Freedom of Speech?

Freedom of Speech

Many people seem to believe that we have the “right” to say whatever we want to say to each other these days.

Social media is atrocious! Conversations turn into ugly arguments; and, before you know it, profanity is flying through the ethers of the universe. Folks who don’t even know each other call each other names and type words on their computer screens that they would never say to each other in public. And, somehow, we need to make sense of that. How do we make sense of our freedom of speech in a world where words can be used to praise and honor God, and where words can be just as easily used to curse people that God has made?

Many years ago, Saint Paul was asked about meat that had been sacrificed to false gods. “What do you do,” the Corinthians asked, “when you’re not sure about where the meat behind the grocery counter came from?” “What do you do,” the Corinthians asked Saint Paul, “when you’re not sure about where the meat behind the grocery counter came from because the temples in Corinth are selling animals that were sacrificed to the false gods in the meat market.”

And I find Saint Paul’s answer absolutely fascinating!

Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that it’s OK to eat the meat because, after all, an idol is just a piece of wood that really doesn’t matter at all. Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that it’s OK to eat the meat because there’s only one God and idols are just humanly-created trinkets. “And yet,” Saint Paul continues, “as you prepare to take a bite of your steak, you need to stop and look around.” Other people are watching you! People can be led astray in their walk with Christ because of the way you behave. It’s all about community! It’s all about relationships! It’s all about doing what’s helpful and turning away from the things that can harm other people.

People who call each other names and spew profanity from their computer need to stop for a moment and think about the people who will read their words. People who spread gossip need to remember that words are powerful and can destroy people’s lives. When we swear and speak harshly to each other in front of little children, we are telling them that it’s OK for them to do the very same thing. Every time we find ourselves in an ugly argument, we need to ask ourselves: “Is what I’m debating more important to me than my relationships with other people?”

Words have the power to change people’s lives – even in a country that is committed to free speech, and that’s what this week’s message, “Freedom of Speech?”, is all about.

People can be led astray in their walk with Christ as they watch the way that we speak to each other, and as they watch the way that we interact with others on social media. Just as Saint Paul told the Corinthians that they need to stop for a moment and look around before they take a bite of their juicy steak, he would also tells us that we need to be very careful when we exercise our freedom of speech in modern times.

The words that we speak have a power of their own and can never be taken back. And that’s why we need to choose the words that we speak, or type, very carefully.

 

 

When Jesus Calls

jesus calling

True Confession: I sometimes ignore my cellphone when it rings and beeps and dings.

I carry a cellphone in my pocket, but that doesn’t mean that I’m anxious to answer every call that I receive when I’m having dinner with my wife. I always tuck my cellphone into my pocket when I leave the office, but that doesn’t mean that I always respond to the text and email messages that I receive immediately. I filter calls, and I decide which ones are most important. Every text message doesn’t need an immediate answer – even though we expect people to drop everything else when we send them a text message, don’t we? And that’s what I invite you to think about in this week’s message: “When Jesus Calls”.

Simon and Andrew and James and John were busy people. They spent their days fishing in the Sea of Galilee and often worked late into the day repairing their nets. They were people with busy schedules – who had other obligations – who had hope and dreams that they wanted to fulfill – and who even had obligations to their families. And then one day, Jesus interrupted their lives. Ring, ring, ring…. “Hello….” “Did you know that the Reign of God has broken into the world and it’s time to leave your nets behind?” Ding (the crazy ding that alerts us to the fact that a text message has arrived)…. “God had invaded the earth, and it’s time for you to stop doing what you’re doing and embrace the adventure!”

And, when the cellphone rings, people need to decide what to do. We can send the call to voicemail with the swipe of a finger. We can get really excited that we’ve gotten a call from Jesus, or we can simply ignore it. Text messages can be answered later in the day, sometime tomorrow, or perhaps even never. It’s our choice and we make the decision.

The “call” of the first disciples (Mark 1:14-20) is a challenging story. It’s a story that can truly inspire us to think about people who put everything else on hold to follow Jesus. It’s a story that invites us to think about Zebedee’s “hired servants” who stayed in the boat as James and John walked away with Jesus. It’s a story that challenges us to see that some people are changed by their encounter with Jesus, and other folks simply aren’t. It’s a story that invites us to reflect upon the fact that we’re actually doing God’s work with our own hands when we support local food banks, give winter coats to children, and offer church buildings as a place where community groups can meet – but it’s also a very vivid story that reminds us that, even when we do that, some people simply don’t care.

