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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fear Factor

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, February 28, 2016.  The Bible verses used are Matthew 12:1, 16-23,26-33.

            Our sermon series for Lent is called “Let’s Give It Up!”  We’re looking at what we should give up for Lent—not things that we should give up, but attitudes, feelings, behaviors that we need to give up because they’re keeping us from getting closer to God.  And today we’re going to talk about a big one:  fear.
            Do you know how many times the words “fear” or “afraid” show up in the Bible?  It depends on the exact translation you use, obviously, but in the New International Version “fear” shows up in the Bible three hundred thirty-six times.  “Afraid” is there two hundred five times.  And most of the time, it’s in the context of God telling someone not to fear, not to be afraid.  Obviously, fear is a huge factor in human life, and it has been for a long time.
            So what can we do about that?  How can we keep fear from playing such a big part in our lives?
            Before we get into that, a couple of things.  First, just as we said about guilt, there’s an extent to which fear is a good thing.  Fear is what keeps us from running in front of a speeding car.  Fear is what tells us to be careful when we’re driving.  Fear can be what keeps us from breaking the law.  A certain amount of fear can be a good thing, just because fear can keep us from doing dumb things.
            And second, I come to you today as someone who has felt a lot of fear in his life.  Not because I’ve led such a terrible life or anything like that.  I’m not saying that my fears were always legitimate.  But the fact is that for a lot of years I was a very shy person.  I had a really hard time interacting with people.  I had a lot of fears.
            And the thing is that when you feel fear, even if it’s an irrational fear, there’s really nothing anyone can say to you that will make the fear go away.  Here’s an example.  One of the fears I still deal with is that I really don’t like to fly.  Anyone else have that fear?  I can force myself to do it, but I’m never comfortable while we’re in the air, and I’m always very happy when I’m back on the ground.  And you can give me all the statistics about how safe air travel is, you can show my how I’m more likely to get killed in a car accident, you can show me how there’s an almost infinitesimally small chance of anything happening when I fly, and it won’t make any difference.  I’m still not going to like flying.  That’s just the way it is.
            But there are a few things that can help with fear.  Want to know what they are?  The first one is being prepared.  Looking at a situation in advance, thinking about all the things that could happen, and being ready for them.  If we’re ready for a situation, if we know what’s going to happen, then we won’t be nearly as scared of it.
            That brings us to our Bible verses for today.  Jesus sends out the twelve disciples.  They’re supposed to spread Jesus’ message, that the kingdom of God is near.  In a verse we did not read, Jesus tells them they’re supposed to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons”.
            But it’s not going to be easy.  The disciples are going to have a tough road ahead of them.  And Jesus does not want them to get scared and give up when the tough times come.  So, Jesus gets them prepared.  He tells them, “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
            Now, Jesus never forced the disciples to do anything.  They could’ve quit and gone home at any time.  But Jesus is telling them, yes, if you follow me, if you do what I’m telling you to do, bad things are going to happen.  But you don’t have to be afraid of them, because you know ahead of time that these things are going to happen.  And you know something else, too.  You know that the Holy Spirit is going to be with you.  Again, “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
            That brings us to the second thing that can help with fear:  knowing that God is with us.  Being confident that God is going to help us, that God is going to be there no matter what may happen.  We may have to face scary things, but we don’t have to face them alone.
            Remember what it says in the Twenty-third Psalm?  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.  For you are with me.  Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
            When we follow God, when we do what the Lord tells us to do, we can know that God will be with us.  The Holy Spirit will be speaking for us.  God will give us comfort and strength.  And things will go the way they’re supposed to go.
            But that does not mean things will go smoothly and easily for us.  Even though Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would tell them what to say, Jesus did not promise that the disciples would be released.  And there was still that bit about being flogged.  Jesus did not promise that the Holy Spirit would prevent that from happening, either.
            And so, even though we know God is with us, we can still be afraid.  The disciples were, too.  And that brings us to the third thing that can help with fear:  taking the long view.  Jesus says to them, in effect, you don’t have to be afraid of what’s going to happen.  These people who are going to arrest you cannot hurt you.  All they can do is kill your body.
            You say it that way, and it almost sounds like an old comedy routine.  You can hear Moe saying that to Curly.  “Go ahead, kid.  Why are you afraid of?  Those guys can’t do anything to you.  All they can do is kill you.”
            But if we believe in Jesus, if we truly believe, that’s the absolute truth.  If we follow Jesus, if we do our best to serve God, if we truly believe that we can have eternal life in heaven, then we don’t need to worry about what people do to us on earth.  All they can do is kill us.  And if they do, we’ll go to heaven and be with God.  Again, here’s how Jesus says that.  “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
            Jesus puts that about as bluntly as he can put it.  You and I have nothing to fear from following Jesus.  We do have something to fear if we don’t.  Period.
            And that’s when our faith gets tested.  Because it’s easy to be afraid of what happens to us on earth.  Earth is real to us.  Our earthly bodies are real to us.  The pain our earthly bodies, whether we’re talking about physical pain or emotional pain, is real to us.  The pain of hell, and the joy of heaven, seem more speculative.  We may believe in them, or claim to, but we’ve never seen them and we cannot feel them right now.  We have to have faith that the joy we’ll feel in heaven is real, too, and that it’s going to be worth any pain we may feel on earth.
            Maybe you think you’ve never had your faith tested that way.  And certainly, if we’re talking about the kind of faith that Christians have shown in other parts of the world, where they’ve been beheaded rather than deny their faith in Jesus, you’re right.  We have not had our faith tested in that way.  And I pray we never will.
            But still, you and I have had our faith tested.  And we still do.  Any time we make a decision about whether we’re going to take a risk on behalf of Jesus, we have our faith tested.  When there’s an opening in a conversation to talk about Jesus, we have our faith tested.  When we have the chance to invite someone to church, we have our faith tested.  When we see someone who’s not part of the “in” group and needs a friend, we have our faith tested.  Any time we have a chance to do or say something that we know is right, but that might make us less popular, we have our faith tested.  And we could go on and on.
            It’s fear that keeps us from doing the right thing.  It’s faith that tells us to do it.  It’s fear that keeps us from living the way Jesus told us to.  It’s faith that tells us to do it.  That’s the choice we make:  fear or faith.  And we have to make it over and over again.
            Fear is a powerful emotion.  But if we’re prepared for it, if we know that God is with us, and if we have faith that following Jesus is worth the risk, then you and I can give up fear.  If we invite God’s Spirit into our hearts, the Spirit will tell us what to do and what to say.  And we’ll be able to give up fear, not just for Lent, but for the rest of our lives.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Not Guilty

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, February 21, 2016.  The Bible verses used are 1 John 1:5--2:2.

