“Release” – the 5th Sermon in a Series Called, “The 40-Day Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs, on Sunday, July 23, 2017

“Release” – the 5th Sermon in a Series Called, “The 40-Day Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs, on Sunday, July 23, 2017

Stupid Monkeys…

One technique for catching monkeys is to drill a hole in a coconut, just large enough for the monkey to slip his hand through, and fill it with rice.  When the monkey reaches in, to grab a fist-full of rice, he’s trapped, because his full-fist is too big to pull out of the hole.  The monkey just needs let go.  But, letting go never crosses the monkey’s mind.  He clings to what he thinks he has.  In reality, what he thinks he has, has him.

If only he could let it go, he could be free.  If only he could let it go.

Isn’t nice to be smarter than a monkey?

Before we are too self-righteous about how stupid monkeys are and how smart we are, we probably need to be reminded that there are some who believe humans evolved from monkeys.  Even if you don’t believe that, monkeys do seem to be our closest animal relatives.

Maybe monkeys aren’t the only ones who have a hard time letting go.

I wonder, what’s inside of your coconut?

 

What are your plans?

Learning how to let go is one of the ways that many of us need to be stretched.

Humans, like monkeys, also tend to cling.  We cling to stuff.  We cling to hurts.  We cling to relationships – even unhealthy ones.  We cling to ideas – even when we’re wrong.  We cling to traditions.  We cling to prejudices.  We cling to people – which why we say some people are called “clingy.”  We cling to our children – which is why some people are called “helicopter parents.”

Today, I want us to focus on the myriad ways we cling to the illusion of control.

Most of us believe that we are basically in control of our lives.  We live like we want.  We work where we want.  We hang out with whomever we want.  We eat what we want.

We try to have our finances under control.  We try to have our careers under control.  We attempt to have our kids well disciplined, well behaved, and under control.  We even try to have our spouses under control.

We set daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, annual goals, a 5 and 10 year plans, and plans for retirement.  Our days are well-planned – scheduled to the minute.

Most of all, we keep our images under control.  Even if we don’t really have everything under control, we wouldn’t want anyone to know.  Keep a smile on your face.  Never let them see you cry.  Never let them see you sweat.  Maintain a stiff upper lip.  When anyone asks how you’re doing, just say “great!”  In essence, lie.

Then,d something unexpected, unforeseen, unplanned, uncontrollable happens.  The car breaks down.  The kids get sick.  Lightning strikes.  Your husband gets fired.  Your parent dies.  You’re hospitalized.  The kids move back home after college.  Your aging mother-in-law moves in.  A category 5 hurricane blows through town.  The economy crashes.  The house catches on fire.

Or, maybe it’s not something so negative.  You win the lottery. You’re offered a great new job.  A long-lost friend calls.  You meet your future spouse.  You make a new friendship.  A friend invites you to church, and it changes your life.  You break a terrible habit.  You finally get help you’ve needed.  God calls you to do something unexpected.  You go on a mission trip that changes the way you see the world.

The point is that control is an illusion.  We may attempt to manage some level of control in our lives.  And, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Planning and organization is wise.  But, even the best plans are not always possible to execute, and there’s only so much we can do to plan for the unexpected.  Everything, no matter how well it’s planned or how under-control you think you are – EVERYTHING – is subject to change.  Unexpected stuff happens.

We used to have a magnet on our refrigerator that said, “We plan.  God laughs.”

While we may think that we’re in control; while we might attempt to be in control; while we might cling to our plans and agendas: we’re definitely not in control, no matter how tightly we cling!  You’re not in control of your life, oy anyone else’s.  Control is an illusion.

One of the primary principles of all 12-step recovery programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, is that addicts have to confront the illusion that they are in control and capable of managing their lives successfully.  Every addict believes that they’re in control of their “problem,” and can quit any time.  There’s no hope for recovery until the addict acknowledges they are out of control, and that they have a problem they CAN’T control.  The first 3 steps are…

1.     We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.

2.     We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3.     We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

You may not be an addict that needs 12 steps to recover from an addiction to drugs or alcohol.  But, lots of us are addicted to control, and would do well to, turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.”

 

Sovereign God…

While God gives us free will and responsibility for our lives, God is the only one ultimately in control.  I may control what time I set my alarm clock, or how fast I drive, or what I wear, or what I eat for lunch, etc. But, the Bible is clear, God, and God alone, is ultimately in control.  Theologians use the word “sovereignty” to mean that God is in charge, in control, and that ultimately his divine purposes will be accomplished.

1 Chronicles 29 tells the story of King David gathering all of the materials that were needed to build a Temple for God in Jerusalem.  David made plans to build the Temple himself.  But, due to some significant moral failings, God gave the task of building the Temple to David’s son, Solomon.  So, instead, David humbled himself, and gathered the materials that would be needed.

In 1 Chronicles 29, as David completed his collection, he offered a prayer of thanks.  In verse 11 he prays, “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.  Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.”  I like the way the New Living Translation says it, “We adore you as the one who is over all things… for you rule over everything.” 

God is over all things.  God rules over everything.

It ought to come as great comfort to us to know that, even when we think we are in charge, ultimately God is the one over all things.  That doesn’t mean I can be irresponsible.  I’m responsible for all that God has given me.  But, it does mean that when I mess up, or things don’t go as planned, God is still in control!

            Proverbs 29:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

            And, Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “

 

Living with Open Hands…

Many spiritual traditions talk about the importance of “detachment.”  In simplest terms, “detachment” is learning how to let go of our impulse to cling too tightly to our plans, to let go of our false-sense of control, and to trust more in God.  Detachment is letting go of agendas, plans, control, demands, and expectations.