“When Jesus Calls” reminds us that the stories that we read in the Bible connect with the stories of our own lives and adventures. We’re all busy – just like the first disciples were. We’ve all been given 168 hours each week – and, no matter what we do, we simply can’t expect to be given even one minute more.

And that means we need to make choices.

We need to realize that every telephone calls, every email and every text message does not need to find it’s way into the center of our lives, our marriages, and our family time. It’s OK for us to let our cellphone’s ring or beep or ding go unanswered for a while.

But, at other times, we need to respond immediately!

How will we respond when our busy routines are interrupted by a Man who calls out to us and who challenges us to live our lives in a different way? How will we respond when we hear Jesus say, “God has invaded the earth – and I’m here to call you to embrace a new adventure that has the power to shape your destiny!”

 

 

Does God Speak to You?

God Speaks

The Bible is filled with stories about God speaking to people.

God spoke to Moses from a burning bush; and God told Joseph that the people of Egypt needed to save food, so that they would survive a seven-year famine. God spoke to the prophets, and revealed Himself to Abraham. And, in 1 Samuel 3:1-20, God speaks to a little boy who was sleeping beside the Ark of the Covenant.

The Bible tells us that Eli (the Temple priest) was quite blind by the time God decided to speak to Samuel, and that he was neatly tucked beneath the smelly blanket that he had used for many years. When Samuel first ran to the Temple priest, Eli was as confused by the whole thing as Samuel was – because the word of the Lord was rare in those days and even the prophets weren’t having the types of visions that they used to have.

But the “pregnant question” remains.

Does God speak to people during times when the word of the Lord seems to be rare, and when the prophets aren’t having the visions that they used to have? Can you imagine a God who knows you by name, who can choose to call-out to you and whisper words into your ears, who continues to lead and guide you through life, and who can even send you into the world with words to share with other people?

In this week’s message, “Does God Speak to You?”, we’re asked to reflect and to consider how God speaks us today.

What do you think happens when you gather with other people to hear God’s Word and to share in the “Feast of Heaven”? What do you think happens when the Holy Spirit lives and moves and breathes and stirs people as they listen to the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do we still believe that it’s God’s voice that continues to call us to take-up the Cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads us? Do we believe that God still has the power to speak to us, and send us out into the world to strive for justice and peace – telling us that if we invest all of our time and energy in trying to save our own lives and our churches, we’re going to lose it all – and telling us that if we take up the Cross, invest ourselves in other people, and bring the Good News of God’s love to the world, we’re going to find a new type of life that will continue to flourish and endure even in an Age when churches are closing their doors for the last time every week?

Does God speak to you? Do you really believe that God continues to know you by name and calls-out to you in the midst of darkness? Do you really believe that we have a God who continues to speak to us as we read God’s Word, as we gather in worship, and as we spend time in daily devotion and prayer?

The Holy Spirit continues to live and move and stir God’s people. The Spirit of God is still calling-out to people and inviting them into the ongoing mission of Christ’s Church.

When God calls-out to us, will we have the courage (as Samuel did) to respond by saying, “Here I am, Lord”? Will we have the faith and courage to respond to God’s calling in our own lives and to boldly say, “Speak to me, for Your servant is listening!”?

 

Baptized and Ready to Go!

Baptism

Christians talk about Baptism in different ways.

Some Christians baptize little babies trusting in the fact that their parents will help them to remain connected to the Church and to grow into faith-filled adults. Other Christians wait until young people are old enough to make a public profession of their faith; and then, they baptize young believers who will, again, live-into their relationship with Christ as they journey through life. I’ve baptized infants who were born with serious medical conditions that threatened their lives. I, once, baptized an 86-year-old man who came to faith late in life. I’ve baptized a few people on their death-bed as their families watched in tears. Christians talk about Baptism in different ways and have different methods of baptizing; but the Bible continues to present Baptism in some very specific ways.

In this week’s message, “Baptized and Ready to Go!”, we’re reminded that Baptism is always centered around water, God’s Word and promises, the Holy Spirit, and Mission.

