God’s Plan

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5 NIV)

“The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:15 NIV)

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Several weeks ago I went to visit a church family that lives some distance from our community. There was no easy way to get to their home and you had to go up and down the hills, follow some curvy roads and make more than a few turns before you ended up at their house.

Knowing I was unfamiliar with the area, my administrative assistant took mercy on me and printed off careful instructions how to ge to my destination.  She said she wasn’t sure what the cell service would be like and that I might lose my signal if I used my phone’s GPS.  So just to be on the safe side, she had a hard copy of directions printed for me.

I did use my GPS, but just to be on the safe side, I kept those directions within reach.  As I made the drive I thought about how thankful I was to have an amazing convenience like GPS and turn by turn voice instructions.  I was also thankful for printed directions  that  made it that much more difficult to get lost.

Station to station voice direction, maps on our phones or tablets, even a (gasp) maps are wonderful things aren’t they?  They keep us from getting lost. They help us to find our way. And they help us not only reach our destination, but to be able to find our way home again. I like the security of knowing where I am going and how I’ll get home.  I imagine you do as well.

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If you are like me, you’ve often longed for same sort of  directions from God.  wouldn’t it be great if God gave us step by step directions on what he wants us to do in life?  Clear paths so that we could fulfill God’s plans for our lives? How often have I preached on the “burning bush” passage out of Exodus there and have someone come up to me afterward as say I just wish God would give me a sign like that and show me what he wants me to do with my life.

But I’m not so sure that he hasn’t. Maybe it’s not that God hasn’t genus directions for our lives, but that we refuse to follow them.  What if the problem is that we and God have different views of our destination?

The two Scriptures at the top of the page hold some remarkable similarities. Moses and Joshua are both contemplating what God wants them to do. Moses with his life and Joshua with the assault on Jericho.  God comes to both at their moment of crises.  And in both scriptures we see an admonition to “takeoff your shows you are standing on Holy Ground.

Before God gives Moses his plan for the Exodus he invites Moses to enter into his holy presence. Before God gives Joshua a plan for defeating Joshua He does the same thing. He invites Joshua to be in the midst of His holiness.  They are told to take off their shoes and they draw close to God. This is a reminder of God’s purity. We are not to take the dirt of life with us when we come before God.  drawing close to God, in fact destroys the dirt within us. God is pure and without sin. But I also see a desire for intimacy here. You are standing on holy ground, so don’t let here be any barriers between us. take off your sandals. Allow your feet to sink  into my holy presence. Don’t just see me or hear me. Feel me from the very bottoms of your feet.

Can you see the pattern? Draw close to God’s Holy presence. Leve ones impurity and sin behind, Become intimate with God. And become holy yourself. Before God ever tells Moses His plan, he invites Moses to first be transformed. Before God tells Joshua what to do about Jericho,  God invites him to be transformed.

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Transformation. This is God’s plan for us.  God’s destination for us is that we be transformed by his holy presence and become holy ourselves.  Everything else is secondary.   We ask, and very earnestly I might add, “God what do you want to do with my life?” ANd what we mean is , What are your plans for me? What job should I take, where should I go to college. Will I ever be married, will I have kids? God answers what I want is for you to come into my presence. Take off your shoes step away from your sin and stand on holy ground. Transformation.  But because he doesn’t give us the answers we are looking for, we feel as if he hasn’t answered us at all.  We don’t want to hear about being transformed. I don’t want to hear about my sin, or what I have to let go of. I don’t want to hear about  becoming intimate with Jesus’ Holy presence.  I want to know what to do to get a promotion. God speaks, we just don’t listen.

What God says to Moses and Joshua is what he says to us. “Look I have plans for you. But what good are the plans if you aren’t transformed?” What benefit is there to be used by God, but never transformed by him? There are far to many of us who are willing to be used by God but don’t want to be transformed by him.   God gives us his plan and directions for us all the time. We just don’t want to hear them.

Do you really want to know God’s plan for you? Then let me encourage you to follow His direction. Draw close to Jesus. Take off your shoes leave your sinful lives behind  and step into his holy presence. Transformation is our destination.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

End Goal

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;” (Romans 5:3 NIV)

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Yesterday was Father’s Day and I, like many of you enjoyed the day with your family, with your Father, or at least thinking about them.  Before Father’s Day I saw several interesting discussions from clergy as to if they celebrate Fathers Day in church. Interestingly enough, I didn’t see this discussion around Mother’s Day. There are some lines angels and clergy won’t cross.