Henri Nouwen writes, “To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested. It means to be non-possessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to.  A non-possessive life is a free life.”

            Here’s a helpful exercise in detachment.  Hold something in your hand, and make a tight fist.  Cling as tightly as you can.  Really squeeze!  Depending on what your squeezing, clinging might feel uncomfortable.  Eventually, your hand will definitely get tired.

Do you possess it?  Of course.  But, at what cost?  And, with your fist closed tight, how can you receive anything new?

Now, still holding the object, turn your hand palm-up, and release your grip.  Likely, the object is still lying in your hand.  You still possess it.  You can relax.  The item can rest there without stress or pain.

Do you still have it?  Of course. Is it possible it could be taken from your hand?  Yes.  You could close your grip, momentarily, temporarily, if you need to.  But, maybe it needs to be removed from your hand.  Maybe, something even better could be put in its place?

In your relationship with God, do you want to approach him with clinched fists, or with open hands, ready to give and receive?

One of my favorite books is The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis.  The book is a fictional correspondence between a senior demon, named Screwtape, and his apprentice, Wormwood, about their efforts to undermine a young Christian man.  Screwtape shares that what he finds most outrageous about God is how he asks his followers to surrender control of our lives to him, but then gives everything back to us, “When He (God) talks of their losing their selves; He means only abandoning the clamor of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.” 

That’s detachment.  We also call it surrender.

Let me ask you a question.  Do you profess that Jesus is your Lord and Savior?  To call Jesus Savior, acknowledges that you need someone to save you from your sinfulness, and that Jesus did that for you on the cross.  But, “Lord” means something else. Lord is a term of royalty and authority.  A Lord rules over a place and a people.  To say that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is to say that Jesus rules.  He’s in charge.  He calls the shots.

To say, “Jesus is your Lord,” is to say that he’s in charge of your life.  If Jesus is your Lord, that means he is in control, and you’re not!

Many of us say Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  But, really, we just want to benefits of a Savior.  Taking the next step of surrendering to the Lordship of Christ is a difficult step,

Jesus doesn’t have any desire to be just a figure-head in your life, a puppet-king, an absentee landlord, ex-officio, a silent partner, an accessory, or even your assistant manager.  He refuses to be second in command.  Either he is Lord of all, or Lord of nothing.  That’s why he’s crystal clear about what it means to follow him, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  Mark 8:34-37   There are no half-measures with Jesus.  With Jesus, it’s all or nothing.

 

Option C

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people, who are stuck between two options – a or b – neither of which they like.  They’ve done their homework.  They’ve considered the options.  It’s either this or that; black or white; stay or go; yes or no;  A or B.  And, like I said, they don’t like either option.

I don’t personally believe that God is limited to just two options.  I believe in “Option C.”  There’s always an “Option C.”  When I can only imagine Options A and B, it’s because I’m thinking from my very limited perspective.  But, God always has another option; an alternative; maybe a better option; an “Option C.”  But, the only way you’ll discover Option C, typically, is to let go of Options A and B, and surrender control to God.

What outcome are you trying to control?  What are you clinging to?

You have to let go.

You can either trust God, with open hands.  Or, you can clinch your fist and hang on to your plans – like a stupid monkey!

 

 

 

“Look!” The Fourth Sermon in a Series Called “The 2017 Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs on July 16, 2017

“Look!”  The Fourth Sermon in a Series Called “The 2017 Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs on July 16, 2017

Last Sunday, we watched a video, in which the Kid President advised us, “Before you say something about the BBQ sauce on someone’s else’s shirt, take a look at the BBQ sauce on your own shirt.” I don’t know about you, but that sounded very familiar to me.

Like when Jesus said, in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 

I like the way The Message versions says it, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.”

James adds, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”  James 4:12

And, in the words of the great prophet, Bob Marley, “Who are you to judge the life I live?  I know I’m not perfect… before you start pointing fingers… make sure your hands are clean!”

Confession:  I judge people all of the time.

I judge people for what they wear.  I judge people for how they talk.  I judge people for how they spend money.  I judge people for how often they miss church, or if they don’t go to church.  I judge people for how educated they are, or not.  I judge people for where they are from.  I judge people for how they drive.  I judge people for talking too loud on their phones – I don’t need to hear that.  I’ve judged old people and I’ve judged young people.  I even judge people for judging people.

I’ve judged other Christians.  I’ve judged non-Christians.  I’ve judged other pastors.  I’ve judged the President.  I’ve judged family members.  I’ve even judged some of you – most of you – maybe, all of you!  Maybe, I’ve judged you this morning.

And, I know for a fact, you judge me to.  It just goes with the territory of being a pastor.

We are judging, judgmental, judge-ful, judgers!  And, Jesus says… “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  For a bunch of judging judgers, this is NOT good news!

And, to make matters worse, we feel so superior and self-righteous when we do it.  That’s called pride – and it’s a sin – and it’s gross.

Years ago, when I started a church in Port St. Lucie, I intentionally marketed our church as a place for people that didn’t normally feel welcome in church – because of their pasts, or because of how they dressed, etc.  And, that’s who came.  I had clean-cut professionals, and scruffy blue-collar laborers, bikers, builders, landscapers, construction workers, tradesmen, addicts, the bankrupt, poor people, divorcees, former-inmates and current-inmates, a tug boat captain and a Coast Guard officer, a former stripper, a bunch of punk kids from the neighborhood – and everything in between.  In order to help anyone and everyone feel welcome, I grew my hair out long, had my ears pierced, got a tattoo, and wore jeans and t-shirt.  Lots of “church people” came to our church, got one look at me, and never came back – and that was fine.  Lot’s more came, who wouldn’t feel welcome in any other church, looked at me, and stayed.  I always figured if someone couldn’t handle my long hair, then our church wasn’t the right place for them.

