Monday, July 23, 2007

"Showdown at the O K Corral"

Waldron Methodist July 22, 2007
“Showdown at the O K Corral”
1 Kings 16:23-17:6, 18: 22-46
We begin with Ahab:
After the death of Solomon, Rehoboam took over as the king of Israel. A minor court official named Jeroboam led the northern tribes out of the nation and called themselves Israel. The rest of the country, including Jerusalem, is called Judah.
The writers of 1 Kings, have almost nothing good to say about the kings of Israel. They were the leaders of the renegade tribes. Jeroboam was said to have done nothing good during his reign. He led the nation of Israel into sin and degradation. He worshipped the Canaanite fertility god known as Baal, and the fertility goddess known as Asheroh. We’ll talk more about them later.
As king succeeded king in Israel their crimes grew worse. The worst of the worst was Omri. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Ahab becomes king. He was Omri on steroids. First he married a foreign woman, Jezebel, who led into Baal worship. In verse thirty one we find that he “considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat.” He became worse by building a temple to Baal in Samaria. He then set up an altar for him in the temple. He also made an Asherah pole and, “did more to provoke YHWH(Yahweh), the God of Israel, to anger than did all of the Kings of Israel before him. In modern language that means he was worse than the rest of the kings all “put together”.
Continue with Baal:
We give you Baal. He was the Canaanite fertility god. They believed that his death and resurrection annually brought prosperity to the fields. They also believed he controlled the rain. He was seen as a direct rival to YHWH (Yahweh) the god of Israel.
It was believed that Baal and Asherah was a fertility couple that was so powerful, YHWH could not keep up with them. Most importantly, it was believed that Baal controlled the rain from heaven. In the time of Ahab, their worship became prevalent. There was a real possibility that the worship of YHWH in Israel would cease to exist.
The reason was Jezebel:
She was the Queen of Israel. She brought her court prophets and sought to convert the nation of Israel. Now that proved to be a relatively easy proposition. You see the worship of Baal and Asherah provided for human intercourse with concubines. They believed that as their gods watched this, he would find favor and the land would be more fertile.
The other way Jezebel sought to win the war over YHWH was to openly persecute his prophets. What that really means is if she could get her hands on you she would kill you. Worship of YHWH in his temple was allowed but few came out of fear of Jezebel.
Now we have Elijah:
In the midst of persecution he was the prophet who dared to profess the word of YHWH or God. Keep in mind that Jezebel was trying to catch and kill him in chapter 17, verse one, he appears before the king to say, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor ran in the next few years except at my (Elijah’s) word.”
Elijah then does the first sane thing we know about him. He left town. In fact, he left the country by crossing the Jordan and hiding in a ravine.
The heat was on and now we begin the story:
While Elijah is hiding out near one of the few sources of water for miles around, God was feeding him by means of ravens. Those really were a form of crow in modern language. The drought continued and his water source dried up.
He then headed north and stayed out of the nation of Israel. He went to the city of Zarapeth in Sidon, Jezebel’s country, and stayed with a widow and her son. Through the providence of YHWH, he is fed and watered along with the widow and her son. The boy died and Elijah takes the time to raise him from the dead.
Throughout all this time Ahab is scouring the countryside looking for Elijah. He is even threatening the neighbors if they harbor him. He wanted to get a hold on Elijah, torture him, and end the curse.
After three years of this arrangement YHWH speaks to Elijah. “Elijah,” he said, “it’s time to get this show on the road.” He tells him to go see the king, who is pretty fired up after three years without rain due to Elijah’s word, and tell him that we want an audience with the country.
