Search This Blog

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Below is the message at the WOW (Worship on Wednesday) service in Gettysburg August 28, 2013.  The Bible verses are Daniel 6:1-23.

In these Wednesday night services, we've been looking at Old Testament stories.  And those of you who've been coming regularly may have noticed a theme that goes through a lot of those stories:  courage.

Courage plays a big part in a lot of the stories we've looked at.  And when you think about what was going on at the time, it's easy to see why.  The people of Israel went through a lot of tough times.  There were times when they were in exile, unable to live in the land God had promised them.  There were times when they were made to be slaves.  And even when they were free and in their homeland, they still usually had all kinds of enemies around them, threatening them, wanting to take over.  So they needed these reminders to stay strong, to have courage, and to stay faithful to God.

We need those reminders, too, don't we?  We go through our share of tough times, too.  Life can be hard.  There are times when we feel like we have enemies threatening us, too.  Not necessarily physical enemies, although it certainly can be that.  But life makes demands on us, and those demands take their toll.  Sometimes they take a physical toll, and we deal with injury or disease.  Sometime they take a financial toll, and we wonder what's going to happen and whether we'll have enough.  Sometimes they take an emotional toll, and we deal with people who don't like us or who try to hurt us.  Sometimes they take a spiritual toll, as the culture around us tries to tell us to do things we know we should not do.  When those things or others come along, we need to remember to stay strong.  We need to remember to stay faithful to God and have courage.

The story of Daniel, which we're talking about tonight, is a story of courage.  It took great courage for Daniel to do what he did.  But that courage was not necessarily shown in the way we might think.

Daniel was living in Babylon.  That was not his homeland, but it was where he was living, and he was serving the king there, King Darius.  Most people in Babylon did not worship God.  They had their own “gods” that they worshiped.  But Daniel stayed faithful to God.

As you heard, Daniel was not real popular among some of the high officials in Babylon.  The king liked him, but a lot of the others did not.  So, they got the king to sign a decree that for thirty days, if anyone prayed to anyone other than the king, they should be thrown into the lions' den.

Now, try to put yourself in Daniel's place at this point.  You're a foreigner, but you've earned your way into a high position in government.  That's good, but you know there are people who don't like you and are out to get you.  But you trust God, and believe God will take care of you.  Then, you hear about this decree from the king, who you thought was your friend, that says if you pray to God, you'll be thrown into the lions' den, which of course means certain death.

I have to think Daniel was really scared.  He knows that he's supposed to stay faithful to God.  He knows he's supposed to pray to God and no one else.  But he also knows that if he prays to God he'll be killed.

Daniel had to be afraid.  And yet, somehow, Daniel found it in him to pray to God.  He gave thanks to God and he asked God for help.  And he did it at the same time and at the same place he always did, knowing that people would see or hear him, knowing that everyone would know what he was doing.

And think about this.  He did it not knowing whether God was going to protect him if he did it.  God did not make any promise to Daniel, at least not one that we know about.  God did not say, “Daniel, if you stay faithful to me, I'll protect you and you'll survive the lions' den.”  We know, because we've heard the story before, that God protected Daniel, but Daniel had not heard the story before.  We're not told that Daniel thought God would protect him and he'd survive the lions' den.  He may well have thought that he was going to be die there.  And yet, he did prayed to God anyway.

That took an incredible amount of courage.  Daniel could've come up with all kinds of reasons not to do what he did.  He could've come up with all kinds of rationalizations for why not praying to God was okay.  He could've said, “If I pray to God now, they'll kill me.  That'd be almost like committing suicide.  God certainly does not want me to do that, so I'll stop praying until this thirty day period is over.”  Or, he could've said, “I'll pray to God, but I'll do it secretly and silently.  Nobody will ever know about it.  That way God'll know I'm still faithful, but I'll be safe.”  There are all kinds of things Daniel could've done to keep himself safe and avoid what happened to him.

This is why I say the courage Daniel showed was not necessarily shown in the way some of us might think.  Going into the lions' den really did not take a lot of courage.  He did not have any choice about that.  The Bible does not say he walked into the lions' den.  It says he was thrown into the lions' den.  He had to go in there, whether he wanted to or not.

The way Daniel showed courage was in praying in the same place and in the same way he always did.  The way Daniel showed courage was to pray in a way and in a place where he knew people would find out.  That was the part he had a choice about.  That was the part where he had to choose whether he was going to stay faithful to God, regardless of what the consequences might be.  To put it bluntly, that was the part where he had to decide whether he truly believed in God or not.

When we're going through our tough times, when our lives are hard, when we feel like there are things threatening us, that's the decision we have to make, too.  It's not hard for me to stay faithful to God when things are going the way I want them to go.  It's not hard for me to stay faithful to God when I'm not facing any penalty for staying faithful, and when in fact I'm likely to be praised for it.  That's pretty easy.

What's hard is to keep praying and stay faithful to God when we our a loved one of ours has a serious injury or disease and none of our prayers seem to make any difference.  What's hard is to keep praying and stay faithful to God when people around us criticize us or make fun of us for our faith.  What's hard is to keep praying and stay faithful to God when the culture around us mocks our faith and our sense of right and wrong.

When those things happen, we make a choice.  Whether we think of it that way or not, we make a choice.  We can come up with all kinds of reasons for why not praying to God and not staying faithful to God is okay.  We can come up with all kinds of rationalizations for why it's okay for us to just keep our prayers and our faith secret and silent, so nobody knows about it.  Or, we can stay faithful to God by making our prayers and our faith known, regardless of what the consequences may be.

We can show the courage that Daniel showed, the courage that shows up in story after story in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  We can show the courage that says, “I am a Christian.  I worship the Lord, and I have accepted Jesus as my Savior.  Therefore, I am going to do what a Christian is supposed to do, and I am going to live the way a Christian is supposed to live.  And whatever happens is what's going to happen.”

That does not involved being obnoxious or getting in people's faces about our faith, of course.  Daniel did not do that.  He did not go out into the middle of the street and make a big show of praying so everyone could see him.  But he did not hide his faith, either.  He had the courage to do what he knew God wanted him to do, to live the way God wanted him to live, and let happen whatever was going to happen.

That's real courage.  That's the courage Daniel had.  It's the courage God wants you and me to have, too.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Grace Is Amazing

Below is the message given in the Wheatland Parish Sunday, August 25, 2013.  The Bible verses used are Ephesians 1:17-2:10.

We're nearing the end of our Hymn Hysteria sermon series, looking at the top hymns from the tournament we held earlier this year.  Today we look at the number two hymn in the tournament, “Amazing Grace.”

Frankly, I thought when we started this that Amazing Grace would win.  It defeated “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”, “Blessed Assurance”, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, “Because He Lives”, and “He Touched Me” before losing to the champion “How Great Thou Art”, which is the song we'll look at next week.

The tune of Amazing Grace is a nineteenth century American melody.  We don't know who wrote it.  The words, however, were written by John Newton in 1779.

