Tag Archives: Seeking

I can’t do Good on my Own from James 2:8-17

Photo Credit to Robert Lentz “Christ of Maryknoll”

There once was a man who sought the answers to his life’s questions.  The Western life pursuit of Success didn’t satisfy his longing.  Traditional practice of worship sitting in a pew left him cold.  He cashed in his 401k and went searching.  He followed gurus in India in “Eat, Pray, Love” fashion.  He spent time cross legged with Monks in Thailand humming “Om.”  He even climbed a mountain and spent a year in solitude.  Everything helped, but it was as if this itch wouldn’t go away no matter how much he scratched, it all seemed like it was just the surface.  He wanted to go deeper.  He wanted his spirituality to be real, felt, whole.

 

Finally, the man heard of an old wise man who lived in Mexico City.  The man was immediately skeptical.  Weren’t the holy men supposed to live life in monasteries, temples or impeccably high cliffs?  The address that he had been given led him to a busy corner in a rough part of the city.  He arrived in the late morning.  He looked around, surrounded by abandoned buildings where squatters were just waking up and beginning to gather at the only business in sight – a 7 Eleven.  He watched as the homeless entered the establishment, each got a cup of coffee, and then came back out into the parking lot where they gathered in a circle.  Together they seemed to be sharing personal issues and struggles.  He then watched as they held hands in prayer, sang a song, and then with a collective “amen” they parted.

 

The man saw what was happening.  “This must be the group the man leads.”

He chose one of the homeless men that he assumed was the leader and began following him.  This man went two blocks down the street to a dilapidated apartment complex.  Walking into one of the apartments as if he owned it, he began working on the plumbing using tools he pulled from his pockets.  All the while a small group of children and a mother holding a baby watched on.  They all smiled at the man who had followed the homeless plumber into their abode.  They even offered him something to eat and drink.

 

After many hours work, when the plumber was finished, he looked at the man.  “What are you doing here?”

 

“Are you the wise one I seek?”  The man asked.

 

The plumber stood up smiling.  “I am not the one you seek, but I know him.”

 

“Will you take me to him?”

 

“Come tomorrow morning, get a coffee at the 7 Eleven, and he may show up for you.”

 

The man did exactly that.  He arrived, followed the homeless men into the 7 Eleven, got his cup of coffee, and joined them in the circle.   Again, they shared from their hearts about the struggles they were going through.  They shared tools of their trades so that each had what everyone needed that day.  Every time for each instance, those gathered offered support and encouragement.  Again, they prayed, sang a song.  And again, they parted to go off to work.

 

Confused, the man followed a different man, one he felt sure was the leader.  This one turned out to be a carpenter working on a nursery for a day care.  The next day he followed another – who was a retired teacher who volunteered time at the local school as a tutor.

 

He followed each of them.  The lawyer who did pro bono.  The elderly man who read books at the library all day to kids who gathered.  The brick mason who was re-pointing the bricks at the post office.  There were all kinds of workers, each using what he had in his pockets to help the community around them.

 

After he had followed each of them, none of which admitted to being the leader, he grew frustrated.  “Exactly who in God’s name is the leader here!”  He exclaimed. 

The plumber, the first man he had followed, walked over to him and frowned.  Then he slapped the man in the face.  The man was shocked.  “God is our leader.  Everything we do is in his name.  After all this time, if you don’t see, you can’t possibly be shown.”

 

Though no one told him to leave, the man left the circle.  He went to one of the abandoned buildings and wept.  The next morning, the sun beamed through the windows and warmed his face, awakening him.  He got up, went into the 7 Eleven, and gathered as if he always had in the circle.  There, he expressed his love for God.  There he sang his heart out to God.  There he said Amen.  And then he left, to find need in the community that he could provide for.

 

God called us to be Holy as God is Holy.  Like today, the early church struggled with what it meant to be holy.  Did it mean avoiding sin?  Did it mean spending time in prayer, meditation, worship?  What about good deeds?  In the conversation of grace, where do good deeds come into play?  A conservative branch of the church has always emphasized God’s forgiveness as and repentance as all that is necessary for salvation.  A liberal branch of the church has always emphasized social action, missions to help save not just the soul, but the physical body as necessary for salvation.  In the early Church, the book of James already answered the question.  Both are required.