But many of them said they do not recognize father’s day in church because it’s not a Christian Holiday.  Some of these folks to be fair, are trying to hold to a Christian calendar and keep the focus on Christ. At the same time for many it came across as a triggered response that anything male celebrated in the church must be bad.

Regardless it seems to me they are missing the point.  There is something inherently Christian about celebrating both Mother’s and Father’s Day in church.  Yes, our focus must always be on Christ. And in full disclosure while we did have some specific prayers around Father’s Day, I didn’t preach on it. I would have but it’s just not where the Holy Spirit was leading through the Scriptures.

 

But we celebrate because Fathers and Mothers represent in a tangible way the way God as our parent relates to us. They help us see and understand the loving nurturing side of God as well as the protective guiding part of God. In other words it’s easier to sing “Good, Good Father” when you’ve experienced what a good father is.

There is also a redemptive nature to this as well. No, not evevryone had a “good father” but we can experience what it means to have God as our father. No one needs to go through life without a father.  Psalm 68:5 says God is the father to the fatherless.

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It’s also appropriate for us to celebrate because parenting is, well, it’s hard. Yes, its wonderful, it’s rewarding etc.  But it’s also really hard. It’s staying up with babies because they won’t sleep. Staying up late when your kid isn’t home because you are worried and now you can’t sleep. It’s doing things that are hard, or allowing your child to go through painful situations not because you don’t love them, but because you do.

I vividly remember one of my pastors telling the story of being a missionary in India. he and his wife and three small children. The little boy had something wrong, a deformity with his feet. The doctors in the area lacked the equipment and skills to do the surgery and the family probably couldn’t afford it even if it had been available.

But one Doctor told them to take coffee cans and roll them on the bottom of the child’s feet several times a day and force a correct alignment. They were warned this will be very painful for the little boy. he won’t like it. But do it anyway.

The Dr. was correct. The little boy screamed every time they rolled the cans across his feet, benign and pushing him to straighten them. The little boy would begin to cry as soon as they got the cans off the shelf.  He would beg for his father, who had always been there to protect him, to help him. At times the father would go up on the hill-side behind the house and weep.

The minister told us, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. Yet 14 years later I sat an watched our son win a tennis championship in college. What the little boy saw as punishment the father knew was the greatest expression of his love. He cared about what the little boy would become more than his momentary comfort.

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I believe that’s what Paul is getting at in this Scripture. We rejoice in difficulties not because we are masochists. But because in the end, we know we have a good father, A father who cares about the type of person we will become. A good father who weeps with us but who loves us enough to allow the fires of our problems, temper our souls.

You have a heavenly father who loves you. At times when we struggle it might seem as if he doesn’t but he does.  whatever you are going through today, know that God does not abandon you and he will use every situation, if we let him, to help us become who he has always dreamed we would be.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

The Inconvenience of Blessing

“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

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I complain a lot about our Annual Conference.  For one thing, our Annual Conference doesn’t even gather in our own conference. West Ohio’s Annual Conference meeting place is actually in East Ohio.  It’s a great example of United Methodist logic, creating equality by making it inconvenient for virtually everybody. The meeting hall has no Air Conditioning so in the years when the temperature reaches over 9, it’s not only uncomfortable but potentially dangerous for some.  The cost of housing rises, potentially making it difficult for us to be represented by younger laity who can’t afford to be delegates. WiFi and cell phone service can be spotty (which could be more of a joy than a concern for some I guess).  And there are years, it seems we could do all of the work within a day instead of several.

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But for all of that, I do truly enjoy Annual Conference. I like the process of gathering, worship, and debate. I relay like the debate. It gets tedious, but at the  same time it’s what comes with being in a denomination where everyone, clergy and lay have some say in how we do ministry and live out our covenant.  For all it’s inconvenience, we meet in a beautiful setting. The evenings of seeing friends, talking and getting reacquainted are an annual joy.

