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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Love Never Fails

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, August 28, 2016.  The Bible verses used are 1 Corinthians 12:27--13:13,

            We want to welcome you to a new sermon series today.  We’re calling this one “The Bible’s Greatest Hits”.  We’re going to look at the most popular Bible passages, as determined by searches at, which is a website where you can find the Bible in pretty much every English translation you can think of and in a lot of other languages as well.
            Now, in referring to these as “The Bible’s Greatest Hits”, we don’t mean to imply that these are the only Bible passages you need to know or that they’re the most important or anything like that.  After all, the Apostle Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy that “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”  I think most of us would probably agree with that.
            But the thing is, just like with music or books or TV shows or anything else, things become popular for a reason.  They speak to us somehow.  They have a message that’s important, or that appeals to us, or that makes us think or feel or something.  All scripture is useful, but we still have certain passages that speak to us more at certain times.  That’s perfectly natural.
            But the other thing that can happen is that sometimes, when we’ve read or heard something a number of times, we stop thinking about it.  We take it for granted.  For example, how many times have you heard the National Anthem?  If you go to sports events, you’ve probably heard it hundreds of times, maybe thousands of times.  How often do you really think about what the words mean?  Probably not very often.
            So in this sermon series, we’re going to take a look at these popular Bible passages and try to really think about them.  And we’re starting with what was number nine in the list, the passage we read from First Corinthians.
            We read the end of First Corinthians Chapter Twelve and all of Chapter Thirteen.  Chapter thirteen is often called “the love chapter.”  It gets used at weddings a lot.  It gets used at funerals occasionally, too.  As you heard, it talks about love, what love is and what love is not.  And you’ve heard sermons preached on that before, and you will again.  But today, I want to talk about the rest of this passage.  And I want to start with the part of chapter twelve we included.
            In chapter twelve, Paul writes about gifts of the spirit.  He says that we all have different spiritual gifts, and that they’re all important.  He compares it to the parts of the body.  He says that all parts of the body are important:  the feet, the hands, the ears, the eyes, all of it.  He lists some of the gifts of the Spirit, such as teaching, prophesying, working miracles, healing, helping, guidance, all sorts of things.  He says we should work together to develop the gifts we’ve been given so we can serve God.  But then he says this:  “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”
            Now, if you were listening when we read today’s Bible verses, you know what comes next.  But pretend you don’t.  Imagine that you’re one of the people in the town of Corinth that this letter was written to.  You’re reading his letter, or more likely someone is reading it to you.  And you’ve heard Paul say that all these spiritual gifts are important and that we need to work together to develop them so we can serve God.  
And then you hear:  “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”  What would you think?  I’d be thinking, “Most excellent way?  What could be more excellent than working together to develop our spiritual gifts to serve God?”
Paul tells us.  The more excellent way is love.  Paul says it does not matter how awesome our spiritual gifts are, or how hard we’ve worked to develop them, if we don’t have love.  Someone could be the greatest speaker in the world, they could be the greatest prophet ever known, they could have so much faith that they could literally move mountains, and none of it would matter.  None of it matters without love.
Did you ever wonder why that is?  I mean, we just kind of take it for granted sometimes, don’t we?  We hear that, and we think, well, of course none of that matters without love.  But why not?  Why do prophecy or evangelism or even faith not matter without love?  
I mean, suppose that I was a really great speaker and evangelist.  I know that’s quite a stretch, but just suppose it.  And suppose I was also a real jerk.  Maybe that’s not as much of a stretch, but again, just suppose it.  If, by my great speaking ability, I was able to bring people to Christ, why would it matter that I was a jerk?  Why would it matter that I was doing it for personal glory or for fame or for whatever reason?  As long as I was able to get someone to accept Jesus as their Savior, why would it matter what my motivation was for doing it?