            We are, of course, in the season of Lent.  It’s a time in which we’re called to recognize our sins, to ask God to forgive us, and to turn away from sin and turn to the Lord.
            One of the traditions of Lent, of course, is that we give something up.  We do this as a way of honoring what Jesus said in the gospel of Luke:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  Giving something up is a way of “denying ourselves”
            As you know, for the last couple of years I’ve given up Diet Coke.  I’m doing that again this year.  As I wrote in the newsletter this month, though, I really don’t think giving up Diet Coke brings me any closer to God.  Nothing wrong with doing it.  It’s probably better for my health.  But it’s hard for me to think of it as really “denying myself”, at least in anything like the way Jesus was talking about.  Jesus gave up his life to save us from our sins, I gave up Diet Coke?  The two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other.  Any comparison between the two just seems totally ridiculous.
            Now, if you’re giving up something like that for Lent, I don’t want to discourage you from doing it and I don’t mean to imply that you’re doing anything wrong.  If it works for you, go for it.  But it seems to me that if we really want to deny ourselves, if we really want to get closer to God, there are other things we need to give up.  Things like arrogance and self-righteousness.  Things like envy and resentment.  Things like greed.  Things like anger. 
Those are the things we really need to give up if we’re truly going to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.  So those are the things we’re going to talk about in our sermon series for Lent called “Let’s Give It Up!”  And to start things off today, we’re going to talk about giving up guilt.
Getting rid of guilt is something God’s people have struggled with for centuries.  In fact, we’ve struggled with it going back to Old Testament times.  In the Old Testament, especially in the book of Leviticus, there are all kinds of rules about what they called the guilt offering.  When you committed a sin against God, you were supposed to sacrifice a ram as a guilt offering, so that your sin could be forgiven.
Why does guilt have such a hold on us?  Well, like a lot of things, there’s an extent to which it’s probably a good thing.  In this context, the word “guilt” means “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, or wrong.”  When we do something wrong, we should feel bad about having done it, and we should take responsibility for it.  So a certain amount of guilt may not be bad.
Even in that context, though, guilt is not really a particularly positive thing.  Even in Lent, when we’re supposed to recognize our sins, the point is not for us to feel guilty.  The point is for us to ask for forgiveness, and then for us to change.  It’s the change that’s the point, not the guilt.
But sometimes our sense of guilt goes beyond that.  We go beyond feeling bad about specific things we’ve done.  We don’t feel guilty about anything in particular.  Instead, we feel guilty about who we are.  We don’t feel guilty because we think we did something bad.  We feel guilty because we think we are bad.  We think of ourselves as worthless.  We think of ourselves as not able to do anything and not able to help anyone.  We think our lives have no purpose and no meaning.  We feel guilty because we cannot think of anything good about ourselves.
That’s what we need to give up.  Because God does not think of us that way.  God does not think of anyone as worthless.  God does not consider anyone to have no purpose or no meaning.  God can see good in everyone.  Remember in Genesis what God said after he created humans?  God said we are “very good”.  If God says we’re good, who are we to argue?
But sometimes we do anyway.  And if you do, if you’re feeling a lack of self-worth today, I sure don’t mean to make you feel worse.  It’s bad enough to have to deal with feeling guilty.  The last thing you need is to feel guilty about feeling guilty.  That’s not the point of this at all.
Here’s the point.  If you’re feeling guilty, if you feel a lack of self-worth, Jesus came for you.  Jesus came to take those feelings away from you.  John, in our Bible reading today, said it this way:  “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you:  God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
When we feel guilt, when we feel a lack of self-worth, when we cannot think of anything good about ourselves, we’re living in darkness.  In fact, that’s about the deepest, blackest darkness we can feel.  Not only can we not see any light, we find it hard to believe there even is any light.  We cannot see an end to the darkness we’re in.
But there is an end.  There’s an end in God.  God is light.  The light of God shines in the darkness.  All we need to do is go to that light.  All we need to do is go to God.
The thing is, that can be scary.  We feel like we’re not worthy of going to God.  But that’s okay.  God does not want us to be worthy.  God knows we’re not worthy.  God will make us worthy.
In fact, as I was writing this message I happened, just kind of by accident—or, maybe it was not by accident—to see a quote from Joyce Meyer.  She said, “God is not surprised by your inabilities, your imperfections, or your faults.  God has already known everything about you that you are just now finding out and he chose you on purpose.”
Let that be the light.  Let that be the light in the darkness.  To know that, even though God knows everything about you, God still chose you.  And even though God knows everything about me, God chose me.  Despite my faults.  Despite my sins.  Despite all the dumb things I’ve done.  Despite all the times I’ve made a mess of things.  God still chose me.  And God still chose you.  God says that we’re worthy.  God says that we’re good.  God says that our lives do have purpose and they do have meaning.  God says that we don’t have to feel guilty about who we are.  All we need to do is ask for forgiveness, and God will give it to us.  Every time.  And when we accept forgiveness, when we really accept it, the guilt is gone.
Here’s how John says that:  “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
The atoning sacrifice.  To atone for a mistake, a sin, anything, means to make up for it.  Once we’ve made up for our mistakes, once we’ve made up for our sins, we don’t need to think about them any more, right?  It’s like they never happened.  That’s what it means to make up for something.  That’s what it means to atone for something.
And that’s what Jesus did for us.  Jesus, through his death, made up for our sins.  It’s like they never happened.  How can we feel guilty for something that never happened?  Would that make any sense, to feel guilty about something that never happened?  Of course not!
Guilt can keep us away from God.  A lack of self-worth can keep us away from God.  Feeling that our lives have no purpose or meaning can keep us away from God.  And God does not want us to feel anything that will keep us away from God.  God wants us to feel things that will bring us to God.  I’ve said this before, but that’s really the most amazing thing about God:  That as great and awesome and incredible and beyond our understanding God is, and as flawed and sinful as we are, God still wants us to come and be in God’s presence.  God wants that even more than we want it.  God wants that so much that he sent Jesus, the atoning sacrifice, to make up for our sins and make them like they never happened.
You are not guilty.  I’m not guilty.  Jesus, the “advocate” as John called him, has gotten us off.  The charges have been dropped.  The sin never happened.  We’re off scot-free!  And we’re able to be in the presence of God without guilt, without shame, and without feeling unworthy.
In this season of Lent, let’s give up feeling guilty.  Because we’re not.  We are very good.  God says so.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Temptations