Later, when I became a campus minister, I still had long hair and earrings.  But, that created a problem I didn’t expect.  As a campus minister, I preached in churches, like ours, to raise money to support our ministry.  Time after time, I showed up at churches, where I was scheduled to preach on a Sunday morning, robe and Bible in arm, and was completely ignored.  Now, I’m not easy to miss – especially with long hair.  At one glance, you know if I am a regular attender, or not.  Time after time, it was obvious that, until they found out I was the visiting pastor, that I was not wanted or welcome.

I eventually had to cut my hair, because it was getting in the way of raising money for my campus ministry.

The truth is, the only reason I don’t have long hair today is that it’s just too much trouble to grow back, it’s too hot in South Florida, and I don’t want to deal with the complaints.  And, that there would be complaints, is a major problem!  I always tell people; I still have long hair in my heart!

In 2012, a book was written, called UnChristian, based on an extensive study of non-Church-going young adults conducted by the Barna Research Group.  The book reveals that nearly 9-out-of-10 young adults believe that the Church is too judgmental.  Conversely, less than half of those surveyed, including church-goers, believed that churches love unconditionally.

Isn’t the message of Gospel of Jesus Christ that – in spite of our failures, flaws and shortcomings –  Christ loves us, died for us, and saves us, even when we fall way short?  Why do so many people think that the message is, “Jesus will love you, when you stop being a sinner.  We, the Church, will love and accept you when you look like us, act like us, think like us, and get your act together”?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Christians justify judging others by saying, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin,“  as though they’re quoting Scripture.  They aren’t.  It isn’t in there!

Instead, I especially like what Tony Campolo says “Jesus never said, love the sinner, but hate his sin… He said, love the sinner and hate your own sin.”

Jesus asked, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?   You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:3-5)

In other words, “before you hate the speck in your brother’s eye, hate the log in your own!”

Now, listen to me.  Jesus is NOT condoning walking around with sawdust in our eyes.  He is NOT endorsing having eyeballs covered in sawdust.  He is NOT saying that sawdust in a person’s eye is not a problem.

The greater problem is the people who are so quick to see, judge, reject and publically condemn the sawdust in another person’s eye, while they are walking around with a log, or a plank, in their own.

Here’s the image.  Sawdust in your eye is a problem because it impairs your sight.  Jesus talked a lot about spiritual-blindness, and having eyes to see the truth.   Good vision matters – physically and spiritually.  But, comparably, a log or plank in your eye is a far greater impairment than a little sawdust.  If a little sawdust impairs vision, then a log is blinding!

If I’m blind, because I have a log in my eye, how can I see the sawdust in your eye accurately?  If I’m blind, because I have a log in my eye, how can I see accurately enough to assist you with removing the sawdust from yours?  If I’m blind, and have a log sticking out of my eye, how can I possibly get close enough to you to help you with your sawdust – my log will just hit you in the face!  And, if I’m blind to the fact that I have a log in my eye in the first place, then I’m in absolutely no position to say anything to anybody about anything!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” 

Think about that log in your eye, standing between you and the person you’re judging.  That’s what judging does – it distances us.  I can judge you without bothering to know you.  I can judge you without knowing your history, your story, your background, your pain.  I can judge you without getting my hands dirty.  I can judge you easily, without having to do the harder work of self-examination.  I can judge you from a distance, without any intention or desire to help you with your sawdust.  I can just feel safely smug and self-righteous, by keeping my distance.

So, what’s your log?

Is it pride?  Insecurity?  Fear?

Is it self-centered, self-focused, self-righteousness?

Is it an inability to feel empathy or sympathy?

Is it hate?  Jealousy?  Immaturity?

Is it a lack of mercy?

What’s your log?  And, what are you going to do about it?

We can never forget that the opposite of judgement is not acceptance.  Let me repeat that.  The opposite of judgment is not acceptance.  The point of this passage is not to accept the sawdust in other people’s eyes.  Sawdust in eyes is a problem!  The opposite of judgement is self-examination.  Before I judge someone else’s shortcomings, I need to take a good hard look at my own.

Is my own spiritual house in order?

Am I sin free?

Am I doing/being all that I have been called to be?

Am I seeking God?

Do I have any skeletons in my closets?  Any unresolved conflicts?  Any brokenness?  Any shortcomings?  Any failures?

We can never forget that Jesus was judged, too.  Jesus was constantly being judged by the religious leaders, for…

  • Breaking rules, like healing on the Sabbath.
  • Associating with sinners – like tax collectors and prostitutes.
  • Being from Nazareth – nothing good comes from Nazareth.
  • Being the son of a carpenter – not a rabbi.
  • Forgiving sins.
  • Touching and healing the untouchable.

In response, Jesus had a few words for the religious leaders, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. You blind guides!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.   Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23, selected verses)

In contrast, Jesus was amazingly gentle with others – those, whom the religious leaders were quick to judge and condemn…

  • Zacchaeus, the tax collector…
  • The woman, caught in adultery…
  • The prostitute, who anointed his feet…
  • The sick, the blind, the deaf, the lame…
  • Children…
  • The demon-infested…
  • Foreigners…
  • The poor…

Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, “Every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”

The Pharisee’s judgement of Jesus ultimately led to his crucifixion.  But, from the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.” 