Many of you know the story of John Newton.  There was a movie made about it a few years ago.  He was born in 1725, was a sailor, was later a tax collector, eventually became an evangelist, and in 1757 applied to become ordained as a priest in the Church of England.  He would not be accepted until 1764.  In 1784 he became an outspoken advocate for the abolition of slavery.  In addition to “Amazing Grace”, Newton also wrote the words to the hymn “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”, which is also in our hymnal.

God's grace truly is amazing.  I think on some level most of us realize that, which is probably one reason this hymn is so popular.  I wonder, though, if we think often enough about just how amazing God's grace is.

Here's what I mean.  Whenever something bad happens, what questions do we ask?  “Where was God?”  “Why did God let this happen?”  And a lot of times, what we're asking is “Why did God let this happen to me?”  “I don't deserve this.  Why did God let this happen to me?”

Now, if you've asked that question, or if you're asking it now, that's okay.  I'm not criticizing you.  I've asked it, too.  I think most of us probably have.  It's a pretty natural question for us to ask.  That's what almost the whole book of Job is—Job asking God why God let all these things happen to him.  God understands why we ask that question, and God does not get mad at us when we do.

I think, though, that when we ask that question, we're looking at things the wrong way.  The question is not why God allows bad things to happen to us.  The question, really, is why sometimes God has good things happen to us.

Think about it.  I'm guessing that everyone here has had some good things happen to them that they did not earn and do not deserve.  I know I have.  I've had lots of them, way more than I have time to talk about this morning.  If I tried to tell you about all the good things I've had happen to me that were none of my doing and that I did not earn and did not deserve, we'd be here all day and you'd get really mad, because you want to go down and have dinner.  And so do I, so I won't do it.

Most of the time, though, we take those things for granted.  When good things happen that we don't deserve, we don't ask, “Why did God let this happen to me?”  We don't say, “I don't deserve this.”  Oh, once in a while we do, if it's something really big or something that bails us out when we're really in trouble.  But even then, that feeling usually does not last.  We're grateful for a while, but then we go on about our business.

The thing is, when something bad happens and we ask that question, “Why did God let this happen to me?” what we're really implying is that God owes something to us.  We don't come right out and say it, but what we're really implying is that God owes it to us to give us good things.  We think giving us good things is what God's supposed to do, and so we don't think anything about it when God does it. That's why we take it for granted when we get those good things.  We think we're owed them.

The fact is, though, that God does not owe us anything.  Why would God owe us anything?  No matter how good we are, can we really do anything that will impress the almighty, all-good God?  Is there anything we can ever do for God that God could not do without us?  In fact, God could probably do it a lot easier and faster without us.  A lot of the time, we just get in God's way and slow God down.

In fact, if we think about it, the real question is why should God ever let anything good happen to us?  Why should God do anything for, as the song says, “a wretch like me”?  I cannot do anything to deserve it.  I mean, I'm not saying I'm this terrible, horrible person or anything, but no matter how good we are, can we really do anything that will impress the almighty, all-good God?  None of us can.  That's why grace is so amazing.  We cannot earn it.  We will never deserve it.  God has no reason to give it to us.  And yet, God gives us grace anyway.  It's such an incredible, amazing thing.

There's a lot more in this hymn than I can address in one message.  We could do a whole sermon series based on it, and maybe someday we will.  But for now, there's just one other thing I want to talk about that shows up in this hymn:  fear.

Fear can be such a paralyzing thing.  It plagues us all our lives.  When we're in school, fear can keep us from trying out for sports or music or drama.  We think, “What if the other kids don't think it's cool?  What if I'm no good at it?  What if everybody laughs at me?  What if the teacher makes fun of me?”  And so we don't try, and we never find out if we could've been any good or not.

It continues when we're adults.  Maybe we have a dream of getting a different job, or of starting our own business.  But we think, “What if it does not work out?  What if I mess it up?  What if I fail?  What if I get fired or go out of business?  What will everyone think of me?”  And so we don't try, and we never find out if our dream could've come true.

And it applies to our faith, too.  I assume that pretty much everyone here would call himself or herself a Christian.  But how often do we ever talk about that outside of this building?  How often do we bring up our faith in conversation with others?  How often do we invite someone to come to church with us?  I'm not saying we never do, but a lot of times we could and we don't.  Why not?  Fear.  We think, “What if they don't want to hear about my faith?  What if they think I'm some sort of Jesus freak or something?  What if me talking about my faith messes up our relationship or our being able to work together?  What if they make fun of me for my faith?”  And so we don't try, and we'll never know how many people we might've been able to help come to God or have a stronger faith.

What makes it so sad is that most of those times, our fears never come true.  And even if the things we're scared of happen, it's really not that big a deal.  What if we do find out we're not good at sports or music or drama?  So what?  We'll find something else we are good at.  What if we do fail at our dream?  So what?  Even in this economy, a person who's willing to work hard can always find a job somewhere and get back on their feet.

And what if someone does not want to hear about our faith?  So what?  They're not going to hate us for it, unless we get obnoxious about it.  I'm fifty-four years old, and I've lived in six different places, and I've met a lot of people, and I've never once had someone dislike me because I'm a Christian.  They've disliked me for other reasons, but not that one.  I'm not saying it could not happen, but around here, especially, it's pretty unlikely.

I have lots of relationships with people who don't go to church.  Some of them don't believe in God at all.  So we talk about other things.  Maybe, some day, when they see how a Christian lives, and see the joy our faith gives us, they'll get curious about it and want to know more.  Maybe they won't.  But we can still be friends.

        As Christians, we don't have to be afraid.  God has seen us through many dangers, toils, and snares.  And God will keep doing that.  So let's do what God wants us to do, and let's do it without fear.  God's grace has brought us safe thus far.  And God's grace will lead us home.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Not Just a Fish Story

This is the message from the WOW (Worship on Wednesday) service in Gettysburg August 21. 2013.  The Bible verses used are Jonah 1:1-2:1, 2:10-4:1, 4:5-11.

Jonah's story is another one of those stories that almost everybody knows, at least a little bit.  It's one of those cute Sunday school stories a lot of us heard when we were kids.  We think we know Jonah got swallowed by a whale, although the actual term is “big fish” rather than “whale”.  We know he was in there for three days and then got out.

What got Jonah in trouble, of course, is that God told him to do something and he did not want to do it.  Can you relate to that?  Have you ever felt like God was telling you to do something that you did not want to do?  I'll bet there are some people here who have.  I have.  How did you respond?  Did you do it anyway?  Did you run away?  Did you just try to put God off?  What did you do?

Well, we know what Jonah did.  Jonah ran away.  He got on a boat that was headed in the opposite direction.  He thought he could get away from God.  And, of course, God did not let him do it.

Now, as I've said with other Old Testament stories, I don't want to get into whether we're supposed to believe this story is literally true.  To me, the interesting question is, why is this story in the Bible?  What are we supposed to learn from it?

As with most of the stories in the Bible, there are lots of things we can learn.  I'm not going to guarantee that I'll him all of them tonight.  Here, though, are some of the things we can learn from this story.

One of them is that when God calls someone, God does not necessarily call the great and the powerful.  A lot of times, God calls ordinary people.