Now in the days before radio, television, newspapers, organized sporting events; the people had nothing to do. They could not work because nothing was growing in the fields. It hadn’t rained in three years! The king sent runners to the ends of the kingdom and tells everyone to show up on Mount Carmel. They did!
Now I need you to remember something. Everyone thought Baal controlled the rain. Everyone thought Baal controlled the fertility of the fields and earth. YHWH through Elijah is about to bash Baal in the mouth and maybe put an end to this heresy once and for all. The place for the showdown was Mount Carmel.
Mount Carmel (in Hebrew it means the garden of God), juts out into the Mediterranean Sea in the northwestern part of Israel. It was usually the first place to get rain in the country. It’s about halfway between Jezebel’s Sidon and Ahab’s Samaria and was the perfect place for a confrontation. It contained an altar to YHWH which had been torn down. On top was a natural amphitheater in which the battle would rage.
Elijah stepped onto the floor and addressed the people, “how long will you waver between two opinions? If YHWH is God follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
The rules are set. Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets and they will go first. Each side will have an opportunity to take a bull; cut it into pieces; put it on the wood of the altar. But they cannot set it afire. Their God must do that.
So began the prophets of Baal. They prayed, danced and shouted from morning until noon. “Baal, answer us!” But there was no response; no one answered. At noon things began to heat up. Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said, “Surely, he is a god! Maybe he’s off meditating or sleeping. Yell louder to wake him up.”
They danced, and danced. They shouted and danced. Nothing happened. In keeping with their worship they began to shout louder and slash their skin. The blood flowed. Sunset was coming. “But there was no response, no one answered, and no one paid attention.”
Elijah tells the people, “Come here” The altar of YHWH is repaired. A trench is dug, he cut the bull into pieces and lays it on the wood. Then he drenches the offering and the wood three times. At sunset he stepped forward and called:
“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, YHWH, answer me, so these people will know that you, YHWH, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
The mighty fire of YHWH fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifice, wood, the huge rocks of the altar, and the ground. The water in the trench turned into steam and disappeared.
This was, for the nation of Israel, what a redneck would call a “come to Jesus” moment. They fell to the ground and screamed at the top of their lungs, “YHWH is God. YHWH is God. YHWH is God.”
Elijah was a gracious winner. Remember that Jezebel had killed every prophet of YHWH she could get her hands on. Elijah was happy to return the favor. They seized the tired, exhausted, bleeding prophets of Baal and slaughtered them.
Then Elijah turned to Ahab and says, “You better eat, drink, and go home early because the rain that’s coming now will stick your chariot in the mud.”
A small cloud began to form on the horizon. It looked about the size of your hand. Then the sky grew black with clouds, the wind raged and heavy rain pelted Ahab as he rode off to Jezreel. YHWH is God.
This is the tale of a life and death struggle. What lessons can we learn from this? First, Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “love YHWH your God, with all your heart, with your soul, and with your entire mind.” I believe what Jesus was saying to us here is that we should love and serve God with everything we have. He must be at the center of our being, our heart. We walk for God with our entire life force. Walk for God with our entire understanding.
In this passage we learn that you are either serving YHWH; or you are serving another god. There is really no neutral ground. We also see that this is a war. People were being killed as a result of their beliefs. You had an enemy.
Some things do not change. The enemy is one of them. He may look different or disguise himself differently but he is still the enemy. He would like to make us complacent because that keeps us neutral. But we are in a war.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Upcoming Committee Meetings