Even dying, he didn’t judge.  And, if Christ is for me, who do you think you are to judge me?  If Christ is for you, who am I to judge you?

Jesus said, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

The point is, before you have any business pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye, you need to deal with the plank in yours.  My first spiritual responsibility is to be aware of the log in my eye, and to do all I can to remove it.  Such spiritual awareness only comes with humility.  Such spiritual awareness only comes from surrender, confession, and repentance.

The truth is, there is no place for smugness, or self-righteousness, or priggishness for a truly humble Christian.  ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  ALL are sinners in need of a savior.  EVERYONE has sawdust in their eyes.  EVERYONE needs Jesus.

The more you become aware of the log, or logs, rolling around in your own eye, the less you are likely to judge, and the more likely you are to say to someone with sawdust in their eyes, “Me too.  I get sawdust in my eyes too.”

And, the more we become aware of our own logs – how many there are, and how hard they are to remove, how blind we can be so much of the time –the more compassionate we are likely to be.

Think about it.  If I have sawdust in my eye, I hope you won’t point your finger and condemn me for it.  I hope you will feel compassion for me, and offer to help.

It’s those who are most aware of their own logs, who know the pain and burden of them.  It’s those who are most aware of their own logs, who’ve felt the guilt and shame.  It’s those who are most aware of their own logs, who’ve felt the most helpless at removing them.  And, it is those who are most aware of the logs that have been removed, who are most grateful, and most likely to offer compassion and grace to others.

Makoto Fujimura writes, “Compassion can be made available to those willing to wade into the uncertain, muddy territory of the human heart.” 

            So, back to my question.  What’s your log?  What’s the log that is blinding you to God’s mercy and grace – for you and for others?  What’s your log?

Bless – The Third Sermon in a Series Called “The 2017 Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs on July 9, 2017

Bless – The Third Sermon in a Series Called “The 2017 Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs on July 9, 2017

I’m friends with a Nazarene pastor named Jay.  We worked on our doctoral degrees together.  On the whole, Nazarenes tend to be pretty conservative about lots of things – especially their behavior.  Historically, they don’t go to movies, don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t wear jewelry, don’t gamble, etc., etc.

            While I try to be careful about what I say and how I say it, I can get in silly moods and say some foolish stuff – not hurtful, not mean, not inappropriate, not offensive – just goofy.  While my friend is a fun guy, and we laugh easily, he has a line he doesn’t cross.  More than once he has quoted Matthew 12:36 -37 to me, But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

            Actually, he shortened it, just saying, “Every word.  Every word, my friend.”

Other versions say, “every idle word” or “every careless word” or “every useless word.”

The Bible actually says a lot about the kind of words that are not becoming for Christians to say…

  • Misusing the Lord’s Name
  • False Witness
  • Gossip
  • Meaningless Talk
  • Malicious Talk
  • Unwholesome Talk
  • Foolish Talk
  • Coarse Joking
  • Obscene Talk
  • Deception
  • Ignorant Talk
  • Corrupt Talk
  • Smooth Talk
  • Sinful Talk
  • Lies
  • Slander
  • Seductive Words
  • Perverse Words
  • Empty Words
  • Quarreling
  • Boastful Words
  • Defiant Words
  • Blasphemy
  • Grumbling
  • Cruel Words
  • Rash Words
  • Words of Hatred

There are also a number of good words, that we are supposed to say, which I will get to in a moment.  But, for now, back to Matthew 12:36, “Everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” 

I can honestly say that when I imagine Judgement Day, and giving an accounting of my life, I tend to think about the deeds I have done and the deeds I haven’t done – the sins I have committed, and the good works I have omitted.  But, Jesus says that we will also be judged for every word which we have spoken.  EVERY WORD!

An image popped in my head the other day of a funeral service, and the public reading of everything the deceased has ever said – how many times they’ve gossiped; how many times they’ve cussed; how many times they’ve complained about the pastor; how many times they’ve been ugly or critical; how many times they’ve used the Lord’s name in vain.  For many of us, that would be a pretty lengthy report!

According to the Bible, what we say and how we say it matters a lot – enough for us to be held accountable to our words on Judgement Day!  If that doesn’t give you pause to consider your words, I don’t know what will!  That ought to be more effective than threatening to wash someone’s mouth out with soap!

John Calvin, the Church reformer said, “I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.”

I grew up in a conservative home.  We didn’t go to church very much.  But, I was raised with a high standard of morality – including my language.  I was not allowed to cuss, or use bad language in any way.  In fact, I wasn’t even allowed to say things like gosh, golly, dang, or darn, as they were close to bad words – sort of.  My High School best friend made fun of me for frequently saying, “dadgummit” – I don’t even know how that one snuck into my vocabulary!

When I started a church in Port St. Lucie, one summer I offered my congregation the opportunity to put me to work.  One day each week of the summer, I was available to go to work with anyone who could work it out with their employer, and I would work for one day for free.  I rode with the Coast Guard.  I rode with Animal Control.  I worked in a kitchen in Jupiter – and others.  My desire was to experience the lives of my members.  It was great.  But, the biggest surprise from that experience was how much people cuss in the real world.  In the church, I don’t hear that a lot.  But, in the secular work place, I was amazed how much people cuss – all of the time.

While I’m not an advocate for using obscene language, I’ve also heard some supposed Christians say some pretty awful things without using four-letter words to do it.  So, we are not just talking about R-rated language.  We’re talking about anything said that is ugly, degrading, or just rude.