Paul answers that question.  He says, basically, that that’s the way children think.  And he’s right.  Kids will say, well, as long as I do what I’m supposed to, it does not matter why I’m doing it.  But parents, you know better, right?  You’ve told your kids to do something and seen that look on their face.  You’ve seen them trudge slowly out to do what their supposed to do, like a condemned person walking the last mile.  And you don’t like it very much, do you?  And you say something, and the kid says, “What’s wrong?  I’m doing what you told me to do?”  Children think that our motivation does not matter.  Adults know that it does.  
Paul also answers the question in another way.  He answers it by saying that love is the only thing that will never pass away.  It’s the only thing that will never fail.  There will come a time when all the great prophecies will cease and pass away.  There will come a time when all the collected knowledge of mankind will cease and pass away.  There will come a time when all the greatest speakers will pass away and their words will be gone forever.  
And besides, while we’re on earth, none of our prophecies, none of our knowledge, none of our speeches, will really be full and complete the way they’re supposed to be.  He says that, while we’re trying to see God’s kingdom, but we can only see a reflection of it in a dim and cloudy mirror.  We can only get a vague glimpse of God’s kingdom while we’re on earth, and that’s going to show up in all of our prophecies, and all of our knowledge, and all of our speeches.  None of them are going to be accurate or true.  The only time they will become accurate and true is when completeness comes, when the Lord returns and, as Paul says, we can see clearly, face to face.
The gifts of the spirit that we’re given are important.  I’m not saying they’re not, and Paul did not say that, either.  And as Paul says, we should work together to develop them as much as we can to serve God.  
But no matter what gifts we’re given, and no matter how hard we work to develop them, they’ll never be quite right.  We will never be able to develop them completely while we’re on earth.  And ultimately, they will all cease and pass away, just as we, ourselves, will all cease and pass away from the earth some day.  The only thing that will remain, the only thing that will never fail, is love.
Think of it this way.  Think of a teacher or coach you really liked.  Do you remember specific lessons they taught you?  Or do you remember that they cared about you and wanted to help you do the best you could?  Think of a pastor or a Sunday school teacher who made an impression on you.  Do you remember specific things they taught you?  Or do you remember that they cared about you and were there for you whenever you needed them?  If you grew up in a loving home, think of your parents and grandparents.  Do you remember specific things they taught you?  Or do you remember that they loved you and cared about you and that they’d be there for you no matter what happened?
Love never fails.  The things we do without love eventually will always, inevitably, fail.  But the things we do with love will live on.  In fact, when we do things out of love, the love we show will love on long after the specific thing we did has been forgotten.
That’s why the gospels, and the letters, and all of the New Testament emphasize so much that God is love, and that what we’re supposed to do is love God and love other people.  We talk sometimes about the things God has done, and God has done great things.  God created the world out of nothing.  God created everything we see, every tree, every rock, every plant, every animal, every bird, every insect.  God created you.  God created me.  And God is still creating.  And it’s awesome what God has done and what God continues to do.
But imagine if God had created all that without love.  Can you even imagine that?  I’m not sure I can.  What would the world be like without love?  What would God be like without love?  What would you and I be like without love?  It’d be terrible.  No one would want to live in a world like that, and no one would want to worship a God like that.  I really cannot imagine it and I really don’t want to even try to imagine it.
And praise God, we don’t have to.  Because God did create us with love.  And God created the world with love.  Because God is love.  And when we show love to someone, we are behaving in as much of a God-like manner as it is possible for humans to behave.
It’s important for us to work together to develop the spiritual gifts God has given us.  But it’s more important for us to use them with love.  Love is the most excellent way.  Love never fails because God never fails.  And God is love.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Four Seasons