This is the message given in the Gettysburg United Methodist church on Wednesday, February 17, 2016.  The Bible verses used are Luke 4:1-13.

            One of the most remarkable things about the story of Jesus’ death is the number of times he could’ve avoided it.  I think that’s something we know, but we don’t really think about very often.  We talk about Jesus dying to save us from the consequences of our sins, and that’s true, but I don’t know if we really talk about how Jesus, over and over again, had to choose to be killed.  Jesus was not arrested against his will.  He was not tried against his will.  He was not killed against his will.  There will all kinds of times and all kinds of ways in which Jesus could’ve stopped the whole thing, but he did not do so.
            The reason he did not, of course, is that dying to save us from the consequences of our sins was the main point of Jesus’ coming to earth in the first place.  That was God’s plan all along.  God did that out of love for us.  God did not want us to have to take the consequences for our sins, so Jesus came here to do that for us.  It’s an incredibly loving thing for God to do.
Still, there had to be times, when Jesus was on earth, when he was tempted not to go through with it.  And that’s what our Wednesday Lent messages are going to be about.  We’re going to look at some of the times when Jesus could have gone a different way, could have taken a different path, could have chosen not to do what he was sent here to do, could have avoided all the suffering and all the pain, but instead chose to go through with it, to accept the plan for his life and for his death. 
We’re starting tonight with one of the first times that Jesus could have chosen differently, the time when he was tempted by the devil.  And when we look at these temptations and the way the devil presented them, I think we can learn a lot about how temptation affects us, too.
The first temptation was for Jesus to turn a stone into bread.  Now, think about this.  Jesus was hungry.  He’d been fasting for forty days.  “Hungry” is probably not really a good-enough word to say what Jesus felt.  He was starving.  And the devil comes along and says, hey, you can do something about this.  Just turn that stone into bread.
Think of how tempting that had to be.  It’d just be a little bread.  No big deal.  Just a little something to eat.  Who would it hurt?  Besides, who’d know anyway?  Jesus was out in the wilderness.  There was no one else around.  Yeah, it might be a little selfish, but so what?  You deserve it.  It’s not like Jesus would be taking food away from anyone.  It’d make things better for Jesus, it would hurt no one, and nobody would even find out.  Why not do it?
Any of those things sound familiar to you?  They do to me.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been tempted in those ways.  Go ahead, cheat a little.  Take a short-cut.  Do something just for you.  You deserve it.  It won’t hurt anyone.  No one will even know.  Really, when you think about it, there’s no good reason not to.  So go ahead.  Do it.  It’ll be okay.
Jesus did not do it.  At least a part of him had to want to.  But he did not.  He knew he was not supposed to use his powers to benefit himself.  And he knew that somebody would know.  Two somebodies, really. 
One of them was God the Father, and I’m sure Jesus did not want to let his father down.  But the other one was the devil.  The devil would know.  Because, you see, that’s another thing about temptation.  If we give in to it once, it becomes that much easier to give in to it again.
I’ll give you an example.  Have you ever been on a diet?  I have.  I’m on one now.  And you know how we get off of them, right?  Most of the time, we don’t make a conscious decision to go off the diet, at least not right away.  No, what happens is we cheat a little.  We have just a little piece of chocolate, or just a small cookie.  And we tell ourselves, “I’m just going to do this once.  Then I’ll go right back on my diet again.”
But it’s never just once, is it?  Because a few days later, we get tempted again, and we cheat again.  This time it’s a bigger piece of chocolate, or a bigger cookie, or maybe a piece of pie.  And we say, “Well, I can’t be rude and not eat this when someone offered it to me.  But after this, I’ll get right back on the diet again.”
And then, a couple days later, we’re tempted again, and we cheat again.  And then it happens again, and again, and pretty soon we’ve forgotten all about the diet.  We did not make a decision to go off it.  But every time we give in to temptation, it’s that much easier to give in to it again.  And pretty soon we’re not even thinking about what we’re doing any more, we’re just doing it.  And this does not just apply to food.  Think of any vice you can think of.  And it’s not just physical things like food or alcohol or things like that.  It can be anger, envy, greed, arrogance, or anything else.  Once we give in to temptation once, it’s that much easier to give in to it again.
The second temptation was to take power.  The devil says, here Jesus.  You can have authority over everyone and everything on earth.  All you have to do is worship me.
Think about how tempting that one had to be.  Think about this, Jesus.  Think about all the good you could do with that kind of power.  You could heal everyone.  You could end war.  You could make end poverty.  Just imagine it.  Imagine no possessions.  I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger.  A brotherhood of man.  Imagine all the people sharing all the world.  And all you have to do, Jesus, is worship me.  You don’t have to do it in public.  Nobody needs to know.  We could have heaven right here on earth.  It’d just be making the world like it was supposed to be in the first place.  Why not do it?
Does that sound familiar to you?  It does to me.  I’ve been tempted that way, too.  Go ahead, do this.  It’ll be okay.  In fact, it’ll help a lot of people.  Sure, you’ll have to break the rules, you’ll have to do something you know you’re not supposed to do, but so what?  It’ll be for the best, really.  Besides, no one will ever know.
Jesus did not do it.  Again, at least a part of him had to want to.  But he did not.  He knew that, no matter how good his intentions might be, taking power in this way would not work out.  It would be a betrayal of God.  It would also be a betrayal of humans.  No matter how good it might seem at first, the devil was going to demand to be paid someday.  The devil always does.  And that temporary good was going to turn bad somehow.
The third temptation was for Jesus to demonstrate his greatness.  The devil takes him up to the highest point of the temple.  He says, jump.  Jump off here.  You won’t get hurt.  Go ahead.  Do it.
And that had to be tempting, too.  Think what would’ve happened.  There’s Jesus, on the top of the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem.  He jumps.  He lands, unharmed.  Instant fame, right?  He’d have been a celebrity.  Everyone would’ve listened to him.  And everyone would’ve believed him.  Everyone would’ve known Jesus was the Son of God.  No having to travel around.  No having to gather a bunch of disciples.  He could take a short-cut.  All the disciples he needed would be right there.  And they’d worship him.  Simple.
That one sounds familiar to me, too.  We all want people to see how great we are.  And besides, it’s always tempting to take the easy way out.  But Jesus did not do it.  Again, at least a part of him had to want to.  But he did not.  He knew he had to let things happen in God’s way and in God’s time.  Showing off might be tempting, but it would’ve made Jesus’ ministry all about himself.  It would’ve made his ministry a cult of celebrity.  That might’ve worked, for a while, but Jesus’ message—God’s message—would’ve been lost.
Jesus was tempted to do things the easy way.  If he had, he might not have been hung on a cross to die.  He could have saved himself a lot of trouble.  He might have made things a lot easier for himself.  But he would not have followed God’s plan.  And he would not have saved us from our sins.
We’re tempted to do things the easy way, too.  If we do, we might save ourselves a lot of trouble.  We might make things a lot easier for ourselves.  But we won’t be following God’s plan, either.
Notice one more thing about this.  Jesus resisted these temptations, but that was not the end of the story.  It was just the end of one episode.  And at the end, we’re told that the devil “left him until a more opportune time.”
Jesus was subject to temptation all his life on earth.  And so are we.  Just because we’ve resisted once does not mean we’ll resist the next time.  We always need to be aware of the temptations around us.  They look good at first.  They seem to be for the best in the short-term.  That’s why they’re so tempting.  But in the long term, they’ll come back to hurt us.
All the things the devil tempted Jesus with seemed like they’d be for the best in the short-term.  But Jesus knew they would come back to hurt him and us in the long-term.  And he resisted.
We can resist, too.  If we stay close to God and do our best, things will happen in God’s way and at God’s time.  And we can be sure that God’s way and God’s time is always the best.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

