From the Well - 10/18/2018

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Matthew 5:48 (MSG) 
48 "In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. 

Acts 20:35 (MSG) 
35 In everything I've done, I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You'll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, 'You're far happier giving than getting.' "

In Eugene Peterson’s, Run with the Horses, he tells the story of a family of birds teaching their young ones to fly. Three young swallows are perched on a dead branch that stretches over a lake. The mother swallow shoves the young chicks toward the end of the branch and then proceeds to push them off, one by one. Somewhere between the branch and the water, the first young chick begins working its wings, fledgling off on its own. The second one manages to take off the same way.

The third chick refuses to be bullied by its mother. It holds on to the branch with all of its strength. At one point swinging downward and hanging upside down with a bulldog tenaciousness. Mama bird is persistent. She pecks at the young bird’s talons until it is more painful for the chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. Finally, the young bird lets go and its inexperienced wings begin pumping. The mother swallow knows what the chick does not-that it can fly-and there is no danger in making it do what it is designed to do.

Peterson writes:

Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully, and beautifully. [1]

There are two points that I want to make using this story as a backdrop. First, we are at our best when we give. It is what we are designed to do. Some desperately hold on to themselves and what they have and are ultimately miserable in the process. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried.

The second thing is this: there are people in our community and world who are desperately hanging on to a troubled life. They can only let go if we are here to provide guidance and support through the Body of Christ at Clemmons UMC. The two work together. There is a need to give and the desperate need of those who need to know the transformative experience of following Jesus Christ. It’s a match made in heaven. Don’t you want to be a part of it? Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 43-44.

From the Well - 10/11/2018

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Ephesians 1:15-23 (NRSV) 
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Dr. Gordon Allport in his preface to Viktor Frankl’s most important work, Man’s Search for Meaning, writes of Frankl’s amazing survival and almost mystic transformation in spite of the horrors he endured as a young man in the German concentration camps of World War II.

Allport writes:

. . . there he found himself stripped to a literally naked existence. His father, mother, brother and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens, so that except for his sister, his entire family perished in these camps. How could he--every possession lost, every value destroyed, suffering from hunger, cold and brutality, hourly expecting extermination--how could he find life worth preserving? A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a psychiatrist worth listening to. [1]

Frankl then answers Allport’s question by recounting his experience immediately following his liberation from the camps:

One day, a few days after the liberation, I walked through the country, past flowering meadow, for miles and miles, toward the market town near the camp. Larks rose to the sky and I could hear their joyous song. There was no one to be seen for miles around; there was nothing but the wide earth and sky and the lark's jubilation and the freedom of space. I stopped, looked around and up to the sky--and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world--I had but one sentence in mind--always the same: "I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and he answered me in the freedom of space."

How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence, memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed until I again became a human being.[2]

Released from one of the most leprous of episodes in human history, Frankl could do nothing but kneel before his creator and express extreme gratitude. When Jesus touches us, we can do no less. Think about it as you pray this closing Psalm:

A PARAPHRASE OF

Psalm 66:1-9

On the far side of the mountains, a new world spreads before us.

Rocky ridges give way to rolling grasslands;

the shadows of our past give way to endless sunshine.

The far horizon shimmers in holy celebration.

In sacred silence we stand,

speechless before the rebirth of possibility.

You tested us terribly, God.

At times, we thought we would die, adrift, alone.

You scorched us on the deserts;

you froze us on the glaciers.

We could not help ourselves.

But you gave us shade against the sun,

and fire against the cold.

With your help, we survived every obstacle.

Through our trials you taught us

that you alone are almighty, and not we ourselves.

We owe our survival to God.

We had run out of our own resources.

but God kept us alive and struggling;

God kept us on our feet when no one else cared.[3]

Matthew

[1]Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1984), 7.

[2]Ibid, 96.

[3]Jim Taylor, Everyday Psalms (Wood Lake Books, 1994).

