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 <><

 

 

Miss Me?

“O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 107 NRSV)

 

 

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I attended a conference recently that put me back in touch with friends I haven’t seen in some time.  We spent time catching up with one another and what what’s happening in our families. Then, as often happens, we began to talk about other people we knew but hadn’t seen in a while. I asked about a certain person, and my friend responded, “You know I see them from time to time, but I rarely get a chance to talk with them”  In other words they are present with someone without really being present with them. In the same room, but not connecting.

And that’s not to point fingers at anyone because I think we have all done this from time to time.  Whether it be a family reunion or a party its hard to get around to see everyone.  much less have a meaningful conversation with them.

I know I’ve experienced this more than once. It’s often at a family get together. Our family has gone over the years as most families do.  And while I see everyone who is in the room, I often don’t get a chance to talk really talk with everyone,  We both get engaged in conversation with to the people, we get busy.  There have been times when we go home and I’ll have to ask my wife how is so and so. I saw them across them room, but when they left it occurred to me that I hadn’t had a chance to talk with them even thought we had been in the same room for six or seven hours.

Without some real effort on our part, we may often be present with someone but not really be present. It doesn’t even have to be a big  event. It may be us and our immediate family or just our spouse. But because we allow worries or other thoughts preoccupy us, we may not say  two meaningful words to them all night.  How many partners are in the same room with the children but never really talk with them?  And we haven’t even touched on how technology has made us into a very insulated culture. We put on our ear buds, we plug in and tune out from the world.  Yes its every easy to be present and yet not truly present.  We can be with them, yet miss them altogether.

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Many Christians experience the same thing with God.  We come to church, we sing  the hymns or praise songs, we go through the liturgy and prayer. The truly holy of us might even pull up the scriptures on our phone. The really  pious who have a call to evangelism might even check in they are at church on their social media sites.  We can do all of that, yet still seem to miss God.

Like that evening with the family or the party, we come and acknowledge that God is there. Yet somehow we never seem to truly connect with Him. We get distracted.  We think about what might happen that day. The kid in front of us is about to have a meltdown, and so is her mom.  We get distracted by our problems and worries. We sing that last song, maybe grab a donut and leave. All the element are there but we missed God.  We are present, but not truly present with Him.

I have found that when I encounter spiritual dryness in my life it’s often because I am present without really being present. I did all the right things, but I missed God. Oh, I thought about him and praised Him. But I missed Him His presence in my life that out to be at the center of our worship experiences.

And that’s why Lent is such an important season for us in the church year.  Lent, by its nature is a slower paced season. Unlike Advent that hurdles along at breakneck speed toward the manger, Lent  calls us to slow down. It might even ask us to stop all together. Lent asks us to turn our hearts inward. It asks us to look upward toward God. It invites us to truly be present and not miss God.

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So how can Lent help us to be present and not miss God? One of the ways is to look at your life and give something up for Lent that is distracting you from God.  Giving up something in Lent isn’t about improving your body image.  It’s about letting go of    distractions that keep you from missing God.

 

Try not only giving uImage result for Missing Godp, but taking on something. Engage in a spiritual discipline. Read your Bible every day. Or set aside time every day to pray, but make it all praise time to God.  Or praying for other people. If your health allows it, fast. Ask yourself, what can I do to be more present with God.

Be in ministry. Ministry is actually a spiritual discipline, but for our sake today, I’m listing it separatley. Remember Jesus words to feed the hungry and take care of the needy? Matt 25 reminds us that serving others is serving Jesus. It makes us aware of His presence. One of the ways we can keep from missing God is to see Him in the eyes of someone else.

If you’ve felt like you’ve missed God lately, I want to encourage you to use this season to draw lose again. Become away of His presence and enjoy being with HIm. Please don’t miss Him this year.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

The Imperfect Church

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

They’re out there you know.  Hiding in the shadows. Lurking just where we can’t see or acknowledge them.  No it’s not the new M. Night Shamalayan screenplay, although it would probably make a pretty good movie.

We are being invaded. Not by aliens, monsters or ghosts. No we are being invaded by secret worshipers.  It’s a strategy many denominations and even local churches are beginning to engage in. They are employing people to come, sneak in and report back what they experienced in worship that Sunday.

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It’s a great strategy really. Many businesses have used secret shoppers for years. A company hires someone to go to a store and shop.  They then report on their experience.  Where the people helpful? what seemed odd? Would you come back?  It’s a great way to have someone on the outside bring back some objective data.