We're not told that there was anything special about Jonah that made him the only person who could give this message to Ninevah.  We're not told that there was anything special about Jonah at all.  As far as we know, he was not known as a great prophet.  He was not anything.  All we know about him is that he was the “son of Amittai”.  And Amittai was no big deal, either.  The only thing we know about him from the Bible is that he was Jonah's father.  

But God chose Jonah.  We don't know why God chose Jonah, but God chose Jonah.  And God told Jonah, “Here's what I want you to do.”

But that leads to another lesson, and that is that we do have free will.  We can refuse to do what God wants us to do.  We can choose to run away from God.  God does not force us to do anything.  God could.  I mean, God is God.  God is all-powerful.  God could force us to do things.  God could've forced Jonah.  God could've given Jonah no choice but to go to Ninevah.  But that's not what God did.  God gave Jonah a choice.  And Jonah refused to do what God wanted him to do.  He ran away.

A third lesson we can learn, though, is that when we do refuse to do what God wants us to do, that refusal has consequences.  It does not just have consequences for us.  It has consequences for everyone we come in contact with.

Think about all the things that happened as a result of Jonah not doing what God wanted him to do.  Think of what he put all those sailors on the boat through.  They went through a terrible storm.  It was so bad they thought the ship was going to break up.  They probably all thought they were going to die.  They had done nothing wrong.  They had done nothing to make God upset with them.  But they were with Jonah, and Jonah's refusal to do what God wanted him to do put their lives in jeopardy.

The fourth lesson we can learn is that, when we refuse to do what God wants us to do, it has consequences for us, too.  In Jonah's case, they were pretty serious consequences.  He must have thought he was going to die a few of times.  He probably thought he'd die in the storm.  When he survived that, he probably thought he'd drown.  When the fish swallowed him, he must have surely thought that was the end.

But it wasn't.  And that brings us to the fifth lesson we can learn from this story:  God loves us, but God sometimes makes us deal with the consequences of our actions.  That's the tough love we talked about when we talked about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  God would not have had to make Jonah go through all the things he did.  God could've not given him any consequences at all.  Or, God could've rescued Jonah sooner than he did.  But if God had done that, Jonah would not have learned anything.  Jonah would not have come back to God.  Jonah would've just kept running, going here, going there, going anywhere he had to go to get away from the Lord.  And that would not have been good for Jonah or anyone else.

But here's the good news, in the sixth lesson we can learn from this story:  God never gives up on us.  God could've just let Jonah go.  God could've found someone else to deliver God's message to Ninevah.  But God was not going to just let Jonah go, just like God does not just let any of us go, when we refuse to do what God wants us to do.  God loves us too much to do that.  God keeps after us.  God does whatever is necessary to get our attention and to get us to turn around and ask for forgiveness and follow God.

And there's a seventh lesson we can learn from this.  God's love and forgiveness does not just extend to us.  It extends to everyone.  It extends even to people we don't like very much.  And God expects us to give everyone love and forgiveness, too.  And we're also supposed to extend that love and forgiveness to people we don't like very much.

Think about it.  If there was ever someone who should've been grateful to God for God's love and God's forgiveness, it would've been Jonah, right?   But look what happened.  Jonah finally went to Ninevah and delivered God's message.  And the people of Ninevah repented and asked God's forgiveness.  And God gave it to them and did not destroy them.  And who was upset about that?  Jonah!

We don't know what Jonah had against the people of Ninevah, but he obviously had something.  He was really mad at God when God did not destroy Ninevah.  In fact, Jonah says to God, “See?  I knew this would happen.  I knew if I told the people of Ninevah you were going to destroy them, they'd repent and you'd never go through with it.”  Jonah was happy to receive God's love and forgiveness, but he was not willing to extend that same love and forgiveness to the people of Ninevah, and he did not want God doing it, either.

So how do we apply this to our lives?  Well, let's go back to the questions I asked at the beginning.  Have you ever felt like God was telling you to do something you did not want to do?  If so, how did you respond?

Because I will guarantee that there is something God wants each one of us to do.  Maybe we're already doing it.  Maybe we're not.  But there is something God wants each one of us to do.  God calls ordinary people to do God's work.

God will not force us to obey, but if we don't, there will be consequences.  Those consequences don't just affect us, they affect others, too.  God will make us deal with those consequences, but God does not give up on us.  God still keeps after us, doing whatever is necessary to get us to turn around and ask for forgiveness and follow God.  When we ask for God's love and forgiveness God will give it to us.  But God expects us to give that same love and forgiveness to others.

The story of Jonah is not just a cute kids' story about a guy who got swallowed by a fish.  It's a story about our relationship with God.  So the next time we feel God telling us to do something, let's remember this story.  And let's go ahead and do what God wants us to do.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Don't Quit!

This is the message from the Oahe Manor service Sunday, August 18, 2013.  The Bible verses are Hebrews 11:29-12:2.

Life can be hard.  That's probably not exactly news to anyone here, but it's true.  Life can be hard.

Because life can be hard, it can be easy to get discouraged.  And when we get discouraged, it can be easy for us to start doubting God.  We start wondering if God hears our prayers, especially when we've been praying for a while and we don't see anything getting better.  We start wondering if God really understands what we're going through, and if so, whether God actually cares.  Sometimes, we can start wondering if God even exists at all.

Our reading from Hebrews today gives us some help when we feel that way.  For those of you who were at the communion service a week and a half ago, this scripture actually is a continuation of the one we did then.  The author of Hebrews has just gone through a long list of people were able to keep their faith despite the obstacles they faced.  He points out that all those people were ultimately rewarded for their faith.

In today's reading, the author goes through even more of that, but in a much more summary fashion.  He says he does not have time to cite all the examples of people who've kept their faith in spite of obstacles and have been rewarded for it.  He refers to them as a “cloud of witnesses”, and then he says this:  Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

I don't know about you, but for me, that image really helps.  Paul says our lives are a race.  I think of it as a marathon.

Have you ever watched a marathon on TV, like in the Olympics or something?  It starts out with there being a huge crowd around.  Everyone is lining the streets, cheering the runners on.  The starting gun goes off, and everyone starts running, and everyone is shouting encouragement.  And they get off to a good start.

But then, as they go along, the crowd thins out.  There are fewer people around to cheer us on.  Sometimes there's hardly anybody.  That's when it really gets hard.  That happens in our lives sometimes.  There are times when we feel like we're out there all alone, when it seems like there's no one around to give us encouragement or help.  Those are the times when it can get really hard to keep going.

Now, there are places along the way where people gather.  You've seen that, too.  There are places where people will give the runners some water or Gatorade or something.  And that happens in our lives, too.  There are times, just when we're starting to feel really tired, when we get some help.  We get some encouragement.  We get refreshed and restored and it helps us keep going again.

But that only lasts so long.  After a while, we can start to get tired again.  We can start to get discouraged.  It seems like we've going for a long time, and yet we still cannot see the finish line.  We know the finish line has to be out there, somewhere, but we don't know where.  We don't know how far away it is.  And we're getting tired.  And there seems to be no one around who cares and who wants to help us.  And sometimes, we feel like we'd just like to quit.