It's Never Too Late

This is the message given in the Gettysburg United Methodist church on Sunday, February 14, 2016.  The Bible verses used are John 11:1-44.

            While Jesus was on earth, he worked a lot of miracles.  He turned water into wine, he walked on water, he gave sight to a blind man, he fed a crowd.  He even drove demons out of a man.  And, of course, these are only a few of the miracles Jesus performed while he was on earth.
            Today, though, we're looking at what might be the most amazing miracle of all.  Jesus raised a man from the dead.  Jesus took a man who had been dead for four days and brought him back to life.
            When we look at this, we can see there's one major difference from those other miracles.  The way the Bible presents the other miracles, they don't seem to be things Jesus planned out in advance.  They look more like Jesus just kind of responding to a situation.  This one is different.  In this case, it looks like Jesus deliberately and intentionally waited around for Lazarus to die before he went to where Lazarus was.  It looks like Jesus planned all along to wait for Lazarus to die and then bring him back to life.  And Jesus tells the disciples why.  He says, “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
            Let's think about that for a second.  Lazarus is really sick.  He's suffering.  Then he dies.  And Jesus says he's glad it happened that way, because that will help the disciples believe.
            That may remind a few of you of something Jesus said in regard to another miracle.  Remember the miracle involving the blind man?  Jesus said then that the man had been born blind so that the works of God could be displayed.  Here, Jesus says Lazarus died so the disciples could come to believe.
            That seems awfully tough on the people involved, you know?  The man born blind spent years and years not being able to see.  He had to beg to support himself.  Lazarus not only suffered, he actually died.  And yet, Jesus says it had to happen this way, so the works of God could be displayed and people could come to believe.
            When we read these stories, it can be fairly easy to accept that, because we know how the stories come out.  We see that there's a happy ending.  It's a lot harder to accept it when one of these stories actually happens to us, and we're right in the middle of it.  When things are going badly for us, when we have a serious health problem, or a serious financial problem, or a disaster happens to us or someone in our family, it's pretty hard to think that this might be happening so the works of God can be displayed and people can come to believe.
            It was probably pretty hard for Lazarus, too.  Did you notice that we're not told anything about how Lazarus felt about any of this?  We're not told any of his words.  We're not told any of his thoughts.  But he surely had some.
            Lazarus was a good friend of Jesus.  He's lying there in bed, suffering.  Maybe he knows he's dying or maybe not, but he knows he's very sick.  But he also knows that Jesus can heal him.  His sisters know it, too.  So, his sisters send word to Jesus, telling him that Lazarus is sick.  They probably told Lazarus, “Don't worry.  We've sent word to Jesus.  Don't give up.  He'll heal you.  Just hang in there.  Jesus is coming, and things will be all right.”
            But Jesus does not come.  A day passes, and Jesus does not come.  A second day passes, and Jesus does not come.  And Lazarus does not understand why.  He knows Jesus could come and could heal him, but Jesus does not come.  Finally, it's too late.  Lazarus cannot hold on any longer.  He dies.
            Lazarus' sisters, Martha and Mary, don't understand it either.  They know Jesus could've healed their brother.  In fact, that's the first thing they say to Jesus when they see him.  Each of them says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Now, though, they think it's too late.  They don't come out and say it, but you have to think there's a question implied by their statement.  It's the question we're told other people did come out and ask:  “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
            When we read this story, we can see that Jesus is right.  The story had to come out like it did to help people believe.  When we read this story, we can see that none of the people involved in this story thought Jesus would or could bring Lazarus back to life.  They did not even consider that one of the options.  They thought it was too late.
            The disciples certainly thought so.  They thought Jesus was crazy for going to Judea at all.  The people there had already tried to kill Jesus once, and now Jesus wants to go back?  Thomas speaks for all the disciples when he says that by going to Judea, they're going to their deaths.
            Mary and Martha don't get it, either.  Maybe Martha got it a little bit.  After she says that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died, she goes on to say, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  Still, when Jesus tells her Lazarus will live again, her response is that Lazarus will live in the resurrection on the last day.  She does not seem to even consider the possibility that Jesus might bring Lazarus back to life now.  It's the same when they go to the tomb.  When Jesus says to take the stone away from the entrance, she warns him that there's going to be a really bad smell, because Lazarus has been there for four days.  Again, the possibility of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life at this point does not seem to have occurred to her.  She thinks it's too late.
            All these people went through all this suffering.  They went through all this pain.  They went through all this anguish.  The disciples thought Jesus was leading them to their deaths.  Mary and Martha went through the pain of watching their brother die and not being able to do anything about it.  In fact, they thought the one thing they'd tried to do about, sending for Jesus, had failed, because Jesus had not come.  And, of course, Lazarus actually died, not understanding why his good friend Jesus had not come and saved him.  Now, they all thought it was too late.
            As I said, it can be easy to accept these things in Bible stories, because we know there's going to be a happy ending.  While it's actually happening in our lives, it's a lot harder to accept.  We don't know that there's going to be a happy ending.  That's when we have to decide whether we really believe what we say we believe.  That's when we have to decide whether we really trust Jesus.
            The disciples thought they believed.  They thought they trusted.  Mary and Martha thought they believed.  They thought they trusted.  And they did, to a point.  But when Lazarus died, they all thought the story was over.  They thought it was too late.  They thought there was nothing Jesus or anybody else could do.
            And if we put ourselves in their place, we understand exactly how they felt.  Almost all of us have been there.  We've seen bad things happen, either to ourselves or to someone else.  We know Jesus could do something about it.  We ask Jesus to do something about it.  And Jesus does not seem to notice.  Jesus does not seem to respond.  Jesus waits, seeming to do nothing.  And then, it seems like it's too late.  The thing is over, and there's nothing Jesus or anyone else can do.
            This miracle happened so that we could come to believe.  We can believe even when it seems like Jesus does not notice what's happening.  We can believe even when Jesus does not seem to respond.  We can believe even when it seems like Jesus is doing nothing.  We can believe even when it seems like it's too late for Jesus or anyone else to do anything.  Because the thing is that it is never too late for Jesus to do something.  This is what Jesus said:
            Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in             me will never die.
            Even death does not make it too late for Jesus to do something, because even death is not permanent.  Jesus has more power than death itself.  Jesus showed that by bringing Lazarus back to life.  Jesus showed that through his own death and resurrection.  And Jesus shows it through the resurrection of everyone who believes in him, because anyone who believes in him will never die.
            With Jesus, it's never too late.  If we can believe that, and trust it, we can be confident even when the situation seems hopeless.  Because we know that we can survive even death itself through God's great love and through our belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Filling the Hole