We’ve had some cool days lately, with the highs barely getting into the low 70s.  That’s pretty unusual in August.  I thought the first week of school had to have highs in the 90s, but I guess not.  It’s going to get warmer again, but the temperatures, as well as the start of school, are a notice to us that summer is nearly over.

I don’t like that.  Summer is my favorite time of year.  I love the warm days.  I love being able to walk outside without a coat the first thing in the morning.  I love being able to ride my bicycle around town.  I love going to baseball and softball games.  I even love the thunderstorms, as long as I’m inside when they happen.  I love just about everything about summer.  I’m not looking forward to it being over.

But, of course, it is going to be over.  Soon it will be fall, and then it will be winter.  I’ve lived in South Dakota for my entire life, and I’ve never known a year when it did not happen that way, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to work that way again this year.  I’m not planning to leave South Dakota, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to continue to work that way for the rest of my life.

But you know what?  It’s okay.  I’ve said before that if we don’t like something, we have two choices.  We can either change it, or we can accept it.  I can’t change the weather, so I have to accept it.  And I do.

And the truth is that I can find something to enjoy about every season of the year.  Fall is nice.  There’s football in the fall.  School starts, which I know doesn’t please everyone, but it brings all kinds of school activities to go to.  There are all kinds of church activities, too.  The leaves change colors and are beautiful.  The cool mornings and evenings make me appreciate the warm afternoons all the more.

I have a harder time finding something to enjoy about winter, but there are some things.  My birthday is in the winter.  So are Christmas and New Year’s.  The Super Bowl is played in the winter.  And have you ever been outside on a cold, clear night and looked up at the stars?  There are so many of them, and they’re so bright.  It’s just an incredible sight.

And of course, spring is beautiful, too.  We get the spring rains.  Lots of baby animals are born in the spring.  And everywhere you look, everything looks fresh and green.  Baseball starts again.  It’s a rebirth of the entire world, in a way.  And of course, there’s Easter, and a time of spiritual rebirth as well.

We are privileged, really, to live in an area of the world where we can experience and appreciate all four seasons.  God created a world of infinite beauty and infinite variety.  We are allowed to see more of that than many people are.  We should be grateful to God, not just for creating all this beauty, but for allowing us to see it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Do You Believe In Happy Endings?

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, August 21, 2016.  The Bible verses used are Revelation 21:1-8 and 22:1-7.