The church is now beginning to use secret worshipers to do the same thing. Come to a church, worship and report on what they experienced. We all know what we think people experience. But to have someone on the outside come and share from their point of view what they experienced can be eye opening.

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Last week a friend told me their District was sending out secret worshipers to churches.  He asked “Does your district use secret worshipers?” I thought for a moment and said,”I have no idea.  I mean, if they are secret I’d have no idea they are there.  If we have them no one has told me about it.

That same week my wife showed me an article about a company that uses secret worshipers. They pay $45.00 a service, so if you worship three times on a Sunday you can pick up some good money all before noon. Apparently the business is doing well because they were recruiting more people to work for them.

But what struck me was the comment made by a secret worshiper.  He isn’t a believer. He’s been doing this job for several months now. And he commented I really haven’t seen anything or experienced anything that would make me want to join a  particular church.”

When I first read this my knee jerk reaction was the church isn’t doing it’s job. How could he worship that much and not want to be a Christian. He went to church sometimes more than once every Sunday. I have church members who don’t do that.  He must have not been to church that takes Jesus’ words at the top of this blog seriously. They must not have been lifting up Jesus.

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But the more I thought about it, the more unfair that seemed to me. I’m sure most of the churches he visited were full of good, Jesus loving Christians.  I hope he heard a Biblical sermon sharing the truth of Christ every single week, maybe more than once a Sunday.

The problem was not in the church’s witness as much as in the objective of the secret worshiper. In truth, he isn’t a worshiper. he didn’t come to lift up Jesus. He didn’t come to find answers for his life, to be made whole. he didn’t come knowing there was a need in his life only Christ could fill. No, he came to see how well he was welcomed. To see if he “liked” the music.  How good was the choir or the band? Did anyone shake his hand? Was he overwhelmed or underwhelmed with attention?  In short his day, was about him , not God.

Thankfully, I believe in Prevenient Grace. So I fully hope that while this man doesn’t plan on it, at some point Jesus is going to break into his life. And I don’t disparage what he does. he ask some important questions. We do need to make church a high quality, welcoming place.  But while they are important questions, I’m not sure they are the most relevant ones.

The more relevant question would be how can I lift up God and praise Him this morning? What does Jesus want to do in my life and am I willing to let Him do it? What does God have to say to me today? How can this body of Christ bring me closer to Jesus? How can  I bring them closer to Jesus?

As I said I don’t want to be too harsh with the secret worshiper. Mostly because I see too much of him in me when I worship somewhere.  What about you? When we come to church what is our goal? Do we let too long a line for coffee, or the fact somebody took the last maple bacon donut (You know who you are, and so does God…just saying) deter us from what worship should be? Do we complain because a baby was too loud, or we sang an unfamiliar song?  Do we leave disgruntled because the communion bread wasn’t to our liking?

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Truth be told the church and worship are never perfect. But that’s the beauty of  it. So many little things go awry, and yet, some how God still comes. His Holy Spirit still blesses.  In an imperfect moment a perfect savior shines.  I’m glad.  Because in my moment of imperfection, I need to know God still uses me.  He still has a place for me.

As we enter into the season of Lent, We come to a time of introspection and reflection. Perhaps this year we should take time to reflect and marvel at the imperfection of the church and how God still uses her, as well as marvel at how God uses an imperfect us.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Brian Jones <><

Worship or Experience?

“The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)

 

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As I write this, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.  Hopefully, for those of you who have a significant other, I hope that doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to you. But naturally, at this time of year our hearts do turn to thoughts of love. We take time to let those we love know how much we care for them and how precious they are to us. And hopefully begin to set a pattern for how we live outside of the Holiday.

And its a good and right thing we do.  It’s reflective of how God loves us. We often make God’s love a very sterile thing, when the Bible shows us it full of passion and intimacy. The passion and intimacy we show each other is a pale reflection of just how much God loves us.  After all, the church is called the Bride of Christ. The book of Revelation ends at the wedding banquet of the Groom (Christ) and the Bride (the church).

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I love that image of the church being the bride of Christ. Not only does it remind me how passionately  Jesus loves us, but it also serves as a reminder that we are to cherish the church and one another. I’ve made a concerted effort to be careful in how I speak of the church to make sure I am honoring the bride.

