Life in the Valley 3-17-2019

March 16th, 2019

This Transfiguration event was both literally and figuratively, a mountain-top experience. Only three of the disciples were privileged to witness what happened. Significantly, it all started while Jesus was praying. First, his face changed in appearance. Then, his clothing became brilliantly white. Next, Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with him. And finally, God spoke from a cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to Him.”
But before we deal with it, I want us to skip ahead to the next day and include it in our thinking also. It was then that Jesus and the disciples came down from the mountain and were met by a desperate man with a sick son. The other disciples had tried to help the boy, but their efforts had been in vain. So Jesus filled the gap and did what they had been unable to do.
Each of these back-to-back days represents a vital dimension in the life of us Christians. One is the mountain of worship; the other is the valley of work. We must have both. If we major on either to the exclusion of the other, our lives will become spiritually lopsided.
Each of us as Christians needs to learn how to move back and forth between these two poles. Just as physical life depends upon an alternating rhythm – we inhale and exhale, we work and rest – so our spiritual lives can stay vibrant only when we alternate between taking in and giving out. But this is a very difficult balance to maintain.
This is the inclination of Peter up there on the mountain – He wanted to stay on the mountaintop.
He had never seen or heard or felt anything like that before. Jesus was there in all of his radiant beauty. Moses and Elijah were there – heroes from the past, so real and vivid. For one brief shining moment, everything made sense.
The cares of this world were left behind. Small wonder that Peter said, “Master, how good it is for us to be here. I want to stay!
What Peter wanted was to freeze that moment and hold on to it forever. Who could blame him? Surely, we have all had those mountain-top experiences that we wish would never end. Life was working; God was real. Trouble seemed so far away; and victory seemed so inevitable. That is where Peter was, and he wanted to stay there.
His was a natural inclination. This is what Christian faith means to some people – a retreat from life, far above the cares of the world.
But Peter’s desire to escape was not the only religious stance in evidence that day. We mentioned briefly the other disciples who remained in the valley.
I have wondered at times why Peter, James and John were the only ones who went to the mountain. We have supposed that they were the only ones whom Jesus invited, but that is not specifically stated.
It could be that the other nine choose not to go. Perhaps, they were so aware of the work to be done, of the needs to be met that there was no time for mountain-top retreats. Maybe they were the first century equivalent of today’s activists who think practical problem-solving is the only function of Christian faith.
Thus, we have two extremes – those who would love to stay on the mountain of worship and not be bothered with the problems of the valley, and those who are so involved with the problems of the valley that they have no time for the mountain.
It is worth noting that Jesus did not endorse or reject either position. He went to the mountain, but would not stay there. He returned the next day – refreshed, renewed, ready to meet the needs and challenges of the valley.
Those first disciples had to learn what we need to learn. Christian faith is more than work and more than worship. It is both. Those who would use their faith as an avenue of escape from the world and its problems have totally missed the meaning of Christ and his mission. He is the only one who “came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” If we would walk with him we must realize that nothing is given to us to keep for ourselves. We are blessed in order that we might become a blessing to others.
By the same token, attempting to give, and give and keep on giving will lead to another kind of problem. Eventually a person must replenish his supply, or he will find there is nothing left to give. Those nine disciples in the valley were eager to help the afflicted boy but found themselves unable to do so. They somehow lacked the resources to meet the need.
So it is with us. We will never be through with the mountain of worship or the valley of service. All of our lives we will need power to live from and purpose to live for.

First Sunday of Lent 3-10-2019

March 10th, 2019

On T.V. today, we see a lot of political debates. Reporters usually interview the winners and losers. To the losers, the reporters often ask very blunt and often irritating questions.
I would like to take you to one of those interviews—except the participants are not politicians.
They are Jesus and the Devil. The Devil, like in the gospel, has just lost very badly in his debate with Jesus over such things as power, prestige, values. I believe it would go like this—let’s listen:
“Mr. Devil – How are you feeling after the debate?” “Terrible, lousy – how would you feel if you just got your _____ kicked by Jesus?
“Do you plan on a rematch — A second debate?”
“You can count on it, but next time, I am going to develop a new strategy, a new plan of attack! I’ll tell you one thing, Mr. Reporter, the next time I won’t be wearing a red outfit with horns and a tail. That outfit is too obvious. I must come up with some new outfits, with some new temptations, and remember this—you can count on one thing—I am not going away!” shouted the Devil.
Till the day we die, we are going to be tempted to do or say things that hurt ourselves—hurt others—and damage our relationship with God. We are going to wrestle on a regular basis with how to keep things like food, work, relationships, sex, money, computers, sports, the list goes on—how do I keep them in a healthy perspective and not abuse them, not allow them to get out of balance.
In these areas of our life and in many others, we are gong to be under attack. We are in a Giant Tug of War with Mr. Devil.
It’s OK to tell little lies, your wife will never find out. Cheating in school doesn’t hurt anyone. You don’t need God, look out for number 1. Church is for hypocrites—you’re a virgin—everyone does it—a couple of pills won’t hurt at all—come on—just one drink. “A Tug of War”.
The Good News is that we are not in this “Tug of War” alone. Our God has said over and over—I am with you. It won’t be easy, but no matter how dark it gets—you are not alone. I want to be your partner!
In closing, I have one final and very important point to make.
What happens when we blow it, when we give into temptations that get us into trouble, cause us to sin, leave us with a lot of guilt?
Do we pretend like it’s no big deal? I hope not.
Do we beat ourselves up over and over again with tons of unhealthy guilt? I hope not.
Or, do we take responsibility for our actions—stop blaming other people, sincerely ask for forgiveness and healing and move on trusting in a God of second chances? A God who says, start over – try again. I hope so.
“I am not going away”, proclaims the Devil.
“I am with you always, through it all”, shouts the Lord of Hope. “Don’t forget, we will win the battle together—Believe it!”

Ash Wednesday 3-6-2019

March 5th, 2019

Throughout our life’s journey, we turn:
We turn left or right.
We turn to see who is talking to us, we turn to see what that noise was that startled us.
We watch the leaves turn color, the skies turn dark, our hair turn gray.
We turn over a new leaf, we turn the corner, we turn things over in our minds, and we turn the house upside down to find something we’ve lost.
We turn the pages, we turn on the light, and we turn on the juice.
Throughout our lives, we are constantly seeking, waiting and watching when, where and how to turn.
Lent is the season to turn. These 40 days call us to repentance and conversion – in Hebrew, the word for repentance is to turn, like the turning of the earth around the sun, like the turning of the soil before planting. May this Lent be a season for our turning: our turning away from what is evil and harmful toward what is good and life-giving; our turning away from ourselves toward the love that embraces all; our turning away from the pressures and demands of this world toward the ways of God.
May each of us make a small effort to turn to God with all our hearts – we will be overjoyed with all God will give us in return.