Archive for the ‘religious’ Category

Father, Forgive Them …

Posted: February 26, 2017 in religious, Uncategorized

(This is a summary of today’s sermon, which was based on the book “Final Words From the Cross” by Adam Hamilton).

It is not surprising that the first words spoken by Jesus from the cross were a prayer.  What is surprising is what he prayed: “Father, forgive them.  They do not know what they are doing.”  The nature of this prayer is not only surprising, but also haunting, confusing and even disturbing.  We will begin our examination of this prayer from the cross by asking this question – for whom was Jesus praying?  What did he mean by “them”?  Who was Jesus asking God to forgive?  He was, of course, praying for the soldiers who had beaten and tortured him, who had nailed him to the cross and who were about to gamble for his clothing.  “Father, forgive them.” He was also praying for the crowd who had gathered to watch this spectacle.  Not only were they watching, but they were joining in the verbal abuse … mocking him, accusing him, laughing at him.  For them he prayed, “Father, forgive them.finalwords  Rev. Hamilton says, “This is astounding!  Can you imagine such mercy?  That Jesus would pray for them as he hung on the cross is one of the most powerful images in all of the Gospels.”  Yes, he prayed for his executioners and he prayed for his tormentors.  But there was someone else included in Jesus’ prayer, someone else for whom Jesus was pleading for God’s mercy and forgiveness to be extended.  We are among the “them” Jesus was praying for.  He was praying for us.  There’s a classic hymn which asks the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  The answer to that question is “yes”.  In a profound spiritual sense, you were there, I was there.  The entire human race was there at the crucifixion.  The death of Jesus was an event that transcended time.  This sacrificial act was for those people who had come before and those who would come after just as much as it was for those who heard his words that day.  “Father, forgive them …” This is the power of the words Jesus cried out from the cross.  These words were for all of humanity.

With that in mind, here are three additional truths that these first words from the cross can teach us.  The fact that Jesus devoted one of his last statements to a prayer asking God for our forgiveness tells us something significant – we need forgiveness. It was not just those around the cross who needed forgiveness … we need to be forgiven, too.  Two of the underlying themes of the entire Bible are our need for forgiveness and God’s willingness to give it.  We need forgiveness because of our struggle with sin.  The Greek and Hebrew words most often translated as “sin” in the Bible are words whose literal meaning is “to stray from the path” or “to miss the mark”.  God has a plan for us, a path for us, but we stray away from that path.  We fall, we fail and we make mistakes.  Some people feel that Christians dwell on sin too much and make people feel guilty.  On the other hand, there are churches where you will rarely if ever hear the word “sin” spoken.  Let’s come down somewhere in the middle.  If sin is something we see in everybody else except us, that’s a problem.  Everybody sins, even people who faithfully go to church.  The church is not a hall of fame for the perfect, it’s a hospital for sinners.  We all sin, period.  So, if everybody sins, why bother talking about it?  We need to talk about it because unless we realize that we are broken and lost, we don’t know that we need a savior.  We all sin and our sin has a cost.  The Bible says that the wages of sin is death.  But we don’t have to pay that price … the cost of our sin was paid in full by Jesus Christ on the cross.

A second thing we need to know is that God’s grace is a gift.  Jesus didn’t just point out our sin.  He was asking for God’s mercy toward those who sin.  What is especially amazing is that he prayed for God’s mercy for those who stood at the foot of the cross while they were still tormenting and abusing him.  Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them”, for them and for us, while we were still in the midst of our sin.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul puts it this way, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  He didn’t say “Get your act together first and I’ll see what I can do for you.”  He didn’t say “I know how you’ve messed up and I know you’ll do it again.  You’re a bad risk.”  Before you were born, God knew the sinful things you would do and he forgave you in advance.  Jesus went to the cross for you and for me because we are worth dying for.  Our forgiveness is not a reward for good behavior.  He forgives us because He loves us unconditionally, mistakes and all.  Rev. Hamilton says, “Never have human beings done anything so dark as to condemn, torture, and then crucify the Son of God, and yet Jesus prayed for them even as they were in the midst of their sin, asking that they might receive mercy.  If mercy was available to them, and it was, then I promise you it is available to you.  The gift of salvation has already been given to you.  Your task is to receive it, to trust it, and to accept your forgiveness and salvation.”

Rev. Hamilton says that God’s grace is not only a gift; it is also an example for us.  Jesus could have prayed this prayer in silence, but he chose to pray it aloud.  He wanted us to “overhear” this prayer.  Not only did he want us to know that we are forgiven, but he also wanted to teach us what it means to be his follower.  If we choose to follow Jesus, we are expected to practice forgiveness, just as he did.  Jesus spent a great deal of his ministry teaching about the importance of forgiving others.  In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  He taught his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  When his disciples asked him how to pray, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer which says “forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.”  This is a perplexing verse.  Does it mean that God will not forgive us unless we forgive other people?  Not exactly.  The book explains it this way: “Remember, God has already forgiven us.  The question is whether we will accept the gift of forgiveness that God has offered.  If you are someone who resents other people and refuses to forgive them, then you carry bitterness in your heart toward them.  That makes it very hard for you to accept God’s forgiveness, because in your heart you are unwilling to forgive others … People who regularly forgive others, on the other hand, find it easier to believe and trust in the grace of God because their hearts have been enlarged by grace, and they freely offer it to others.”