Wednesday, July 25...The Finance Committee will meet at 7:00 pm in the Fellowship Hall. Members of that committee are: Chair-Aldon Hughes, Marilyn Hicks, Clifford Daily, John Paul Davidson, Cindy Frankin, Libby Goddard, Joe Don Rogers, Harvey Bates, Jack Bethea, Dewey Frazier, Ann Crossett.

Thursday, July 26...The Committee on Lay Leadership (Nominations) will meet at 6:00 pm in the Fellowship Hall. Members of this committee are: Cindy Franklin, Linda Goodner, Donald Goodner, Harvey Bates, Jack Bethea, Mary McKinley, Karan Rogers, Kevin Floyd.

Saturday, August 11...The Worship Comm., the SPPR Comm., the Finance Comm., and the Board of Trustees will all be meeting with Robert to make plans and set goals for the coming year. The meeting will begin at 10:00 am in the Fellowship Hall and will conclude around noon, followed by a light lunch. Those serving on these committees are respectively expected to attend.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Goodnight Irene"

Sermon for July 15, 2007
Robert Lyons, Pastor

Sermon Text: Philippians 4:4-8

The church at Philippi was a beautiful one. There were no stately steeples or anything else to mark its grandeur. Their beauty was from the heart. As a class, the people of the church were the dregs of society. They were the lower class. A Pharisee would have characterized them as “tax collectors and sinners”. They owned no gold jewelry, had no fine clothes, they did not sleep in mansions. They were poor.
While they did not have enough money to pay attention, they did support Paul’s missionary work. In fact, their contributions were among the only ones he would accept. They were a paradoxical mix of poverty and open-handed support of Paul’s mission to people they would never know. They were very attached to Paul and he to them.
And yet they still had some of the same difficulties we have today. In chapter 4, verse 2, Paul asks two of the women in the church to quit bickering and get along. His final words to them are some we can live by. The title of this message is “Goodnight Irene”. The Greek word for peace is Irene (åéñÞíç). In this day and age of many creature comforts, many have no peace in their heart. Irene has left their building. Paul writes to them about things we might be missing in our lives.
The practice of living in peace and without worry requires a focus. In chapter 4 and verse 4 he gives them his focus. A current paraphrase might be to “dance a jig for Jesus.” Oh, and do this ALWAYS! Then, in case they didn’t get the message he takes up precious paper and writes it again! REJOICE!!!
There is a simple principle involved in the human brain. We can only think about one thing at a time. Just one! Another simple principle is that we can choose what we think about. Paul encourages us to make that choice our God. Chapter 2 of this letter contains one of the oldest passages in the New Testament. It was a hymn sung by the earliest Christians. We know this because the Greek style here is very different from the style in the rest of Paul’s writings. Beginning with verse 5 he writes:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So he writes to his church to remember what God did for them.
Next he tells them to put on a mindset. In verse 5 of chapter 4 Paul tells his people to let their “gentleness” be evident to all. The word translated as “gentleness” is one of the most difficult in the entire New Testament for us to understand. That is because we do not have an exact English equivalent. If we did it would be something like: your good natured, sweet spirited, easy to get along with-ness. And he tells them to let that aspect of their personality stand out like the hood ornament on a Mack truck.
“Don’t worry about anything.” Worry is a nasty thing. The word itself is a derivative of an old Anglo-Saxon word that means “to grab you by the throat and choke the life out of you.” In the Matthew 6:25 and following, Jesus indicates that worry was prevalent in the human condition. We know this because he addressed it:
Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet the heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
He then tells his people to give up worry for communication. We have two different words here. The first is prayer. Now, that’s not exactly prayer the way you and I know it. It’s more of the type of thing that I do when I have a lot on my mind and I am driving, or walking, or otherwise engaged. It is that internal conversation one has with God on an ongoing basis.
Then we come to “petition”. That is the sort of thing one does on their knees or in a prayer meeting. Petition is for those times when we stop for a conversation with God. Those conversations must be a dialogue to be effective. Paul tells us to simply turn these things over to God.
He inserts a wrinkle to prayer that we seldom hear from the TV preachers. He says “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
He then tells us in verse 7, that by following the above steps: that if we rejoice in the Lord, keep a good natured spirit, do not worry, pray, petition God, that a peace will come over our life. The peace of God will arrive. Oh, and it’s one of those things we cannot understand. That’s how encompassing it is. This peace guards our hearts like armed bodyguards around a Mafioso meeting or the doorkeeper in a club.
Finally he tells us to exercise a little mind control. If it’s good, think on it. If it’s noble, think on it. If it’s right, think on it. If it’s pure, think on it. If it’s lovely, think on it. I think you get the picture.
Do all these things. Then, the åéñÞíç (peace) of God will be with you. It will be with you forever and ever, Amen.

In Memory of "One of the Good Guys"

Service of Death and Resurrection July 14, 2007
Jack Wengert
Robert Lyons, Pastor
1 Thessalonians 4:13

