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.