When I was a little kid, my parents or my brothers would read fairy tales to me.  Did that happen with you?  Or did you ever read fairy tales to your kids?  You know the kind I mean.  They’d start out with “Once upon a time…”  And you’d get the story, and of course the hero would defeat the villain, and it would close with “...and they all lived happily ever after.”
When we’re little kids, we can believe in happy endings.  But then life hits us.  Sometimes life hits us pretty hard.  Bad stuff happens to us.  Bad stuff happens to people we care about.  The hero does not always defeat the villain.  In fact, we learn that a lot of times there are no heroes and no villains.  Sometimes, bad things just happen, and there’s no one at fault, no one we can blame, no one we can get mad at.  A lot of times people don’t seem to live happily ever after.  And so, it’s easy to lose faith in happy endings.
            We still want to believe, though.  That’s why Hallmark Channel movies are so popular.  That’s why there are so many TV stations showing reruns of shows like Andy Griffith.  We want to believe in Mayberry.  We want to believe in a place where the problems are simple and can be resolved with a little common sense and some of Aunt Bee’s fried chicken.  We want to believe in happy endings.
            Our Bible reading for today describes what we could call the ultimate happy ending.  It’s the happiest of happy endings, at least for those of us who are Christians.  It describes the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.  It describes the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven.  It describes God living with God’s people.
            Listen again to how this is described:  God “will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain...To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”
            It goes on to talk about the river of life.  It says its water is “as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.  On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse.”
            That’s a pretty happy ending.  Now, it’s not going to be a happy ending for everybody.  The fairy tales did not have a happy ending for everybody, either.  As you heard, the verses also say that “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars,” they all receive the second death.  But for the rest of us, those who remain faithful to God and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, there is the happiest of happy endings.  There is eternal life, without any crying or pain, in the presence of God.
            We’ve asked the question many times, “Why does God allow all these bad things to happen?”  In the world described in the book of Revelation, nobody will ask that question, because the bad things will not happen.  In fact, I kind of get the impression that, at that point, we won’t ask any questions at all.  Not because asking questions will be forbidden or anything, but because we won’t feel any need to ask questions.  There’ll be nothing more that we need to know, nothing more that we feel we need to understand.  There will just be eternal love and peace and joy in the presence of God.
            And so the question is, do we believe any of that?  Do we believe in that happy ending the book of Revelation describes?  Or do we consider it just a fairy tale, something that sounds good but that really has nothing to do with the way the world really works?
            It’s not an easy question to answer.  What we’re being asked to believe is something that often runs counter to our human experience.  We’re asked to believe in a world that is not like the world in which we live.  It sounds good.  We’d like to believe in it.  But how can we?
            I started out by referencing how, when we’re little kids, we do believe in happy endings.  We do believe that good can defeat evil and that people can live happily ever after.  Maybe that’s part of what Jesus meant in Mark Ten when he said that we need to come to faith like children.  Remember what Jesus said there?  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
            Little children accept good things.  They don’t question them.  They don’t suspect anyone of having hidden motives.  Little children can accept that people love them without wondering why.  Little children can accept that God loves them without wondering why.  Little children can accept that our faith can lead to a happy ending.  And little children can believe that, in the end, God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth, a place where God lives with us and we can live in love and peace and joy.  A place where we can all live happily ever after.
            Little kids can do that.  Can you?  Can you put aside your adult cynicism?  Can you put aside your adult worries and concerns?  Can you put aside your adult fears?  Can you receive the kingdom of God like a little child?
            Again, it’s not easy.  That adult cynicism, those adult worries and concerns and fears, exist for good reasons.  One of the reasons we adults question things so much is that we’ve gotten burned.  We suspect people of hidden motives because we’ve run into too many situations where people had hidden motives.  We wonder why people care about us because we’ve run into situations where people just pretended to care about us for what they could get out of us and when there was nothing more they could get they dropped us.  We did not stop believing in happy endings because we wanted to.  We stopped believing in happy endings because there were too many times where they just did not seem to be true.
            But you know, there are a lot of times in the Bible where things did not end happily.  A lot of the prophets had miserable lives that ended badly.  A lot of the original disciples’ lives ended badly, too.  And Jesus’ life on earth ended about as badly as it was possible for it to end, being killed on a cross.
            But here’s the thing.  In each of those cases, what appeared to be a bad ending was not an ending at all.  I’m sure some people thought it was.  But it was not.  A prophet’s life might have ended badly on earth, but they went to heaven and another prophet was called to carry on God’s message.  The original disciples’ lives might have ended badly on earth, but they went to heaven and more people were called to carry on the message of Jesus.  Jesus’ life on earth ended badly, but it led to the forgiveness of our sins, Jesus was resurrected, and the Holy Spirit has come to carry on the work of God.
            And that’s what we need to remember in our lives.  What we see as a bad ending is not really the ending at all.  Again, go back to those childhood fairy tales.  They had all kinds of twists and turns, right?  There were times when it looked like the villain was going to win.  If our parents had stopped reading the story to us before it was over, we’d have thought the villain did win.  But we would not have believed that.  We’d have known better.  We’d have known that there had to be more to the story, that the happy ending was still to come.
            That’s what we need to remember if we’re going to receive the kingdom of God like little children.  Sometimes, when we look around us, it looks like the villains are winning.  And if we thought this was going to be the end of the story, we’d think the villains are going to win.  But we know better.  We know there has to be more to the story.  This is just a plot twist.  The happy ending is still to come.
            When will it come?  We don’t know.  We don’t know how long the story is.  As we said last time, we may be near the end, we may be in the middle, or we may still be near the beginning.  This story is not like a book, where we can look to see how many pages are left.  It’s like an oral story, a story told by a storyteller who might go on for a long time or who might be almost done.  We simply have no way to know.
            But if we have faith, if we have faith like little children do, we know the happy ending is coming.  We know the good is going to win.  We know God is going to win.  And we know that if we have faith in God and believe in Jesus as our Savior, we’re going to win, too.
            The Bible promises us a happy ending.  Can you believe it?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

After the Gold

Have you been watching the Olympics?  I have, when I can, which I guess won’t come as a surprise to you.  Most people know what a sports fan I am, and so it’s pretty natural that I’d be interested in the Olympics.

I was watching the gymnastics the other night.  There’s a young woman in the gymnastics named Simone Biles.  She won four gold medals and a bronze medal.  She’s nineteen years old, and she’s the greatest female gymnast in the world.  Some say she may be the greatest female gymnast ever.

