Tuesday, December 30, 2014


When you’re on a hunt for something of value, a treasure hunt, how do you feel? What are you experiencing emotionally?
I know that when I’m on the hunt for something of value there’s a sense of excitement, maybe some anxiety too because I might not find what I’m looking for.
Just picture yourself as one of the Magi. Think about how they must have felt when they discovered the star and in their research found that it meant a new king had been born.
Think about the talks they must have had planning, arguing, negotiating what to take, what not to take, what route to take, how many servants, all that they’d need for a journey that they had no idea how long it was or how much time it would take.
And think about all the different people and characters they’d meet. Some would be helpful and some, I’m sure, would make you fear for your life.
Think of all the people they had to trust, even King Herod. Kings can be kind of hard to read, especially Herod and his reputation for killing people he thought might be in his way.
So, we’re on a journey called life. As Christians we’re also seeking the Savior, Jesus. Sometimes it’s not so easy to find Him.
We talk to folks, we ask questions of religious people, we read books, we read the Bible, we pray, we seek, we hope.
Where do we find Jesus? Can we find him in this building? Is he out there in our community? Or…is he inside us, gently, and sometimes not so gently, pushing us to get on with the work and get out of our comfort zones? Is Jesus the one who leads us to those chance encounters with some very strange people and is he the one who turns those encounters into blessings?
If we’re on the wrong road is he the one who shows us a different way? Maybe we need to tune our hearing so that we can hear his voice as he speaks to our hearts helping us to understand and trust in him.
Maybe that’s why at this time of the season, winter, that we celebrate the birth of the Savior, to discover the real riches that Christ and Christmas brings to us. It’s a good time of the year to just be and let time and light and love penetrate the darkness and show us the way home.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2014

God’s Vision for the World

Over the last couple weeks we have seen the vision God had for the world. In Habakkuk we were urged to write God’s message clearly so all people could read it. In Esther we heard the story of God’s love and vision for the whole community. Today as we heard the lessons read we get the idea God’s vision has grown and is meant to encompass all, Jews and Gentiles, people of faith and people without faith, all people.
The Good News is for all people, and we find that the vision spoken by Isaiah was written and delivered to those who were the least in society.  God’s vision wasn’t, and isn’t, just for the chosen ones, the wealthy and rich, but for the poor, the prisoners, the nations that are downtrodden. It is in fact a vision for all God’s people everywhere.
We hear this passage from Isaiah and immediately think that it’s about the coming of the Messiah. That’s who we think the ‘Suffering Servant’ refers to. It could be that the message wasn’t so much to point the people toward a Messiah but to point the listeners to themselves, the people of Israel. This vision of God’s blessing brings with it a responsibility to work at bringing God’s vision into reality right where we are.
If we look at Isaiah’s message in that way, thinking about us as the Church, and understand that the message isn’t about the Messiah being responsible for telling the Good News but the community of the Church is responsible for interpreting and delivering the message of Good News to our communities and the world. What would our communities look and feel like if the people of the Church were actively working to bring about God’s vision of justice for all?
As our scriptures tell us this ‘light’ has been given to the people of God to light the way for others. So, the question for us is this, “If we are to light the way for others, how are we living this out in our communities and how is it being experienced by those we encounter?” Is this light of God’s incarnation in the world helping people to see and understand God’s vision of justice for all?
God’s vision is for all people. Through the Spirit of God, God’s servants are, and will be, a light to the nations, bringing justice, healing, wholeness, and release to the prisoners. The people of faith, you and me, are God’s servants; our church communities are God’s servants. My hope and prayers is that we don’t think of this passage as someone else’s responsibility to undertake and bring about God’s vision of justice. It isn’t about someone else, it’s about us.
As it’s written in the book of Esther, “For such a time as this” God’s servants are called to work for justice…each and every one of us are called.

Thanks be to God for his gift of grace and faith. Amen.

Monday, December 8, 2014

God's Time

There’s a song that reminds us we’re given 86,400 seconds every day. That sounds like a lot of time. And it is, until we realize we’ve wasted 3,600 seconds not doing what we know deep in our souls we should be doing and maybe another 3,600 doing something else. We delay, we put it off because we’re afraid that someone will be mad or hurt or will ridicule us or one of the other million excuses we use.
Mordecai asked Esther to do something hard, to do something that could have cost her life. So, for a moment, maybe a day she hesitated until she heard from her Uncle Mordecai.
He said she may have been placed in this position as queen “for such a time as this.” Mordecai wanted her to know that God was there as their protector even when they were in exile.
So, do you know what God has for you to do? Has God been calling to you to do something you don’t want to do or you’re afraid to do? Have you been wondering why God put you here in Walnut, IA?
Well, think about this for a minute. There are homeless people in Omaha and Council Bluffs living along the river, under the viaducts, sleeping under cardboard wearing multiple layers of clothes. There are children going to homes unsure what kind of reception they’ll receive when they get there. There are children who don’t know what it’s like to be hugged or kissed or told they’re precious. These are people who don’t know what it’s like to be loved.
There are folks living in care centers who are so lonely they just want to die because they have no family to visit them. And there are folks living in homes who never have anyone checking in with them to see how they’re doing.
The Jews in Esther’s story were living in exile. They didn’t know if they’d ever get back to their homeland. Fortunately for them God knew their plight and he hadn’t abandoned them.
Mordecai and Esther were part of God’s plan to save these people. If they hadn’t answered God’s call the ending of the story would have been way different. God may have save the Jews but Mordecai and Esther may not have survived.
So, back to you and me. I believe God is calling us, you and me, to a particular work. I believe God’s been calling for a while. My call may be different from yours and then again it may be the same.  My question is, “Do you think we’ve answered God’s call to us?”
What is God calling his Church to do? If God is calling his Church to a particular work then that means God is calling you and me to a particular work since we are the church. And, if God is calling us and we’re not answering the call, who’s being hurt by that? If we don’t answer God’s call who will he call next and what will happen to us?
This is God’s time, every day, every 86,400 seconds, belong to God. One day, I believe, we’ll have to answer how we used God’s time. That scares me some because I’ve wasted a lot of the time God’s given to me. My only hope is in the forgiveness offered through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
But still, we are all here for a reason, for a particular purpose and the only way we’re going to know what God has for us to do is to take time to listen.
So, in this season of Advent, this winter time, I think it’s a perfect time to sit by our heaters, wrapped in our blankets, and let God speak to us his call. And may we have the courage Esther showed to answer the call.

