Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What are you Afraid of?

Fear is everywhere. We see it on the national scene with the way politics have become meaner and even violent as protestors clash on the streets. We see it in the faces of earthquake victims and people stranded in airports in Europe due to the recent volcanoes in Iceland. We see it in our churches where there are dwindling numbers and rising costs. At a Town Hall meeting recently some people told me they came because they feared that their church was going to be closed. We experience fear personally with health issues, family relationship strife and financial shortages.

It’s been said that fear is “false evidence appearing real” (an acronym for F. E. A. R.) and indeed, much of what we fear, is exaggerated in our mind by the emotions of the anticipated calamity. It’s been said that 75% of all the things we fear never happen and 10% of it is not nearly as bad as we expected it would be. However, some things we fear are real and serious. Getting a diagnosis of cancer and seeing the spot on the X-ray film is hardly an imaginary monster under the bed.

Our faith teaches us that we can experience a difficult ordeal without fear. I John says that “perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18). We have the resources of God at hand that we are not fully taking to heart when we live in fear. As the hymn writer says “Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.” (“What a Friend we Have in Jesus”) That is good advice. The thing that the gospels record that Christ said more than anything else is: “Fear not!” It can be found 52 times, one time for every week of the year. The presence of Jesus can relieve our fear and show us the way forward. The more perfected we are in love, the more we trust and the less we fear. It is a journey of Christian perfection as we travel with Christ.

Steve Bradbury in a recent edition of “Encounter with God” (Scripture Union) describes the world of the Apostle John, who was exiled on the Island of Patmos for preaching the Gospel. “The power of the earthly emperor who demanded their worship must have seemed far more real than the power of Jesus, who had not met their expectation of returning in triumph. Wherever we are, no matter how crushing our circumstances, there are wonderfully liberating truths that we can grasp in faith. There is only one God who loves us and has freed us from our sins, whose Kingdom is already under way among the ordinary and even fearful people who serve him, who holds the keys to eternity, and who holds us securely. It is this all-powerful, all-loving God who says to us ‘do not be afraid.’” (Revelation 1:17)

The powerful Roman government has been gone for centuries. The seemingly weak church of the first century still lives on today. That is because of this powerful, curiously amazing God we serve, who works through our weakness and makes a way in the midst of our fearful circumstances to bring about God’s ultimate kingdom.

Look at your fears in light of the whole picture of God’s final kingdom and the sure promise of eternal life and the fear of our times are mere brush fires by comparison. I Peter 1: 4-7 reminds us that our “ultimate inheritance is imperishable, undefiled and kept in heaven for us as we are being protected by the power of God through faith. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

So fear not! Christ is with you! Hold on to the God’s eternal truths as you experience troubles and fears in this life. Trust God to see you through. And to our churches, who are experiencing fear due to low membership and resources, I say “Look up!” Pray for a vision for new ways to reach out to the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Turn your fears into positive energy around new mission and ministry through the power of God!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Native American Awareness Sunday

Sun. April 18th we will observe Native American Awareness Sunday and also receive a special United Methodist offering for our ministries around the country. This year at the PD Annual Conference Mr. Ray Buckely, a member of the Lakota/Tlingit tribe, will be one of the guest speakers. He reminds the church that what matters in life is “not what someone has but what the person is able to give away to others.” In our world of people clamoring to have more things, better things, longer lasting things and the value of people is often judged by their car, their house, their clothes. The voice of the Native American is the voice of God who promises to bless those who give and always take care of what we really need in life. We should measure our Christian devotion by how much of our income we have given away this year. If we are growing in grace and going on to Christian perfection we should strive to give away more than we did the last year. John Wesley, our founder lived on 20 pounds a year during his whole ministry. When his income increased he continued to live on that same 20 pounds and gave away more and more.

Giving from the heart is the main goal here, not so much the amount. Ray Buckley says “it is not the value of the gift but the giving itself that is culturally relevant. Giving a gift that may not have significant monetary worth still has significant spiritual value as it is a sign of a giving heart.”

For more information and resources to promote our six Special Sundays in your church:

Monday, April 5, 2010

It Wasn't Our Fault

On Good Friday I attended a worship service in downtown Philadelphia that was held out on the street near a gun shop. A large and very diverse group of about 200 people were there to remember the death of Christ and to speak out against gun violence in the city and in this country. We were there to worship, pray, give testimony and also to call the gun shop next door to adopt a code of conduct to deter illegal purchasing and trafficking of handguns. This was not an attempt to stop people from owning guns or change the Second Amendment of our Constitution. It was an attempt to call for a crack down on “straw purchasing” of handguns by people who have clean records who then in turn sell them or give them to people who are unable to purchase guns because they cannot pass a background check. “Heeding God’s Call” is a new multi-faith movement whose aim is to prevent gun violence by calling people of faith “to protect our brothers and sisters and children.”

The United Methodist Book of Resolutions (paragraph 3426) calls us to be involved in advocacy that seeks to eliminate gun violence in our society. Included in that is a call to “visible public witness to the sin of gun violence and to the hope of community healing.” I was heartened to see a large number of United Methodists involved at the service on Good Friday.

Along with the group giving the public witness on Friday was another group of people who were opposed to this witness and they stood in front of the gun shop. During the service they voiced their opposition by shouting things while the Good Friday speakers were presenting. They waved many large American flags and sang “God Bless America” at the same time the service was being conducted at one point. Although there were clearly people with strong differences of opinion standing on the same street corner, I was pleased that there was no violence or verbal arguing between the groups. I was grateful for the presence of a large number of law enforcement officers monitoring the activity.

When I got up to speak there was relative quiet coming from the opposing group except for one comment. I held up a small paper cross that was given to me before the service. It had the name of a young person (age 28) who had been killed in gun violence in May of 2009 on the streets of Philadelphia. I held it up and said “he was alive last Good Friday when the first rally was held, but less than a year later he was killed by a gun on our streets.” Someone from the opposing group shouted “It wasn’t our fault.” It is true that no one in the crowd that day, I am reasonably sure, pulled the trigger on that young man last year.

But what is equally true is that when good people see harm happening and do nothing it is the same as condoning the evil. The sin of omission is seen when committed Christian people do not work toward the elimination of evil in our society. We can’t be saying it is not our problem, especially those who live in the safer, comfortable suburbs. It is our problem as long as someone, anywhere, is getting hurt. Apathy, greed, racism, ignorance and fear are huge issues we need to overcome. Many of our pastors bury young people on a regular basis who have died from gun violence. It is just too easy to do nothing and in doing so…it is our fault. What can you and your church do to speak out against gun violence? The more people who get involved the harder it is for this to be ignored.

For more info about Heeding God’s Call contact info@HeedingGodsCall.orgor call 267-519-5302.