Now, I don't know, but I suspect some of you probably feel like that sometimes.  It would be pretty natural.  You have lived a long time.  And you are getting tired.  And you're battling physical limitations that make your lives hard.  And sometimes you feel like there's no one around who cares and who wants to help.  And you feel like you want to quit.

But God does not want you to quit.  There is no person on the earth who is not here for some reason.  The fact that you're still here shows that God still wants you to be here.  God still has things God wants you to do.  God understands that you're tired, and that your lives can be hard sometimes, but  God does not want you to quit.

That's why the author of Hebrews says we have to run the race with perseverance.  Perseverance means “to keep going in spite of difficulties.”  It means to keep going “in spite of obstacles”.  It means to keep going “in spite of discouragement.”  To persevere means to keep going, no matter what.

If we do that, we'll get to the finish line.  Not only will we get there, but we'll be able to finish strong.  And when we do, we'll see that great cloud of witnesses.  We'll see all those people who've gone before us.  We'll see all those people the author of Hebrews told us about, people who kept their faith in spite of all the obstacles and were rewarded for it.  They'll be there cheering us on, welcoming us to the finish line.

And of course, you know who else is at that finish line.  Jesus Christ.  That's why we're told to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Jesus has already run this race.  He prepared the way for each one of us to run it, too.  And Jesus is standing there at the finish line, leading that cloud of witnesses in their cheers, and waiting to welcome us over that finish line and into heaven.

Life can be hard.  As we run the race, we can get tired.  We can get discouraged.  But don't quit.  Keep going.  Persevere.  Get to that finish line.  All the greatest heroes of the Bible are cheering us on.  And at the finish line is Jesus himself, waiting for us to cross that finish line and give us our reward.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What a Friend!

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish Sunday, August 18, 2013.  The Bible verses used are John 15:9-17 and Matthew 26:45-50.

As we continue looking at the top songs from our Hymn Hysteria tournament earlier this year, today we're going to talk about What a Friend We Have In Jesus.  This song made it to the Final Four of our tournament, defeating Crown Him With Many Crowns, Jesus Loves Me, He Lives, and even The Old Rugged Cross before losing to How Great Thou Art in the semi-finals.

The words to What a Friend We Have in Jesus were written in 1855 by Joseph M. Scriven.  The tune was written by Charles C. Converse in 1868.  Neither of them wrote any other hymns that are in our hymnal.

Joseph M. Scriven was born in Ireland in 1819 and moved to Canada in 1844.  He never married—he was twice engaged, and had both women pass away before they were married, one by drowning on the eve of their wedding and the other of pneumonia.  After that, Scriven decided to dedicate his life to helping others.  He worked as a teacher and a laborer, but gave away pretty much everything he ever had.

Scriven wrote the words to What a Friend We Have in Jesus as a poem to comfort his mother when she was very ill.  He never thought it would go any farther than that.  He had no idea that the words would be published, set to music, and become a hymn that's still incredibly popular over a hundred fifty years later.

Charles C. Converse was born in Massachusetts.  He was a lawyer who also wrote church music.  He wrote a number of other songs, but none of them ever became famous.  It's not clear when or how he heard of Scriven's poem, but he wrote the tune for it that we still sing today.

It's a wonderful thing, of course, to have Jesus as our friend.  I wonder, though, if we really think often enough about what an incredible, almost unbelievable thing it is that Jesus is our friend.  I mean, most of our friends are people whom we have stuff in common with.  Most of our friends are people we respect and think well of.

Now, think about who Jesus is.  Jesus is the divine Son.  Jesus is God, part of the trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is perfect in every way.

Then, think about who you and I are.  We are, um, not perfect.  Not even close.  We're selfish.  We're easily distracted.  We don't understand what's going on most of the time.  We're weak, sinful people.

When you think of that comparison, we really have almost nothing in common with Jesus.  There's no reason Jesus should respect us.  There's no reason Jesus should think well of us.  And yet, Jesus is our friend.  Jesus wants to be our friend.

And if you doubt that, look at the Bible verses we read today.  Start with the reading from John.  Jesus is talking to the disciples here.  And Jesus calls them his friends.  He specifically says, I'm not calling you my servants.  I'm calling you my friends.  And he says, you did not choose me.  I chose you.  I picked you.  I selected you, specifically, to be my friends.

Now, maybe you say, well, but that was the disciples.  Those were the guys in the inner circle.  Of course, those guys were Jesus' friends.  But think about it.  Who were the disciples, when Jesus chose them?  They were nobody special.  They were just ordinary people, people like you and me.  Some of them were fishermen.  One was a tax collector.  A lot of them, we don't even know what they did.  They were not famous people even while they were alive.

If they had not been chosen by Jesus, nobody would ever have heard of them.  They'd just have been twelve people who lived and died, twelve people out of the billions who've been alive on this planet since the earth began.

Jesus chose ordinary, anonymous people to be his friends.  Jesus still chooses ordinary, anonymous people to be his friends.  People who are nobody special.  People who work on farms, or in stores, or in factories.  People who own businesses, people who are retired, people who are teachers or nurses or bankers.  People who are unemployed or on welfare.  Even people who've been lawyers and preachers.  People like you and me.

And here's the other thing that's incredible, and almost unbelievable, about the fact that Jesus is our friend.  When one of our friends hurts us, do we still consider that person a friend?  Maybe, but it sure puts a strain on the relationship, right?  The closeness is gone.  Sometimes we can get past it.  Sometimes we can forgive and forget.  Sometimes, eventually, the relationship can be repaired.  It takes time, though.  And the deeper the hurt is, the harder it is and the longer it takes.  And if that hurt is the result of a betrayal, that's the hardest thing of all.  It's really hard for us to have someone betrays us and still consider them our friend.

Now look at our reading from Matthew.  Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He's about to be arrested.  This will lead to his being beaten and tortured and eventually killed in a very painful way.  Jesus knows this is going to happen.  He's just prayed that if the Father can find some other way to bring salvation, that God do it that way.  But Jesus knows that's not going to happen.  Jesus makes up his mind to go through with it.

He sees Judas coming with the crowd, with the guards and the priests and the elders.  Jesus watches Judas come up to him.  He hears Judas greet him.  He allows Judas to kiss him, which is the pre-arranged signal Judas had with the guards.

What would we have said to Judas, if we were in Jesus' place?  I mean, even if we were determined to go through with this, the way Jesus did, we would not have been happy about it, would we?  After all, even Jesus was not really happy about it.  So what would we have said?  Would we have gotten mad at Judas?  Would we have warned him about the consequences of what he was doing?  Would we have threatened him?  You and I might have done any of those things and more, if we were in Jesus' place.

I'm guessing none of us would've said what Jesus said.  Jesus said, “Friend, do what you came for.”

Jesus called even Judas his friend.  After everything Judas had just done.  After Judas had just betrayed him.  After Judas had just set into motion all this terrible pain and suffering that Jesus was going to have to go through.  With this betrayal just brand new and fresh, with no time passing whatsoever, Jesus called Judas—Judas—his friend.