Thanks be to God for his forgiving grace to us. Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2014


I’d like you to picture yourself as one of the ten lepers who called to Jesus for pity. Put on their clothes. Put on their sandals. Remember that you aren’t allowed to get too close to other people because you’re not ‘clean.’ You haven’t been ‘clean’ for quite a while.
The children of the town are always taunting you and sometimes they pick up stones to drive you away. And lately you’ve noticed that you’ve lost the feeling in your fingers and toes. You’ve had this condition for so long it’s hard to remember what it was like to have ‘clean’ skin that didn’t itch and wasn’t covered with sores.
You’ve heard about this one called Jesus. You’ve heard about his healing powers and the miracles of feeding 5,000 and raising folks from the dead and driving out demons. And today, there he was walking down the road we were on.
One the others with us began the shout, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” As he looked our way we all took up the shout, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
It was like he was looking right at me. He didn’t come near. He just said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
That’s all. And so we began to go to the temple. That’s when I noticed that something felt different. I looked at my hands. They were healed! I could feel the tips of my fingers again! I could hardly believe it!
I stopped right there in the road. The leprosy was gone! I turned around and ran back to Jesus and fell at his feet. I was so happy I don’t remember everything I said. I know I was thanking God and thanking Jesus. What would you have done? What else could I do?
Then he spoke and said, “Weren’t there ten who were cleansed? Where are the others? How is it that only this one, a foreigner has returned?
Then he spoke to me! He said, “Get up and go. Your faith has made you well.”
I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced such joy, ever! I had to run to the priests and then I was going to go home! I hadn’t been close to my family for so long!
I’ll tell you one thing for sure! I’ll never, ever, take one day for granted anymore. Since Jesus healed me I know that every day is a blessing. I give God the glory every day.
And that Rabbi, Jesus. Some say he’s the Messiah, the Son of God. He sure could be. All I know is once I was an outcast and now I’m not.

So, good friends, don’t take your good lives for granted. Don’t be like I was. Go, find this Jesus and ask him to have pity on you! May you have the peace and joy I received when Jesus told me my faith had made me well.

Monday, November 24, 2014

God’s Message-Can You Hear It; Are You Listening?

Today is the last day of the Christian year. Today we celebrate and remember the greatest gift to the world, Jesus Christ.
Since it’s the last day we might be tempted to look back at where we’ve been, maybe even take time to reflect where we’ve known that God was with us and also those times when we didn’t feel God’s presence.
Since it’s the last day of the year we might also be tempted to look ahead and consider where God is calling us to be, what God is calling us to do, and how God is calling us to both be and do.
Jeremiah heard God’s voice when he was a boy. When God gave him his instructions Jeremiah didn’t think he had the qualifications to complete the work of the Lord.
So, as the old year ends and the new year begins next Sunday with Advent consider this, how is God speaking to us and what is he calling us to do? Can we hear God’s voice? What are we to do if we can’t understand what God’s saying?
We have two separate and different things going on in these two passages. One is God’s call to Jeremiah and the other is the message God gave him to take to the people while standing at the gates leading into the temple.
So, our task today is to understand how this speaks to us today. I believe that God calls people to particular work. We read about it in the Bible and we hear people tells us how they’ve been called by God for particular work.
Is God calling you? Is God calling this church? If God is calling us, how are we responding to the call of the Lord?
I don’t think it works very well to tell God we’re not qualified, we’re too young…or too old, we don’t know how to speak, or any of the other excuses we use when we’re asked to do something hard. Especially when we read how God has plans for us before we were ever conceived. That kind of gets my attention doesn’t it you?
So, that’s the first part and then there’s the second piece that basically telling the folks and the leaders of the church that they haven’t been doing the things God has been calling them to do and be. They weren’t treating each other fairly or justly.
As we heard read they were brazen enough to tell God they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.  And who was this Jeremiah to be telling them that he was speaking the word of the Lord?
Two things, two messages for us today. One is a call and the other is a warning. Both can be scary and frightening for any one.
So, again, what is our calling from God…and what is our warning from God? I’m not sure I can give you the answer because I think the question is for each of us as individuals. There is the possibility that your call and my call could be similar maybe even alike but there’s also the possibility that they could be very different since we’re all uniquely different people created just for God’s purpose.
I haven’t given any answers to the questions presented. How do you know if and when God is calling you…or me…to a particular work? How can we discern God’s call…or warning? Think about that. What do you do? What would you do?
When I was a kid and I was perplexed with a sense of God’s call I’d go to my Bible and open it randomly thinking that if God had a message for me I would find it there and God would make sure the right pages fell open and my eyes would be led to the right words. I can’t remember if any real revelations came to me or not.
But my question isn’t for me but for you…and you…and you. What do you do? Is anyone here sensing a call from God that you don’t know how to answer? Maybe together we can help each other understand God’s message for us.
Jeremiah was in it alone and he suffered for the message God gave him to deliver. Maybe if we talk to each other about God’s call to us the work will be easier…maybe.
Friends, this week I’m asking all of you to sit with God and listen for the Voice of the Lord. Read his word for you, lift your prayers to God, and listen…because I believe God has a call crafted just for you.