All of which is a long preamble to me saying I want to be careful how I walk through the rest of this blog. Please know I have no desire to cast any aspirations on nay other part of the bride of Christ.  And I, of all people,  don’t want to appear I am standing in judgment over any other church.

Ok, now that I’ve over explained and protected myself, the other day we received a flyer from a local church inviting us to worship.  The flyer had been sent out to, I imagine, most of the residents in our community.  And it was very well done. Obviously they aren’t trying to be the church for everyone and they are marketing to their niche.  I commend them on reaching out to the community.

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But what caught my eye is that the flyer noted they are changing their times for worship.  However worship was not the word they used. Rather, it noted, Our experience times have changed.  Not worship, but experience.

I’ve no  interest in wondering about their reasoning to use the word experience instead of worship, but it did get me to thinking. What are you looking for? When you come to church, or maybe in your own devotional times, are you looking for an experience or are you looking for worship.

It’s a more critical question than you may think. Experience is about us. It’s about what We feel, what we come away with.  When we come to church looking for an experience our litmus test becomes our won emotions and feelings. We find ourselves asking, “What did I get out of this? Did I like it? Did it touch me? And it’s not that those aren’t legitimate questions. But when they are the only questions we ask we can find ourselves slowly slipping into the center of things.  So in a very real way, it’s still worship. It’s just the worship of the self.

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Real worship clearly puts Jesus into the center of all things. It’s about adoring, thinking and centering ourselves upon Him.   The more we truly worship the less the “self” matters. And yet ironically, its when we worship and are allowed to let go of ourselves that we find our true self emerging. We were created not for the experience, but for worship.  Worship is freeing. Living by the experience and needing to be self satisfied is a terrible burden.

If I have to choose between worship and experience, i want to choose worship every time.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

Is It Impossible?

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? (James 2:14-16 NLT)

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This is Sir. Nicholas Winton.  He was a successful stock broker and an excellent fencer in his day.  In fact, he at one time had hoped to represent Great Britain in the Olympics.  He was that good.

But if you’ve heard of him at all, and don’t be surprised if you haven’t, it’s not because of his success as a stock broker or his athletic prowess.  Nicholas Winton’s life took a dramatic turn in 1939, all because of one decision.  He was slated to go on a ski trip in Switzerland over a holiday, when he received an invitation to come to Czechoslovakia to help a friend who was working with Jewish refugees. Czechoslovakia was about to fall to Nazi Germany and many Jewish families were not only being displaced, but rounded up  and headed to camps. Soon they would realize they were headed for such camps as Auschwitz, never to be heard of again.

Winton was moved by what he saw and wanted to do all he could to help the Jewish people escape a horrible fate. But he knew that getting everyone out would be impossible. However Great Britain had instituted a policy that while the adults could not all come children would be received if they had the money to pay to register and if there were homes for them to go to.

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Winton stole some office paper from the British EMbassy, had Children’s Division printed on it and became an unofficial Official of the government. He printed papers for the children. He raised the money and he found families to care for them.  All on his own and all under the nose of both Nazi Germany and his own English government.

Before the country fell, Winton had rescued 667 Jewish children from a fate in the death camps. There would have been more, but one of the transport trains broke down and they couldn’t get to the children.

It’s a remarkable story. And for this reason, Winton has been called the British Oscar Schindler.  But what truly makes the story remarkable is that he never told anyone. Not even his wife. In 1988, as she was cleaning out an old trunk in the attic, she discovered the old records of the rescued children. Only then, when confronted, did Nicholas Winton tell the story.  “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”, his wife asked? “Well, I moved on to the next thing. I did that and then it was time when it was over to do something else.”

After the story got out Nicholas was reunited with the now middle-aged children he saved.  A little research revealed those 667 children now have over 5,000 chidlren and grandchildren. All who owe their very existence to Nicholas Winton.

Later he was interviewed and they asked him how he did it? His reply was simply this: “I’ve always operated  my life by this principle. If it’s not blatantly  impossible, it can be done.  And then I went and did it.”

If it’s not blatantly impossible, it can be done.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to read the words in James at the top of the post without hearing that phrase. This is James reminder that faith ought to change our actions. What we believe about Jesus ought to directly translate out into how we love and serve others. In fact James will go so far as to say the litmus test of the depth of our relationship with Jesus lies in our actions.

