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

September 13, 2018

taking-up-your-cross.jpg

Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV) 
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28 And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29 He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Our youth group used to go to youth rallies at least once a month when I was a teenager. The speaker at these rallies was usually a former drug addict or someone who had been in trouble with the law but had turned his or her life around because of Christ.

I remember one rally in particular. It was at Whitnel United Methodist Church near Lenoir, North Carolina. The rally was conducted by a group of former drug addicts who had formed a Christian band. After an hour-and-half of testimony and music they gave an altar call. I remember my friend David Wagner standing up to pledge his life to Christ. I also remember thinking to myself that if David was going to stand, I would too.

Like Peter, James, and John and the other disciples, I decided to follow Jesus. But like the disciples, especially Peter, I didn't really understand the contract I was signing. Nothing in my life really changed after that evening. The next day at school things were back to the same.

Jesus said that we have to lose our life for His sake. That means taking up our cross and following Him. It's a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary in order to bring about His Kingdom work.

I ran cross country track for three years in High School. During my first year at Hudson High School, I was the only freshman on the team. I was determined to make my mark but usually ran in the middle of the pack. Most of the good runners graduated that year. My sophomore year promised to be the year I could shine as a runner. At our first match, I started out strong but half way through the race I gave out. I fell to the middle of the pack, the same position I run my freshman year. I was embarrassed and angry.

Our next match was two weeks away and I was determined to do better. I practiced with the team every day but then ran extra miles after the rest of the team was finished. Sometimes I would run until dark. Instead of taking the weekends off like I had done before the first race, I ran ten to fifteen miles on Saturday and Sunday.

Our next race was at Freedom High School. I started out in the middle of the pack knowing that I needed to pace myself. In the last mile I started moving up. I had the stamina I needed to run hard and fast. I started picking off runners one at a time. I sprinted the last half mile and ended up in fourth place. I was never a great runner but I learned that being a good runner takes sacrifice and practice.

Being a follower of Jesus is more that signing up for the team. It takes sacrifice and effort. Following Jesus is not always easy. Too often we want discipleship to be like the algebra student who stumbled on the right answer without struggling through the difficult, painful, equation. Discipleship doesn't work that way.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his famous book, the Cost of Discipleship, says that we cheapen grace. We treat it like cheap items that we buy at a yard sale. It's cut rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, and cut-rate sacrament. We treat grace like an inexhaustible pantry available for free whenever we need it. It is grace without cost. Cheap Grace, he says, is grace without discipleship, without the cross, without the incarnate Jesus.

Costly grace is the gospel that must be sought again and again. It is costly because it calls us to do discipleship; it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus. It is costly because it cost people their lives; it is costly because it gives us our lives. Bonhoeffer knew what he was talking about. He died for his believes on a German gallows a year after completing his book. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 9/6/2018

The Syrophoenician Woman.jpg

Mark 7:24-37 (NRSV) 
24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 28 But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29 Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go-the demon has left your daughter." 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

I'm not sure where I found the following quote but I think it is worth sharing:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; there is nothing as common as unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.

The Syrophoenician was a pagan, a foreigner and a persecutor of the Jewish people in the disciple's eyes. She was outside the boundaries of Jesus' mission and ministry. Jesus seemed to be cold and dismissive in His response to her and, yet, she was persistent. She was the conversational equivalent of Jacob who would not stop until he had wrested a blessing from his winged assailant. She was tenacious as Abraham bargaining with God for the lives of people in Sodom and Gomorrah. Like her predecessors, the woman was successful in getting what she wanted from Jesus. Jesus gave in and healed her daughter.

In reading this story, I've decided that trying to discover the mind or intention of Jesus is probably not the best approach. Maybe I should focus on the woman. Maybe this is a story of helplessness? Could it be a story of powerlessness where women of that day had no place in society? Is it about the struggle of having a mentally ill daughter?

When you ask these questions, you start to understand helplessness, to think you are outside of God's love. It gives you a sense of what it is like to think that no one will help, that no one cares. The woman is desperate. Ultimately, she is also persistent and in her tenacity shows a remarkable faith.

Maybe there is a message. Maybe we are like the woman. Maybe we feel helpless, powerless, and in need. Maybe we need what Jesus has. The question is are we willing to pursue Jesus with the same persistence as the Syrophoenician woman? Think about it.

Matthew

Blog Post from Pastor Clark - sermon - September 2nd, 2018

My grandmother had some great sayings, as grandmothers are wont to do.

Don’t live your life like you have one foot in the grave and one on a banana peel
— Grandmother Chilton
Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.
They say the clothes make the man. Naked people are little use to society

Okay, to be candid: those last two are attributed to Mark Twain. But the first one IS my grandmother's quote! 

Here’s another one: “Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to say it!“

Jesus says that it is out of the heart that evil thoughts come (Mark 7). The “heart” (Greek-kardia), as its translated in English, is better translated as the seat, source, center or foundation of one’s being. The heart is used as a metaphor for the seat of our most basic orientation, our deepest commitments — what we trust the most (Proverbs 3:5; 23:26);

The “heart” to English speakers means the emotions, and yet the Bible also says our thinking comes from the heart (Genesis 6:5; Proverbs 23:7; Daniel 2:30) as well as our willing, our plans and decisions (Proverbs 16:1,9; Matthew 12:33-34). This may sound confusing until we realize the Bible’s view of human nature is revolutionary, different than what you find in other human systems of thought.  

Pastor Tim Keller says it well:

"To the Greeks and Romans, the great human struggle was between the mind and the passions. If you wanted to achieve strength, courage, self-control, and wisdom, you learned to submit the emotions to the dictates of reason. During the Enlightenment period, there was a resurgence of this thought as well. 

For modern people, the great struggle is almost the reverse. We believe our deepest feelings are "who we really are" and we must not repress or deny them. The great human struggle is between the emotions and a seemingly repressive society that so often stands in the way of self-expression and realization.

The Bible teaches neither of the above. It says the human struggle happens within a single entity — the human heart. The main human struggle is not between the heart and something else, but between forces that tear it in different directions. The great battle is deciding to whom your heart’s greatest love, hope, and trust will be directed."

If evil can proceed from the heart, as Jesus teaches, how can we have a clean heart? How can we direct our heart's toward Jesus, whom we KNOW is supposed to our greatest love? Is it possible to grow in grace and holiness without being a pharisaical maniac? Of course, the answer to all of these questions is yes. 

Join us this Sunday as we hear this idea:

How you feel is how you feel, but what you then do with those feelings is your responsibility.

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday at all three of our worship services and Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Christ in Us,

Pastor Clark

 

From the Well - 8/23/2018

jungle_path_by_renegadellf.jpg

John 6:55-69 (NRSV) 
55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

The great Methodist missionary and theologian, E. Stanley Jones, tells of a missionary who was lost in the jungle. There was nothing around him but bush and a few cleared places. After wondering in circles for many hours, he eventually came to a clearing where there was a native hut. He asked the man living in the hut if he could show him the way out of the jungle. The native said that he could. "Very good," said the missionary. "Please show me the way."

The native said, "walk," so they walked and hacked their way through the unmarked jungle for more than an hour. The missionary started to worry if the native man knew where he was going so he asked, "are you quite sure this is the way? Where is the path?" The native said, "Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path." [1]

Jesus said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." He also said, "I am the Light, I am the Good Shepherd, and I am The Way, The Truth, and life." When we ask for direction and turn our hearts over to Christ, we soon learn that He is The Path, the path that we need to take. Think about it.

Matthew

[1]As told in Homiletics, "Dome on the Range," August 2006, 71.