May you be blessed with God’s grace and peace this week. Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Truth

The field commander for Sennacherib, King of Assyria, came to a place along the wall of the city of Jerusalem and began to spout about how the people in the City shouldn’t believe what Hezekiah was telling them. And he spoke in Hebrew so everyone sitting on the top of the wall could understand what he was saying.
He wanted them to believe that what he was saying was the truth. That brings us to the question that Pilate asked Jesus, “What is the truth?”
What is the truth? Two weeks ago this coming Tuesday people all over the United States voted for people they believed were the best to be the leaders of their communities, their state, their nation. After listening to debates and countless television advertisements the chose the ones they believed, the ones they believed were telling the truth.
So, this field commander for the King of Assyria is standing outside the walls of Jerusalem shouting in Hebrew about all the power that he wields, about all the cities and nations the army has conquered and destroyed. He is shouting to the folks sitting on the walls to not trust King Hezekiah. He can’t protect them and neither can the God of Israel. Everything King Hezekiah has been telling them is lies. Everything the field commander is saying is, of course, the truth. What is the truth?
As most of you know I go to coffee every day and, of course, I hear a lot of stories, some true and some not and some a variation of the truth. How do I know? I know because I’ve found out later when I talk to the person the stories are about that what I heard was pretty far off the mark. Therefore, I don’t believe everything I hear as the gospel truth.
What is the truth? The One and Only Truth is…Jesus. As he said in the gospel of John, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” So, the only truth is Jesus. Whatever I read in the Bible that Jesus said I believe to be the truth as it’s revealed to me by the Holy Spirit.
My friends, I want you to know that you shouldn’t even take everything I say as the truth either. I say that because, as you all know, I make mistakes. I get things messed up. I turn things around…and I’m a sinner…
Saved by God’s grace but still…a sinner who doesn’t get things right. So, what I’m saying this morning is the only ‘truth’ any of us can believe in and trust is God’s truth spoken by Jesus and revealed to us by the power of his Holy Spirit.
Just as in the days of King Hezekiah rumors are flying everywhere. And most of them we don’t want to believe…and shouldn’t. So, how do we combat rumors and how do we discover the truth?
In the first place we can refuse to play the rumor game. We can make our best effort to live like Jesus. What I mean is that we can love our neighbors, love ourselves with the love that Jesus had for his disciples and us.
The rumors we can believe are the rumors like the one in Isaiah 2 that talks about God’s glory, that describes a world of peace and love. We can do a lot for our community and the world by spreading that rumor.
My friends, God’s message from Jesus is the truth. That we can believe. That rumor we can spread far and wide.
God calls us to go into this world of rumors and live as Christians who love each other, love their neighbors, enemies and all, and love God spreading the story of God’s Kingdom here on earth and kingdom to come.

So, what do you think? What is the truth?