The point, of course, is the intent.  Are my words rooted and grounded in love?  Or, are they at best thoughtless, or, at worst, intentionally negative and harmful.

Why do words matter so much?  Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”  Words have power.

When we were kids we were taught, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  That’s a ridiculous lie!  Sticks and stones might hurt and leave bruises.  But, cuts and bruises heal.  Words wound.  Words wound deeply.  Some words wound permanently.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to remember the many nice things people say about us, but we can easily remember ugly things that were said?  Why? Because words have power, and ugly words seem to be particularly powerful.

A few days ago, I recalled an instance from my childhood.  I had made my father angry about something, which led to him following me outside, and accidentally locking us out of the house.  In his anger at the situation, and me, he said, “Get out of my sight.  I’m sick of looking at you.”  When I remembered it the other day, over 4 decades later, I wept.

Sticks and stones.

Gary Chapman writes that words can be either seeds or bullets.  When we speak words of encouragement, love, affirmation, gratitude, and kindness, we plant seeds in a person that can grow to become something beautiful.  But, when we speak words that are hurtful, condescending, destructive, belittling, and ugly, they can be like bullets that wound, injure and possibly even kill and destroy.

So, let’s do some honest self-assessment.  What kind of seeds are you planting – and in whom?  And, what kind of bullets are you shooting – and at whom?  In whom are you sowing seeds of blessing?  At whom are you firing bullets that injure and curse?

Maybe that’s another image.  On Judgement Day, will there be more evidence of the seeds you have planted through your words?  Or, will there be more evidence of the destruction you have caused by your word bullets?

Here’s another image.  Joyce Landorf Heartherly wrote a book called Balcony People.  She writes that we all need balcony people in our lives.  They are the ones who believe in us, encourage us, and cheer us upward.  But, many of us also have basement people in our lives.  They are the ones who insult and discourage us, and drag us down.  Her challenge is to be a balcony person for someone else – and to avoid being a basement person!

Biblically speaking, we are talking about blessing and cursing.  In the Bible, when a blessing or a curse was spoken over a person, it was believed that those words had power, and could not be taken back.  Blessings build people up.  Curses tear people down.

James 3:3-12 says, When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?  My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Well, frankly, that’s pretty discouraging.  James does not provide any hope of controlling our tongues at all!  He just names the problem as hopeless, and then tells us that we shouldn’t do it!  That’s a major problem!  If we will be judged for our words, and we can’t control them, we are all in big trouble!

While James doesn’t give us much help, thankfully other verses of scripture do.  For instance,

  • “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29
  • “Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.”  Proverbs 4:24
  • “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24
  • “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Romans 12:14

The point is, we have to be very intentional about what we say and what we don’t say.  We have to develop self-control when it comes to things like gossip, grumbling, complaining, criticizing and cussing.  And, we have to be intentional about speaking words of encouragement, affirmation, and blessing – words rooted in love.

We may have to learn new habits and break old ones.  If you’re not in the habit of blessing, it may mean you need to learn a new language.  Or, you may have to relearn what we learned as children –  “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

            James is very clear that getting control of the tongue is hard.  But, this is the 40-day Summer Stretch!  And, I can’t think of anything that deserves more effort than controlling what we say, and what we don’t say.

Let me be very clear.  This does not mean that difficult, truthful, sometimes painful conversations can’t happen.  Sometimes, those conversations are necessary – even if they are hard.  Sometimes, avoiding difficult conversations is the worst thing we can do, and only makes the problem worse.  But, difficult conversations must be for the purpose of working through a problem, and offering forgiveness, and seeking reconciliation, and rebuilding what is broken.  They can never be for the purpose of hurting, or belittling, or tearing down.

In the village where I work in Guatemala, they speak a Mayan language called Quiche’.  The first word I learned in Quiche’ was “utz.”  It also seems to be the most frequently used word, in a variety of ways.

“Utz” simply means good.  If you like something, it is “utz.”  If you feel good, you are “utz.”  If you are healthy, you are “utz.”  When you greet someone, you say, “utz, uwuch?,” which basically means, “are you good?”  To which you respond, “utz.”  Or, if you are really good, you might say, “pudu utz,” or, more often, “utz, utz, utz.”  Or, if it’s really good, you might say, “pudu utz pin pin,” which means it is the best of the best!

When you are welcomed, you hear, “utz a patik,” which basically means, “good for you to come.”  If something is beautiful, it is “utz kakyak.”  If you like something, you say, “utz kinwilo,” which literally means it is good for you to look at.

If you want to know if you have done something correctly, you might ask, “utz?’  To which you will most likely be told, “utz.”  In essence, you spend the day asking and saying over and over, variations on a theme of “good.”

What if, at the core of everything we ever said was simply, “good?”

Leap: The Second Sermon is a Series Called “The 40-Day Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs on Sunday, June 25, 2017

Leap:  The Second Sermon is a Series Called “The 40-Day Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs on Sunday, June 25, 2017

Aquaphobia

Many of us have one phobia or another.  A phobia is an irrational fear, a kind of anxiety disorder in which the individual has a relentless dread of a situation, living creature, place, or thing.  According to Phobialist.com, there are at least 350 known, documented, verifiable phobias.  According to Medicalnewstoday.com, the 5 most common phobias in the United States are…

  • Social phobia – fear of being in places with a lot of people
  • Agoraphobia – fear of being somewhere with no support, away from home, open spaces
  • Claustrophobia – fear of being in constricted, confined spaces
  • Aerophobia – fear of flying
  • Arachnophobia – fear of spiders

Most phobias are more-or-less individualized.  My phobias are different than your phobias.  But, I’d argue, that there’s a generalized phobia that seems to affect Israel throughout the Bible; aquaphobia – fear of water.

