Friday, August 31, 2007

Living Among the Pagans—How does the world view the church?

I Peter 2:12 says: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."

This year as I preached in different churches, I have begun to see a pattern. The pattern is an oppressive, indifferent, grumbling attitude toward life and the church.

I was talking with a young man who knows that I am a Christian and I asked him what he thought of Christian men. He said the Christian men at his work are viewed as weak and submissive “even though they really are not", he said. I asked about the church. It’s viewed as totally irrelevant; “it needs to change”, he said.

I wonder if we (the church) haven’t brought these problems on ourselves. We are called to be a light upon a hill (Matthew 5:14-16: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”) when in reality we have become a monastery upon a hill. The church is called to be a light to a dark, dark world. Yet we have separated ourselves but in the wrong way.

We have taken upon ourselves to use the model of the monastery not the light upon the hill shinning in the darkness model. The monastery model is identified as a thick stone walled fortress high upon the hill, occupied by people dressed differently than the world (monk garb). We stay in the monastery, we take good care of ourselves in the monastery (the goal is self-sufficiency so we don’t have to touch the dirty world). We speak a strange language (church talk); we are seen as walking in circles around the monastery, mumbling to ourselves (evangelistic campaigns based in the church where only the saved show up to hear the message).

It says in 1 John 2:6: “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” How do we as Christians walk? Where do we walk?

Jesus was criticized for hanging out with the down and out people. (Matt. 11:19: The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners.'" But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”) Jesus had His head anointed with oil by the village whore. He took a cup of water from a women with a checkered past. Oh, we must walk as Jesus walked but we “keep our distance” from our hurting world because we want to keep our “upstanding” reputation. Oh, we might keep our upstanding reputation but the pagans who live among us will view us with suspicion because they don’t know us.

If we are to live among the pagans, we must first live “among” them... We must have relationship with them not just rub shoulders with them as we pass on the street. If we live among them, trust them, include them, they will experience relationship, and once we have a relationship, the door is open and we can share Christ. Is not Christ and the need for a Savior what personal relationship is all about?

There is an old poem, I don’t know the name of it, but it’s about the village priest who wanted to be closer to God. He climbed up the church steeple looking into the heavens and he cried out to God “where art thou God?” and God replied: “Down here among my people.” I believe we are climbing up our steeples to get away from a hurting, sinful world when we are called to live among the pagans. But we are called to be different, set apart from the world, not physically but set apart in our actions and spirit. We are to be in the world but not of it. Romans 12:16-18: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Are we living among the pagans or are we just rubbing shoulders, fleeing back to the monastery on the hill, walking with our head down, and grumbling how bad things are? Are we afraid of the world? Jesus said: “I have overcome the world.” (John 17:13-20 says: "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message",) If we believe this, why are we so afraid to leave the monastery? Why are we afraid to climb down from the steeple?

We do not have to take Christ to a hurting world, He is already there. Let’s go see what He is doing so that as we live among the pagans and they will see our good works.

There is work to do. Let’s go do it. When we are busy doing the work of the Lord, we won’t have time to continue our petty grumbling. Our spirits will be lifted as we see God’s work among the “pagans” and yes, the Holy Spirit will lead and guide these pagans and us as we become brothers and sisters in Christ. Once we engage the pagan world, put on God’s armor and go to battle and fight for Truth, we will not be viewed as “wimps hiding out from the hurting world” but will be viewed as sons and daughters of the living God.

With God’s help, we will turn the world upside down. We are called to do it; we are empowered to do it and the Lord will provide and protect. Let’s go! Wake up, Church, wake up!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Living the High Life

Miller High Life is a beer brand. It currently has an advertising campaign promoting the fact that you can enjoy a reasonably priced beer (Miller Beer) and implies that with the money you save, you can enjoy the high life, the good life, and a time of prosperity, status, and good will—all as a result of drinking Miller Beer.

We all want a good life. We want a simple life, peaceable, a life blessed with children, just enough stuff, not too much to be a burden, a respectable life, a successful life. How do we get it? In Psalm 103:17-18 is says: "But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts." In a nutshell it says if we obey God, His love and blessings will flow in our lives and in our children’s lives and their children’s lives…our grandkids. What’s the key? Obey God! You want a good life and you want to be a blessing to your children and grandchildren, obey God. God’s plan works. My plan doesn’t work.

Why obey? Because God says to do it. Why? So in this life we can live the true “high life” and be a blessing to our generations to come.