And while I think most of us are in agreement with James, how often do those words translate out in our lives?  How often is the simple admonition to do good met with the excuse “It’s impossible”?  I’d love to help with this ministry, but I simply don’t have the time.  I’d love to help them, but I’m just not gifted in that area.   Yes, I know that the need is great, but I really can’t spare any time or certainly not any  finances to help.  What good can one person do anyway?

Time after time we come up with a reason why it’s simply impossible to do good. Or we are swamped by the futility of it all when there is so much need.  Please understand, I fully agree that we are to be good stewards of our time and talents. None of us can do everything.  And there are times we must legitimately say no.   But those times are probably pretty infrequent. Often the reason we don’t do good is we simply see it as impossible.

Sir. Nick embodied what James is talking about.  Allowing  one’s faith to flow through their actions always asserting that it’s almost never impossible to do good.  Are there some things in your life God has brought before you and you automatically wrote them off? Would you consider going back to them , praying and asking,  “Is it blatantly impossible? If not, God how will you use me?”

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And when you get caught up in the futility of it all, remember  Nicholas Winton. One man reaching out to help just a few children, changes over 5,000 lives. What could God do with us when we see doing good is never impossible and always life changing?

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

Toxic

“In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.
9 Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 GNT)
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    Conspiracy theories can be interesting and, I guess fun  if that’s your particular mindset.  But they almost always end up being just that. Theories. It would seem that a good rule of thumb would be if it sounds sensational and complicated then it’s probably not true. if it sounds pretty mundane, that’s probably what happened.
   Take for instance the “mysterious” death of Napoleon Bonaparte.  For years the rumor has been that he was poisoned.  Slowly poisoned over a period of years through the use of arsenic.  Napoleon fueled this himself by spreading rumors that should he die before his time, the English had done it through the use of poison.
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   When Napoleon died, it wasn’t long before the rumors began. Arsenic is an easy target as if it’s done slowly the person will not exhibit  many symptoms.  The theorists assumed, since Napoleon never appeared to have been poisoned he must, or course  have been poisoned by something that doesn’t leave a trail. You can see how quickly these theories become convoluted.  The theory gained some steam when a lock of Napoleon’s hair was tested, hundreds of years later, and it was discovered that he had a 100% higher level of arsenic in his system. Murder is afoot!
   But the reality is much more, as almost always, more pedestrian.  First a further examination of Napoleon’s family revealed they all had a 100% higher level of arsenic in their systems.   If one goes through the records of his last days it seems much more likely that Napoleon was sick (his family had a history of cancer) and his death actually had more to do with the poor medical practices of his day than a mysterious assassin. In short, he got sick, the care wasn’t good and he didn’t recover.
   So how do we explain the arsenic? Wallpaper. As hard as it is to believe today, The wallpaper in those times was laced with arsenic to be sued as a bit of decorative extermination of vermin. Rats and mice were a persistent issue back then. And someone came up with the idea of introducing arsenic into the wallpaper. As a mouse or a rat chewed through the wall to get into the house, it ate through the wallpaper and died.  Genius.  Creepy but genius.
   But the wallpaper also gave off a gas of arsenic. So if you lived in a home with this wallpaper, over time you ingested or at least were exposed to a toxic gas.  This would explain the high levels in his family.  It would also explain illness and perhaps, just perhaps one of the causes of  Napoleon’s inability to recover.
   I think most of us will agree, that even if it doesn’t kill us long-term exposure to toxins is bad for our systems. We have all read about places where chemicals were leaked into an environment with often tragic results.  Long term exposure to toxins can be deadly to us. And the danger is that it can happen so slowly we may not even be aware of it.
   Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Paul admonishes us to be careful what we use to fill our minds. Paul tells us to fill our minds with good things.  Why? Because if we fill our mind and souls with things that are toxic to us, it will eventually  cause great damage.
   I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. In part because Of all the toxic behavior we have been exposed to latety in the media and certainly in social media.  It doesn’t really matter where you stand on an issue, wait around and someone will say something pretty toxic.  Anger, hatred, demeaning langue. You simply can’t have your spirit constantly exposed to it and not be affected.  Most of  us, I hope, would allow our minds be filled with pornography because we can see it’s damaging. One wonders why we allow verbal pornography to enter our hearts.
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   I know I’ve felt too much exposure to toxic actions and reactions to much in social media. And I can see it’s effects on my spirit.  Of course, simply cutting oneself off from social media might help. Bu the toxins of anger and unchristian thought can still find a way to invade us. So I’m taking some steps to follow Paul and be more careful with what I fill my mind. These are just the things I’m doing. It’s not a mandate, but I hope at least some of it might be helpful to you
   1) Take more time to fill your heart and  life with more good than you do toxins.  Take stock. if your time on social media is greater than the time you spend in the scriptures, in prayer, spending time with real people, your probably in danger of being exposed to too much toxin.   More Jesus is always a good rule of thumb.
 2) Take the word “fill” seriously. It doesn’t mean we can’t read or react to things we disagree with, but we must be careful not to fill our minds with them. God doesn’t ask us to bury our heads in the sand. And seeing this from another’s perspective can be healthy.  But when they fill our mind or our time, or even our social media feeds” its dangerous.
3) Filter is better than filling. This may be different for all of us.  But I’ve started filtering out feeds and posts that tend to fill my mind with toxins. If I don’t see it, I’m not in danger of being filled with it. I’ve found there are things said I agree with and I can disagree and move on. But there are some written  in such a  way and so filled with negativity that it spills over into my life. So I filter them out.
3)Know that you don’t have to respond to everything you disagree with. Here’s the reality. None ever has their remind changed in social media. So the likelihood of your changing everyone’s thoughts is pretty slim. What usually happens is that we read something and respond, others get involved and before long its a toxic mess.
  What I’ve started doing is, if I think its got toxic potential, is I pray before I respond. Not  just “God, what should I say?”  But “God, should I even respond?” You’d be surprised how many times God tells me to let it go and move on.
4) Always ask if what you read and how you respond honors Jesus. That one seems fairly self-explanatory.
5) Never bash the Bride.  My own personal rule.  I never speak ill of the church or other Christians. I’ve no problem disagreeing or questioning theology. But I never intentionally bash or demean the church or other Christians. The church is the bride of Christ and should be protected.
5) Look before you leap. Before I hit send I look it over and ask this. What does this say about me and my relationship with Jesus. I’m reminded of Paul’s encouragement to the church in Corinth to be imitators of him. Would I want others to imitate what I have done or assume that’s how Jesus is?
  Please know I’m not advocating we all hold hands and watch cat videos.
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Discourse and disagreement is healthy. But toxicity is not. I’m simply working harder at what enters my mind and heart.  And I’m trying to hold on to verse 9 where Paul tells us to put into practice what we have learned.  Fill your minds. But be careful what you fill them with.
In Christ,
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Are You Prepare?