            A week ago I wrote that sometimes it is by denying ourselves that we truly find ourselves.  I want to expand on that a little bit.

            I’ll warn you that what follows is a theory.  It’s speculation.  You certainly don’t have to agree with it.  I just ask that you think about it.  It makes a certain amount of sense to me.  Maybe it will to you, too.

            All of us have certain things that we’re passionate about, things we really enjoy doing.  Sometimes they’re serious things.  Sometimes they’re frivolous things.  For most of us, there are probably some of both.  People are passionate about sports, crafts, cars, cooking, movies, music, work, television, hunting, clothes, and on and on and on.  If we made a list, it would be never-ending, because everyone has something they’re passionate about, and there’s someone who’s passionate about everything.  There might even be some people reading this who are passionate about the church.

            But why do we have these passions?  I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with them—I have a lot of passions myself.  But why do we have them?  Why did God give us passions for all these different kinds of things?

            Here’s the theory.  Humans, while we’re on earth, feel separated from God.  That leaves us feeling incomplete.  One way of putting it is that there’s a hole in the heart of each human that only God can truly fill.  The trouble is that, while we’re on earth, that separation keeps us from allowing God to actually fill that hole.

            The hole is still there, though.  And it hurts.  And so we try desperately to fill it with something.  We become passionate about baseball or about fishing or about shopping or whatever.  We try to use those things to fill that hole in our hearts that comes from God not being there.

            And these things help.  Sometimes they help a lot.  But they never quite get the job done.  No matter what we’re passionate about, and no matter how passionate we are about it, we never quite get that hole filled.  It’s still there, and there’s nothing we can do to make it go away.  We can make it hurt less, for a while.  But the hole is still there, and none of our passions can ever fill it. Only God can.  And while, again, there’s nothing wrong with the passions we have, if we get too carried away with them, if we try too hard to make them fill that hole, we can get ourselves into a lot of trouble.  We start trying to pound the square peg of our passions into the round hole left by God, and it simply won’t work.

            Passions are fine, but if we carry them too far, we don’t leave room for God.  God gets crowded out of our lives.  Sometimes, then, what we need to do is pull back on our passions.  Sometimes we need to deny ourselves some of the things we’re passionate about, so that we leave room for the Holy Spirit to come in.  When we do that, we become who we really are, because it’s only the Holy Spirit who can fill that God-sized hole.

            It’s okay to be passionate about earthly things.  But it’s only when that God-sized hole in our hearts is filled by the Holy Spirit that we truly become who we are, who we were created to be.  So during Lent, and always, let’s open our hearts to the Holy Spirit.  Let’s let that God-sized hole be filled so we can truly be who God created us to be.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Diet Coke-o-meter

I gave up Diet Coke for Lent, and am giving the money I save to the Gettysburg United Methodist Church construction fund.  I decided that this year, I'm going to keep a running total of how much Diet Coke I did not drink and how much money I've saved.  Feel free to follow along with me!