But there was one guest that was conspicuously absent this year.  I hear they will show up this week for east Ohio, but they were absent in our gathering. Yes, this year we had no visit from the mayflies.  If you haven’t ever seen a mayfly, let me show you one.

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No reason to be alarmed . They don’t bite or sting. They don’t really do anything. They hatch bred,lay eggs all in a few days and then they are gone.  They don’t buzz or annoy. So what’s the big deal? When they come, they come in droves. I mean droves. I’m not sure that if you haven’t been on Lake Erie in those weeks of June when the mayflies appears that you truly understand the infestation. There have been years, and I am in no way exaggerating. Where the mayflies are so thick you can’t drive your car at night. And I’ve seen shop owners actually using a snow shovel to shovel them off of their front steps.

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Yes, I know they make you shudder just a little bit. And they can be an incredible inconvenience. Yet they are also a blessing. The Mayflies tend to indicate a very healthy Lake. The healthier the water in Lake Erie the more mayflies breed, which means the more fish feed on both the eggs and the mature mayflies. which makes for more fish. When the lake isn’t healthy there tends to be a drop in mayflies. So the blessing of a healthy lake brings the inconvenience of the mayfly.

But isn’t that true of most blessings? I’ve found that almost every blessing God has given me, too many to count and more than I deserve to be sure, always come with a inconvenience of some sort. The blessing of a home comes with the inconvenience of mortgages, repairs and cleaning.  The inconvenience of a car comes again with car payments, and maintenance.  The blessing of children come with the inconveniences of priority changes in life, staying up late nursing them through a stomach virus and still having to be at work the next day.  Becoming a chauffeur for their friends.

Sometimes we allow the inconveniences of our blessings to overshadow the blessing itself. At times we can become so focused on the inconvenience that we stop seeing or appreciate the blessing all together. Focus on the inconvenience for too long and not only do we lose our thankful heart, but we can actually begin to resent the blessing.

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But we can reset that attitude. First, every time you have an inconvenience in life train yourself to look for the blessing behind it. You’ll always find one if you look long enough.  There is always a blessing behind the inconvenience.  When you find it, give thanks for it. Stop at that moment and pray a prayer of thanksgiving. Even if you aren’t completley sincere when you do it, I encourage you to do so anyway. Over time, that attitude of thanksgiving becomes infectious and color how you see and deal with the world. You’ll not only become more thankful, but you’ll begin to become more aware of just how much God blesses you every day.

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When we pray the prayer at the top of the page, God does answer. He will bless us. But blessings are never sterile.  They are messy. They come with an inconvenience, or two.  Bu they are still blessings. And they are all around if we only learn to look.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Marching On

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.’ (Matthew 6:20 NIV)

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“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around one in a while, you could miss it.”  This little bit of wisdom comes from the mouth of that sage of the ’80s, Ferris Bueller, just before he took his day off. Of course, if you’ve seen the movie you realize, not only is this Ferris’ mantra, but essentially the point of the movie.

How fast does life move?  Try this on for size, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” came out 31 years ago. Which would make Ferris today older than his parents were in the movie.  Let that sink in for a moment.

Of course, Ferris is right, life does move fast. It’s that time of year when I’m reminded of this every time I look at social media or look at our mail. I’ve seen pictures of kids going to prom that I’m sure were only in kindergarten the other day. I’ve seen pictures of graduation ceremonies of people I am sure must be too young to graduate. Why they are only…..Is it possible?

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I look at our own family in this past year. We’ve had graduations, a wedding, a grandchild born, our youngest daughter going to for college.  It just never ends.  What changes have happened in your life in the past year? Good old Ferris was right, life moves pretty fast.

The swiftness of time, and our inability to do anything about it lives at the heart of this passage from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. When I first read this I got the impression what Jesus meant was don’t be greedy and spend all of your time making money here on earth because that all rusts away.

And certainly there is a warning against greed. Greed is never good. Yet, I’m not convinced that’s entirely Jesus’ point. Jesus isn’t saying that money or wealth is necessarily bad.Or that aestheticism is the road to heaven. Thee is nothing necessarily holy about poverty. And while there is no doubt self-denial is a critical part of our spiritual formation, it also lends itself to extremes. Taken too far, we can abuse ourselves, or at the very least find ourselves removed from the joy God wishes to give us.