Emma called me early Wednesday morning. “Jack passed about 3:30 this morning,” she said.” I knew it was coming but something about it didn’t seem right. To tell you the truth, something about this still doesn’t seem right.
Emma said it best, “Jack was one of the good guys. He had his head on straight.” Jack was one of the good guys. People like Jack Wengert are rare. He had a heart bigger than Texas.
Jack retired from the forestry service. In the course of my lifetime, I have been blessed to call more than one forester a friend. One thing I do know about them. They are tough. Early on in their marriage there were no good jobs available. Every day Jack took a bus up into the mountain. He spent the day shoveling snow around the trees so the sawyers could cut trees during the winter. It was tough work but he was a tough man.
In spite of this toughness, he was one of the most wonderful people you would ever meet. Brent told me that he has always looked people in the eye and, with pride, told them he was Jack’s boy. Jack loved his children. He was devoted to his family. He was a loving grandfather who loved his grandchildren so much they, indeed, considered him grand.
Jack was a giver. He was devoted to this church, the Boys and Girls Club, Lion’s Club, the Men’s Prayer breakfast, and generally to helping others. Things would get fixed around this place and no one would know who did it. “It must have been Jack,” people said. Jack loved projects and fixing things. He liked to make trailers of all kinds. He enjoyed making duck blinds and inventing things. His greatest pleasure was finding new uses for objects that no longer had use. Jack liked to work on everything. It was important to him that everything on his place be in “good working order.”
Jack understood the truth of James 2:14-18
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith and has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
You see Jack believed that talk was cheap. Actions, in his book, spoke louder than words. He believed the truth contained in James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!”
Jack treated everyone the same, like people. Larry told me his favorite Jack story yesterday. When they were in Florida, after a Hurricane Andrew, they had a small catering outfit setup for relief workers. Civilians ate well and the military was eating MRE’S. A general came in to inquire if his men were welcome to eat. Jack told him, “yeah.” The general then said he wanted his men to have a reserved set of tables. Jack objected to this and the general went on his way. A few days later the general saw things Jack’s way and the soldiers were able to mingle with their civilian coworkers.
If I think there is the remotest possibility that I might find it necessary to conduct another’s funeral, it is important that I know their spiritual condition. In those affairs, one never assumes. The first Monday I was here, I went up to the hospital for the second time. Emma was kind enough to allow a few moments alone with Jack. I was able to ask him two questions that are of vital importance. “Jack, do you know for sure and certain that if you died tonight, you would go to heaven?”
“Well, yeah,” he replied.
“Jack,” I said, “if you did die tonight, and stood before God, and he said, ‘why should I let you into my heaven?’ What would you say?”
He replied, “cause I’m Jack!” Then he smiled. He waited for a few moments to sweat the new preacher, then he said, “and then I’d tell him, ‘also because I know your boy.’”
You see, Jack did a lot of good things. Only one of them got him into heaven. He accepted Jesus, the Son of God, as his savior to forgive him his sins. After that, everything else was mere icing on the cake.
I want to take this occasion to say that if you cannot, truthfully, answer these questions in the same way Jack did, talk to me. Right now is the only thing we are guaranteed. We never know if we will have time.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

All Things

Robert Lyons, Pastor July 8, 2007
It was April 19, 1995 and a normal workday for me. I lived in Oklahoma City and was an account executive for FedEx. At that time there was no office in the station for me and I worked out of my home. This was a telephone day for me and I sat down to make phone calls from 8:00 A.M. until 9:00 A.M... I then went in and started the shower to let the hot water warm up. I disrobed and stepped into the shower at exactly 9:02 A.M. The house shook violently and rattled the windows so hard that I thought the water heater must have blown up.

Hastily, I ran down the hall, threw open the door to the garage, turned on the lights, raised the garage door and opened the water heater door. There was nothing there but a normal water heater. There was no smoke and no fire. Puzzled, I shut the door and turned to discover all the stay-at-home moms of the neighborhood were gathered in the street in front of the house. You see, in my haste, I hadn’t taken the time to grab a robe.
Soon, thereafter, the world knew what shook my house. A deranged war veteran, Timothy McVeigh, had blown up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building located in downtown Oklahoma City. It was the offices of many of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents who stormed the Waco compound two years before. It was intended as a retaliatory strike against those agents.
The devastation was horrible. Over one thousand people were wounded. One hundred and sixty eight people were killed and many of those were in the daycare that was in front of the truck that contained the bomb. Still more sustained injuries that would have sent them to emergency rooms in normal times.
There was a man in our church who did not show up for work that morning. After twenty four hours he went on the missing persons list. It was only after this that his wife found his datebook in the study. He had an appointment to sign up for Social Security benefits at 9:00 A.M. at the Murrah building.