  • In Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Water pre-existed the Creation story, and represented chaos, darkness, and the absence of God.
  • In Genesis 6, God destroyed every living thing on the Earth with a flood.
  • When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they got stuck between the Egyptian armies and the Red Sea. God parted the waters so that they could walk through on dry land.  But, Pharaoh and his army were drowned.
  • Ancient Israelites believed in sea monsters called leviathan.
  • Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
  • Historians have noted that ancient Israel never had a navy.
  • And, by the way, we forget sometimes that the symbolism of Baptism represents drowning the old person, and raising a new person to new life.

The Israelites feared water.

But, more often than not, God pushes us to confront our fears and to trust him.

Sticking your toes in the water…

Joshua 3 tells the story of when Israel, after centuries of waiting, was about to enter the Promised Land.  The problem was, they were on one side of the Jordan river, and the Promised Land was on the other.  And, to make matters worse, the river was higher and wider than usual.  Joshua 3:15 says, Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest.”

            Joshua gave the following command,

“This is how you will know that the living God is among you... See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you…  And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap…”  As soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away…  So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.  The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (Joshua 3:9-17)

Notice, the river didn’t stop flowing until AFTER they stepped into the water.  As long as they stood on the shore, the river kept flowing.

After everyone had passed through the Jordan on dry ground, Joshua had a monument of stones built in the river, as a reminder for future generations of what God had done.  Joshua said, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over…  He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:22-24)

The stones were a visual reminder that God is strong and God fulfills God’s promises. God can be trusted.  The stones were a reminder that God is bigger than our fears.  The stones were a reminder that God is worthy of our faith.

But, they never would have known that if they hadn’t faced their fears, and stuck their toes in the water.  They had to get their feet wet.  They had to take the first step.

You and I have to be willing to take that first step, and get our feet wet too.

            Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Faith, Trust, Fear…

            Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” 

            2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we live by faith, not by sight.”

            We trust what we know.  We trust evidence and proof.  We trust our possessions.  We trust what we see.

But, we’re called to faith.  Faith is trusting in a God we can’t see.  Faith is based in belief more than evidence.  Faith requires trust – not in what’s tangible and provable – but, in God.  And, faith is only faith if we act on it.  You have to take a leap.  You have to get your feet wet.

How will you know you can do it?  You won’t, until you try.

How do you know for sure what God wants you to do?  You won’t. until you try.

How do you know you’ll have enough money, or time, or talent?  You won’t, until you try.

You won’t know until you act on faith.  That’s why it is called a “Leap of faith.”

            Maya Angelou wrote, “It is this belief in a power larger than myself and other than myself which allows me to venture into the unknown and even the unknowable.”  

            But, faith in the absence of visible evidence is really, really hard.

            Another story from the Bible is the time the disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee, at night, and Jesus came to them walking on water.  Matthew 14:26-27 says, When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.   But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

            Notice – their first assumption was that Jesus was a ghost.  After all, remember, water is a scary place. But, this is no ghost – it’s Jesus.   Jesus speaks to the phobia – “Don’t be afraid.”

            Then something surprising happens.  Peter said, Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

“You of little faith” seems a bit harsh to me.  Besides Jesus, Peter’s the only human I know to successfully walk on water – even if only a few steps.

That’s more than I can say.  What about you?

Paulo Coehlo writes, “Pitiful is the person who is afraid of taking risks. Perhaps this person will never be disappointed or disillusioned; perhaps she won’t suffer the way people do when they have a dream to follow. But when that person looks back – and at some point everyone looks back – she will hear her heart saying, ‘What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you? You buried yourself in a cave because you were fearful of losing those talents. So this is your heritage; the certainty that you wasted your life.’” 

All of the focus is on Peter, who took a few successful steps on the water, but sank when he became afraid.  All of the attention is on his lack of faith.  But, what about the others, who never left the boat in the first place?  The others couldn’t let go of the safety and security of the boat – of what seemed solid and reliable.  Walking on water never even crossed their minds.

I have friends who love to bungee jump, and to jump out of airplanes.  They love the experience of free fall, and they love the adrenaline.  I think they’re nuts.  The only way I’d jump out of our perfectly good airplane is if it was on fire and going to crash – and even then, I’m not sure!  The bottom line is that I don’t trust the bungee cord or the parachute enough to jump.  The thrill for me is not worth the risk.

I think that’s a wise choice.

But, spiritually, a lack of trust can be crippling.

Let me ask you a question – what’s your boat?  If a boat represents the tangible things that give us security, and if faith is in unseen things – like a man walking on water – what are the securities you cling to?  A job?  Your health?  Your savings or retirement plan?  Your spouse?  Your connections?  Your government?

What’s your boat?

Don’t get wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with working hard, or saving for the future, or investing wisely, or growing in your career, or having people you can rely on.  But, they do become a problem when we trust them more than Jesus.  Listen to me – nothing in this world is more trustworthy than Jesus.

And, Jesus doesn’t call any of us to only live lives of safety and security.  Jesus invites us to confront our fears and take leaps of faith, that require faith in him and not in ourselves.  Jesus invites us to stick our toes into waters that are scary and may seem dangerous.  Jesus challenges not to give into our fears and phobias, and to trust him.

So, if water represents danger, fear and risk – what are you afraid of?

Pope John 23 said, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.”

The Partial Credit Club

            It seems a little unfair to me that Peter doesn’t get more credit for trying.  Just stepping out of the boat was courageous, even if he sank.