Monday, November 10, 2014

What Could Be and What It Really Is

Our scripture lesson today from the prophet Micah lets us know what it means to walk with God…and all that God requires of us.
Almost forty six years ago my friends were being drafted into service for our country. Some were drafted and some of us enlisted because we knew we were going to be called anyway and we hoped we’d have some choice in the work we could do.
Almost 100 years ago the outbreak of the Great War began. It was to be the war to end all wars. We know now it wasn’t. One hundred years is a milestone but it doesn’t mark the end a journey. There’s quite a ways to travel before we see peace the whole world over.
God calls us to a journey that’s quite a bit different than the one some have been on when called to serve their country.
We are not called because God needs something but as Micah says we are called and told what the Lord requires of us, justice, kindness, and mercy. He doesn’t need our sacrifices as the Psalms say.
It sounds like it should be so easy, this vision of peace, yet the reality of it is very different. It’s not that we don’t want peace it just seems like there’s a power prevalent in the world that creates so much hate and then conflict between people of different cultures. And when you add the differences in religions and politics it’s like throwing gasoline on a campfire. Everything just explodes.
A long time ago our ancestors had a vision of a world where war would be no more. That hasn’t happened yet…and may never happen. So, we journey on.
Today we again here God’s call to be reconciled to our neighbors, our enemies, and those who are foreigners in our land.
Maybe we need to create markers to remind us what God requires, justice, kindness, and humility. These milestones should be constructed of materials that never rot, rust, or erode. Markers that would stand for as long as the world remains. Markers that would remind us of the vision Micah had for his country.
The young people of my generation burned their draft cards and some went to Canada to keep from being drafted or thrown into jail for protesting. They were against the war in Vietnam. They didn’t see the value in people dying.
Today there are still folks who picket the military bases in protest. They are willing to go to jail to get their point across.
We’ve had 13 years of war and I don’t know how many lost lives. Doesn’t it make you wonder why? What have we gained? Couldn’t there have been an alternate way?
And so I ask you to pray for peace remembering God’s word to Micah and Jesus’ words to the disciples about loving God and neighbor.
Friends, as we, this week, remember our friends, our family members, and those we never met let us commit to finding another way. Let’s honor those who’ve died and work to live in peace. The peace for which they fought so hard.
May we find another way, maybe trying God’s way. It surely would cost us less than all the lives lost in a war to end war forever. Our friends the peaceniks were so far off when they talked of making love not war.
Friends, remember our veterans this week…and pray for a way to end all war. Pray for the love and peace of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Water & Dirt

The story of Elisha and the great commander of the Syrian Army, Naaman being healed of his skin disease is about simple elements, a muddy river...and dirt.
Naaman, possibly because he’d been sent by the King of Syria to the King of Israel, expected something more than just being told by Elisha’s servant to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. At the very least he expected the great prophet to come out and speak to him.
Naaman must have been pretty smart to have listened to his own servants and to be convinced by them to at least try washing in the river. What did he have to lose?
He did exactly as the servant of Elisha told him. He removed his clothes and washed himself thoroughly seven times in the muddy Jordan River.
And when he came up out of the water his skin was like that of a young teenage boy. The skin disease was gone.
He was so happy to see it gone that he went to Elisha and tried to get him to take the present he had brought with him. Elisha wouldn’t take his gifts. When Elisha wouldn’t accept his gifts Naaman asked for 2 mule-loads of dirt. He pledged that he would no longer worship any gods but the one true God of Israel.
Muddy water cleansed Naaman and plain old dirt from in front of Elisha’s house was holy.
Water and dirt, two simple, basic elements we take for granted and yet they are reminders for us how our God works using the simplest of things.
It makes us think about the stories of Jesus healing the blind and deaf in the gospels. He took mud and spit and put in eyes and in ears and those who couldn’t see or hear were able to see and hear again.
There wasn’t anything magical about the mud or the water or spit. It was God’s grace that worked the miracle and with that was the people’s faith; together with God’s grace and their faith healing took place.
So many times in our lives we think that we need pomp and circumstance in order to be forgiven and made righteous before God. Or we think we need to jump through a lot of hoops in order to be cleansed, forgiven.
All we ever need is to confess and receive God’s forgiveness. The price was already paid in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All we need to do is accept God’s grace as it’s freely given…and then realize nothing more is needed. All we have to do is live into the gift of grace.
That’s what hard to believe. God doesn’t want anything from us except for us to believe, to love God and our neighbors, and to make disciples. Simple things like water and dirt, grace and faith that’s all. And yet, like Naaman, we struggle to believe that’s all there is to it.

May God help us believe and strengthen our faith through his grace. Amen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Justice...and Love

Everyone wants to be treated fairly. If someone has done some wrong against another we want to see justice. We want to see the wrong made right again.
In our country we have a system of courts with judges, lawyers, and juries of our peers who when called together seek to ensure that justice is done.
It’s a great responsibility to be the one who dispenses just rulings. It’s a great responsibility being called to sit on a jury and vote with your peers whether a person standing before you is guilty of wrongdoing or innocent of the charge brought against them.
Fortunately, these decisions aren’t just ours to render. We are just one of 12 people in the jury. Sometimes the weight of the decision does fall upon just one person, the judge. I can’t imagine the burden they must carry at times.
In the days of Solomon’s rule the king was the person who determined innocence or guilt, right or wrong. Because of Solomon’s fairness and discerning wisdom he was considered a ‘wise’ king. Not just because he was smart but because he was fair and his rulings were just.
What made Solomon the wise king that he was? Was it genetics? Was it God? Maybe it was both.
David, Solomon’s father was held up as a great king, a fair king, righteous in the eyes of God. Not perfect, but a person who loved God and trusted in God’s providence.
So, we can understand how Solomon could have inherited some of his father’s characteristics. And since we’ve heard how God blessed others in their dreams we can believe that he would also honor Solomon with a blessing.
But there may be something else that made Solomon’s rule so memorable. Remember Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, the one about faith, hope, and love. Paul said he could have any of the other’s but without love they were meaningless.
I believe what made Solomon’s wisdom so different from any other king’s was that he dispensed his justice with love. He loved God and he loved the people of God.
King Solomon wielded a lot of power as did most kings of his era. And if we would read further in 1 Kings we’d see that Solomon didn’t always treat the people with what we would call fairness and love. You see, he conscripted quite a few of the people of God to build his mansion and the Temple in Jerusalem. He didn’t ask. He ordered.
But in today’s lesson, as a young boy, as a new king, he was filled with God’s wisdom and love and he treated the people with justice. And even with some of his later escapades the people still revered him as a king filled with God’s wisdom and grace.
Solomon received a gift from God, the gift of a discerning heart, wisdom. I believe each of us have received gifts from God. I’ve asked you this morning to consider your gifts or maybe to think about gifts you’d like to be endowed with. Gifts that you’d, given the opportunity, ask God for.
As we know gifts come with responsibility. God blesses us with gifts that we should use not hide under a bushel basket or bury in the ground. Solomon used his gift to govern the people of God wisely. How are we using the gifts God has given us?
As you go on into this week consider the gift on the strip of paper and ask God to guide you in the use of his gift to you. And, maybe, you could share with each other how God revealed this gift to you and how it’s being used to further the kingdom of God here on earth.

