash strongly with everything we believe. We decide that it  is too hard to break away from those things that displease the Lord and put on the back burner the plans for a closer walk with Jesus Christ.

We excuse ourselves by inwardly accusing our pastor. We rationalize that the messages have been weak and that the worship team is pretty disorganized.  Church seems dull and people don’t reach out to us when we think they should. Yet the farmer is the same and the seed is the same. Our challenge is to prepare our hearts for his word but to guard what is planted so it will yield a harvest one day.

The Farmer Prepares for Spring

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering his seed, some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. Matthew 13:3-8

One of my favorite things to o in winter was to scan through seed catalogues and plan for spring planting. The catalogue pages were always filled with colorful photos of how those dry hard seeds might look if I planted them at my house. Then I would draw the shape of next year’s garden, and decide where to put the cucumbers and squash and which new varieties of tomato would grow best on the mountain where we lived.

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Jesus tells a story of a farmer not unlike any of us. He had decided what seed to plant and chosen exactly the right day to place them in the soil. He probably left his house with a bag bursting at the seams with the precious seed and walked out to begin his day’s work. As he started up the hard path some of the seed spilled out and as it bounced on the hard ground the birds began to follow him and gobble up every one. Once he arrived he tried to evenly spread the seeds in the furrows and from one end to the other of the field to the other. But even though all of the plowed field looked beautiful and clean, underneath the surface there were hidden rocks in some of the corners and thorn and thistle seed had blown in overnight at the edges. No one would be able to tell what would become of the harvest until the seed began to grow.

The same story is worked out every Sunday in many of our churches. The same sermon is preached to all of us, but the message has radically different results depending on how we listen. But our problem is not with the one who planted the seed, because we all have the same farmer! The difference at harvest time comes from how our field has been prepared. Before you hear even one more sermon maybe the best prayer should be, “Oh Lord prepare my heart!”

 

No One is Too Small for God’s Plan

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”    Matthew 21:1-3

Did you ever pause to wonder how Jesus knew that one specific donkey was there? We usually think of God as having such big and important things to do that He wouldn’t be interested in things like donkeys. Sometimes I have wondered why He would even be interested in me. My life seems pretty, uninteresting and filled with inabilities, fears and mess-ups. Yet God’s word gives me hope because I see that for reasons known only to Him He takes interest in mundane things like birds -Matt 6:26;, lions- Psalm 104:21; donkeys- Numbers 22:32-33  and yes even  man!

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psalm 8:4

If you doubt that God has a plan for your life remember that God chose exactly when and where you would be born. We, just like King David were each individually knit together while still in our mother’s womb. No two of us are alike and God never does anything without a reason. There are days when I wish I knew that reason! But even on those days God sees our thoughts and if we look for Him in the ordinary situations that we are living in, His promise is that we will find Him!

Especially on those dreary days when life seems more like a tangled mess than a work of art, remember that donkey and remind yourself that God knows exactly wkimg2029here you are today! You may be tied up to a post in a dusty little village but God has a plan for you. No one may have much use for your limited abilities, but God needs you exactly as you are. You may feel that today is just another unimportant day but with God there are no unimportant days. This is the hour that the Lord needs you and He is sending for you to come and carry Him somewhere He wants to go today!

 

Listening at Work

Listening at Work is the second in the series Joseph Learned to Listen 

 So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority Genesis 39:4

Joseph prospered because the Lord was with him and his master, Potiphar noticed, however this blessing wasn’t without its practical working out in the daily circumstances of Joseph’s work. Certainly Joseph wasn’t a lazy or incompetent slave. The Bible makes it quite clear that we are to work heartily as unto the Lord. Secondly, Joseph did not steal or defraud Potiphar and most importantly Joseph learned to listen to Potiphar.

Above all things a slave must be obedient. In order to be obedient a slave must listen to his master. This listening obedience is both a learned skill and an acquired virtue. Since most of us would love to be promoted, recognized for our good work and compensated fairly let’s take a closer look at Joseph’s story.

A) Joseph didn’t complain 

For many of us we struggle to listen at our job because we think that we are meant for something better. Certainly Joseph would have been tempted to believe that he had greater skills than scrubbing floors, waiting on tables and taking out the trash. Yet in spite of all his training and preparation for a higher position we do not hear a single word of complaint from Joseph. Maybe our first step towards being better listeners is to stop complaining. We are unlikely to learn anything new if we are busy talking about what else we would rather be doing. img_4712

B) Joseph paid attention to details

Part of being a good listener is paying attention to detail. In my work as a translator I have learned to empty my mind of my own concerns and focus on the exact words of what I am being asked to translate. I need to hear every detail and then render it into the language of those listening to me. People hear the words from my mouth but in reality they are receiving the message from the one for whom I am translating. When we are at work we are to represent the wishes and goals of our employer. Whether we are cleaning a house, building a car or teaching U.S. history learning to listen to the details is important. If the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock it does not matter if I wish that they had settled in New York. On the assembly line no one will be impressed if I believe the steering wheel belongs in the trunk and I am unlikely to be praised if I decide that cleaning the library is more important than washing the dishes. All of these funny stories are played out a thousand times a day in usually less exaggerated form and reflect whether we have listened carefully to details. Joseph cared about details so much that Potiphar entrusted him with every detail of his household.  img_4520

C) Joseph listened first to God

While we are hearing what we are being asked to do at work, there does come a time when we need to first listen to God. Joseph had done so well in listening to Potiphar that he came to a prominent position in his household. This prominence came to the attention of Potiphar’s wife who desired to have Joseph for herself. It would have been far easier for Joseph to simply accept her advances and go on with his life, but Joseph listened first to God. Often our first tendency as Christians at work is to jump to this third position first. But unless we have stopped complaining and learned to listen to details, our obedience to God will not be much of a witness. Looking to another young man named Daniel we see that his stay in the lion’s den was not just about him praying. Daniel’s obedience to God was framed by his excellent service to his king. How is our life framed today? Have we learned to listen without complaint? Do we give people the attention needed to hear every detail? When we have become good listeners we will be more likely to hear the still small voice of God when He speaks. Listening to God and obeying him in our everyday lives allows us to be translators. We listen to God’s word and translate it into ordinary actions so that those around us can hear the message of the good news of salvation and focus their attention on Jesus Christ. img_4837

The everlasting hills

The blessings of your father Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers Genesis 49:26

There are times to walk through the valleys, but God has also called us to the everlasting hills. Only on those hills where we walk alone with God can He give us the blessings we will pass on to the next generation.On the mountain Abraham offered his son and discovered that God had provided a lamb.  On the mountain Moses’ face began to glow in God’s presence then He was given the ten commandments on stone tablets.On the mountain Elijah saw the earthquake, the hurricane and the fire then he heard the still voice of God for Israel’s future.On the mountain Jesus prayed all night before He chose the twelve apostles. But of all these blessings which God gave none was greater than when He gave eternal life on the mountain called Calvary.

When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur or hear the brook

Or feel the gentle breeze…then sings my soul!   Carl Boberg

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