What a friend we do have in Jesus.  A friend who will always be our friend.  Jesus will be our friend no matter what we do.  Jesus will be our friend no matter what we say.  Jesus will be our friend no matter what we feel or think.  There is nothing we can do that will make Jesus stop being our friend.  As the song says, we cannot find a friend so faithful as Jesus Christ.

Jesus does bear our sins and griefs.  He carried them to the cross.  It is such a privilege to be Jesus' friend.  Jesus shares all our sorrows.  He knows our every weakness, and yet he still is our friend.  He'll carry our burdens for us.  He'll be our friend even if no one else will.  Jesus will take us into his arms and shield us from everything.

Jesus is our friend no matter what.  But if we really want the full benefits of that friendship, we need to do one thing.  Our song says it, over and over again.  You probably know what it is.  We need to go to Jesus in prayer.

Jesus wants to carry our sins and griefs and burdens for us.  But he cannot carry them for us if we won't give them up.  Think about it.  Have you ever seen someone struggling to carry something, and you offer to help them, and they say, “No, no, I can do it myself.”  And they keep struggling, and you offer again, and they say, “No, no, that's all right, I can handle it.”  We want to help, we want to keep them from struggling, but they won't let us help.

I think that's how it is for Jesus sometimes.  Jesus wants to help us.  Jesus offers to help us.  Sometimes, I think Jesus even begs us to let him help us.  But we don't let him.  We keep insisting on struggling along with the burdens we carry, instead of giving them up to Jesus.  As the song says, we forfeit peace, and we suffer needless pain, by not giving these things to the Lord in prayer.

So what I'd ask you to do, right now, is take a minute.  Think about something you're struggling with.  It could be anything.  You know what it is.  Take that thing, right now, and let it go.  Do what our song says.  Go to Jesus in prayer and give it to him.  Take it to the Lord in prayer.  Do it now.  We'll take a minute to let you.

[a minute of silence comes here]

We will never, in all our lives, have a better friend than Jesus.  A friend who wants to carry our sins, and our griefs, and our burdens.  A friend who knows our every weakness, and who still wants to be our friend.  A friend who is so faithful that no matter what we do to him, even when we deny him, even when we completely betray him, is still our friend.

That's the kind of friend Jesus is.  It's incredible.  It's unbelievable.  But it's true.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's Huge!

This is the message from the WOW (Worship on Wednesday) service in Gettysburg on August 14, 2013.  The Bible verses used are 1 Samuel 17:1-50.

One of the most famous stories in the Bible is the story of David and Goliath.  It's a phrase that's become part of our language.  If you refer to a ball game or some other kind of contest as “a battle between David and Goliath”, everyone knows what you mean.  Even people who've never read the Bible and don't even know where the phrase comes from know that Goliath represents the giant and David represents the little guy.
Goliath is definitely described as a giant.  He's described as being six cubits and a span tall, which would be somewhere around nine and a half feet.  Even if you want to say that's an exaggeration, he was clearly way taller than anyone else around.  
And not surprisingly, everyone was scared to death of him.  King Saul had offered huge wealth to anyone who could kill Goliath.  He even offered to let anyone who killed wealth marry into the royal family.  And maybe best of all, that person's whole family would never have to pay taxes again.  You and your whole family would be set for life and for generations to come if you would just go kill Goliath.
And no one would try it.  Think about that.  I mean, people are not that different today than they were thousands of years ago.  There are always daredevils around.  There are people today who'll walk a tightrope over the Grand Canyon.  There are people who'll go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  There was a thing on the news last week about some guy at the Sturgis rally who was trying to set a record for riding a motorcycle through a tunnel of fire.
There's always somebody who'll take almost any kind of risk we can imagine, especially if there's money or fame involved.  And yet, despite all the wealth someone would get if they could kill Goliath, nobody would even try.  It did not matter what King Saul offered, because nobody thought they even had a chance to actually succeed.  Goliath challenged them every day for forty days, and nobody dared to even try to take him on.
And then David comes along.  Now, the reason David was not part of the army to begin with was that he was the youngest son.  The older ones had all gone off to war, but David stayed behind because somebody had to look after the sheep.  When Jesse, David's father, sent David out to see his brothers, it was not with the idea that David was going to do any fighting.  There's no reason to think David expected to fight, either.  He was just supposed to take some supplies out to his brothers, find out how they were doing, and report back to his dad.
And yet, David was the one who ended up fighting Goliath.  This young kid, this kid who was not even part of the army, who did not even have his own battle gear, went out and fought this huge giant no one else would fight.  And he fought him without a sword, without any armor, without any protection whatsoever.  All he had were five stones and a way to throw them.
We talked last week about how God's message to Joshua was that he be strong and courageous.  David certainly got that message.  I guess we don't know how strong he was physically, but he was certainly mentally and spiritually strong, and he had more courage than anyone else around.
But how did he do it?  How was David able to go out and do something that no one else had the courage to do no matter how much they were offered to do it?
David, I think, looked at this whole situation differently from anybody else.  [Slide 7--Goliath]  Everybody else who was there looked out across the valley and saw this giant.  He was huge.  He was mean.  He was huge.  He was fearless.  He was huge.  He was strong and powerful.  And did I mention he was huge?  That was what everybody else saw.  And it terrified them.  
But that's not what David saw.  David saw someone who was standing in the way of the will of God.  David was convinced that God wanted the people of Israel, his people, to defeat Golaith and the Philistines.  And David believed that nothing can stand up to the will of God.  David believed that if he trusted God, God would make him able to defeat Goliath, because David would be doing God's will.
That's why it's so important to note that David went after Goliath without any sword and without any armor.  The Bible tells us David could not get comfortable in the king's armor, and I'm sure that's true, but I think there's more to it than that.
See, if David had gone after Goliath wearing full battle gear, and if he'd defeated Goliath that way, what would everyone have thought?  They'd have thought, wow, David must be a lot stronger than he looks.  David must be a really mighty warrior.  They'd have given all the glory to David.  But when David went out there with no protection whatsoever and beat Goliath by slinging stones at him, well, everyone knew that the only way that could have happened was if God did it.  David got some credit, and he deserved it, but everyone knew David had succeeded because God was with him.
Most of us will never have to battle a huge, mean, powerful giant.  But we all have to battle something in our lives.  Sometimes, we may have physical enemies we need to fight, and that's hard.  
There are lots of other types of battles we have to fight, though.  Sometimes we fight illness or injury.  Sometimes we fight temptation.  Sometimes, there are all kinds of obstacles in our path, and we think we'll never be able to find a way around them.  Sometimes, we have to battle ourselves, overcoming our own doubts or fears or our own sinful nature.  Sometimes, those battles are the hardest to fight of all.
When that happens, it'll help us to remember this story.  The temptation is to be like the rest of the army.  The temptation is to focus on the size of the enemy or the obstacle.  The temptation is to see how huge that enemy or obstacle is and be terrified of it.  The temptation is to think that the enemy or obstacle is so huge that there's no way we can ever defeat it.  And so, the temptation is to not even try.
What we need to do, in that situation, is to try to find what God's will is.  That's not always easy.  Sometimes it takes a lot of time in prayer.  Sometimes it takes really thinking about the situation.  Sometimes it takes really opening our hearts to God and trying to see where God is leading us.  It can take time, but if we truly seek God's will, rather than trying to get God to do our will, God's will eventually gets revealed to us.  Not everything, but enough to show us what we're supposed to do.
But then comes the hardest part of all.  After we've seen what God wants us to do, we need to actually do it.  We need to have the faith to trust that nothing can stand up to the will of God.  We need to have the faith to believe that no battle is too hard for God to win.  We need to have the faith to believe that no obstacle is too big for God to overcome.  We need to have the faith to believe that, if we trust God, God will see to it that we win the battle and overcome the obstacle, because we're doing God's will.
It can be hard to have that much faith.  It can be hard even if we believe in God.  David's brothers believed in God, but they did not have that much faith.  Neither did anyone else in the army.  Even King Saul, who certainly believed in God, did not have enough faith to do what David did.
David had nothing on his side.  No physical power, no weapons, no nothing.  All David had on his side was the will of God.  And it was enough.
I would guess that everyone here is facing an obstacle of some kind in our lives.  It may look like a giant.  It may look huge.  We may feel like we have nothing to fight our battle with, no way to overcome that obstacle.  We may be terrified, just like King Saul and all of his army was terrified.
But we do have something.  We have God.  If we seek God's will, and do God's will, God will be there for us.  And we'll overcome the obstacle.  We'll defeat the giant.  Because nothing can stand up to the will of God.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Resisting Hypothetical Temptation