Thanks be to God for his grace-filled love. Amen.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nathan's Shoes

Put yourself in Nathan’s shoes…or sandals if you will. You’re God’s prophet during the reign of King David. God has just given you one of the toughest assignments ever.
King David has sinned and God wants Nathan to tell the King that he knows and that God isn’t happy.
Remember you’re wearing Nathan’s sandals. How do you do what God has asked you to do and still keep your life?  How do you tell the King that he’s wrong, that he hasn’t acted rightly, and…he’s about to be disciplined by God?
I would never have thought about telling the King a story…but that’s what Nathan did. He told the King a story, a story that lit his fire; a story that made him want to look up this person and have them killed.
Don’t forget you’re still wearing Nathan’s sandals. Now you have to let the King know that the story is about him. The King is the one who’s done this terrible thing…and God’s really not pleased.
There’s silence. Silence so thick and heavy you’re afraid to speak and so you don’t.
Take off Nathan’s sandals. Now you’re you. Take a hard look at yourself. What do you see?
Now look at yourself through the eyes of God…what do you see? Do you see a good person or do you see someone who maybe bends the truth once in a while? Do you see someone who maybe takes advantage of situations or people sometimes?
Friends, all Nathan did was to put his voice to the wrong that David had done, the wrong that he knew deep in his heart was wrong.
We aren’t any better than King David. What voices do you hear when you look deep into your eyes in the mirror?

We can all give God thanks for his forgiving grace. Amen.

Stories to Tell

Joshua, nearing the end of his life, called the people together to tell them what God had said to him. He began by telling the story of their ancestors and their relationship with God, beginning with Abraham and ending with their time in this Promised Land.
The entire story is about God’s relationship with his children. God never left their side. He was always with them even when they weren’t able to sense his presence.
This very last chapter in the book of Joshua reminds the people of Israel who they are and whose they are. It’s a reminder of their covenant with God.
Thinking of all that, we might very well ask ourselves who we are. What gives us our identity? What gives meaning to our relationships?
I’m going to tell you my story. Some of you may know some of it and many of you don’t know anything about me other than what I’ve shared through our worship of God together.
My story really begins with my paternal grandparents, Fred and Ruth. Fred grew up in Hancock and Ruth grew up on a farm by McClelland. I never did hear the story of how they met. They married and moved to my great-grandfather’s farm west of Hancock. Together they raised 2 sons and 1 daughter on 160 acres. Also during the early 40’s they fostered children from the Children’s Home in Council Bluffs.
That’s how my mother met my dad. She was an orphan at the Children’s Home and became a foster child with my grandparents.
My grandparents were charter members of the Silver Creek Evangelical United Brethren Church west of Hancock on what’s now known as County Road G30. Grandma was a very active member in that church teaching Sunday school up into her 70’s.
Mom and Dad were married in ’45 and I was the first born in ’47. In 1949 I was run completely over by a Model L Case tractor. It had steel wheels. Somehow as it moved forward my body was squeezed between the lugs on the rim of the tractor.
I can’t imagine the horror my Dad must have felt when he stepped off the platform of that tractor and saw my bloody body lying there on the ground. He never did tell me his feelings or the emotions that he felt then.
He did tell me that he just carried me in the house and called Dr. Huntley in Avoca who told him to get me to Jennie Edmundson Hospital in Council Bluffs. On the way the car quit and a Good Samaritan gave Mom and Dad a ride to the hospital. Dad never knew their name.
As you can see I survived that accident. The part of the story I want you to know about is what my Grandma Ruth told me years later.  She told me this, “David, God has something for you to do. I think that’s why you’re alive.”  Dr. Huntley classified it as a ‘miracle.’
So, that’s how my life began. My baptism happened 2 months after the accident. Even though Grandma was a regular at church my parents weren’t until after.
I don’t remember ever missing a Sunday of worship unless the roads were too muddy or the snowdrifts too high. I learned all the Old Testament and New Testament stories, first from my Grandma Ruth and then from the other women in the church.
I was confirmed when I was in junior high school and gave my heart to the Lord then for the first time. I say ‘first’ because I’ve given my heart to God a few more times since then.
My life through high school and college were pretty much what everyone else’s was like, I think. What may have made mine different was that I believed God had a plan for my life. I didn’t know what it was but I trusted that he would reveal it to me in his good time.
I spent 3 years in the U.S. Army, came home, and began farming with my Dad who died almost one year later from a heart attack. He was 49.
That was hard. I farmed for 10 years and then quit because the economy was against me with high interest rates. That’s when I began my second career in manufacturing, which I was in for over 27 years.
In all that time God never left my side. I wasn’t always a faithful follower of Jesus but in his grace he never abandoned me.
It was during this period that God was in the lead and I just followed. He opened doors that I never knew were there and closed a few that I wanted to go through but couldn’t.
Mom died in 1993, I received my BA in ’97, and then a door opened giving me the opportunity to study to be a pastor. I completed that work in 4 years. I had no idea what was coming next, but God knew.
The pastor of our home church left and one of the elders asked me if I would serve the church as their pastor. It took a while, maybe 6 months, and then I was commissioned to serve Walnut First Presbyterian Church as their pastor. That was in May 2004.
In all that time God has been with me. I’ve probably made some terrible mistakes but the congregation and I have made it through them and God is still with us.
I made a decision to listen to God and follow in the way of Jesus. It hasn’t always been easy but it has been easier than my life was when I wasn’t.
So, my friends, look at your life and consider this day who you are following. Are you following in Jesus’ footsteps trusting in God’s grace or are you following other gods?