 

I can’t do good on my own… I’m just a vessel for God’s love to flow to the world. 

 

Personal Holiness is showing our Love for God.  More precisely, it’s sharing the love of God with God.

  • Worship and prayer – not just asking but spending time with God!
  • Forgiving yourself
  • Devotions and Fasting – limiting actions so that what you do matters more
  • Not posting that obnoxious post on Facebook that you know is going to be controversial just to be controversial
  • Giving money to support the ministry
  • Reading the Bible
  • In general, not being a jerk about faith, but enjoying the compassion and love that Christ pours out upon us all freely.

 

Social Holiness is showing our Love for Neighbor, sharing the love of God with others. 

  • Sharing mercy in missions
    • backpack ministry to feed kids in poverty on the weekend
    • Mission Garden to provide fresh veggies
    • Impact 757 and going to Waverly on UMVIM trips
    • forgiving others especially when they don’t deserve it
    • visiting or writing notes to someone who’s world has shrunk to the size of their home
  • Sharing God’s vision of justice and kingdom in a broken world
    • Does God desire freedom for those enslaved to drugs, debt, or a system that is broken? Yes!
    • Does God want us concerned for refugees and immigrants? Yes!

 

In the Super Bowl of life, God has a bias, it is always for the underdog.  To be holy as God is holy requires us not just to have faith, but to do faith.  Our faith must have action attached to it.

 

Here’s the thing, though, “No Social Holiness, No Personal Holiness.”  James, “Someone might claim, you have faith and I have action.  But how can I see your faith apart from your actions?”  Truly loving God causes God to love through us to our neighbors.  Truly loving our neighbors causes us to truly love God.  If all we do is get our cup of coffee and join the circle for songs and prayers – we have personal holiness.  If all we do is go out into the world and be good people helping others – we have social holiness.  Faith without Works is dead.  Works without Faith is turning grace into a merit badge or a brownie point. 

 

Be holy as God is holy.  Love God.  Love neighbor.  This is the Gospel.  Amen.

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I want to see God from Colossians 1:11-20

I was sitting in the dentist chair when I found him.  I don’t really like going to the Dentist.  I have a fear of anything that spins or twists going into my mouth.  The high pitched mechanical sound makes me want to bolt out of the chair and run to the ice cream shoppe.  Even the fancy toothbrush makes me squirm in my seat, foaming at the mouth as the dental hygienist stops to ask, “Mr. Decker are you ok?”

“No, I’m not ok!  Yes, my fears are not rational.  I don’t like getting my teeth cleaned.”

This last time I went to the Dentist the hygienist pointed out that they had posters on the ceiling to help me focus on something other than the “pain” or “even though you’re not really in pain but you feel like you’re in pain, pay attention to the posters please so I can do my job.”

So, I tried it.  The first poster was this beautiful beach scene.   Surf.  Sand.  Sun.  The whining mechanical high speed tooth brush that sounds like a drill coming at my incisors.  Images of my gums bleeding as she flosses my teeth.  Focus, come on now, look at the other poster.

The other one actually got me going. It was obviously for children.  It was a poster of “Where’s Waldo.”  Waldo – glasses, stocking cap, trademark red and white shirt – I was going to find that bugger.

Where’s Waldo?  Is he there in the car? No, that’s just a sweater on a dog.  Is he over there in the bushes, no, that’s the oddest colors for a mushroom I’ve ever seen.  Maybe over there by the ice cream truck?   Those have to be the weirdest flavors of ice cream I’ve ever seen.

When I finally did find him, it was as if a bell had gone off and I had awoken from some surreal pseudo sleep in the dentist chair.  “There, Mr. Decker, all done. That wasn’t so bad was it?”  I wanted to say yes, but something dawned on me.  With all of my concentration focused on looking for Waldo, I didn’t realize the peace he had given me while I was seeking him out.  With all our concentration focused on looking for God, we don’t realize the peace he has given us while we are seeking him out.

 Our world often asks where is God in all of this?  He can’t stand the fighting any more. He goes to his room and shuts the door, cause somewhere a father and a mother talk about divorce again.  She’s been missing since last May. She would have turned thirteen today.  And somewhere a father prays for his missing little girl.  Why doesn’t God do something about the pain and the hurt?  Why isn’t God at work in the world?  Doesn’t God care?