I'd like to do a little thought experiment.  I'll apply it to my job; you apply it to yours.

Suppose there was a drug we could take that would make us better at our jobs.  In my case, it would make me a better speaker and a better writer.  It would give me greater vision for the future and greater understanding of God's will for my life and the life of the church.  It would help me better deal with conflicts within the church.  It would give me more energy to visit people and help me find the right thing to say when I did.  You can think of the ways it would make you better at your job.

Now, this drug does have side effects.  However, we're not sure what all of them are yet.  Besides, many of those side effects won't affect us for many years, if they ever do.

Would you take it?

Before you answer, think about all the benefits there would be from being better at our jobs.  In my case, there are many.  From a spiritual standpoint, I would be better able to serve the Lord and bring more people to Christ.  From a personal standpoint, I would have the satisfaction of knowing that I was really good at my job, of having the churches of which I'm the pastor grow, and of feeling that I am doing what God wants me to do.  From a material standpoint, I might be able to make more money and have more opportunities within the conference.  Again, you can think of the benefits it would give you in your job.

The benefits we get from being good at our jobs is not insubstantial.  I assume all pastors would like to be better able to serve the Lord and bring people to Christ.  It is extremely satisfying to see your church grow and to feel you played a part in that growth.  I have no particular desire to have more opportunities within the conference—I'm very happy with where I am and what I'm doing—and I really have no complaints about my salary.  On the other hand, though, if I was to be offered a raise, I don't suppose I'd turn it down—I have bills to pay just like everyone else.  And again, you can apply these things to your situation.

So I ask you again, would you take it?  I'm not so sure I wouldn't.

The reason I started thinking about this, as you may have guessed, is the case of Alex Rodriguez.  For those of you who don't follow sports, Alex Rodriguez is a star baseball player.  He is also accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs which are against the rules of major league baseball.  For this, he has been suspended from playing baseball for the rest of this year and all of next, although he is appealing his suspension and continues to play while the appeal is pending.

Now, I am not defending breaking the rules.  When we purposely and deliberately break the rules, which is what Alex Rodriguez is accused of doing, we need to be ready to accept the consequences of doing so.

        The thing is, though, that lots of people, including some national sportswriters and sports broadcasters, are treating Alex Rodriguez as if he was the worst person on the planet.  Why?  He didn't kill anyone, as pro football player Aaron Hernandez is accused of doing.  He didn't even injure anyone.  All he did, if he did it, is take a drug that would make him better at his job and therefore help his team when more games.

That doesn't make it right, of course.  But the point is that it's really easy to criticize someone else for giving in to a temptation that we don't expect to be tempted by ourselves.  It's easy to say, “If I won the lottery I'd never spend the money on frivolous material things, I'd give it to the poor”, because most of us don't expect to actually win the lottery.  It's easy to say, “If I was in Congress I'd never compromise my principles” because most of us don't expect to actually be in Congress.  And it's easy to say, “If I was a professional athlete I'd never use performance-enhancing drugs” because most of us will never be professional athletes.  That's why I asked you to relate this to something that most of us might actually be tempted to do.

The reason Jesus told us to pray to not be led into temptation is that temptation is hard for us to resist.  All of fail to resist it at various times.  That doesn't make it right, but it does mean we should not be so quick to judge others when they fail to resist.  We're probably better off to deal with our own struggles with temptation, and leave judgment up to God.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Yeah, You!

This is the message from the WOW (Worship on Wednesday) service in Gettysburg August 7, 2013.  The Bible verses used are Joshua 1:1-9, 6:1-17a, 20-21a.

We're going to focus on Joshua tonight, but before we talk about Joshua, I want to talk a little bit about Moses.  Moses was a great prophet. In fact,  a lot of people would say he was the greatest prophet ever.  Moses is not only considered the most important prophet of the Jewish faith, he is also considered an important prophet of the Christian faith, an important prophet of the Muslim faith, and an important prophet in many other faiths as well.

Now, Moses was not just a prophet.  Moses was a political and religious leader.  He was the one who led the nation of Israel out of Egypt.  He was the one who defeated the might and powerful Pharaoh, the strongest political leader of the time.  He was the one who led Israel during all its years in the wilderness.

Moses was also the lawgiver.  He was the one who talked directly to God.  He was the one to whom God gave the Ten Commandments, which we talked about last week.  The law that's found in the first five books of the Bible is called “the law of Moses.”  By tradition, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible.

So that, very quickly, is who Moses was.  And as our story opens tonight, Moses has led Israel to the brink of the Promised Land, the land God had promised would be theirs for forty years.  They're so close that if you go climb a mountain you can see it.  And then Moses dies.  And God says to Joshua, okay, it's up to you now.  You take Moses' place and lead the people into the Promised Land and defeat anybody who's in your way.

And Joshua says, “Who, me?”

Well, we don't know that Joshua actually said that.  It would not surprise me, though.  How would you feel?  The greatest man, the greatest leader you've ever known, the greatest man and the greatest leader anybody you know has ever known, has died, and you're the one who's supposed to take his place.  And not only are you supposed to take his place, you're supposed to do what that great man could not do.  You're supposed to lead the people into the Promised Land and take on all the armies of the people who are already there and defeat them.

“Who, me?” is certainly what I would've said.  And even if Joshua never said it, there must have been a part of him that felt it.  So, God gives Joshua a pep talk.  That's the first part of the scripture that we read tonight.

God tells Joshua that Joshua is going to be able to do all this stuff, whether he thinks he can or not.  He'll be able to do it because God will be with him.  He tells Joshua that God will be with him just as much as God was with Moses.  Because God will be with him, Joshua will be able to do all the stuff God has told him to do.  He'll be able to defeat all the armies of all the people that are living in the land.  God will make it happen.  All Joshua has to do, God says, is be strong, be courageous, and do everything God tells him to do.

