Archive for January, 2020

Sermon 01-19-20: "Resolution #1: Lose Weight"

January 22, 2020
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The Atlantic magazine had an article last month that began with these words:

One of the truisms of modern life is that nobody has any time. Everybody is busy, burned out, swamped, overwhelmed. So let’s try a simple thought experiment. Imagine that you came into possession of a magical new set of technologies that could automate or expedite every single part of your job.

What would you do with the extra time? Maybe you’d pick up a hobby, or have more children, or learn to luxuriate in the additional leisure. But what if I told you that you wouldn’t do any of those things: You would just work the exact same amount of time as before.[1]

From the Carousel of Progress: “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow…”

That’s precisely what a new study concludes. We’ve bought a lot of time-saving gadgets over the past hundred years—like refrigerators and freezers. Food keeps much longer, therefore fewer trips to the store. Therefore more time, right? Wrong… We spent that extra time at this new thing called a “supermarket” in order to keep the refrigerator well-stocked. But surely washer and dryer saved us a lot of time, right? No… We just ended up buying a lot more clothes and doing laundry much more frequently than we used to. Vacuum cleaners just put pressure on us to spend more time cleaning floors. You get the picture. Work expands to fill the available time. So we never get ahead.

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Sermon 01-12-20: "The First Half of the Gospel"

January 22, 2020
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 When you were a child, you likely heard a fairy tale somewhere along the way of a prince, facing overwhelming obstacles, who finds and marries his true love—Cinderella is one of those fairy tales. And what happens at the end, when the prince marries his princess? “They lived happily ever after.”

That’s not exactly playing out right now in Britain, at least with one particular prince. Oh, he found and married his true love, against overwhelming odds. But they have found it very difficult to obey and live within the prescribed rules that govern the conduct of the Royal Family. Well, one of those rules is that if you’re a prince, you’re not supposed to marry a divorced, biracial American actress—and they’ve been victims of racism, for sure. But there are many other rules related to protocol, decorum, and privacy that these two ambitious young millennials in the 21st century are having a hard time following.

So last week, in an unprecedented move, they announced that they wanted out of the royal palace… at least halfway out. They said they are going to live half the time in North America, where they would—get this—actually support themselves… by earning a paycheck and working for a living! Not that Meghan Markle hadn’t already been doing that; she’s been a successful actress in Hollywood. But still… 

What happens when we find that a set of rules—which can also be called “the law”—is too hard to follow? 

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Sermon 01-05-20: "New Year, New Creation"

January 22, 2020
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My good friend Hugh, the pastor at Lavonia United Methodist, was appointed to Lavonia the same time I was appointed here. And the first week he was in Lavonia, he joined a gym in Toccoa, and he said, “Join this gym. We’ll go together.” “Great!” So I went to this gym and talked to the guy, and it was a little pricey, and they required a three-year contract. I didn’t know gyms did that anymore. So I didn’t sign up for it. And I’m glad I waited, because just a few weeks later I saw that Planet Fitness was opening; it was cheaper; no contracts; hydro-massage chairs; plus I need to go to a gym that is a “Judgment-Free Zone,” where the risk of “Gymtimidation” is low. I mean, look at me! I’m someone who easily gets “gym-timidated.”

So I called Hugh to rub it in. “Hugh, I’m glad I didn’t join your gym. I’m going to join Planet Fitness instead.” And he said, “Oh, I’ve already joined.” “Wait, you already joined a gym—with a three-year contract! How did you get out of the contract?” “Eh… I’m a member of both gyms.” 

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"Deliver me, Lord, even from #FirstWorldProblems": Psalm 119:169-70

January 7, 2020

Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
    give me understanding according to your word!
Let my plea come before you;
    deliver me according to your word.
Psalm 119:169-170

When I read Psalm 119 and the psalmist’s many cries for deliverance or rescue, I think, “My problems aren’t nearly so large as his. How can my #FirstWorldProblems compare? Why should I even bother to pray about this?”

But I refuse to think of it that way anymore. For one thing, when you’re in the first world, #FirstWorldProblems are still problems. Even more, while the psalmist appeals for vindication over his enemy, we don’t know precisely what kind of enemy he was facing. But I know well enough the Enemy that I face, and he’s resourceful: he’s more than happy to use even #FirstWorldProblems if they will rob me of my joy, disrupt my peace, kindle my anger, and harm my witness, which they do… often.

My point is, I need help. I need rescue. I need deliverance—no less than the author of this psalm. Yet I don’t pray for deliverance with the same urgency, or the same volume, that the psalmist does when he “cries out” and “pleads.”

Why?

Lord, give me the grace to change. Give me the faith to believe that my “cries” will reach you, and you’ll give me victory. Amen. #esvjournalingbible #biblejournaling

"Every moment of 2019 served your deepest needs"

January 1, 2020

For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. 1 Corinthians 3:21b-23

More than a few friends and acquaintances on social media have said, in so many words, “good riddance” to 2019. I sympathize. Objectively speaking, it was hardly a stroll through the park for me and my family, too. Yet on the cusp of this new year, I am confident that this past year has accomplished precisely what God intended for it to accomplish: all of its challenges, disappointments, pain, and apparent setbacks—not to mention the many joyful moments and outright victories.

How could it be any other way?

In the verses above, Paul challenges the Corinthians to change their thinking about their pastoral leaders. These church members had been feeling proud because of their allegiances to different leaders: “each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas.'”

“But you don’t get it,” Paul says. “It’s not that you belong to this or that leader; it’s that he belongs to you. He is your servant—and so is everything else in this universe! They all belong to you—because, in Christ, God is using them to serve you and your interests!”

One thing this surely means is that the year 2019 also belonged to us entirely: nothing of value was lost or wasted; every moment served our interests; God redeemed (or is redeeming) every moment. They were all for our ultimate good, as we will see in this world or the next.

To paraphrase John Newton: “We needed everything that God sent us in 2019; we didn’t need anything that he withheld.”

So thank you, Lord. #biblejournaling #esvjournalingbible