Date                                                 ounces                                         money
2-10                                                 32                                                $1.66
2-11                                                 12                                                    .50
2-12                                                 24                                                  2.00
2-13                                                 20                                                  2.00
2-14                                                 20                                                  1.16

2-15                                                 12                                                  1.00
2-16                                                 40                                                  3.16
2-17                                                 12                                                    .50
2-18                                                 40                                                  3.16
2-19                                                 32                                                  2.00

2-20                                                 40                                                  3.16
2-21                                                 32                                                  1.66
2-22                                                   0                                                  0
2-23                                                 12                                                  1.00
2-24                                                 12                                                    .50

2-25                                                 32                                                  1.36
2-26                                                 32                                                  1.36
total                                               404                                                26.18
average per day                               24                                                  1.54

Will It Take?

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016.  The Bible verses used are Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

As we read those last verses, the ones from Matthew, it may have occurred to some of you to wonder, “Well, then what are we doing here?”  Because part of the Ash Wednesday service is, and always has been, that we have ashes in the shape of a cross placed on our foreheads.  That’s an obvious and visible sign to everyone not just that we’re Christians, but that we’ve been to an Ash Wednesday service.  And yet, we just read the words of Jesus that when we pray, when we fast, when we give, when we do anything like that, we’re not supposed to let anyone know about it.  We’re supposed to keep it secret.  So how do we reconcile those two things?
            Well, maybe that’s why we have this service at night.  After all, most of us, once this is done, are not going anywhere but home, so there are not a lot of people who are going to see this sign anyway.  Still, there are churches where the Ash Wednesday service is in the morning, or at noon.  So the question remains.  How do we justify wearing this visible, obvious sign of our faith in light of Jesus’ words?
I think the thing we need to remember is the purpose of an Ash Wednesday service.  When people in Jesus’ day would engage in fasting and prayer they were, for the most part, following religious rituals.  They were fulfilling an obligation given to them by Jewish law. 
Now, I’m sure that, just like today, there were some who took this seriously and some who did not.  The ones who did not were the ones Jesus was talking about.  They were the ones who, when they were praying, when they were fasting, when they gave, they wanted to make sure everyone knew about it.  As the old joke goes, they were not confessing, they were bragging.
When we wear ashes in the shape of a cross on our foreheads, we’re not bragging.  There is no great honor in wearing these ashes.  In fact, the ashes are a sign of shame.  They show that we know just how human we are.  They show that we know what sinful people we are.  They show that we know that we are desperately in need of forgiveness from God.
We do this every year, of course.  Did you ever wonder why?  It seems a lot like those old Jewish rituals, really when people were always having to bring the different kinds of offerings to the altar so God would forgive them and bless them.  You know, as I think about it, it makes me wonder if we’re just not very good at this whole “repentance” thing.  I mean, if last year we truly repented, and if last year we really thought about who we are how far short of who we ought to be, why do we need to do it again?  It’s like last year, and the year before that, and all the years before that, just did not “take” somehow.  We seem to be in pretty much the same place we’ve always been at this time.
That’s kind of a sad thought, you know?  That we’ve repented and asked for forgiveness so many times—some of us all of our lives—and yet here we are, having to do it again.  It makes me wonder if we’re really serious about this.  Do we really intend, this year, to change?  Or are we just going through the motions, doing this because it’s what we’re supposed to do as Christians, but not really intending to change anything about ourselves.
I don’t mean to be too hard on us.  Part of the reason for this, of course, is simply because of who we are as human beings.  We’re weak.  We’re flawed.  We’re sinful.  And so, since last year, we all have more things to repent, and more ways in which we’ve fallen short.
But I think there’s more to it than that.  Deep down, a lot of times, we really don’t want to change.  A lot of times, we’re pretty well satisfied with who we are.  We know we’re not perfect, and we don’t claim to be, but we really don’t want to change much, either.  We certainly don’t want to make any radical changes.  We think, “I’m good enough.  I don’t really need to do anything different.”
I’m not pointing fingers here, because I’ve certainly done that, too.  The thing is, I don’t think God would agree.  We’re good enough in some ways, of course.  We’re good enough to receive God’s love.  We’re good enough to have salvation offered to us if we believe in Jesus as our Savior.  We’re good enough in those ways, because God’s love and salvation don’t depend on how good we are.  God’s love does not depend on anything.  And God’s salvation only depends on our faith in Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to be “good enough” for those things.  In fact, we never could be.
But in other ways, we’re not good enough.  If we truly do have faith in Jesus Christ, if we believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God, then we need to do what Jesus told us to do.  And Jesus told us to do some pretty hard things.  Jesus told us to love our enemies.  Jesus told us to pray for people who persecute us.  Jesus told us that if we’re struck on one cheek, we should offer the other.  We’re supposed to treat others, not the way they treat us, but they we would like them to treat us.  These and all kinds of other things are things Jesus told us to do that we really don’t want to do.  And so, you and I are not “good enough”.  And if we’re honest about it, we’re not really sure we want to be.
And so, here we are.  It’s Ash Wednesday, again.  It’s the start of Lent, again.  And again, we come to an Ash Wednesday service.  Again, we repent of our sins.  Again, we ask God for forgiveness.
Is this year going to be any different?  Will it “take” this year?  Or will we be right back here next year in the same position we are now, repenting of our sins and asking God for forgiveness?
Well, in one way we know the answer.  Unless something really strange happens, we’ll have an Ash Wednesday service again next year.  And if I’m still the pastor here, I’ll be here.  And I suspect most of you will be, too.
But that does not mean that nothing will be different.  We can decide that this year, it will “take”.  We can decide that this year, we really will change.  That does not mean we’ll be perfect.  Again, we are weak, sinful, flawed human beings.  But even so, we can still decide that, when we come here next year, we’ll be different people.  We’ll be better people.  We’ll be more loving people.  We’ll be more caring people.  We’ll be people who deserve the title of “Christians”, because we really will be following Jesus Christ.
So how can we do that?  There’s only one way that I know of.  That’s to pray for God to put God’s Holy Spirit into our hearts, into our souls, into our minds, and into our lives.  Because the fact is that we cannot make this kind of change by ourselves.  Even if we’re serious, even if we try really hard, we cannot make this kind of change by ourselves.  The only way we can make this kind of change is if we allow God to come into us and change us. 
And we do have to allow it.  God could force us to change, because God is all-powerful.  But God does not do that.  God waits to be invited.  God waits to be asked.  So, the only way we can change is if we ask God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, to come into our hearts, into our souls, into our minds, and into our lives.
So that’s our challenge.  It’s our challenge for tonight.  It’s our challenge for tomorrow.  It’s our challenge for next week and for next month.  It’s our challenge for the entire period of Lent and beyond.
It’s not going to be easy.  If you’re like me, you’re going to have a lot of days where it’s hard.  If you’re like me, you’ll have days where you conveniently “forget” to ask God’s Spirit in.  And if you’re like me, you’ll have other days where you have trouble deciding if you even want to ask God’s Spirit in.
But you know what?  Lent is forty days long, not counting Sundays.  That gives us about a month and a half to make this a habit.  If we pray every day, for the entire period of Lent, for God’s Spirit to come into our hearts, to come into our souls, to come into our minds, to come into our lives, we’re going to see some changes.  We’re going to get used to doing it.  And our resistance will break down.  It’ll still show up sometimes, but it’ll be weaker. 
Once God’s Spirit comes in, it’ll be hard for us to tell it to leave, even if once in a while we think we want to.  It’ll be part of us.  And when we gather next year, we will not be the same people we are tonight.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What To Do Now