My High School Algebra teacher was Hank Pfingstag.  I actually ended up becoming his pastor later.  I really like Hank, and really liked him as a teacher.  He was funny, and kept us interested and entertained.  But, he was hard.  It wasn’t unusual for most of the class to fail his tests.  As he handed out our test scores, he would say, if you had a higher “F” than others, “Congratulations – you got a good F!”

Mr. Pfingstag made us show all of our work.  Most of us did “most” of the work right, and “almost” got the right answer.  After every test, a group of us would argue for “partial credit” – desperately pleading to get out of the “F” zone.  Mr. Pfingstag called us the Partial Credit Club – but he never once changed our grades!

I think Peter deserves to be in the Partial Credit Club.  I’d like to believe that I deserve to be in the Partial Credit Club, sometimes, spiritually speaking, for at least trying to live by faith.

What about you?

I want to leave you with two images this morning.  Imagine God has a great promise for you – a Promised Land, if you will.  But, to have it, you’ll have to cross a river of fear.  Are you going to go for it?  Or, are you going to stay on the safe side of the river, missing out?  Imagine Jesus reaching out his hand to you, but you have to walk on the water to reach him.  You can do it, with faith.  Are you going to step out on the water, or are just keeping your seat in the boat?

It’s time to get out of the boat!

 

 

Stretched! The First Sermon in a Series Called “The 2017 Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs on Sunday, June 18, 2017

Stretched!  The First Sermon in a Series Called “The 2017 Summer Stretch,” Preached at First Church Coral Springs on Sunday, June 18, 2017

In Michelangelo’s famous painting of God reaching out to Adam, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, God’s arm is fully extended.  Adam, however, is slouched back, barely exerting the effort to lift his arm, only almost reaching out to God.

Adam represents us.  While God always reaches out to us, we are often lazy, sluggish, and half-hearted in our response.  Notice that if Adam would just stretch out his fingers just slightly, he could touch the hand of God.  Since Adam, God has always yearned for us to stretch out and take his hand.

That’s what this Summer Stretch is about – to push all of us out of our ruts and comfort zones, and to challenge us to STRETCH!  The word “stretch” is defined as, capable of being made longer or wider without tearing or breaking.”  You and I are capable of stretching.  It might feel awkward and uncomfortable.  It might require some effort. But, we can do it.

  • What if a more abundant life is waiting for you just inches away, if you just stretched?
  • What if you could make a difference in this world, if you just stretched for it?
  • What if there are mysteries to be revealed, if you will just stretch to receive them?
  • What if there is deeper prayer and worship, if you would just be willing to stretch?
  • What if you could grow into the full stature of Christ, if you would just stretch more?

That’s what I want us to find out this summer.  If you and I could just stretch our minds, our hearts, our souls, our hands toward God a little more, I think we might find ourselves spiritually in a completely different place than we ever knew was possible.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, I pray that you… may have power… to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:17-19   That’s my prayer for all of us this summer!

Henri Nouwen writes, “Our spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, expecting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination or prediction.” 

Patches & Wineskins:

In Matthew 9, Jesus is asked why he had his disciples are not fasting as much as the John’s disciples and the Pharisees.  Fasting is a spiritual practice of self-denial – usually not eating food for a period of time.  In biblical times, the tradition and practice of fasting was an act of sorrow for sin.  Jesus doesn’t condemn fasting.  In fact, in other passages he clearly expects it.  But, in this case he says, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”  Matthew 9:15 Jesus is saying that fasting is a fine spiritual practice, but then wasn’t the time for it.

Traditions, like fasting, have purpose and value when their meaning aligns with the needs of the moment.  Jesus illustrates this by comparing fasting with patches and wineskins.  Jesus says, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.   Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16-17)

If you sew a patch of new cloth to an old garment that has been shrunk from many washings, when the new cloth shrinks, it will tear the garment.  An old garment needs an old patch.

A wineskin was made from goat skins, which would harden over time.  But, a new skin was stretchable, pliable.  It had to be so, because new wine releases gases during the fermenting process.  The skin has to be able to stretch and expand as the new wine ferments.  If you put new wine an old wine skin, the old wine skin can’t stretch, and will burst.

Jesus is the new wine.  He came to do something new and challenging – not to just reinforce the old.  Jesus is not anti-tradition.  But, neither is Jesus bound by tradition.  Jesus encouraged fasting, but not for the sake of fasting.  Jesus observed the Sabbath, but didn’t hesitate to violate Sabbath rules if a person needed healing or if the disciples were hungry.  Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on the Earth – not to preserve tradition.

Jaroslav Pelikan writes, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”

            There’s a story about a Buddhist temple, where a cat would wander in among the monks while they were praying, which was distracting.  It was decided to leash the cat, and time him to a post.  Years passed, and the leashed cat became a familiar presence in the temple.  So, when the cat finally died, the monks bought a new cat, and tied it to the same post.

A man went to the store to buy a ham for dinner.  His wife told him to have the butcher cut the end off.  He forgot, and brought home the whole ham.  His wife was frustrated that he forgot this simple detail.  So, the man asked, “Why does the end need to be cut off anyway?”  She didn’t know.  She just knew it was important.  So, she called her mother to ask why the end had to be cut off.  The mother also said it was necessary, but she also didn’t know why.  So, they called grandma, and asked her why.  She said, “Because I only had a small roasting pan.  The whole ham wouldn’t fit.”