Maybe God’s at church?

Recently a Marketing Expert was hired by a church to find out why their attendance, participation, and offering where consistently going down each year.  He came to their church worship services.  He got involved in their Bible Studies and mission programs.  He studied their figures from years and years of stewardship campaigns and budgets.  He did surveys in the community asking about the church, asking about the reputation, asking about what the community knew about the church ministries.  He came back to the pastor and the church with some bad news.

“You all have really got it going on. You have the best show in town.  You offer education and volunteer opportunities better than anyone else.  You even have done your research on non-profits and how to best present giving and offering plans.  But you are guilty of false advertisement. Your sign says you are a church, a house of God, a place where folks can experience God.   I’ve been with you all month, and I haven’t seen God show up at all.”

Paul, writing to the Church at Colossae must have had the same marketing expert show up.  Here was a group of people who have great hope.  They worship God.  They study about God.  They volunteer for God.  They give of themselves.  And they ask, “Where are you, God?”

As Christians, it is important for us to experience Christ as what Paul calls the “image of the invisible God.”  Chrisitanity isn’t the study of God; it is the relational experience with God.  In Worship, we are called to experience God’s Word and Love.  It’s not enough to come to church, we have to be church.  In Study, we should experience God’s grace and guidance deeper.  It’s not enough to know about God, we have to know God.  In missions, we should feel the power of God working and flowing through us.  It’s not enough to be good people helping others, we are called to be God’s hands and feet in action.  In giving, we should feel the joy of self-sacrifice, joining Christ in becoming a part of something larger than we will ever catch a glimpse.  It’s not our sacrifice but Christ’s giving though us.

Where’s Waldo?  Where’s Jesus?  Christ is in you.  God is at work in our world through you.  We are the Body of Christ.  On social media recently I saw a “Coffee with Jesus” Comic.  In the comic, humanity asks, “Jesus, why do you allow all this injustice, hurt, and suffering go on and on?”

Jesus answers, “It’s great that you bring that up, I was going to ask you the same question.”

When we seek the extraordinary in the ordinary…

When we look for the supernatural among the natural…

When we find the Spirit among the Flesh…

That’s where God is – the image of the invisible God – Jesus Christ.

  • When God’s people gather for prayer – God is here.
  • When God’s people gather for study – God is here.
  • When we feed the hungry,
  • When we provide hugs and a kind heart listening to those in despair,
  • When we reach out to those that everyone else has given up on,
  • God is here.

God gives us a choice in life.  We can see the negative or the positive. 

Fred Craddock tells a story from his home town.  “There was this kid in my hometown who would believe anything.  Tell him the school burned down. “Really, no school tomorrow!  Awesome!”  Tell him they were handing out free watermelon downtown. Off he would run.  Tell him the President of the US was coming to give a speech. “Really!  Whoopee!”  Funny thing is that one summer an evangelist came to town. He told that kid, “God loves you and cares for you and comes to you in Jesus Christ.”  And do you know what, that kid believed.  He actually believes it.”

We are called to believe and because of our belief, to be Christians.  Christ is the image of the “invisible God” according to Colossians.  We are the image of the invisible God.  We are the helpers.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

 – Fred Rogers

 We can see God in and through what we see in Christ.  When we do, the journey of seeking Christ makes the rest of life come into clearer focus. By looking for God, we find ourselves – our true selves.  With all of our essence focused on looking for God, we realize the peace Jesus has given us while we were seeking him out.  

 Where have we seen God lately?

Praise God the Teacher (Prayer)

We call you Teacher and Rabbi

  for you suggest wisdom in our paths

  and show us life lessons in our mistakes;

You invite us to the table, hungry for answers,

  but do not fill us completely, encouraging us to return daily.

You spark within us knowledge and understanding

  and the more we see, the more we seek.

And You provide those special people –

  Sunday School Teachers, Mentors, Elders

  who suggest wisdom in our paths

  and show us life lessons in our mistakes. 

For these and so much more we humbly give our thanks,

  Teacher, Rabbi, Jesus.  Amen.