May God fill you with his love, peace and grace. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Unknown

The Israelites have left Egypt on their way to a land God promised Abraham so many generations ago. They have been led to a place with a lot of water in front of them and the whole Egyptian army behind them. And then, they turn on Moses. They’re afraid of the unknown.
It’s a natural response to turn on the person in the leadership position. But, Moses wasn’t leading them. God was. God led them here with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; neither one leaving their place in front of the fleeing Israelites.
It was all part of God’s plan to lure Pharaoh into a trap so the Egyptians would know that God was Lord, all powerful, all mighty.
The problem was the Israelites didn’t know it was God’s plan that had put them in this predicament. Kind of like us too. We find ourselves in a tough spot, a painful situation and we can’t believe that it’s part of God’s plan.
The Israelites being between the Reed Sea and the Egyptian army was God’s plan. He had the best interests of his people at heart. He was taking care of them. They just couldn’t see how he was doing that. Often times neither do we.
So, here’s the Egyptian army closing in fast with chariots, the Stealth fighters of Moses’ day. And there’s this sea in front of them without one way of crossing over that anyone could see. They were no bridges in sight, anywhere!
God tells Moses everything’s falling into place just as he planned. He told Moses to stretch out his arm holding the staff over the sea and the waters would divide.
That’s what Moses did because he knew after the ten plagues in Egypt that God would do what he said. So, the wind God sent blew all night and the next morning the ground was dry, water piled up on both sides of the path where God wanted them to walk through.
All this time God has been protecting the Israelites from the Egyptian army. The cloud and the fire that had always been there preceding them moved behind them to hide them from the pursuing Egyptians. The pillar of fire gave them light to see when the ground was dry enough for them to walk over.
Don’t you kind of wonder who that first brave soul was who took that first step into that canyon of water? We don’t know who that person was but we do know that they all made it across before the Egyptian chariots started across in hot pursuit.
When all the chariots were in the Reed Sea Moses again stretched his arm out over the water and it all began to come back where it had come from covering Pharaoh’s army. It also helped that God jammed the wheels of the chariots so they couldn’t move. The sea returned to its original place drowning all the Egyptians.
All the folks Moses had been leading out of Egypt who had been complaining about Moses’ leadership qualities now knew firsthand the power of God, their God, and they feared the Lord and put their trust in God and God’s servant, Moses…at least for a time.
God lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land, the land first promised to Abraham. And in Matthew’s gospel we read that our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his mom and dad, Mary and Joseph, went back to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod the Great. All part of God’s magnificent plan. Kind of a full circle type of plan.
So, by now you may be wondering what’s God’s plan for us. Where is God leading us? Is God leading us toward a ‘Reed Sea’? Has God led us to a place where we know that the only way out is through the power of God?
How many of you have been between that ‘rock and hard place’ and decided that the only way out was to risk everything and trust in God and step out into the unknown?
So, where are we today? Where are you today? Almost eleven years ago I was asked to fill this vacant pulpit. I had no idea what God was going to do or how. It has been a journey and for this church I don’t think it’s over. A new chapter is about to begin and no one knows what’s ahead but God.
We may not be in the same situation the Israelites found themselves in but there’s a lot we don’t know. And that always worries people. It worried the Israelites and it worries us.
My friends, God is telling us in the lesson from Exodus not to worry. He’s got a plan. He’s got it covered. Trust in the Plan.
As this church steps into the unknown sharing a pastor with United Church of Avoca your pastor is stepping into another unknown, retirement. Both are a little scary because there’s always some risk.
Today God is telling us, again, that there’s a plan. Trust in God, believe in God, have faith in God and everything will be all right. God was there for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the Israelites and God will be there for you and me.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dealing with Bad Things