Baptism brings with it the promise of a relationship with God and the promise of eternal life. God’s Spirit descends and touches us when we’re baptized, and we’re promised that God will journey with us through the best and worst that life will bring. But, in Baptism, we are also driven into the world to confront evil and to stand face-to-face with the devil. We’re challenged, in Baptism, to call-out the forces of evil in our world; and to struggle and wrestle and fight for what’s right in a world that doesn’t always want to hear what God has to say. We’re called into “ministry” in the waters of Baptism – a ministry that challenges us to stop long enough to listen to other people, to be open to the voices of others and to pray with them about the circumstances that they’re facing in life, to read the Bible and to figure-out what God has to say about what’s happening in people’s lives, and to help people to move from “wherever they are right now” to “wherever God wants them to be.”

But, “Baptized and Ready to Go!” is also a message that reminds us that, as we grow and participate in life-giving ministry, we need to be sustained, encouraged, and empowered.

And that’s why it’s important for us to remained focused upon the “5 Faith Practices” that have stood at the center of faith-filled living for as long as the Church as existed. We are both called and challenged in the waters of Baptism to:

  • Continue to live among God’s faithful people;
  • Continue to gather in places where the Bible’s read and studied, and in the places where we can be nurtured and strengthened by the gift of Holy Communion;
  • Continue to share the “Good News” of Jesus Christ with our families and friends and even with strangers that we don’t even know;
  • Continue to serve other people in the very same way that Jesus did;
  • Continue to work hand-in-hand with those who call for justice, peace, compassion and love in a world where many people continue to crave what God promises.

“Baptized and Ready to Go!” is a message that reminds us that God continues to claim us as His own, and that God continues to work in our lives and in the world. The Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that touched Jesus on the day of His baptism – is living and moving and breathing and leading and directing and inspiring us even now! May God continue to call us together in the waters of Baptism and to use us to do things that we’d never imagine in our wildest dreams!

As You Enter a New Year

New Year

Happy New Year!

The story of King Herod and the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) provides fertile ground for us as we enter a brand new year.  King Herod rose to power during the flurry of activity that occurred after the death of Julius Caesar. King Herod was a survivor who was bound and determined to bring Judea into the Roman Empire, and he was a man who was not afraid to use violence to get his own way. Herod ordered the death of his wife; and, then, he had her dead body preserved in honey for seven years. Herod commanded his soldiers to kill three of his sons, and Herod’s own brother escaped a similar fate only because he died before the soldiers could assassinate him.

And then, near the end of his life, Herod meets the Magi. The Magi were oriental priests who studied astrology and who interpreted dreams (which, in the ancient world, were understood to be the voice of God). Most people accept the fact that the Magi were not present on the night of Christ’s birth because the Bible tells us, when the Magi arrived, Jesus was living in a “house” with His mother – and we also know that when King Herod tried to destroy the Christ Child, he ordered the death of every boy under the age of two (to allow himself some wiggle room).

But, the story of King Herod and the Magi is a story about people who went away from the Christ as people who had been changed and as people who decided “to go home on a different road.” And that’s the challenge we find in this story today.

“As You Enter a New Year” is a message that’s meant to invite you to think about the new year and about how you can live your life in a new way in 2018.

Can we enter 2018 with a renewed sense of peace as we continue to live our lives in a world where it’s easy to be consumed by long lists of worries and concerns? Can we enter the new year with a deeper understanding of God’s love and embrace in a world where it’s not always easy to love and embrace? Can we enter 2018 with a renewed sense of what God’s doing in our lives – in our families – in our churches – and in the world? Can we enter 2018 with a deeper sense of God’s unfolding plan for our lives and world during a time when we seem to be constantly surrounded by chaos, conflict, and bad news?

The Magi didn’t return to King Herod because “dream interpreters” who listen to the voice of God understand that God’s future isn’t going to be found in people who simply overpower others to get their own way. “Dream interpreters” who listen to the voice of God understand that God’s future isn’t going to be found where people squash others under their feet to get ahead.

Can we enter 2018 with a deeper understanding of the gentleness and compassion that stands at the heart of God’s message to the world? Can we enter the new year with a deeper understanding of the fact that God’s Reign breaks into the world when divisive rhetoric is replaced with a spirit of cooperation and goodwill for all people? Can we enter 2018 with a deeper understanding of God’s path of love that calls us to bear each other’s burdens and to lift each other up?

How will we be changed by the encounter with Christ that we’ve just shared? How will the voice of God call us to “go back home on a different road” – walking together on new and exciting paths as we enter the new year?