That’s a pretty amazing thing, of course.  And I know she’s worked very hard, and trained very hard, to accomplish this.  Yes, she has some natural ability, too, but all the natural ability in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t develop it.  I’m sure Simone Biles has put in many long days for many years in order to achieve what she’s achieved.

But here’s the thought that occurred to me.  Suppose you were Simone Biles.  You’ve been working all of your life to achieve a goal.  And now you’ve achieved it.  And obviously, you’re incredibly happy.  But at some point, the incredible joy of that moment is going to fade.  And the question becomes, now what?

I don’t mean this to in any way diminish what she has achieved.  She set an extremely high goal, and she achieved it.  That’s awesome.  It’s just that, well, at nineteen, you’ve still got a heck of a lot of your life ahead of you.  Somehow, in some way, she’s going to have to re-orient her life.  She’s going to have to find some other goal.  She’s going to have to figure out some other thing to center her life around. 

That thing may be in the field of gymnastics, or it may be in something entirely different.  I don’t know anything about her, other than that she’s an incredible gymnast, so I have no idea what it might be.  I don’t know if she knows what it might be, or if she’s even really thought about it very much yet.  But if she hasn’t, at some point she’s going to need to.  The only alternative is to sit around and try to re-live past glory the rest of your life, and I’m sure she realizes that’s no way to live.

It’s not just Simone Biles that this applies to, of course.  You could say the same of Michael Phelps, for example.  Phelps is thirty-one, which is substantially older than nineteen, but he still has an awful lot of life ahead of him and is going to have to find something other than being a star swimmer to center that life around.

As I thought about that, I thought about how God calls all of us to serve God in some way.  But the thing is, that way may change over time.  At one time, God called me to be a lawyer.  Now, God has called me to be a pastor.  In the future, God may call me to do something else, I don’t know.  I hope not—I love what I do—but we never know when or where God may call us.

It’s the same for you.  The way you serve God has probably changed over the years, too.  You cannot do some things now that you could do before.  But you can do other things now that you could not do before.  And as long as we are on earth, we are still called to serve God in some way.

Simone Biles may have been called by God to be a great gymnast.  Michael Phelps may have been called by God to be a great swimmer.  But as they get older, God will call them to be something else.  I pray that they will be open to where God calls them.  I pray that you and I will be open to where God calls us, too.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Go Your Way

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of Onida and Agar on Sunday, August 7, 2016.  It will be given Sunday, August 14 in Gettysburg.  The Bible verses used are Daniel 12:5-13.

