Monday, March 10, 2014


Psalm 32

Sin, now that’s a touchy subject!  No one likes to talk about sin. We want to avoid the conversation as much as possible. 

Let’s be completely honest, that is one of the reasons you choose to attend one church over another or not to attend church at all.  You may not mind being challenged, but you want a place where there is a pretty good chance you won’t be yelled at and told how horrible of a sinner you are every Sunday.   We like to talk about love and grace and forgiveness- rainbows and butterflies and whiskers on kittens, all the sweet and wonderful things we like about God.  But again if we are completely honest, we can’t have those sweet things if we don’t talk about sin.  And, in fact, if we don’t have sin, then why do we need the forgiveness, love and grace we get from Jesus?

Sin is an ugly part of our reality as humans.  It is an element of our humanity that we would prefer to ignore and just brush under the rug.  To some extent, we can’t help it.  We are self-centered, egotistical, and always right! And to that end, we think we are in control.  We can control our emotions and maintain inner harmony as long as we don’t admit our mistakes.  If we ignore them, they go away, or so we like to think.  This is sin in many ways.  It is the desire to rely on ourselves rather than God.   Sin is anything that separates us from being in a relationship with God and each other. 

When we initially think of sin we think of breaking God’s laws, especially the 10 commandments.  But these are not the only sins.  We sin by omission when we fail to speak up when we see someone do something wrong.  We sin when we know God is calling and urging us to do or act a certain way and yet we fail to follow God’s call.  When we spew words of hate and disgust about a fellow child of God, we sin by failing to follow God’s call to love.  We sin when we consciously or unconsciously put our own needs above the needs of the community, the poor and the disenfranchised.  We sin when we willfully do harm to someone else; physically, emotionally or spiritually.  There is individual sin, what you and I do each day as we interact with other people and God’s creation.  But there are also corporate sins; the rules that our culture and society put in place to blame victims and allow the power and greed of government and corporation to be the most important part of our society. 

By now I am sure you are as uncomfortable as I am.  I can almost hear you thinking- hurry up, let’s get to the good stuff.  And I will, but we shouldn’t hurry on too quickly.  That is what often gets us in trouble with our sins.  The thing is, when we brush past sin and try to ignore it, blame other people for our problems or just forget about it, it ends up doing more harm than good.  Sometimes we even blame our humanity instead of facing it head on.  But, ignoring the problem does not make it go away.  We cannot just look the other way. 

The Psalmist tells us in vs 3 and 4 “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me, my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

When I was about 13 years old, Mom asked me to wash all the china in the cupboard.  It was close to thanksgiving and we would be using them in a few days.  While I was doing this I was goofing off and I dropped one of the antique tea cups.  As soon as it hit the floor and chards of porcelain went everywhere I panicked.  I was immediately stricken with worry about telling Mom.  I was so worried I was crying, scared that Mom was going to be angry with me.  I didn’t know what I was going to do –I could fess up or I could hide it- it might be days or weeks before she realized it was missing...  

The Psalmist knows what I learned that day- Sin eats away at us from the inside out.  If we try to ignore it, it simply festers and grows and causes our lives to waste away.  Sin does this to us in mental and physical ways.  Sin is often manifested in guilt, anger, worry, anxiety, regret, loneliness, fear, resentment and a general sense of heaviness.  If we let it go for too long, it is sometimes even manifested in physical pain and illness- headaches, stomach aches, muscle aches, fatigue, high blood pressure and depression.  It affects our daily lives too.  Our relationships with family and friends are often damaged and sometimes destroyed.  Our financial security is threatened and the worst part of all, the distance between us and God grows larger and larger because these sins compound each other.  We sin in new ways to cover up or try to fix other problems and the hole gets deeper and deeper.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  The very next section in the Psalm we are told “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said ‘I will confess my transgression to the Lord’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin”.  All these emotions and physical manifestations we experience when we sin, are God’s attempt to wake us up and make us aware of just how much we need Jesus.  When we realize this, when we stop and earnestly confess our sins to Jesus it is amazing the changes that take place.  The consequences of our sin may still linger but it is the beginning of a new life.  The peace and joy that simply speaking it out loud brings is immeasurable as we allow God to start the healing process, provide us with forgiveness, comfort and reassurance that we are still loved in spite of our sin.  No longer will the sin be what controls our life, the downward spiral of sin is broken, and we will not be overwhelmed by our transgressions and we will have the strength to face them instead of hide from them. 