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The point of this Scripture may not be so much concerned with what we have, but what we hold.  One of the greatest treasures we have is our time. We guard it jealously and allow others to use it begrudgingly. Yet, try as we might, we cannot hold onto it.  As precious  as this moment may be in your life it is fleeting. We can’t hold onto our youth, nor can we stop time. Life moves pretty fast.

But Jesus points us beyond time to eternity.  Maybe we can’t hold onto time here on earth because we were never meant to. Our longing to be able to stop time might very well come from the fact we were created for more than this world.  It comes from our longing  to be united with Christ in eternity. It’s an echo of our being made in the image of an eternal God.  Jesus says don’t try to hold onto time here because you can’t. Yu were never mean to.  Instead let it lead you to the only place where every true desire will be fulfilled.

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The truth is, the more we hold onto the truth of eternity the more we enjoy the fleeting of time on earth. We realize that while we can’t stop time we don’t need to be controlled by it either.  We find that  a better perspective eases our grip on time and allows us to enjoy each day. We realize that while good times may not last, neither will bad days. They too will fade away.  We can’t hold onto the “glory” of our youth, but we also don’t have to be bound by our awkward moments either.

So where will you store up your treasure? By holding desperately to what will fade or to that which will always last? Life moves pretty fast, and that’s Ok.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

 

 

 

What’s On Your Resume?

“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.” (2 Corinthians 11:23)

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It’s that time of year when I begin to get a lot of requests to be a reference for resumes.  Students ocmign home from college looking for summer jobs. Or High schoolers doing the same thing.  I’ve filled out several references for people as they’ve applied to get into some sort of higher education.  Or for those going on mission trips as they have background checks completed.

And I’m almost always happy to do so, as long as I know the person.  It’s nice to be able to share something positive about someone. It’s an honor  to be asked, when you consider all of the people they know. And it’s a good feeling, knowing that what you do may help set the course of someone’s future.

I don’t know that I’ve ever turned down anyone’s request. There are times when I suggest there might be some people who know them better, but if they insist I will always do something to the best of my knowledge and ability.  I always try to be honest and not pad their resume if at all possible.

Recently, I began thinking about our spiritual resume.  If someone asked you to prove your faith in Christ, what would you put down?  What proof do you have that Jesus has  made any difference in your life? Who would be on your reference form?

There are several things we could put down, I suppose. The day we accepted Christ at a youth camp, or in church.  We could point out the regular attendance we have in worship. The Bible studies, or Sunday School classes we attended.  We could point out the percentage of Christian music we listen to against the rest of our favorite music. We might point out the nice collection of devotionals we’ve acquired over the years.   The local and international mission trips. We might note the  lack of dust on our Bibles. The several clever Christian t shirts we have.  The daily meme we put  up on social media that have to do with faith and encouragement. We might even point out that magnetic fish we put on the back of the car, which has witnessed to thousands of  people one road ways. We could point out we’ve never failed to get our minister a nice gift during Clergy appreciation month (It’s October, by the way).

As far as our references go we could list our pastors, Our youth  minister, that dear Saint of a Sunday School teacher we had when we were in fifth grade.  I don’t know about you, but if my fifth grade Sunday School teacher wasn’t qualified for sainthood before, she certainly was by the time I got through her class.  The list goes on and on. What would your resume look like?

In 2 Corinthians, Paul begins to put together his spiritual resume. It seems some people have come to the church in Corinth and are offering a watered down version of the Gospel. Perhaps not even presenting the Gospel at all.  And to counteract this Paul shares his resume and why they should trust him.

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But he doesn’t list all of his accomplishments. He doesn’t mention the many churches he has planted. He doesn’t cite his intellect or his widely acknowledged leadership in the church.  Instead of drawing attention to what he has done, he focuses their attention on what he has experienced. Paul talks about the times he has suffered for the gospel. The times he has been in prison, the times he has been beaten, shipwrecked and bitten by snakes.

As far as his references, we see no mention of Peter, James or John. Instead Paul talks about his enemies, those who wished him harm, who did hurt him.  Paul talks about how he returned love and race to those who harmed him.