I could tell you dozens of stories about that day. When all is said and done one simply has to admit, sadly, that this was a terrible tragedy. Most of us in Oklahoma City were affected either directly or indirectly. All knew someone that did not come home that day.

I can still remember a trip to the site the following Sunday night. It was dark, except for the work lights from the rescue crews at the sight. Crowds stood outside the fence that was erected around the block. They stared in numbness and in awe. A choir, holding candles, walked down the street singing “Amazing Grace”. You could definitely feel a spiritual presence at this place.

READ TEXT. Many pastors, well intentioned, quoted this passage from the pulpit on the following Sunday. Most of them made a careful delineation. Not everything that happens in this world is good. There is evil. There is an enemy. He wants us dead and in this case, he won. This was a tragedy pure and simple. I can honestly say that in the coming days we found more blessings than we did bodies.

You see, many were spared that should have been dead. The other FedEx Account Executive in Oklahoma City had a 9:00 A.M. sales call at the building across the street. She was late because the pricing department in Memphis held her proposal too long. The conference room she was scheduled to be was thus empty and no one was injured by the glass shards which destroyed the table, chairs and wall.

Another friend of mine lived in the apartment building that was in the direct path of the blast. At 9:00 A.M. he got out of bed to take a shower. He ran back into the bedroom after the explosion to look out the window only to discover that the window had ripped the mattress to shreds he had been laying on. You see, my friends were not Christians at the time. Had they died that morning they would have spent an eternity without God in a place of unimaginable agony.

Our text does not say that everything that happens in God’s world is good. It does not say that everything that happens to us is good. The entire Book of Job is wisdom literature from the Old Testament of the Bible. Its purpose is to determine why bad things happen to good people. The entire forty two chapters deal with the topic. You see, Job was a good man. According to God’s words he was, “blameless and upright”. God says of Job, “there is no one else like him.” Job feared God and shunned evil.

Job lost it all. First it was his stock. Then it was his precious sons and daughters. His body was then wracked by painful sores. His wife and best friends admonished him to “curse God and die!” In chapter fourteen and verse one he replies that a man who is born of woman has a life that is short and full of trouble. Job never cursed God, but he did question him.

Finally in chapter thirty eight, God deigns to speak. He tells Job that he really does not have a clue how things are run. His words from the next four chapters are best summed up from the book of Isaiah 55:8 where God says that you don’t think like I do and you don’t act like I act. You see we do not have a clue when it comes to the ways of God. They are so far above us that we cannot hope to know more than a small portion of them.

Back in my seminary days I had the privilege of working as a chaplain in an alcohol treatment center. There is a particular passage from the “Big Book” that still sticks with me today. It is simply called “Page 442” and it says:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake.”

This passage means a lot to me because it is a pattern by which I live my life. A lot of bad things have happened to me in fifty-one trips around the sun. Most of them were due to bad choices I made. I became a lot less mad and a lot more glad when I incorporated these words into my personal philosophy.

What happened to our beloved friend Jack Wengert was a terrible and unnecessary tragedy. I do not know why bad things happen to good people. I do not believe it was caused by my God any more than I believe he will run over a child to get his drunken father’s attention. This much I do know, “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”

I long ago gave up on the asking of “why?” That is a luxury I can no longer afford because I find that using it leads only to misery. Now I have learned to accept that bad things happen. Things happen regularly that I cannot control. Until I accept the situations, such as this one with Jack, as being exactly the way they are supposed to be at this point in time, I am usually angry and upset. When I get like that I just want to punch someone in the mouth. That doesn’t really relieve the frustration and it doesn’t help the hand.

As I close this morning I want to share a little ditty that I learned while working with alcoholics:
The past is history.
The future is a mystery.
All we have is today, it’s a gift.
That’s why it’s called the present.