So, they cross over and come to Jericho.  And God says to Joshua, “Here's how you're going to defeat Jericho.  You and the rest of the people march around the city once a day for six days.  On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, and this time have the priests blow the trumpets.  When you've done that, have everybody scream real loud, and the protective walls that are around Jericho will fall down and you can destroy it.”

And Joshua says, “Say what?”

Now, again, we don't know that Joshua actually said that.  But I would have.  “You want me to do what?  And that's going to make what happen?  Uh, God, I think we have a bad connection here.  It sounded like you just said that we'll defeat Jericho by marching around the city a certain number of times, blowing some trumpets, and yelling as loud as we can.  I must've heard wrong.  We both know
that's not any kind of military strategy.  So now, tell me what the real plan is.”

In fact, though, if Joshua had any doubts about what God told him to do, the Bible does not say so.  The Bible tells us that Joshua was strong, and was courageous, and did everything God told him to do.  He had everyone march around the city, he had them blow the trumpets, he had them give a loud shout, and sure enough, the walls came down.  And the people of Israel destroyed Jericho.

We talk a lot in church about how we need to trust God.  What we forget to say is that, a lot of times, that's not an easy thing to do.  Sometimes God asks us to do some really hard things.  Sometimes God asks us to do things we really don't want to do.  Sometimes God tells us to do things nobody thinks we can do.  Sometimes God tells us to do things we don't think we can do, and that we'd really rather not even try to do.  Sometimes God tells us to do something, and we say, “Who, me?”  And sometimes God tells us to do things that don't make sense to us, and we say, “How's that again?  You want me to do what?  And that's going to make what happen?”

When that happens to you, remember that Joshua felt the same way.  The Bible does not tell us that Joshua was particularly eager to take over for the great Moses.  The Bible does not tell us that he was just chomping at the bit to be the one who led Israel into the Promised Land.  The Bible does not tell us that he had any desire to be a great military leader and lead an army against the powerful and well-defended city of Jericho.

God told Joshua to do something really hard.  It was something Joshua may not have wanted to do.  It was something he probably did not think he could do, something that he probably would rather not even have tried to do.  And yet, he did it.  He did it because he was strong, he was courageous, and he did what God told him to do.

And you and I can do that, too.  Because all of us, at various points in our lives, are asked by God to do things that we think we cannot do and that we may not really want to do.  Maybe it's taking a leadership role on some project.  Maybe it's trying a different job.  Maybe it's volunteering our time and our talent.  Or, the thing we're asked to do by God may not be a thing at all.  We may be asked by God to raise a child that is not ours.  We may be asked by God to face cancer or some other disease.  I'm not saying God specifically gives diseases to certain people, because I don't believe that.  But God allows it to happen sometimes, and God asks us to face it.

We get asked by God to do stuff that's hard, that's scary, and that we really don't want to do.  And what God says to us is the same thing God said to Joshua.  God says, “You can do this, whether you think you can or not.  You'll be able to do it because I will be with you.  I'll be with you just as much as I was with Moses, and just as much as I was with Joshua, and just as much as I was with any other great hero of the Bible you can name.  Because I'll be with you, you'll be able to do all the stuff I've told you to do.  I'll make it happen.  All you have to do is be strong, be courageous, and do everything I tell you to do.”

It's not easy to trust God that much.  It's not easy to be that strong.  It's not easy to be that courageous.  It's not easy to do everything God tells us to do when we did not want to face something in the first place and we really don't think we can succeed and when what God's asking us to do does not really make a whole lot of sense.

But we can do it.  We can do it just like those great people in the Bible did.  Because you know, they were not great people before God called them.  Moses was a shepherd.  Joshua was Moses' second-in-command, but he'd never actually been in charge of anything before.  But God was with them, and with God's help, they succeeded.

God makes the same promise to us that God made to Joshua.  God promises us that we can face anything, whether we think we can or not.  We can do it, because God is with us.  All we have to do is be strong, be courageous, and do what God tells us to do.  If we do that, God will take care of the rest.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Technology at the Awkward Age

I'm at that awkward age.  I'm not old, at least not if you measure old by Social Security age or something similar.  But I'm not young, either.  I'm really not even middle-aged, unless I plan to live to be a hundred and nine.  Actually, I do plan to live to be a hundred and nine, but the plan involves hitching a ride on the TARDIS and absorbing some of the energy of the space-time vortex, so there's a chance it may not actually happen.

Anyway, when you get to be my age, it gets hard to keep up with current technology.  Part of the problem is simply time.  There are job responsibilities, there are family responsibilities, there are community responsibilities, and there just isn't as much time as there used to be to keep up with stuff.  There's another thing that happens, though.  At my age, not only do you have less time to keep up with current technology, you lose your desire to do so.

See, when you're young and something new comes along, you're reaction is one of excitement.  You say, “Wow!  Look at that!  That's cool!  I've got to have one of those!  I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet, and I'm not sure how useful it'll be, but who cares?  It's awesome!  I'm sure I'll figure out something I can do with it.”  And you get it, and most of the time you do figure out something you can do with it.

When you're my age, though, and something new comes along, you're reaction is one of skepticism and suspicion.  You say, “What do I want with that?  What good is that going to do me?  Why can't I just keep doing things the way I've been doing them?  The way I've been doing things works just fine.  I'm used to it.  There's nothing I can do with that thing that I can't do the old-fashioned way.  Why should I change?”  And so you don't get it, and you fall behind.

The problem with falling behind, of course, is that once you fall behind, you keep getting farther and farther behind.  Another new thing comes out, and then another, and then another.  And you feel like society has passed you by.

Understand, this is not something we make a conscious choice about.  No one wakes up one morning and says, “I think I'll start being suspicious of modern technology today.”  It's something that just kind of happens to us as we get older.  It happens very gradually.  It happens without us even realizing it.

Understand, too, that I'm not making a value judgment here.  There's no sin or virtue involved. I'm just saying this is the way things are.

If you've decided not to keep up with modern technology, that's your choice, and you're free to make it.  If you want to be the guy who still loves his old cassette player when the world has gone past CDs and is now all digital, that's fine.  If you want to be the person who stays home to watch their favorite TV show because they won't learn how to record shows, there's nothing wrong with that.  But understand the consequences of the choice you're making.  We can make a decision to step out of the modern world, but the world will not stop for us.  The world will keep on going.  We can choose not to be part of it, but we can't stop it.

So, I've decided to at least try to keep up.  I've been on twitter for some time.  I've got a smart phone now.  I haven't figured out what all I can do with it yet, but I'm going to learn.  At least, I'm going to try.

If we want to be relevant in today's world, we need to use today's technology.  So does the church.  It doesn't make us better or more virtuous or more holy.  But it does make it easier for us to relate to people.  And if the church wants to reach people, it needs to be able to relate to them.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Stay In Touch

This is the message given in Onida and Agar Sunday, August 4, 2013, and that will be given in Gettysburg Sunday, August 11, 2013.  The Bible verses used are Luke 8:20-36.