  Change is threatening, but it is not evil…

Not growing up in church, my introduction to Church tradition was in seminary, where I was taught the practice AND the meaning traditions.  It might surprise some of you to hear that I LOVE Church tradition.  I LOVE ritual.  I LOVE “smells and bells.”  Traditions and rituals have the ability to communicate mystery at a much deeper level than words ever can.

But, I don’t believe in practicing tradition and rituals just because they are familiar.  Habit is not the same as tradition.  Familiarity is not the same as tradition.

And, change is not the opposite of tradition.  I think we sometimes resist what God can do, because we expect him to do a new thing in our old wineskins.  Or, maybe we don’t want to do a new thing.

There’s undeniably something in our human nature that clings to the familiar and resists change.  Change feels like threat.  Typically, our first response to change is to assume the old was better and that the new is wrong.  The Pharisees and Sadducees certainly reacted to Jesus that way.

Certainly, change is not always right or good.  But, change is not inherently wrong, bad, or evil.

 Every tradition began as an innovation…

We have to remember that every tradition was once an innovation that someone hated.  Let me say that again – every tradition was once an innovation.  Every hymn in the hymnal was once a contemporary song – that someone didn’t like.  Every tradition and every hymn we cherish began with someone saying, “It’s new. I don’t like it.”

Take a walk with me through history…

Starting Genesis, the sole expression of worship was the building of altars and animal sacrifice, that was only practiced occasionally, as an individual’s thanks to God.

By the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, animal sacrifice became a daily ritual to express thanks, to seek God’s blessing, and to atone for sin.  All sacrifices were performed at a sacred, moveable tent called the Tabernacle, and were performed by priests.  There were precise instructions for how the rituals were to be performed.  Annual festivals were also instituted – like Passover.  And, the Sabbath became a holy day.

By the time of King David, the Tabernacle was given a permanent home in Jerusalem, and David instituted musical worship and dance for the first time.

David’s son, King Solomon later replaced the tabernacle with a permanent Temple.  At this point, all worship took place in Jerusalem.

During the time of the Prophets, the Babylonians invaded and destroyed the Temple and took the Jews to foreign lands as slaves.  There was no way to worship in Jerusalem.  And, the Prophets taught that their destruction was because they forgot God’s teaching.  The Jews had to find a new way to worship in this new context.  Psalm 137 was written during this time,

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps,  for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4)

A new situation required new traditions and practices – new wineskins.  So, during this time, the local Jewish synagogue was created as a place of study, and worship took the form of songs and teaching Torah.

By the time of Jesus, the Temple was rebuilt and sacrifices had resumed.  The festivals had been reinstituted.  But, the local synagogues remained.  Local Sabbath worship happened in the synagogue for instruction and annual festivals happened in Jerusalem at the Temple, as well as daily sacrifices in the Temple.

By Acts, the persecution of Christians led to primarily worshipping in homes – not the Temple or the synagogue.  Within a generation, because the Romans were persecuting the Jews, the Christians switched the Christian Sabbath to Sunday instead of the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday.  Worship primarily consisted of songs, teaching, collections for the poor, and a shared meal.  It was during this time that the Jewish Temple was destroyed again, and sacrifices ended.

Think about that.  Biblical worship began as an occasional burnt animal sacrifice, performed by an individual or family.  By the end of the Bible, worship became the gathering of diverse groups of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free men, in homes for common meals, teaching and singing.  That’s a pretty radical change of tradition!  New wine skins were required for new wine.  But, change didn’t stop with the book of Revelation.

Did you know that churches haven’t always had seating? For centuries, people had stand for worship.  When benches were introduced in churches, some thought it was heretical sit in worship.

Did you know that pipe organs were originally considered offensive in church, because they produce “artificial” sounds?  Instead of an orchestra playing instruments, one person could play one instrument that simulated all of the sounds of a symphony.  People didn’t like it.

For centuries, the Bible was only written in Latin, and only read by priests.  When it was translated into spoken languages, and mass produced by the printing press, many objected to the idea of common people having and reading their own Bibles.

For centuries, churches were filled with tapestries, and mosaics, and stained glass, and statues to help illiterate Christians learn the stories of the Bible and the Saints through pictures.  But, during the Reformation, those were considered too “Catholic,” and churches were stripped bare.

Did you know that Methodism began outdoors with “field preaching?” Methodist preachers preached out-side in public squares, at boat docks, and near the entrances to mines.  Many considered field preaching highly offensive, because preaching was supposed to happen ONLY inside church walls.

In recent years, some have objected to contemporary worship music with drums and guitars, projection screens, videos, and the use of the arts in worship.  Before long, contemporary practices will become traditions that we won’t want to change, and something new will come along that’s meaningful to the next generation, but will inevitably be offensive to us.

We can never forget the words of Isaiah 43:18-19. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

While it’s never wise to abandon traditions that are meaningful, we can never forget that traditions have changed and adapted over and over throughout the generations.  Traditions have been adapted and changed by different cultures.  When Jesus spoke about new wine, he was talking about fresh moves of the Holy Spirit in every generation.  Every generation must pour the new wine of the Spirit into new wineskins, and not try to force it into old ones.

Traditions are one form of wine skins.  We  – you and me – are wine skins too.

            Mark Batterson writes, “One of our fundamental spiritual problems is this:  we want God to do something new while we keep doing the same old thing.  We want God to change our circumstances without us having to change at all.”

So here is my question for all of us this morning – “What do we value more –  wine skins or new wine?   Are we more committed to preserving the old wineskins more than we are to receiving the new wine?  Could it be that clinging to old wine skins is actually keeping you from being stretched by the new things God wants to do in your spiritual life?”

Are you ready to be stretched?