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, February 7, 2016.  The Bible verses used are Matthew 1:18-25, 2:13-15, 19-23.

This is the last Sunday of our sermon series, “Dream On”, looking at dreams and dreamers in the Bible and trying to see how their stories help us find God’s dreams for us, both as individuals and as a church.  And you may be wondering what’s left to say.  We’ve gone through several examples of God’s dreams.  We’ve looked at what God’s dreams are and what they are not.  We’ve even come up with a checklist to help us figure out whether a dream actually is God’s dream or not.  So what’s left?
            Well, what’s left is actually following God’s dream.  And sometimes that can be trickiest thing of all.  That’s what Joseph found out in our Bible reading for today.
            We’ve already talked about Joseph’s story in various contexts.  We talk about it pretty much every year at Christmas.  But what I want to focus on specifically today is Joseph’s dreams.  As you heard, Joseph had three specific dreams that we’re told about in Matthew.  Each of these dreams came at an important time in Joseph’s life, as well as in the lives of Mary and Jesus.  And each time, the dream told Joseph something he should do.
            Just to recap what the three dreams were, the first one was that Joseph should go ahead and take Mary to be his wife because Mary had not been unfaithful to him.  Rather, the child she was going to have was from the Holy Spirit.  The second one came while they were in Bethlehem, when Joseph was told to take his family to Egypt because Herod was going to try to kill Jesus.  And the third one came while they were in Egypt, when Joseph was told to go back to Nazareth because it was now safe for them to go there.
            These were probably the three most important decisions of Joseph’s life.  We don’t know that for sure, because we don’t know much about Joseph other than these events, but if they’re not the most important they’re certainly among them.  And I think we should note that they fit the checklist we put together last week pretty well.  They were things that were beyond what Joseph had planned for himself.  They were things that were pretty big, and did not result in things going on a nice, smooth straight path.  They were things Joseph knew he could not do on his own.  And they were things that happened in God’s way and at God’s time.
            But here’s what I want you to notice.  In each of these cases, all Joseph was told was “Here’s what you’re supposed to do now.”  He was never told more than the immediate next step.  He was never told “Do this and then do that and then do something else.”  He was never told, “Do this and here’s what’s going to happen.”  He was never told, “Do this for a few years and then you’ll be told to do something else for a few more years.”  All he was told was, “Here’s what you’re supposed to do now.”
            We’re not told, but I suspect Joseph would’ve appreciated more information.  He never complained, at least as far as the Bible tells us, but I have to think he’d have liked to know where all this was leading.  But that was not the way it worked.  The information just came to Joseph one step at a time.
            As we look at God’s dreams for us, and at God’s dreams for the church, that’s pretty much the way it works for us, too.  God does not tell us all of God’s dream for us.  The most God ever tells us is “Here’s what you’re supposed to do now.”  It’s pretty rare when God tells us “Do this and then do that and then do something else.”  It’s also pretty rare when God says, “Do this and here’s what’s going to happen.”  It seems like the most we’re ever told is, “Here’s what you’re supposed to do now.”
            Do you ever wonder why God does it this way?  I do.  I suspect Joseph did, too.  Maybe not so much after the first dream, but certainly after the second.  I mean, think about this.  When Mary and Joseph left for Bethlehem to be counted in the census, I’m sure they assumed that when it was done they’d go home.  They left their house behind.  I don’t what people had for household stuff back then, but whatever it was they’d have left it behind.  They probably left all of Joseph’s carpenter’s tools behind, too.  Why not?  When the census was done, they were coming back home.
            And then, all of a sudden, probably not long before they were getting ready to leave, they find out no.  No, you’re not going home.  Not only are you not going home, you’re going to a foreign country.  You’re going to Egypt.
            I don’t know Joseph’s reaction, but I know what mine would’ve been.  “What?  We’re going where?  What are we supposed to do there?  I don’t know anything about Egypt.  I don’t even speak the language.  And why did you not tell me this before we left?  We could’ve packed more stuff.  We could’ve brought my carpenter’s tools.  After all, a good carpenter is always in demand, even in a foreign country.  If you’d only told us, we could’ve been ready.  Now, thanks to you, we’ve got to go with nothing.  Why did you not tells us what was in store for us?”
            And I’d have had the same reaction after the dream saying we could go back to Nazareth.  I mean, yes, it’s good news, but still.  Joseph and Mary had been in Egypt for a while.  They’d started to make a new life for themselves and for Jesus.  Now they have to pack up and leave.  Again, I don’t know what Joseph thought, but I’d have thought, “Why did you not tell us that before?  I spent all this time making a life for us in Egypt.  I’ve invested all this time into trying to build a carpenter business.  We’ve bought a place to live and bought some stuff.  Things are just starting to look like they’re going to work out, and now you tell me it’s time to leave again?  If you’d told me how long we were going to be here to start with, I would not have had to waste all this time and money.
            I’m sure many of you can think of times in your life when things like this have happened, where you really wish God had told you what the road ahead was going to be like before you started down it.  I can, too.  But that does not seem to be the way God does things.
            Why?  Well, look at what we’ve said about God’s dreams.  We said, in talking about Jacob, that God’s dreams tend to be beyond what we’d dream for ourselves.  So if we knew the whole road ahead of time, we might think “That’s impossible.  There’s no way.”  And so we’d quit before we started.
            We said, in talking about the Joseph of the Old Testament, that God’s dreams take us on a long and winding road.  If we saw all those twists and turns in the road ahead of time, we might get discouraged.  We might decide it was going to be too hard.  And again, we’d quit before we started.
            We said, in talking about Gideon, that God’s dreams have to come about in God’s way and in God’s time.  If we knew the whole road ahead, we might try to short-circuit the process.  We might be tempted to take short-cuts, or try to move faster than we’re supposed to.  We’d try to do it our way and in our time rather than in God’s way and in God’s time.
            And we said, in talking about Solomon, that God’s dream is not something that benefits us, at least not just us.  If we knew the whole road ahead, and we could not see what we were going to get out of it, we might be tempted to just chuck the whole thing.
            There could be other reasons, too, of course.  But whatever they are, it’s clear that, at least a lot of the time, God does not show us the whole road ahead.  God just tells us, as God told Joseph, “Here’s what you’re supposed to do now.”  And as we’ve said, that can be frustrating.
            But you know, it can also be kind of freeing.  There’s a freedom in not knowing the whole road ahead.  What I mean is that, if we don’t know the whole road ahead, if we don’t know the destination, then we’re not responsible for seeing that we get there.  All we’re responsible for is what we’re supposed to do right now.  We can leave the rest up to God.
            Imagine if Joseph had known all the stuff that was going to happen.  Even if he’d gone through with it, he’d have been a nervous wreck, right?  He’d have been thinking, “Okay, what do we have to bring with us so we can get to Egypt?  When are we supposed to leave?  What can I do to get ready?  Maybe I’d better learn the language.  Maybe I better get some different clothes, so we can fit in.”  There’d have been a thousand details he’d have had to worry about, because he’d have been thinking he needed to make all this happen at the right time.
            God frees us from all that.  God says, just do what you’re supposed to do now.  When you’re supposed to do something else, I’ll let you know.  Don’t worry about it.  Just do your best in the situation you’re in.  Just do what I want you to do and go where I want you to go.  Let me handle the rest of it.
            I think that’s an awesome thought.  God has the future handled.  We don’t need to worry about it.  Our job is just to do the best we can to follow God’s dream and do what God wants us to do right now.  And when there’s something else we need to do to follow God’s dream, God will let us know.
            So let’s do that.  Let’s follow God’s dreams both for us and for our church by doing what we’re supposed to do now.  Let’s not worry about what’s going to happen next.  God has that handled.  Let’s just do the best we can to follow God’s dream now, and let God take care of the rest.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Give It Up!