            There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world.  There are wars.  There are terrorist threats, which sometimes turn into terrorist attacks.  There’s persecution of Christians in some countries.  There’s a lot of stuff going on in the country, too.  We have our own terrorist threats, which also sometimes turn into terrorist attacks.  We have shootings.  We have people pitted against each other in all kinds of ways.
            Some Christians look at these things and wonder if they might be signs of the coming of the end.  They wonder if these are signs that we’re in the end times, when Jesus is going to come back to the earth.
            Well, I don’t know.  I mean, if you think that, I cannot tell you that you’re wrong.  You could be right.  I really don’t have any idea.  I don’t know if we’re in the end times or in the beginning times.  After all, civilization as we know it has only been around for about six thousand years.  What if we’re going to around for sixty thousand years?  What if we’re going to be around for six hundred thousand years?  Again, we could be in the end times, I don’t know.  But it’s also possible that we’re still in the very early stages.
            What I can tell you is that there’s nothing new about all this end times stuff.  We’re continuing our sermon series, “Let’s Go to the River”, by looking at something that happened, at least in Daniel’s vision, at the Tigris river. 
In our Bible reading for today, Daniel was given a vision.  He’s told of a time when there’s going to be a time of great distress, but then the people of Israel are going to be delivered from it.  And then, Daniel is told, there will be a day of judgment.
            And then come the verses we read for today.  The question is asked, how long will it be until all this stuff happens?  And the answer is “it will be for a time, times, and half a time”.  And Daniel says, gee, thanks for clearing that up.
            If you research this, you can find various meanings and explanations for that phrase “a time, times and half a time”.  But I think it’s interesting that Daniel says, “I heard, but I did not understand.”  Apparently, Daniel himself did not know what this phrase meant.  So I’m not sure we should be too confident that we understand it, either.
            But here’s what I think is really interesting.  Daniel does not understand, but he wants to.  He wants to know more.  So after Daniel tells us that he does not understand, he asks, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?”
            And here’s what he’s told:  “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end….go your way till the end.”
            “Go your way”.  To me, what that means is that Daniel is being told, don’t worry about it.  God has it handled.  Go live your life.  Do what you’re supposed to do.  Do your best.  Follow God.  Trust God.  Don’t worry about all this end times stuff.  God will take care of it.  In fact, it’s all written down.  God’s already taken care of it.  It’ll be all right.  Just go your way and do what you’re supposed to do.
            And I really think that’s what God would like to say to us, too.  Whether you think we’re in the end times or the beginning times or the middle times.  Whether you think about any of this stuff at all.  I think God would tell us, “Go your way.  I have it handled.  Go live your life.  Do what you’re supposed to do.  Do your best.  Follow me.  Trust me.  It’ll be all right.  I’ll take care of things.  Just go your way.  Do what you’re supposed to do.”
            And too many times, we don’t want to hear it.  Or that’s probably not the way to put it.  We’d like to hear it.  It sounds good.  We want to believe it.  But somehow, we just cannot get ourselves to do it.
            Instead we say to God, “How can you say that?  Have you looked around at your world lately?  Have you seen what’s happening in it?  Do you see all this stuff that’s going on?  It looks to me like the bad guys are winning.  How can you tell us to just go our way, live our lives, trust you?  How can you tell us you’ve got it handled?  It does not look like you or anyone else is handling anything right now.  It looks like everything’s out of control.”
            And I agree with some of that.  There are times when it does look like everything’s out of control.  There are times when it does look like nobody’s handling anything.  And as I’ve said before, if we believe in an all-powerful God, then logically we have to believe that God could put a stop to all this stuff if God wanted to do so.  And yet, all this stuff continues to happen.
            As often happens in the Bible, we’re not told what Daniel thought when he was told, “Go your way.”  In fact, the book of Daniel ends at this point.  We don’t know what happened next.  We don’t know what happened to Daniel or anyone else in this story.
            But maybe that’s part of the point, too.  Because we don’t know what’s going to happen to us, either.  We don’t know what the rest of the story is.  As Daniel was told, the words are closed up and sealed.  We’re just going to have to live it out, one day at a time.
            And that’s why we have to make a choice.  We can choose to live our lives believing that all kinds of things are going wrong and everything’s out of control.  We can live our lives in fear of the future, thinking that the bad guys are winning and they’re going to keep winning.  Or, we can do what God tells us.  We can go our way.  We can choose to believe what God told the prophet Jeremiah, that God has plans to prosper us and not harm us, plans to give us hope and a future.  We can choose to believe what God told the prophet Isaiah, that God’s thoughts are not the same as our thoughts and that God’s ways are not our ways.  We can choose to believe what God told the prophet Habakkuk, that God is still in the holy temple and that God is still in control.
            And I don’t want to pretend that this is an easy choice to make, because it’s not.  It’s hard for us not to believe what we see right in front of us.  It’s hard for us to look at all the bad things happening in the world and say, “I’ll just go my way and live my life because God’s got it handled.”
            And let me make clear that when Daniel was told “go your way”, Daniel was not told to avoid responsibility.  He was not told to just sit home and not do anything.  We are supposed to be active in the world we live in.  God has things handled, but God’s way of handling things usually involves using people.  People like you, and people like me.  We’re still supposed to go out and do something about the problems in the world.  And we can start by doing the things Jesu told us to do.  We can start right where we are, by loving our neighbor and going and making disciples of Jesus Christ.
            And that sounds good, of course.  But it’s still easy to think, “Well, what difference will that make?  Sure, it might make things better for a few people around here, and that’s a good thing.  But it won’t change anything in the world.  It’s not like me loving my neighbor is going to stop ISIS or something.”
            And no, probably it won’t.  But you know, this is not the first time it looked like everything was going wrong in the world.  Some of you are old enough to remember World War II.  In fact, some of you were in it.  The world had just seen the Great Depression, and now it saw the Second World War.  There were a lot of people who thought everything was going wrong and that it might be the end.  But it was not.  God was still in control, even though it may not have looked like it.  And God had it handled, even if people could not see how at the time.
            And as we look back in history, we can see this happening time after time.  It even happened in Biblical times.  People thought everything was going wrong and that it might be the end.  But it was not.  God was still in control, and God had it handled, even if people could not see it at the time.
            And God’s still in control.  And God still has it handled.  Now, understand, the Bible tells us the end times are going to come at some point.  We’re going to talk more about that next week.  But was Daniel was told, and what we’re told, is that we don’t have to worry about that.  Even if it does come in our lifetime, we don’t have to worry about it.  Whatever’s going to happen, God’s already taken care of it.  All we need to do is live our lives the best way we can.  All we need to do is follow God and trust God.
            So let’s do that.  God will take care of the world.  And God will take care of you.  And God will take care of me.  So trust God.  And go your way.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Be Prepared