When asked to prove his path, Paul says, “You want to know if my faith is real, don’t look at what I’ve done, but look at how Christ has shined through  my life during times of adversity. If you want to know if my faith is real, don’t ask my friends. Ask my enemies if they saw Jesus in me.”

 

Our true witness to the reality of our faitImage result for living out one's faithh never comes out of our accomplishments. The witness to the truth of our faith comes out of our experiences and how we allow Christ to shine through us. Our references to the truth of our faith never come from our friends, but from those who oppose us.  What do they say about us?

Look, “doing” is great. Don’t stop all the things you do to grow in your faith. Just don’t forget that in the end, it’s the life you live that will speak volumes about your faith, but good and bad. Its the people who oppose you who may have the greatest word of truth about who you are when they see Christ in you.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

Fed

“like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,” (1 Peter 2:2)

It was supposed to be an easy task. Pull up some old tile flooring in the church so we could install a new multi-use flooring. Not only would it make the room warmer and more inviting but opened it up to be sued in ways we had never dreamed of before. Best of all we had the funding.  It looked to be an easy project.

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Except, of course, when you are dealing with a church, there is never an easy project. There will always be something you hadn’t planned on, hadn’t thought of  that will occur.  It’s much like beginning a project in your home and then realizing there is underlying issues that will cost you both time and money to repair.

In this case someone discovered that the tiles we were pulling up were Asbestos tiles. And because they were made of asbestos, you had to be more careful with the dust that could rise up from pulling them loose. they had to take extra care in how the tiles were removed and did the best they could to contain any dust that might get in the air. And of course they made sure to wear masks the entire time.

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I understood the problem with dealing with asbestos. I’ve had several people in churches who, because of their work, experienced long term exposure to asbestos in the air. This long term exposure lead to some very significant health issues over time. It’s important to note that they didn’t get sick when they first breathed in the asbestos.  Maybe they didn’t even notice it at first. But slowly as they were exposed to it day by day, year after year they were  affected.

Asbestos isn’t the only hazardous material that does this. You may know of someone who was exposed to a hazardous material, a dangerous chemical at work or in their home. And while it didn’t affect them immediately, or at least they gave no signs it was affecting them it was working in them. Often with devestating, sometimes fatal results.

If we are exposed to something for a long time it will eventually affect who we are. Anyone who has been to a dermatologist to have a basal cell looked at due to too much sun over twenty years can attest to this. It’s almost impossible to be exposed to something and not be affected by it.  We should also assume just because we can see no signs at first that something isn’t happening within us.

 

I think in many ways this is also true with the Word of God.  I’ve heard before that the Bible might be the biggest bestseller that no one ever reads.  Now we have apps for our mobile devices that allow us to have a Bible, for free, in hundreds of translations, at our fingertips.  And yet how many of us ever allow ourselves to be exposed to the Scripture on a daily basis?

Yes, I know many of us read great Christian books. We read devotionals, or something by Max Lucado. We might even have a Christian podcast, or two we listen to.  ANd that’s great.  But it’s not really the same as sitting down with the actual Scriptures and allowing ourselves to be exposed to them.

Why is that important? Because long-term exposure changes  us. Teh Scripture at the top of the blog,along with many others tell us that the Word of God nourishes us, feeds our souls.  Yet many of us suffer from malnourishment because of a lack of exposure. The more we expose ourselves to God’s word, reading it daily, the more we will nourished. The more affected for the better we will be.

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Yes, I know the common excuse is we can’t understand the Bible. But it’s just that. An excuse. Ask yourself when was the last time you just read the Bible? Did you understand it? As I mentioned earlier, with so many translations available its easier today to have a readable version of the Bible than ever before.

And maybe we have the wrong focus.  Perhaps understanding the Bible isn’t th end game. What’s important is that you daily set time aside to be with God in His word. It’s the exposure to the presence of the Holy Spirit as we read that matters. When my children were young they don’t always get, or care about the “lesson” I was trying to teach them. They just wanted to spend time with me.  Don’t you think our heavenly father is the same?

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Remember, its about long term exposure.  Maybe you don’t “get anything out of it” the first time you read the Bible. Or the second, or the one hundredth. But over time an exposure to His word and the presence of the Holy Spirit will change us.

I want to encourage you to get in the habit of reading your Bible every day.  Get in the habit, and see what a long-term exposure to the truth and authority of the word of God can do to a person’s heart.