The story of Joseph begins with his birth in Jacob’s later years. He was favored by his dad; in fact, you could say that Joseph could do no wrong in Jacob’s eyes. His dad loved him so much he made him a coat of many colors. Maybe you’ve heard that story…or seen the musical.
And then Joseph had these dreams where his siblings, and even his parents bowed down to him. Being the typical favored child he also told on his brothers.
Needless to say they didn’t share their dad’s love for their younger brother. It’s no wonder they threw him in that dry cistern and changed their minds about killing him; instead they sold him to the Ishmaelites.
It may have been on that journey to Egypt that he matured and began to lean on his faith in God. It may have been on that trip that he learned how to deal with the bad things that were happening to him.
So, how do we deal with the bad things life throws at us? What do we do when the car breaks down and there’s not quite enough money in the account to pay the mechanic? What do we do when our teenaged children rebel and won’t or don’t listen to us? What do we do when people spread rumors about us that may or may not be true? How do we deal with the news that we have a tumor growing inside of us? What do we do when our country is overrun with terrorists? How do we deal with bad things?
That’s what this scripture is getting me to think about. Is my faith in God strong enough to deal with the bad things of life? If I had been Joseph would I have been able to adapt and prosper no matter what situation I was in?
Just take the first situation Joseph found himself in, thrown into a cistern, hearing them talk about killing him and then being sold by his brothers to foreign traders and taken to who knows where. Was he angry? How long was he angry? Did he talk with God? Was he mad at God for what happened to him? How did he deal with it?
We can only imagine because we weren’t there…and we haven’t walked in his shoes. We only know how we would react…or how we think we’d react.
Some of us have had bad things happen to us. Some of us already know how we’ve reacted. Our neighbors know too how we’ve reacted or they think they know. No one really knows unless we’ve told them.
Again, I believe, it’s a question of faith. Most of us know we’re not been promised a life of wine and roses and an easy road. And yet, if our lives have been relatively easy without too many bumps, encountering a really big pothole or a major crisis can be a real test of our faith.
How do we deal with bad things? Some of you may have already asked yourself this question. I’ve been thinking lately about how I’d deal with bad things.
When the bad things come it’s then that I wish I could talk with God, and he with me. I mean like really hearing his voice and knowing it was God speaking; having a deep and intimate conversation with the One & Only God.
Did God speak to Joseph like he did with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? We can’t tell for sure from the scriptures. The reading from Genesis tells us that God was with him but don’t you want to know if he heard God speak to him. How did he know? Was it just because he prospered that he knew God was with him?
We might think that because the jailer trusted him and didn’t worry about anything he asked Joseph to do that being in prison was easy. I don’t think it was, at least not as good as working for Potiphar.
I think we have to be careful in how we understand this scripture. We could think that if we live a righteous life, doing all that Jesus commanded, that God will prosper us and make us successful. Friends, that isn’t the way God works. At least I don’t think that’s the way God works.
There’s too many examples of God’s prophets and Jesus’ apostles suffering, being persecuted, tortured, and killed. These were folks doing what God called them to do. We can’t say that they prospered; at least by the world’s standards. They didn’t all have an easy time of it and yet they received blessings from God. They dealt with the bad things because they trusted God.
Joseph dealt with the bad things that came his way by trusting in God to take care of him. Joseph had heard the stories from his dad about God’s grace. The example of Jacob must have made an impression on Joseph and he believed.  That must have been what helped him deal with the bad things.
So, the question has been, how do we deal with the bad things?  Is our faith, our trust in God enough for us to handle what life throws at us? Do we need more than our faith? What if our faith isn’t very strong? What do we do then? When life’s not fair, when life’s a burden how do we deal with that?
You may very well ask, “Pastor, how do you deal with the bad things?” It’s a struggle sometimes. To be honest I talk with God a lot about the bad things. It’s really good to talk. I’m sometimes angry when bad things come my way. I sometimes whine at God. Sometimes I don’t know what to say and I just sit. Sometimes my mind is just blank because I can’t even think about it.
I listen to music and read the Bible searching for help, for answers, for anything that can help me cope. And I continue to talk with God. When things are really bad I also count on my friends…to pray for me, to listen to me, to just be there for me. Without God, the church, and friends I don’t know how anyone can survive the bad things.
So, with all the stuff that happened to Joseph he may have done some of the things I did. It sounds as if Joseph was pretty good at networking whether he was a slave with Potiphar or working for the jailer in prison. He had friends, his network, that he could count on…and he had his faith in God being there with him, always.
And you know what, Joseph didn’t sit still. Wherever he was he kept going and didn’t look back.  He assessed the situation he was in, made a plan, and worked it always trusting in God.
So, my friends, the lesson for us today is to have faith, trust in God, and know that God is always with you. And if you’re one of the lucky ones with friends who believe in Jesus and believe in God then knowing that they have your back is a bonus.
Friends, through all of this life there are bound to be some bad things. Dealing with them is easier if we have faith in our God, trust in his grace and love in Jesus, and keep the communication channels open talking and listening for God’s voice.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Building Peace (Shalom)