When we live in the past and want to change it we hang on to a lot of questions we have no business asking. It’s the past and you cannot change it. When we worry about tomorrow we simply are giving in to fear and worry. If you are giving in to either of these two temptations, you are not at home in today. Today is all we are really guaranteed.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Getting To Know You

In an effort to become better acquainted with the congregation, Robert would like to invite you to an informal group meeting. The congregation has been divided into groups of about 10. These small groups will meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings throughout the month of July. You will be receiving a card with your date, but if you have a preference or if the date chosen is inconvenient for you, please contact the church office at 637-3734.

July 1, 2007 Sermon "I Don't Know, But..."

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5
(First sermon to the church)

Ladies, one of the hardest things for a man to admit is that I don’t know. Maybe it's so hard for me because I say it so often. I honestly believe that I have made the statement, "I don’t know", more often this week than I have in the past five years:
"What's the phone number here?"
"I don’t know."
"What's your new address?"
"I don’t know."
"Preacher, what can I do to help?"
"I don’t know."
"What will happen in the Jack Wengert situation?"
"I don’t know."
What pains me so much about most of my replies is that I need to know and I need to know now! Maybe that’s the reason I appreciate Paul so much, because he was honest and humble enough to willingly say, "I don’t know" even when he was faced with important questions that needed answers. READ TEXT.
When we look at this text, we must remember that the church at Corinth was going through some hard times, faced with internal struggles and external vices. In their desperation they remembered Paul, the founder of their church, who had personally led many of them to Christ. He was their spiritual leader, and it was natural that they should turn to him for guidance.
In these challenging, uncertain moments, it's natural to look to the past for comfort and strength. You’ve had some good pastors here. You had Deedee who knew how to work with the Conference offices and get such programs as Igniting Ministries started. You had the bright, young and exciting Nathan. You had the gentle and laid back Lynn McClure. Each of your previous pastors brought their own strengths and each touched you differently. Some of you would be so comforted to reach out to those familiar leaders who know this church and would surely have the answers.
Instead, here I am. Most of you are looking at me and wondering "What is he going to be like? Does he have any answers? Is he going to be a flake?" It may or may not help you to know that I am wondering the same thing! You see, WE WANT CERTAINTY!
Please imagine how surprising these words from Paul were to the Corinthians. Instead of saying, "Yeah buddy, those were the days!" Paul reminds them how it had really been. "Don’t you remember?" he asked. "When I first came to you I was very weak and afraid; why I trembled at the mere thought of speaking to you. And even when I did talk, it wasn't anything profound…why, it was just my own words." "No," Paul said, "don’t build me up. I didn’t know what to say then and I’m not sure I do now. Your problems were so big, your needs were so great that I didn’t know how to answer your questions. That’s why I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified!"
Maybe you don’t identify with those words, but I do. It has been my pleasure to meet so many of you this week. Many of you flatter me with your kind comments and high expectations. Inside, I still feel like Paul did. I have not come to you with eloquence, superior wisdom, or a thorough knowledge of the programs, polities, or procedures of the Arkansas Conference. I do stand before you today with fear and trembling. I know there are great challenges ahead and my efforts alone will never be enough to move us where we need to go. I say to you today, along with Paul, "I resolve to know nothing while I am with you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified!"
At times I feel like the blind man in John’s gospel, chapter 9. Perhaps you remember the story. There was a man sitting outside the Temple, a man who had been blind from birth. Imagine how limited his world was. They had no Braille, Seeing Eye dogs, or white canes then. There was no disability insurance or Medicaid. One must earn their living or they did not live. He couldn’t enjoy the beauty of this world for there was no beauty in his utter darkness. He didn’t have the freedom of going where he wanted. He had to, necessarily; take a well ordered path through life. It may have been something like: 50 steps forward from the house, turn right 100 steps along the stone wall, dodge the chariots…..well you get the picture. He could do nothing except beg. There was no "up side" to his life.
Then Jesus came. He mixed a little clay with a little spit and pushed it into the man’s eyes. He washed it off and his eyes were opened! He could see! His whole life was changed. I hazard to say that life, as he knew it, ended that day. HE COULD SEE! HE WAS FREE!
For those who desired a well ordered world, this was a problem. No one could figure it out and the neighbors couldn’t believe the change: "I don’t know how this can be the same man!" The whole event caused an uproar. Some of the neighbors refused to believe it was the same man. Others said it was. The Pharisees got involved. Anyone who would admit that Jesus was the Christ was to be excommunicated. In a society that believed God controlled everything, it was akin to a death sentence. They called the man’s parents. The parents rolled over on their son. They said, "He’s a big boy, you ask him."
The Pharisees asked of the man whether Jesus was the Messiah. The formerly blind man said, "You’re asking me questions I don’t know the answer to. Let me tell you what I do know. I know neither how he did it nor do I care. Then I was blind. Now I see."
He didn’t have to know how it happened. He simply accepted the fact that it did. His eyes were opened but so was his heart. He gained the courage to stand up to the Pharisees (v. 30). He now recognized Jesus as THE MAN!
This is where ministry begins, when we say along with the recovered blind man and with Paul, "There are a lot of things I don’t know….but I do know Jesus the Christ, who overcame Satan, and stormed the gates of Hell." The Romans took their best shot and killed him. Still he beat them, for one day the Empire would become Christian. His Kingdom survived the empire. I say along with the blind man, Jesus changed me!" That affirmation propels me back into full time ministry and will send us all out to do ministry. When we decide to be a church that points the way to Jesus Christ; when we determine to know Christ and to love Christ and to rely on Christ and to be led by Christ; life will change and ministry will flourish!
In the book of 1 Peter 2:9-10 we find, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you might declare the wondrous deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous life. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have." You and I who have been so touched by Jesus Christ now have a chance to touch others with that same message of grace. People NEED grace.
Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world around us is our opportunity for the future. "Declare the wondrous deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous life." Think of the people who will walk through these doors in the coming years. There will be beautiful babies and children. Others will be couples starting out in life. There will be youth who want a place to be taken seriously; men who are disillusioned, women who’ve given up.
Our great purpose is: to share with them the good news that Jesus the Christ is calling and leading us out of darkness and into his beautiful light. His message is one of comfort to the young mother of the colicky baby who is working on three days with little sleep. It offers hope to the man who has established himself in life only to find he still has that hole in his gut. And the great thing about this message is that it's the gift that keeps on giving. It not only offers a better life here but another after the undertaker has you.
The song writer, Brad Paisley, got it right you know:
When I get where I'm going
on the far side of the sky.
The first thing that I'm gonna do
is spread my wings and fly.
So much pain and so much darkness