 

In Christ,
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

LOL

“Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

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“Knock, Knock”  I don’t really have a knock knock joke for you today.  I just wanted to set the stage for our blog today  I noticed that several of my clergy friends embraced the idea of celebrating Holy Humor Sunday.  Holy Humor Sunday, in case you haven’t heard, is a Sunday designed to have an entire service centered on the them of Humor. Funny stories and jokes are told by various people within the church.  Or a funny video might be shown, Or if the church has a clown ministry, that might be highlighted.  You get the idea, it’s about laughter.

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Thankfully the denomination hasn’t latched on to this.  If they do we’ll be given envelopes for that Special Sunday and be called to support the “Don Rickles Foundation for curmudgeonly clergy”  And nobody wants that.

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I know it sounds like some new age way to bring people in the church. But before we bemoan the loss of decorum and wanting to celebrate the Three Stooges more than the Trinity, we need to know Holy Humor Sunday isn’t new.  In fact the ancient church celebrated it as a regular part of their year.

Surprised? I know it might be difficult to think of St. Augustine telling the one about the two Pharisees that walked into the bar, but it’s true. Holy Humor Sunday traditionally takes place the Sunday after Easter.  Apparently the early church embraced the idea that the resurrection of Jesus was something to give us joy.  And it should bring a smile, even laughter to our lips. How can the Saints of God be sad, knowing Jesus rose from the dead?

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Before you ask, no, we didn’t do a Holy Humor Sunday this year. Mostly because I have the sense that being funny, really funny is hard.  And pulling it off in church is even more difficult. And so I’ve been hesitant to try something that could cause our worship to go down like a lead balloon.

But I do want to embrace the idea we’ve got something to smile and laugh about. Jesus is still alive. The tomb is still empty. The power of sin and death have been destroyed forever. The Holy Spirit dwells within us.  It just keeps getting better the more you think about it.

It’s not that we ignore the dark places in our lives. We know that while Jesus is redeeming the world, there is still a long way to go. But I hearken you back to our opening Scripture.  We aren’t gathering strength from our joy. Our joy can be fleeting.  No, Nehemiah says the joy of the Lord is our strength.

I think that’s why I love this verse so much, and wonder why we preach it so seldom.  Look how invitational it is. “Come on in, grab some dessert, get a snack and a drink. We’ve got something to celebrate.” It’s about living within the ongoing party of the Kingdom of God.

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So have your own Holy Humor day.  Tell a joke or two (Just remember it’s about Holy Humor). Laugh some. Allow yourself the space to enjoy the day God has given you. After all the tomb is still empty. And that’s enough to make any of us smile.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Cheating Yourself?

“what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”  (1 John 1:3)

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I am admittedly a huge baseball fan. Beyond the end of winter and the warmer weather, I think I enjoy spring because it heralds in a new season of baseball.  And I follow my team, The Cincinnati Reds, pretty faithfully , even in bad times. They’ve been my team since I was a young boy.  I can remember many nights listening to the radio broadcast of a game being played on the west coast,long after I was supposed to be asleep.

And I can tell you that there is no place like Cincinnati  for Opening Day. It’s an unofficial holidays people take to the streets, go to the parade and make their way down to the stadium.  Local cover bands abound at every turn.  I’ve been to 24 Opening Days in a row. And I wouldn’t miss it.

The Reds lost their opening game. They didn’t look good. And I fear that the words reds and loss might be written together more than I’d like this year.  It rained hard for three innings.  There have been years that an Opening Day like that, flat play a loss and mediocre weather would probably have set the tone for my entire year of baseball watching.

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But when people asked me how was the game, my response was, great.  I had a great day. Over the years my perspective has changed about the importance of that day.  It’s not that my passion for the game has waned at all. It’s merely paled in comparison to the company I keep.

You see, this is the 24th year my son and I have been to that Opening Day game.  It’s our day. It’s amazing how he went in a blink of an eye from a toddler I had to carry up the steps and worry that he might fall to this handsome married man,  (much taller than I) in the blink of an eye.