The Lord called Abram to go to place that he would show him. God told him that he would make him into a ‘great’ nation.
God also said something about blessings and curses. God said, “…I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
This could be interpreted a few different ways. I’d like us to think about it this way, whatever action Abram took, whatever decisions he made would end up either being a blessing for the people or a curse.
When we read the story of Abram we find that he didn’t always make the right decisions. In fact sometimes they were the wrong decisions and they almost got him into trouble. But, for the most part, Abram’s decisions were good for the people and they were blessed. And because of his righteousness God’s people were blessed and we, the adopted children of God, have also been blessed.
Is that it then? God promised to make Abram’s family and great nation and bless them. Because God kept his promise to Abram we’ve also been blessed.
I don’t think that’s it. Did you hear the first verse from the psalm today? It said, “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.” And, also, the gospel from Matthew, “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
These words weren’t meant for the first people to read them or hear them read. No, my friends, they were meant for us. We are to proclaim his name. We are to make known among the nations what Jesus has done. We are to go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. We are to do these things. We have been called. We have been given a promise too.
Those we bless will be blessed and those we curse will be cursed. The decisions we make to share God’s story of Jesus Christ with those we meet on our journey will be blessed and the times we decide not to share the story, well then, those folks will be cursed because they didn’t get to hear the story of salvation. Because we didn’t tell it to them.
Blessings and curses, if we share the gospel story folks are blessed and if we don’t they are cursed. Those who hear the story find peace (shalom) and those who don’t may not find peace.
So, sharing the storing of God’s love for the world in his Son, Jesus, is the beginning to building peace.
Every time we tell the story another milestone is created to mark that event. Maybe not a pile of stones that we can see but a definite marker has been created.
Think about the people who’ve impacted your life. Think what your life would be like if they had decided to do what they did.
Now, think about those who told you the story of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. Where would you be today if they had decided not to do that? But they did and now you have to choose who you will tell and how you will tell the story; how you will build peace, how you will mark this part of your journey.
It sounds so easy, all we have to do is tell the story. But, the honest truth is, sometimes we don’t because our faith isn’t as strong as our fear of rejection or ridicule. We need faith in our Lord before we can tell the story.
Abram had faith in God. That’s why he could be a blessing. His ancestor’s had faith and so they were a blessing. Jesus’ disciples had faith and the world was blessed by their faith.
So, good friends, pray that God strengthens your faith so you can tell the story and be a blessing and lay a stone to mark the beginning of building peace.
Thanks be to God for his gift of grace. Amen.

Monday, September 8, 2014

God's Promises

Have you ever wondered how bad, how evil man was for God to want to destroy all humanity, every living thing? Have you then looked at our world today and wondered how God feels about mankind now?
I have and it worries me some. According to the writer of Genesis God promised to never destroy every living thing on earth with water. But the state of the world today does give me pause and make me wonder.
Water is so necessary to our existence that it’s hard to imagine it being used by God to destroy his creation. And yet just last week some places received so much rain that flood warnings were issued, rivers were cresting and people had to evacuate their houses.
It’s hard for me to imagine what it must have been like when the earth was deluged with water for 40 days and nights. Can you imagine what it was like to see nothing but water everywhere you looked? Maybe that’s why Noah didn’t open the windows of the ark until later.
After 40 days it quit but then it all had to go back to where it had come from and that took a while. Eventually the water receded and the boat came to rest on a mountain. After a period of time and a few birds being sent out the door of the ark was opened and everything and everyone came out.
Life began all over again. Noah offered a sacrifice from the ‘clean’ animals and God found the odor pleasing. Then he declared that never again would he destroy the earth. He made a covenant with Noah and his family. The sign of the covenant was the multi-colored arc in the heavens after a rain. The rainbow is a reminder to God, and to us, of this covenant.
So, what about now? For as long as I can remember the earth has been pretty stable. But in the last 10 years or so there’s been a lot of talk about climate change. The blame has been placed on damage to the ozone layer that has been caused by some chemicals that man has produced or from too many cattle being on feed. It depends who you listen to.
That’s not the only change that been taking place. Some animals are nearing extinction. Some insects are dying off. Should we worry about that or will God intervene and fix the problem? What do you believe?
If man is abusing the environment will God let it continue or will God step in? What do you think? Is it possible that we, mankind, could do something that would annihilate all living creatures and not destroy the earth? Should we care?
This creation is balanced. Everything in creation needs everything else in creation. Today it sounds and looks as if everything is getting out of balance, out of kilter, kind of like a washing machine trying to spin when the load isn’t put in evenly.
And who are the ones affected the most by the ecological imbalances? It’s the poorest and the least informed who suffer the most. The people with the power and the money can move and protect themselves against ‘acts of God.’
The story of Noah is a reminder to us that when things get out of balance we have a responsibility to work to correct the problems. We are all in this together with our brothers and sisters all over the world. And we’re in this together with every animal and every plant on this earth. If they’re suffering eventually we will too if we don’t take steps to fix the problems.
So, before we all just throw up our hands and toss in the towel remember that we’re not in this alone. As God told Moses, “I will be with you.”
God was with our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Noah and God is with us today.
We don’t think of this often enough but everything we do has an impact on our environment, physically and spiritually. How we take care of our little piece of the world does affect us and those who are our neighbors.
My friends, be reminded today of God’s covenant to never destroy the earth again with water and his promise to always be with us in everything we do. Give thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ, who came so that we could be saved from a life of torment and instead be welcome into the kingdom of God as children of God.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.