From the Well - 10/4/2018

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Mark 10:2-16 (NRSV) 
2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" 3 He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" 4 They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." 5 But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." 13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

While this particular passage is probably more about Jesus' response to the Pharisee's "hardness of heart" than marriage and divorce, I will speak of marriage in this week's From the Well. The American Christian writer Phillip Yancey, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his marriage, wrote a letter to his wife entitled, "Yes, My Legs Ache, but We Made It." Yancey goes on to compare his 300 months of marriage to mountain climbing.

Some may make this marriage climb in a chair lift, but you and I have climbed it one step at a time, taking deep breaths, holding on tight, determined to reach the top. No wonder our legs ache.

His point is clear. Having a life-long, loving commitment in marriage is hard work but it is worth it. Anybody can marry for richer, for healthier, and for better. Marriage is more about the rhythm of good and bad, sickness and health, rich and poor.

Beverly's parents, Ted and Yvonne Taylor were married for 73 years. My parents, Rev. John and Peggy Burton have been married 62 years and Beverly and I for 37. Love is a gift from God that carries us through all the ups and downs. The composer, Hal Hopson, says it well in his anthem that Beverly and I sang to the congregation at our wedding:

THE GIFT OF LOVE

Though I may speak with bravest fire,

And have the gift to all inspire,

And have not love my wards are vain,

As sounding brass,

And hopeless gain.

Though I may give all I possess,

And striving so my love profess,

But not be giv'n by love within,

The profit soon turns strangely thin.

Come, spirit come, and hearts control,

Our spirits long to be made whole.

Let inward love guide ev'ry deed.

By this we worship and are freed.

Amen.

Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 9/27/2018

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Mark 9:38-50 (NRSV) 
38 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." 39 But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 42 "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 44 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 46 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49 "For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

Ruth Jacobs, who founded the Choristers Guild said,

You don't have to do great things, but little things you are doing can be done with great conviction, great wisdom, great beauty and great love.

Jesus was saying a similar thing when He said, "Have salt in yourselves . . . " In Jesus' day and for many centuries afterwards, salt was important as a preservative and healing agent. It also brought life and taste to food.

I also learned some years ago that salt was used as a fertilizer. It was mixed with the soil to help aerate and give acidity to the ground. During World War II, Europeans returned to using salt as a fertilizer when commercial fertilizers were unavailable. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are like fertilizer. Spread us in the soil and we make a difference.

Mike Metzger said,

Being salt and light demands two things: we practice purity in the midst of a fallen world and yet we lie in proximity to this fallen world. If you don't hold up both truths in tension, you invariable become useless and separated from the world God loves. For example, if you only practice purity apart from proximity to the culture, you inevitable become pietistic, separatist, and conceited. If you live in close proximity to the culture without also living in a holy manner, you become indistinguishable from fallen culture and useless in God's Kingdom.[1]

Being salt as Jesus describes means making a positive impact on those around you. It means following Christ in such a way as to cause others to want to follow. Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Mike Metzger, Fine Tuning Tensions with Culture: The art of Being Salt and light (Suwannee, GA: Relevate, 2007), 4.

From the Well - 9/20/2018

 Cranach’s  “Let the Little Children Come”

Cranach’s “Let the Little Children Come”

Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV)

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

Among the manuscripts on Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno's desk when he died in 1936 was this poem:

Widen the door, Father,

For I cannot enter.

You made it for children,

And I have grown up.

If you do not widen the door,

Have pity and make me smaller.

Take me back to that age

In which to live was to dream.

Children have the capacity to love, trust, to be curious, open, playful, accepting, and vulnerable. We adults lose that capacity as we grow up and begin to pursue worldly greatness.

Jesus serves the lowly and exalts the humble. Jesus receives children. More than that, He says, "If you receive a child, you receive me." Jesus, in essence says the same thing at the end of His ministry as recorded in Matthew's Gospel. On their last day with Jesus, the disciples ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry, naked, and in prison?" and Jesus said, "When you did it unto the least of these (The little ones. The children) you did it to me." "I am the least, the last, the little, the lowly, the child," (Matthew 25:31-46) He said. This was not the Messiah the disciples were expecting. But God thinks differently than the world, differently than most of us. Think about it.

Matthew