in this world we stumble through.
All these questions I can't answer
So much work to do.
But when I get where I'm going

There'll be only happy tears.
I will shed the sins and struggles

I have carried all these years.
And I'll leave my heart wide open
I will love and have no fear.
Yeah when I get where I'm going
Don't cry for me down here.
Some might call this a fallback position but it IS the hope that Jack and Emma have right now. You will never hear me knock organizations such as the Civitans or Rotary, for they do many good things. But they just don’t cut it when in the end it is the gospel that matters, and that is what WE have to offer.
I know this is a wonderful church. I am privileged to be your pastor. Over the years, you have touched the lives of hundreds or thousands of people by sharing the good news in a darkened world. For these many years God has used this church to touch lives and help people. You have a proud heritage. I must tell you something today: "You can have an even greater future! Your best days are ahead. Your greatest victories are yet to be won. Your greatest deeds are yet to be done. I will do all that I can to help you move into what can be your greatest times ever. There can and will be a time in which Waldron United Methodist Church proclaims the gospel of Jesus the Christ boldly and proudly. Lives will be changed by God’s Spirit through Jesus Christ.
No planning committee can do this until; no program can do this until; no project can do this until; no pastor or preacher can do this until we are willing to put our selfish ways behind. We are called to lay our lives at the cross and commit ourselves fully to the challenges God puts before us.
This is, indeed, a day of new beginnings! Will you accept this challenge to commit yourself fully? Jesus throws down the gauntlet to you today. It involves change; it takes the same courage as that required of one involved in combat. We are in a battle. We are in a war. We are in a dogfight. We do have an enemy. He does want us dead. We are the people of God, chosen by God. You are a holy nation. Let’s go out and take it to the enemy that his blackness will never cover us. That he will not overcome us. That our light will never go out. We are not a people of darkness, we are THE people of light. Let us go out and be the church!