Is it easy?  No. Even the twelve disciples struggled with forgiveness.  They asked Jesus, “How many times must we forgive?  Is seven times enough?”  Jesus responded, “Not seven times but seventy seven times.”  We are to keep on forgiving. Forgiveness is hard for us because it is human nature to want justice for those who have hurt us, even as we want mercy for ourselves.  That’s why Jesus showed us how it’s done.  He taught about it and preached about it, then he modeled it for us in the worst of circumstances.  He spoke this prayer out loud to show us how to forgive.  Jesus was saying, “This is what forgiveness looks like.”

Forgiveness is not something we learn early on. It is not intuitive and is not natural. As I have gone through life, I have learned a lot about it.  For example, I have learned that forgiveness is not always fair. There can be a pretty big dose of inequality in forgiveness. I have learned that forgiveness is not easy. In fact it is hard. Another thing I have learned is that forgiveness has little to do with how deserving the person is or whether they have asked to be forgiven. God expects us to forgive even the unforgivable. C.S Lewis summarizes this idea when he said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” And that means forgiving somebody who has wronged you even if they are not sorry. Forgiveness is an act of faith: trusting God to work in every situation, knowing God has greater plans and knowing God will handle any justice, mercy, or grace that needs to take place. Still another thing I have learned is that forgiveness is a choice; a choice I make. And I have learned that forgiveness is not about “letting go” pretending we can “just get over it” without addressing the heart.  Moving on without addressing the heart accomplishes little.

Forgiveness is not only difficult, it’s complicated.  Just because there is forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences.  We can forgive others and continue to love them, yet not want to be around them much anymore.  There may be legal consequences or financial consequences, but forgiveness can still flow.  Sometimes it is hard to let go of the hurt and we find the anger creeping back in.  This will happen until we can truly forgive.  Lewis Smedes once said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

On the cross, the first words of Jesus demonstrate God’s willingness to forgive our sins, and these words call us to become people who follow in his path – people who can pray, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.  Take a moment to think about people who have hurt you or wronged you in any way.  Think of their names.   Are you willing to let go?  Are you willing to forgive?  Would you be willing now to join in the prayer that Jesus prayed for those who crucified him?  Father forgive them … Father you know their heart … and you know my pain … I pray for those who hurt me … Forgive them … and heal me …  Amen.


Cracked Pots

Posted: July 6, 2014 in religious


From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus surrounded himself with very ordinary, flawed people, even the twelve disciples he chose to be His closest followers. None of them were from the religious establishment or from positions of power and influence. They came from a variety of questionable or common backgrounds. One was a former anti-Roman zealot, one was a tax collector for Rome (viewed by most as a traitor to the Jews), at least 4 were fishermen and the rest were probably tradesmen or farmers. In his book “Twelve Ordinary Men”, John MacArthur says, “the Twelve were personally selected and called by Christ. He knew them as only their Creator could know them. In other words, he knew all their faults long before He chose them. He even knew Judas would betray Him, and yet He chose the traitor anyway.” Think of what this means – the responsibility of beginning the church and spreading of the Gospel was placed in the hands of 12 very ordinary, imperfect people … people just like you and me.

One of the cruelest tricks of the devil is that he cripples us with our own fears. He knows where we are vulnerable and uses our insecurities to keep us from stepping out for God. How many of us have heard God calling us to something and responded with “Who … me? I’m not good enough.” We see others around us who are far more qualified than we are. All we see in ourselves are the weaknesses.

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on an end of a pole which he carried across his shoulders. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”
“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts.” the pot said. The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it up a little. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the Pot apologized to the bearer for its failure. The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

According to the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline, “the mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” God knows our weaknesses and our strengths; our failures and our successes; our shortcomings and our potential. He knows we aren’t perfect, but he has a plan for us. We have a job to do here in Erin and Sullivanville. God has amazing plans for this community and guess what? We’re it … it is up to us to be His hands and His feet, to bring the gospel to our neighbors. The good news is that God isn’t looking for perfect people do to His work. God’s story is filled with imperfect people … people just like us. Each of us has our own unique flaws. We’re all cracked pots. But if we will allow it, if we say, “Yes” instead of “Who … me?” the Lord will use our flaws to grace our master’s table.

A New Beginning

Posted: June 28, 2014 in religious


I have been thinking about pursuing ministry for a few years. I had felt God leading me in that direction and toward the end of last year I jumped in with both feet. I had made some inquiries to our District office in November, asking for information on a couple of different paths into ministry. I received an email from our District Superintendent and scheduled a meeting with her in December where she provided some great information and guidance. By the end of that day, after discussing it with my wife, I requested to be entered into the candidacy process to become a Licensed Local Pastor. I was thinking that the process would take 2 to 3 years, but apparently God had other ideas. The process took off rapidly and on April 15 I had another meeting with our District Superintendent and she offered me part-time appointments at Erin and Sullivanville United Methodist Churches, beginning July 1. Again, after discussion with my wife (and a lot of prayer), I accepted the offer. This is a dream come true for me, but at the same time, I am a little scared. This all came together so fast, not according to my ideal time frame. I need to trust God and know that I am placed where I am for a reason. I am looking forward to working with the great people in both churches and I am ready to give it all I have in order to make a difference in the communities I serve. Can’t wait for July 1!