Obey God; Fear Him; have awesome reverence and fear and He will bless us and our descendants. Why? Because God says so. God’s blessing upon you. Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on Acedia—Culture of Indifference or Sloth

Dorothy Sayers, on the sin of acedia or sloth:
“It is one who believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die…”

R. R. Reno in First Things (August 2003) says this:
“Most of us just want to be left alone so that we can get on with our lives. Most of us want to be safe. We want to find a cocoon, a spiritually, psychologically, economically and physically gated community in which to live without danger and disturbance. The carefree life, a life acedia, is our cultural ideal. Pride may be the root of all evil, but in our day the trunk, branches and leaves of evil are characterized by a belief that moral responsibility, spiritual effort and religious discipline are empty burdens, ineffective and archaic demands that cannot lead us forward, inaccessible ideals that, even if we believe in them, are beyond our capacity.”

Today to be aloof, distant, with an appearance of being well-healed, possessing a sense of coldness for the purpose of creating space in our personal cocoon, leaves us respected and admired in today’s world. But deep down inside we know we are slowly suffocating to death from loneliness, indifference, and purposelessness. May God wake us up. Come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Send in the Clowns

(Click on the title to hear the song & see the lyrics)

Clowns have a special place in the history of the circus. Their job was to lighten the mood. If an act did not go off well, the call went out to “send in the clowns” and the clowns flooded the ring. Clowns were also used to create a distraction especially if a tragedy or accident occurred. The clowns were sent in to distract and maintain the “happy” experience.

Stephen Sondheim wrote a song called “Send in the Clowns” which was popularized by Judy Collins and others. The song is from a musical in which an aging actress begins to see her talent steadily slipping away and wonders if she is at that point where they need to “send in the clowns” to distract the audience from her diminishing talent. A sad day for this actress when she realizes as far as her career goes, “it’s over”.

Churches have clown ministries. I guess they have their place; special occasions, working with children but I wonder if it is frivolous. What are they trying to distract us from, if anything, or is it just good fun?

As Christians, we are called to be joyous not morose. James 1:2 says: “Consider it pure joy”. Titus 2:7-8 says in part: “ your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech…” But I don’t see where we are called to be frivolous. I mean when the wheels fly off of our life and we need help, will we seek out the clown?

I believe we will seek out a friend who is rooted in God’s word, a friend who is tested, passionate about life and the faith, encouraging with wise words of comfort. I believe we are called to be serious about the faith, not frivolous. Christ was never pictured as a chuckling, jolly figure. Isaiah 53:3 described Him as “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

In school, I was the class clown and I was good at it. As class clown I deeply wanted the approval of my peers. It masked or distracted from what was really going on in my life. Inside my heart was a God-shaped hole and no amount of acceptance from a fractured world could fill that hole. I needed Christ but I didn’t know it. I distracted myself from the sadness unfolding around me. It was a frivolous, self deception; I was the court jester.

How many people on the surface appear happy and well adjusted, keeping up a “glittering image” while being lonely and hurting deeply? Have we as a The Church “sent in the clowns” when we should be demonstrating the love of Christ?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Dakota Fred’s Old Time Egg Case

“Dakota Fred” Seehusen was my great uncle; he was called “Dakota Fred” because he left Minnesota for South Dakota. You see over the years the Seehusen clan had used a limited number of first names with the middle names always being the name of their father. This way the clans could keep track of who was who without having to employ a genealogist. So, everyone had a nickname: Dakota Fred, Fat Bill, Short Bill, Hank, H.T., Barber John or Quiet John.

At one time Dakota Fred had a homemade wooden egg case (crate). It was a case made especially to carry eggs to town to be sold so that they wouldn’t be broken.

Now here is where life takes an interesting twist. For four years, I have been involved in a men’s Bible study in Cokato, Minnesota. Tuesday night I arrived early for Bible study (we hold it in Morris Brothers’ Excavating Shop) and I was helping clean up the floor when I noticed an old box against the wall. Burned into the box was F. H. Seehusen, Danube, Minnesota. I was shocked. I asked Tom, the owner, “Where did the box come from?” He said he’d had the men clean up the shop one day this week and they had found it and brought it to him to see. Tom has no idea where the box came from and he gave it to me.

I wonder—why did this box, how many years later, end up in the exact shop where I have Bible study? The shop is 60 miles away from Danube, my current home and origin of Dakota Fred’s egg case. What’s going on here? We were all amazed and left wondering. Is God trying to tell me something or does he just want me to return the egg case to Dakota Fred’s descendents? That’s what I did and they were extremely pleased to receive it.

Where has this egg case been for 70 years? Only God knows. Isn’t that good? Only God knows! Another question to ask when I get to Heaven. Trivial, yes, but you must admit it is intriguing.

Friday, August 03, 2007

When Bridges Collapse…

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 - There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Psalm 31:15 - My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.

Matthew 10:29-31 - Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Lamentations 3:37-38 - Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?

Isaiah 45:7 - I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

Acts 17:24-28 - "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.'

Exodus 4:11 - The Lord said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?

John 9:1-3 - As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

Romans 8:26-28 - In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 11:33 - Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!