“3 Therefore, preparing your minds for action,[a] and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)

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“Pastors, cut your preaching preparation by Half”.  This was the lead in to an ad that was on one of my social media pages the other day.  You know how advertising like this works. They scan what you like, your interests, occupation etc. In short,  most of your information is scanned so they can place, on your feed, ads they believe will interest you. Like a move and you’ll likely see ads for t-shirts, mugs etc. that pertain to that movie.  If you have a job, you’ll see ads that would be of interest to others in your profession.

So I get a lot of ads for seminaries, Christian books, clergy robes etc. Most of which I don’t pay any attention to. It’s what you deal with to get your social media for “free”.  But this one came across offering me a chance to cut my preaching preparation down and I thought, Boy you are barking up the wrong tree.”  But I clicked on it anyway.

It turns out it really wasn’t about the sermon preparation at all. It was all the stuff that goes with it in a modern worship service.  Ready made slides so you can list all of those pertinent bullet points the sermon will have. Slides that easily transfer the lyrics to the praise songs sung during worship.  How to quickly add video content so you can use a clip to drive the point home. And software to live stream or podcast the message. It actually looked like a pretty good program.

But it had nothing to do with the sermon preparation. One could argue it helps cut down the sermon presentation preparation  a lot. And that’s not  a bad thing at all. But it really doesn’t affect the time it takes to prepare the sermon. The real preparation is not in the slides or visuals or video. All of which, in full disclosure, I use.

The real preparation for a sermon being son one’s knees as a preacher prays for God to prepare them for the message and give that message to the pastor. After all, I never want to preach “my sermon” I want to preach what God wants to say, from His word, to this congregation.  The preparation comes from the study of the scripture for that Sunday the pouring over how the church has explained this passage of Scripture as well as bring one’s own thoughts and experiences to the table. Yes, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture being supported by tradition, reason and experience applies to the preparation of a sermon.  Even the pouring over stories and examples to help people grasps the message of the scripture is important.