The day I broke my mom’s tea cup, I learned a valuable lesion.  After I cleaned up the mess and gathered my courage, I decided not to hide it.  I called Mom at work to tell her what happened.  The first thing out of her mouth was “are you ok”.  She was more worried about me than the cup.  Had I cut myself or been hurt?  Then her next statement floored me…. “It’s just a cup.”  As she offered me comfort and thanked me for my honesty, the guilt, worry and anxiety that had been building up disappeared.

This was by no means the worse sin I ever committed against my parents but that day Mom showed me what it meant to be loved and forgiven.  When we recognize our sin and cry out to God for forgiveness- the worry, stress and anxiety related to it go away, replaced by the comfort, love and peace of Christ.  Not only are our sins forgiven but as we listen to our own hearts and listen to God we learn more about ourselves and more about God.  This is not where it ends though.  Forgiveness is not a one-time event.  It is something that we have to constantly work on.  Once saved always saved/ once forgiven always forgiven is simply not true.  Our baptism, our seeking out God for salvation and forgiveness is just the beginning of our journey.

We are addicted to sin.  If you have ever suffered from an addiction or know someone who does you know what this cycle looks like.  We sin, we feel guilt and God convicts us of our sins, we ask and receive forgiveness, we check ourselves into sin rehab, pray, come to church, read the bible and maybe we clean up for a while and then we relapse into this addition to sin.  These relapses are not entirely a bad thing though.  Each time, we learn more about ourselves, our triggers, and our moments of weakness.  We learn coping mechanisms and how to seek God for strength. Our relationship with God grows stronger and deeper, and we grow more mature in our faith. 
We will never be without sin but as Paul Harvey said, and now, the rest of the story. 
Our Psalm ends today with the voice of God, responding to the heartfelt prayers of the Psalmist.  God confirms to us that we will be corrected of our sins like a mule or horse who needs a bit and bridle we are being trained to follow and listen to God’s will.  But Vs 10 says this “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.”  

As we enter this season of Lent, we are called to a time of self-reflection, a time to humble ourselves and listen to our hearts and listen to God’s call on our lives.  We are preparing our lives for Easter and we realize, Praise God that our sin is not the end of the story.  Jesus came to heal our brokenness, to offer forgiveness of our sins, to break the cycle of sin and death, to show us a better way and teach us how to walk with God and be in a relationship with the One who can provide everlasting comfort and peace that surpasses all understanding.  God has wanted this all along.  That twinge of guilt, that feeling of uneasiness that is God calling us to seek Jesus, to stop and come back- we are never too far gone, we can never be so far from God that we are unreachable.  There is hope!  Trust in God to love you and provide a way out of the hole you have dug for yourself and your sin.  Because of the cross, because of Jesus, because of God’s unfathomable love for creation, we are redeemed.  Desmond Tutu said it this way “There is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness,”  

This is the Good News; this is the reality we seek when we look forward through the 40 days of Lent to the cross of Good Friday and to the empty cross of Easter.  Despite our sin-we are forgiven! This is worth rejoicing!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Don't blink

Matthew 17: 1-9

The small town of East Bend where I grew up is a one stop-light town.  The joke with people passing through was “don’t blink, you will miss it” East Bend was so small that if you weren’t looking for it, if you weren’t paying attention you may never see it.
Maybe you give that advice to new parents.  Cherish every moment- your kids will grow up faster than you realize.  In a blink of an eye you will realize that all those special moments are past.  If we aren’t paying attention, if we aren’t looking for how special life is in this moment- we may get too caught up in getting to work on time, having a spotless home, or climbing the corporate ladder that the moments that are truly special pass us by unnoticed.