It’s been hot.  It’s cooled off some the last couple of days, but we’ve had quite a bit of hot weather this summer.  And there’s nothing unusual about that.  Heat in summer is like cold in winter.  We may not like it, but we know it’s going to happen.

It seems to me that when you don’t like something, there are two things you can do about it.  You can change it, or you can accept it.  Well, technically, there’s a third thing you can do.  You can complain about it.  And that, of course, is an option that we often take.  But while complaining may be temporarily satisfying, it does not help anything in the long run.  And so, we’re back to our other two options.  We can either change it, or we can accept it.

And of course, sometimes, we really only have one option, because there are some things that we cannot change.  One of them is getting older.  We cannot change the fact that we will get one day older every day, one month older every month, one year older every year.

Some of us don’t like that.  And there are things we can do that will hold off the aging process for a while.  We can try to eat right.  We can try to get proper exercise.  We can do things to keep our minds healthy and active.  And that sort of thing will help, for a while.  But only for a while.  Ultimately, unless something happens suddenly, we are all going to continue to get older, until we all eventually die.

Which, of course, is another thing we cannot change.  We cannot change the fact that we are all going to die.  Again, we can try to hold it off as long as possible, but the one thing we know is that there will come a time for each of us when it is time to leave this world and go to the next one.  We may not like that, but we cannot change it.

So, if we cannot change it, that leaves us no alternative but to accept it.  But what does that mean?  I don’t think it means that we should constantly dwell on death.  I’ve said many times that we need to make the most of every day that God gives us on this earth.  We need to live every day to the full extent that we can.  I try to do that, and I believe we all should. 

But at the same time, we also need to live with an awareness that those days will come to an end at some point.  And one thing that I think that means is that we need to be prepared for death.  We need to be prepared in every way possible:  mentally, emotionally, financially (if possible), and spiritually.

In the spiritual sense, being prepared means staying as close to God as we can.  It means asking God to put God’s Spirit into our hearts and into our souls.  It means doing whatever we can to feel God’s presence with us every day, no matter what happens.

I don’t know how it works for you, but for me, when I feel God’s presence with me, I feel like I’m prepared for whatever happens.  Not because I know what to do, but because I know God will know what to do.  If God is with me, I know that all I need to do is do the best I can, and God will see to it that things go the way they’re supposed to go.  That may not be the way I want them to go, but it will be the way God wants them to go.  And that’s really all that matters.

We can try to adapt to the weather, but we cannot change it.  We can try to hold off the aging process, but we cannot change it.  And we certainly cannot change the fact that one day, we will all pass away.  But with God’s help, we can be prepared for all of these things.  And when they happen, we can accept them, knowing that God is with us and that God will make things go the way they are supposed to go.