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Sermon preparation is  important and shouldn’t be cut down for convenience sake. Not just because we want to give that great, eloquent sermon. Frankly, there are a lot of  resources out there that will give you everything you need to cut and paste a biblical, eloquent sermon. and you can do it in half the time. That’s not the point of preparation. Preparation of the sermon is only a small a part of the process. What’s just as crucial is the preparation of the preacher.  Wrestling over the word of God, study, prayer immerses our souls with the presence of God and changes us. We need that preparation time before we ever enter the pulpit. God wants us to be prepared, to struggle over his word because it is forming our spirits to become like His spirit.

That’s true for all of us though, isn’t it? Spiritual formation isn’t just for the”prfessional Christians”  Jesus constantly calls us into a deeper, life changing, person alerting relationship with Him.  Our preparation time is crucial to that process.

How is God preparing you to become more like Him? Certainly he calls you to worship, partake of the Means of Grace, participate in the sacraments.  He invites you to study His word and wrestle with it live in it.  I believe God wants to marinate our souls in the Word of God.  You know the more a piece of meat marinates the more tender it becomes and the more flavorful. We have a lot of tough, tasteless souls in the church today because we aren’t allowing God to prepare us.  But the more we allow God’s word to soften our hearts, give flavor to our souls, the better.

In some ways life itself is  a place of preparation. God may be preparing you through a tie of disappointment.  There may have been a hope or a dream in your life that isn’t going to come to pass.  God may be using that experience to prepare you for something more. It may be a time where you are struggling in a relationship, or struggling because of the lack of one.  It could be an illness. It could be a moment of great joy and success.

No, I don’t believe God causes everything to happen to us. Some happen simply because of life itself. Some are because of our own choices, or the choices of others.   While I don’t believe God causes all of it, I do believe that life happens.  It happens to all of us.  And I believe God asks us to use all of life as a time or preparation that we might become more like Him.  The challenge, of course, is not to cut the preparation time short. We all want results. We all want answers. But sometimes, the preparation is as important as the presentation. What is God preparing you for?

 

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In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

 

Bucket List

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16  NIV)

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Do you have a bucket list?  You know that list of things you’ve always wanted to do before you, well, kick the bucket.  In short it’s the list of things you’ve always wanted to do  before you die. It could be visiting an exotic locale. Or starting a business, or bungee jumping, zip lining over Niagara Falls (it doesn’t have to be sane to get on your bucket list.).

I imagine almost everyone has a bucket list of some kind. we all have dreams and wishes. Things we’d like to do before we die. Or things we’d like to do if our finances or family situations change to the point where we can do them.  Oh, I think we know we won’t accomplish all of them. But most of us would be satisfied with at least knocking off a good portion of our list.

And to the end that a bucket list keeps you dreaming, they are good things. It’s nice to have aspirations.  It’s also healthy for us to have goals that we want to reach regardless of age, time or life limitations. And everyone’s list is different. Some of them are exotic. But to others might seem more mundane, such as dancing at a grandchild’s wedding. so almost every bucket list has good in it.

The operative word being almost.  I recently came across a different type of bucket list. A well known pastor and leader in the UMC has written a book on how to understand the Bible. Please understand I have respect for what this minister has done in serving the church in  many ways. At the same time I am greatly troubled by his  “bucket list”

He writes that there are three buckets into which Scripture fall

  1. Scriptures that express God’s heart, character and timeless will for His people
  2. Scriptures that express God’s will in a particular time but no longer binding
  3. Scriptures that never fully expressed God’s heart character or will.

Now that sounds good. Logical. We have Scriptures that we know from bucket 1 are binding. Bucket 2 isn’t as binding, but if we dig deep enough, we can find a principle behind it. Bucket 3 is for those scriptures we need not see as binding on our hearts. It sounds good, but these are some pretty troubling buckets.

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One of the problems we have, is that it leaves us asking what to do with the Scripture above. If it goes in bucket one, then we have to do away with the third bucket all together. If it goes into bucket two we might need to ask what then, with any legitimacy goes into the first bucket?  What it comes down to, in all honesty, is simply an attempt to legitimize beliefs that are not congruent with Scripture, which is a very dangerous position for any Christian to be in.