Jesus invited Peter, James and John to participate in a very special and intimate moment.  But they were so used to being with Jesus that they were unaware of just how special this would be.  Oh it’s just another day with Jesus, will he ever get tired of these hikes to nowhere?
But then they get to the top.  Is this real?  Are we hallucinating?  Who is that Jesus is talking too? Moses? Elijah? Really?

Is this an illusion?  Is Peter, James and John really seeing what they think they are seeing?  Peter immediately thinks, well if they are real then they should have a place to stay.  Even though Peter was being confronted with divine images of prophets- he continues to think about things people on earth would want.  He doesn’t quite get it. 
But if it wasn’t special enough- if being with Jesus wasn’t enough, if seeing Moses and Elijah wasn’t special enough God isn’t going to let them leave without being changed forever.  God interrupts Peter and as they hear the voice of God they fall on their faces.  How awesome is that!  What an awe inspiring and amazing gift to hear the voice and be in the presence of God! 

When I read this verse I thought of the MercyMe song “I can only imagine” The chorus asks: what will I do when I see Jesus- Will I stand or will I fall to my knees? Will I dance or be still, will I speak or be silent?
The problem with this and with the reaction of the disciples is that every day over the past 3 years they had been in the presence of God and didn’t know it.  They claimed to know Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ but they didn’t really understand what that meant.  It took a spectacular, extraordinary, face flat on the floor moment for them to realize what was going on.

We do this too.  We claim Jesus is the Messiah, our Lord but yet we fail to recognize his presence in our lives.  Maybe we can remember the first time we met Jesus.  We can remember our baptism, those moments when we were acutely aware of the Presence of God, when we could feel his love, those moments when we are moved to tears by the overwhelming presence of God…. You probably felt transformed after those moments -right?   But those big moments pass and ordinary life continues on and maybe we begin to forget that Jesus is still with us.
Sometimes it is hard to see and recognize that God is with us.  Maybe we get so caught up in life that we miss how special those everyday moments with Jesus are.  We get so busy doing stuff- family, work, church, housekeeping, caring for loved ones, volunteering, watching TV, and work that we begin to forget that God is with us.  Sometimes we get so caught up looking for those big moments- anticipating and worrying that we blink and we miss what is right in front of us the whole time.

Yesterday I was standing in line at the post office and a little girl was running circles around the counter and singing.  Her dad was worried about her being disruptive to the other customers so he corrected her but for me that was a holy moment.  A child, being the sweet, charming, and lovable child she was created by God to be.  I wanted to freeze time for that dad because it won’t be long before she is too busy with friends on a Saturday morning to spend time with her dad. 
Maybe it is that moment over coffee with your spouse when nothing is really said, or needs to be said. Maybe it is shopping with a friend, laughing about an inside joke. Or that special song that comes on the radio as you’re driving to a doctor’s appointment or work.  Or maybe it is in that moment when a loved one holds your hand as you cry.   We encounter God every day.  We just have to take the time to be aware of God’s presence. It is in these moments with God when we come face to face with the Holy that we too are transformed.  

John Wesley believed that while God is always present, there are specific ways and moments in life where God makes a special effort to reveal God’s self to us; Baptism and Holy Communion.  While it may seem like the bread and this grape juice of Holy Communion are ordinary things we may eat and drink every day, when we partake of them in worship it is no longer ordinary but extraordinary. 
When we slow down, when we listen to the words spoken, when we don’t just read the words but earnestly confess our sins, when we truly believe that Christ died for us, then it becomes special and we can see God and be transformed.  Communion is a Holy moment.  It is a time we as believers set aside to really stop and think about who Jesus is and reflect on what it means to us to be forgiven and loved and what it means to have a God who doesn’t need a temple but instead dwells in our hearts. 

And like the other moments in life, if we rush through it, if we say the words without thinking we blink and miss just how extraordinary it is to be in the presence of God.  Unlike in the song “I can only imagine” we don’t have to wait until we meet God in glory to know what it is like to be in God’s presence.  God is with us every day and in every moment.  Don’t just imagine what you will do when you see God- live it out in every moment of your life.  Start now, start today, let it change your life now.