Now that he is married, working and going to school, coupled with our move, we don’t see him as often as we would like. Life and schedules get in the way. But hat day, Opening day is our day.  We laugh, eat and talk about things that aren’t important and yet of great importance at the same time.  The day becomes great because we get to spend time together.  Do we enjoy it more when our team wins? Sure. But the joy comes from our fellowship.

It occurs to me that perhaps we all might benefit from having that perspective when it comes to church.  Often we come to church looking for the win? That life changing sermon, the special piece of music that blows us away.  And those things are good. But is that why Jesus calls us to be the church? To make sure somehow, our felt need of the day gets met?

No Jesus calls us to be the church and gather as the church because we need each other. It’s about gathering and simply enjoying the fellowship with God.  We need to that time to set aside to simply enjoy being with him.

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And we need the joy of being with one another.  We are called to be the church to enjoy being in the fellowship of the saints of God.  There is profound ministry that goes on when we come to church and someone smiles at us. Or calls us by name. There is ministry that goes on when a volunteer watched over an active little one so mom and dad can worship.  There is ministry when a child is allowed to speak or sing in church using their gifts, and even making  a few mistakes every now and then. That’s where they learn about grace.

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What if we looked forward to church simply for the fellowship? The fellowship with God and with the fellowship of others? It might change the way we evaluate church altogether. You’re going to have Sundays when the pastor isn’t at his or her best. The furnace doesn’t work, the liturgist reads too fast or mumbles. The children’s choir is distracted. But what if we could be at the place where all of that happens, and when someone asks us how was church, we would look back and remember the joy of being with the Lord and the fellowship with the broken, beautiful saints God surrounds us with and said, “You know, it was a great day?”

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Trust Issues

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV)

If you listened closely, you may have heard to collective groans go across Central Ohio yesterday evening. One was from any University of Kentucky Fans watching the  end of the tournament game. The other was from those who were trying to watch the game only to have the last few seconds interuppted by a tornado warning as storms swept through the area.

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I’ll admit I was one of the complainers. Obviously we want people to be safe and a person’s life  always takes precedence over entertainment. However, the lack of a split screen, or actually anything on the screen, and the game being very close added to the frustration.

Judging by the reactions of many who commented on social media I wasn’t alone.  Honestly, as angry as I was, I came out on the rational end compared to some who decided to comment. Apparently we have a lot more UK fans in Central Ohio than I thought, or people just relay love the tournament.

And I have no doubt that’s true. March Madness is big business. Even people who don’t watch college basketball fill out their brackets and watch the games. But looking at the comments, I find myself wondering if there is something else going on here.  I wondered  if it was a love of basketball or the frustration that comes from having one’s  plans interuppted that caused all the angst.

None of us like having our plans interupptions. I know I don’t. But I believe most of us can deal with life’s interupptions when they make sense. It’s the time when life doesn’t make sense that causes our frustration to grow.  I wonder if there had been a split screen or at least a video feed of any kind of people would have been as upset? As it was it just didn’t make sense.

We seem to have a guiding prinicple here don’t we? We can deal with life when it makes sense. We have a much harder time dealing with it when it doesn’t.  When our lives are upset by interupptions that simply don’t make sense to us, it’s jarring. We get angry. But here also lies the problem. Life very seldom makes sense.

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I am bombarded constantly by situations in my life that don’t make sense. Loved ones make decisions that don’t make any sense and we have to sit helplessly on the sidelines as they struggle. Sometimes we are adversely affected by those nonsensical decisions. Our bosses make decisions that make no sense to us, or the corruption itself makes decisions that  we don’t understand. We see people being promoted for, as far as we can tell, no good reason while we languish in obscurity. In fact, there are times when God himself does things, or allows things to happen that simply don’t make sense to us.   How are we to survive with any sanity in a world that makes no sense and constantly frustrates us.

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First we survive by being honest. When we say life, maybe even God himself , doesn’t make any sense what we really mean is things aren’t working out the way I think they should.  It’s not that life doesn’t make sense. Its that things aren’t going according to our plan.  The sooner we can made it the issue is we aren’t getting what we want, the better off we will be.

Or second step is to admit we can be wrong. A jarring blow to our egos, I know.  But isn’t it possible that if life “made sense” meaning it went he way we wan tit to, that we could end up in a much worse spot? I often what things to go a certain way for me regardless of how others might be affected.  There are plenty of times I can look back over my life and say I’m glad life didn’t “make sense”.