But less I sound too critical against the author, the truth is we all do this. His idea is nothing new.  We all have certain buckets we place Scripture in. We have that all important first bucket.  We place in it the Scriptures that make us feel good, the ones that warm our hearts like a cup of coffee on a cold winter morning.  And some of us have a second bucket. That’s for those scriptures that aren’t easy to understand and we’d really not have to dig too deep into them. After all, we are busy people and if God has something to say to us,he ought to spit it out in a plain, easy to understand manner.

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All of us, heaven help us, have that third bucket.  It’s the bucket we place Scriptures that make us uncomfortable. The ones that challenge us. The Scriptures that go against the flow of cultural acceptance. These are the Scriptures that, if we live them out, will cause us to stand out from everyone else and take on a completely different set of values.  They are the Scriptures that cause us to look into the dark recesses of our souls and drag our sins into the light.

Of course, if we take the Scripture at the top of the page seriously, we must admit the first bucket, with all its warm fuzzies, are still true and have value. But here is the rub. While those Scriptures help me, they rarely change me. The times of deepest spiritual growth in my life have come from being challenged by God.  They come when God’s word calls me to look at the world around me and live differently.  The Scriptures that cause me to wrestle with God are the ones that prove the most valuable.  That’s probably true for you as well.

So let me encourage you to kick the bucket. Embrace all of God’s word. It’s not easy. It won’t make you popular. It might change your life.  But it will be worth it.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

A Little Water Goes a Long Way

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

 

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I ran across a post on social media the other day that asked for your greatest church fail.  Not in the vein of what have you done to close a church, or what did you do that turned out to  be a bad ministry. These were humorous posts. te times we did something in church we  wished we hadn’t. One of my favorites involved a young lady who high-fived a  man who had lifted his hand as she walked by.  Not realizing he was in a moment of praise lifting his  hands to the Lord.   Stories like that.

As you can imagine, a good many of the stories involved children. Things children did or said, such as the little boy screaming “pray for me!”  as his father removed him from the service for being disruptive.  And some of them involved the baptism of a baby.

Infant baptism, if you want everything to go perfectly can be a risky thing. So anything can go wrong. babies crying and squirming. older siblings misbehaving.  Spit up and well, other things, happening. And of course the fact the baby is completely oblivious to the theological ramifications of being wrapped in the mystery of the sacrament.

And yet all of these things are some of the exact reasons why we do Infant Baptism in the church. Before I go on, please know I am only speaking from my tradition as a United Methodist.  And as a United Methodist I want to stress there is nothing magical about infant baptism.  It’s perfectly fine to wait until one if of an age of accountability.  But that being said, let me share why I am a proponent for infant baptism.

It’s at infant baptism we find ourselves being terribly Wesleyan in our theology.  Wesley stressed Prevenient grace, the grace that “goes before”. Wesley asserted none of  us come to Christ on our own. God moves first, wooing us, drawing us near. Often we are oblivious to the entire thing,  much like the baby. At infant baptism we say in some way we can’t understand God loves you more than we ever will. Our love pales in comparison to the love God has for you.

Now lets’ think about that for a moment. The baby, other than being cute, as done nothing to earn God’s love. It doesn’t even know what’s going on. And yet even though the baby can give nothing back, God pours His love upon this child in a unmerited way.  That’s grace.

At infant baptism the church takes responsibility for the child, knowing they will be a conduit for God’s love and grace into the child’s life.  I’ll often remind  the congregation that this baby will become the toddler who kicks the back of your pew and the youth that messes up the church van.  And it’s OK. Our promise to share God’s love and grace still stands.

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Imperfect, oblivious self-centered caring only for their own comfort. Yet at the same time loved. grace filled. Gifted with a purpose in life.  That’s infant baptism. Yesterday we held a Baptismal remembrance service.  The congregation came up and ok a clear stone from a bowl of water and remembered they were baptized as they pressed the stone to their forehead.  I marveled at the people. Some not even in middle school. Some members of the church for 60 years.  All coming down to remember. To remember that when they were at their most unlovable moment. When they were weak and powerless God still loved them.  God had a plan for their lives. God knew them.   Not because of anything they had done. Simply because of who God is.

We all need that type of reminder don’t we? As we move through this New year, my prayer it’s that you will remember. Remember a God who knew you before you were born and had a plan for you. Remember that God’s love and grace can’t be earned, and don’t need to be.  Remember God’s grace that changes and shapes our lives.  Remember, and be thankful.

 

In CHrist,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><