            Ash Wednesday is February 10 this year.  After that, we will move into the season of Lent, which will last until Easter Sunday on March 27.

            One of the traditions of Lent, of course, is that we give something up.  The tradition is based on Luke 9:23, in which says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  Giving something up is a way of “denying ourselves”.

            For a long time, though, the whole idea of giving something up for Lent really missed me.  Nothing against people who do it, or have done it.  It just seems to me like the things we give up are so trivial compared to what Jesus gave up for us.  Jesus gave up his life to save our sins.  I give up Diet Coke.  The two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other.  Any comparison between the two is clearly ludicrous.

            And that would be true of anything else I’d be likely to give up.  I could give up chocolate (which I’ve pretty much done anyway, because of my diet).  I could give up watching sports.  I could give up social media.  But while those things might, to varying degrees, be something I’d miss, none of them is anywhere near the sacrifice Jesus made for us.  They’re not even in the same ballpark.  Therefore, the whole exercise always seemed kind of pointless to me.

            The last couple of years I have given up Diet Coke, and I’ve given the money I’ve saved from that to the Gettysburg Construction Fund.  I’m going to do that again this year, and you’re welcome to join me if you like.  Giving away the money I save helps the exercise have some kind of point for me, but to be honest, it still does not give it any kind of spiritual dimension.  It does not make me feel closer to God or strengthen my faith or anything like that.  It still seems like it’s a pretty trivial thing to do.

            The thing is that, for me at least, “denying myself” has very little to do with whether I drink a certain beverage.  Denying ourselves should mean exactly that.  It should mean allowing the Holy Spirit to come into us so strongly that we are led by God, rather than by ourselves, in everything we do.

            If that’s true, then the things we give up should be things that are keeping us from letting the Holy Spirit come into us.  Things like greed and envy.  Things like selfishness and wanting to get our own way.  Things like arrogance and self-righteousness.  And lots of other things, too.

            Letting the Holy Spirit come into us does, to an extent, mean that we have to deny ourselves.  But, oddly, it is often through denying ourselves that we find ourselves.  We find our true selves.  We find the selves we were originally created to be.  We get rid of all the distractions and all the things we’ve done to try to fill the emptiness inside of us, and instead we let that emptiness be filled with the Holy Spirit.

            So that’s what our next sermon series is going to be about.  On Sundays during Lent, we’re going to look at some of the things we can give up that will get us closer to God.  We’ll look at what we can give up to try to be more like Jesus and to try to live the way Jesus told us to live.  We’ll look at what we can give up so we can truly be God’s people.  And we’ll look at how we can give these things up, so that we can give them up not just during Lent, but for the rest of our lives.

            It’s hard to give anything up, even when we know it’s bad for us.  But if we deny those things to ourselves, we’ll make room for the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will help us become who we’re truly supposed to be.  And that will more than make up for anything we’ve given up.