As we continue to look at the top hymns from our Hymn Hysteria tournament, today we're going to talk about He Touched Me.  He Touched Me reached the Final Four.  It did not have an easy road there, either.  It defeated such favorites as Fairest Lord Jesus, This Is My Father's World, I Love to Tell the Story, and Have Thine Own Way, Lord before finally losing to Amazing Grace in the semi-finals.
“He Touched Me” was written by Bill Gaither in 1963.  We talked about Bill Gaither and his wife, Gloria, a few weeks ago, when we talked about the hymn “Because He Lives”.  Gaither wrote "He Touched Me" after a revival meeting he'd been asked to play the piano for.  After the meeting, he was riding home with the speaker, Dr. Dale Oldham. They were talking about how deeply they had felt the Holy Spirit at the meeting.  Oldham told Gaither, “You should write a song that says, 'He touched me, oh, he touched me.” Gaither could not get those words out of his head, and so he stayed up all night and into the next morning writing this song.  It was soon recorded by Gaither's own group, but it's also been recorded by many other people, including Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand.
Of course, the gospels have a lot of examples of the healing power of Jesus' touch. We heard a couple of examples of that in our Bible reading today.  Once Jesus' ability to heal became known, people crowded around him.  They swarmed around him.  The way it sounds, there were times Jesus could barely move because of all the people around him, trying to get his attention, desperately wanting Jesus to heal them.  Our reading tells us of a woman who pushes her way through the crowd, just trying to be able to touch the edge of Jesus' robe, because she's so confident that the touch of Jesus can heal her.
When we think of Jesus' healing, that's the sort of thing we usually think of: physical healing.  We think of Jesus allowing a blind man to see.  We think of Jesus making a paralyzed man walk.  We think of Jesus, as in another example in our Bible reading, bringing someone who's dead back to life.

Physical health is very important, of course.  Any time we lose it, we realize just how important it is.  When I was a kid, there was a Geritol commercial that said, “When you've got your health, you've got just about everything”.  I know that's pretty dated cultural reference, but there's still a lot of truth in that.  Most of the people on our prayer list are there because they're having problems with their physical health, and we're asking the Lord to heal them.
But as important as our physical health is, it's not the only kind of health we need, or even necessarily the most important kind.  We can be very healthy physically, but still feel sick inside.  We can be the picture of physical health, but still be hurting terribly.
And that's why Jesus is sometimes called the great healer.  Jesus did not just heal people physically.  He healed them emotionally and spiritually, too.  When Jesus touched someone, he did not just make them feel better physically.  He made them whole.  He truly healed them, inside and out.  And he still does.
That's what our song, “He Touched Me”, talks about.  It talks about being wounded spiritually.  It talks about carrying around this heavy load, this burden of guilt and shame.

A lot of us have felt like that at one time or another.  We know how far short we fall of who we should be.  We may not like to talk about it, we may not want to admit it to anybody, we may not even want to admit it to ourselves, but we know.  Deep down, we know.  And we feel guilty about it.  We feel ashamed of who we are.  And that hurts.  It's not a good feeling at all.
And then, as the song says, Jesus comes along.  Jesus touches us.  Jesus comes into our hearts and into our lives.  And when that happens, as the song says, we are no longer the same.  We change.  Everything about our lives changes.
It changes because that heavy burden is gone.  Remember, Jesus said we should come to him with our heavy burdens, and he will give us rest.  When Jesus touches us, when Jesus takes away that burden of guilt and shame, we get rest.  We get peace.  We get a peace that fills our hearts and fills our souls and gives us a joy we've never known before.  It's a joy that floods our soul.  Because when Jesus touches us, we feel whole, maybe for the first time in our lives.

I think the reason we love the song “He Touched Me” so much is that it speaks to the emotion and the spirit.  It recognizes that our faith is not a matter of the head.  It's not a matter of the intellect.  Our heads are involved, of course.  I'm not saying we should shut our minds off.  God asks for faith, but God does not ask for blind faith.  God expects us to use the brains God gave us.  Still, the song is “He Touched Me”.  It's not “He Taught Me”. It's “He Touched Me”.  There's a reason for that.

Remember, when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, what he said?  He did not say, “Memorize as much scripture as you can.”  He did not say, “Study the Bible every day.”  He did not say, “Understand everything there is to understand about God.”

What did he say?  Love God.  Love other people.  Jesus said the greatest commandment is love.

Love is an emotion.  Love is a matter of the heart.  Love is a matter of the soul.  The head is still involved, of course.  But it's like the Apostle Paul wrote.  We can be the greatest geniuses in the world, we can be the biggest achievers in the world, we can even be the biggest givers in the world, but if we don't act out of love, it does not amount to anything.  It's all meaningless.

The only way the things we do matter is if we do them out of love.  And the only way we can do things out of love is if the Lord has somehow touched our hearts and touched our souls.

So, has Jesus touched your heart?  Has Jesus touched your soul?  Has he touched mine?  These are not rhetorical questions.  They're among the most important questions we ever ask ourselves.

If we're not sure, there's a way we can tell.  The second verse of the song gives it to us.  It says that once Jesus has touched us and healed us and made us whole, “I will never cease to praise him.  I'll shout it while eternity rolls.”

That's how we feel if we have Jesus in our hearts.  That's how we feel if we have Jesus in our souls.  That's how we feel if Jesus has touched us and healed us.  Our souls our flooded with joy, and we cannot help but praise Jesus always.

Now maybe you're thinking, “Wait a minute.  Nobody can feel that kind of joy all the time.  It's not possible.  I believe in Jesus as my Savior, but I still get down sometimes.  I still get depressed sometimes.  That's just the way it is.”

And you're right.  It is.  It happens to me, too.  I mean, I think I'm a happy, optimistic person, but I'm certainly not filled with joy all the time.  Ask Wanda.  I get down sometimes, too.  I get depressed sometimes, too.  We're all human, and it happens.

But you know, the people who Jesus healed still got sick again at some point in their lives.  The people who Jesus raised from the dead did eventually die again, and this time they stayed dead.  Just because Jesus touches our lives once does not mean that we'll feel joy and peace forever.

But when that happens, when we get down, when we get depressed, we need to do what the woman in our Bible reading did.  We need to get back to Jesus.  We need to be touched by Jesus again.  And we need to do whatever we can to get close enough to him to have him touch us.  We need to open our hearts.  We need to pray.  We need to fight, ask, beg, plead, do anything we can to get back to Jesus.  To have him touch us again. To have him take away that burden of guilt and shame again.  To get that peace that fills our hearts and gives us that joy that make us want to do nothing but praise him again.

Each one of us needs to be healed.  Some of us need to be healed physically.  Some of us need to be healed emotionally.  Some of us need to be healed spiritually.  Some of us need all that and more, besides.

Whatever kind of healing we need, we need to go to Jesus.  We need to fight through the crowd.   We need to fight through anything that's between us and Jesus.  We need to open our hearts and our souls and let Jesus touch them.  When we do, Jesus will make us whole.  And we will no longer be the same.