This is what the Proverbs mean by not leaning on our own understanding. It’s not that we aren’t intelligent, thoughtful people. We are. It’s just that our understanding will always be incomplete. And often selfish. The Proverb suggests that if our understanding of how life should be is incomplete and often in error, than wouldn’t it be better to look somewhere else?

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If you want to survive a world that doesn’t make sense, the Scripture suggests we hold onto the one we can trust. Trust God with all your heart.  That’s a huge paradigm shift in how we deal with life. It means we come to God and shout, “Life doesn’t make sense!”. And his answer is “Does it have to?”  Would it make your life any easier if it did?  Can you trust me even when life doesn’t make sense?  Anyone can trust when they are getting their own way.  But am I the same God when life is interrupted and makes no sense?Thankfully, He is.

It’s not that we as Christians adopt a laissez-faire attitude. Or that we ignore those times of deep struggle and confusion actually the opposite. It’s Ok for us to have questions. It’s OK for us to question God, otherwise we have to do away with most of the Psalms. It’s that we know in the end the answer is not  about a solution, but a person. It’s about a relationship with a God whose love and understanding is far above our own. And if we choose to lean on something in life, it’s better to lean on Him.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

 

 

Reality

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

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Well, we finally made it.  Today my calendar tells me what is an undisputed fact.  As I write this, it is the first day of Spring.  This is an undeniable fact.  My desk Calendar says so.  I looked it up on the internet.  Several friends have posted it on their social media pages.  And proof, of all proof, even the little animated Google logo tells us its the first day of spring.

There is only one little problem. It still feels and looks like Winter. The sky is overcast, I had to wear a coat to the office. If you look closely you can still see frost and maybe just the last stubborn remnants of last week’s snow under the bushes.  The trees are mostly still bare. Winter this year, at least in Ohio, decided to take the church snowbirds route.  It was nowhere to be seen November through February. But now it’s back.  You can say it’s Spring all you want.  But my eyes, thermostat and wind chill all tell me something very different. It’s still winter.

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(actual picture outside my window.  OK it’s not but it feels like this)

The facts and the reality don’t match.  The reality is, it’s Spring. But the facts, what I see around me don’t match up. So what am I to believe? Is it Spring or is it winter? Does the reality make any difference when the facts don’t line up?

I don’t know about you, but I feel the same way sometimes when I read my Bible. I read these wonderful things about how God can move mountains and changes people’s lives.  How he loves and gives his children good gifts.  And it is the most, moving, heart warming, life changing things one could ever read, or hope for.

But then I look at the facts around me.  And I see good, faithful Christians really struggling.  I see them in the midst of grief and pain. I see mountains not always moving.  I see people look at what life has handed them and wonder how any of this can be a good gift.  the facts around me don’t necessarily match up with the reality. So which are we to believe?

The author of Hebrews reminds us that this is where faith comes in. Faith is holding onto the reality, even when the facts don’t line up. It doesn’t mean that we are blindly ignoring the world around us. Far from it.  It simply means we understand that the facts can fool us. Things are not always what they seem. We are by no means the best judge of truth. If push comes to shove, faith says hold onto the reality every single time.

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In some ways it’s like this “spring day” we’re having right now. Yes the weather is less than optimal. But it is Spring.  And while we can’t see it yet, in small ways Spring is happening around us. Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t here. No one panicked when they  got up this chilly morning (OK maybe a little. Spring will come, because we know it always has.  What we  have seen gives us hope when we can’t see it yet.

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I hold onto the reality that God will move the motions in our way because I’ve seen Him do it over and over. And I can point to plenty of times in my life when it seemed as if the mountain wasn’t going to move or it moved in an unexpected way. If God has done it in the past, there is no need to worry He will not continue to do so.  There have been many times when I have wondered why God allows His people to struggle in life. Yet I have never seen Him abandon them. In truth, those are some of the moments when they draw closer to Him.  And I have experienced many “gifts” in life that  I wouldn’t call good. Yet I’ve always seen God’s goodness somehow shine through.

So don’t worry. Spring is coming no matter what the wind says. And we can believe in God’s promises. That’s the reality. That’s the truth. That in the end, is faith.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><