Call Upon the Name of the Lord

Romans 103First Sunday in Lent (February 14, 2016)

  • First reading
    • Deuteronomy 26:1-11
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
  • Second reading
    • Romans 10:8b-13
  • Gospel
    • Luke 4:1-13


Romans 10:8-13 | New Living Translation 

In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;
    it is on your lips and in your heart.”

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Our lectionary passage from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is short, but very powerful.  It is a “gospel” passage – this passage preaches the Good News.  This is very similar to the the passages that we looked at on Ash Wednesday.  We learned that we should return to the Lord – that today is the day of salvation.  I think that is is interesting that we complicate the gospel so much.  Is living for Christ easy?  Will turning to Christ make your life easier?  Probably not.  After all, Jesus called us to take up our cross daily.  But here at the beginning of Lent, we have this call to return to the Lord and today we are presented with a simple gospel invitation. What is necessary to become one of God’s children?

  1. Declare that Jesus is Lord – Does Jesus have authority over you (not the church, but Jesus?)  Is He your ruler?  Yes, those are scary thoughts – to turn your life over to Christ and live for him completely – no longer living for yourself, but living for Christ.  You live by His rules – not the rules of the church, nor of the culture, nor of society, but Christ’s rules.  He has complete authority in your life?  If you can do that, you have completed the first step.  Again, it’s not easy, but I think it is worth it.
  2. Do you believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day? This is a key piece of theology.  So many times we talk about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, that his blood paid the sacrifice for our sins.  This is important, but even more important is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead – to conquer sin – to conquer death – to conquer the grave.  If you believe that Christ was raised on the third day, you will be saved.  This is wonderful news!
  3. You will notice that we must believe with our heart – this is not just head knowledge – but a deep intimate knowledge – deep with in our heart that you are justified – that is just as if I had never sinned.  That is amazing.  We are restored to the relationship that God designed way back in the beginning.
  4. The we must declare our faith – This Good News is not something that we keep to ourselves – we must share it.

This Good News is for all – Jew and Gentile – we all have the same Lord, who will – and this is important – save ALL who call on the Lord.  As Wesleyans, we believe that all of humankind can be saved – not just the elect.  Jesus died – for all of humanity for all time – once and for all.  That is a great thought.  Jesus death and resurrection transcends time and space.

I would encourage you today – if you don’t know Jesus, to seek Him out.  This is a great season to do that. What a great way to prepare your heart for Easter.  What a great way to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.  What a great way to be thankful for what Jesus has done for us.



A Judge Free Zone | Part 2

A couple of years ago Chick-fil-A made a video for their employees to remind them that everyone has a story. I’ve included the video at the end of this post.  I really encourage you to take a look at it.  Every life has a story. The title is so true.  Each person we meet has a story.  The ladies at the convenience store that we frequent – the team members at Chick-fil-A – the guests at Chick-fil-A – the military recruiters – the people at the gas station – the people at the library – and even in the church.  Every life has a story.  Each of us brings our story into the story of others.  Sometimes these stories end up in conflict with each other – especially when we don’t understand their story or we pre-judge their story.

Believe it or not – judging people’s story even comes to the church.  I believe that many times it is because we don’t take the time to get to know one another.  We make value judgments on the other person because we don’t understand or don’t care to know their story.  Perhaps we have never walked in their shoes, so we have no idea what is going on in their life.

Let me share with you a personal story of how that worked in my life.  We were part of a church that enjoyed hugging each other.  They even said that that was who they were – they were a hugging church.  Unfortunately, there was a person or two who enjoyed hugging too much. This made me very uncomfortable.  We had a chaplain friend and his family come to speak at our church and he was surprised at what he saw.  He was upset that this person was hugging inappropriately.  We were still relatively new to the church and were still figuring out the lay of the land – so to speak.  After some discussion with our chaplain friend, Dale and I put appropriate boundaries in place.

Now part of the story is that a family from the north moved to the south.  We had a bit of a cultural tug-of-war.  Being that we are from “up north,” we are not big on hugging as a way of showing friendship – especially with people we really don’t know.  Remember, at this point, we had only been at the church a short time.  Some of the people thought we were being cold northerners.  Meaning we were acting just the way they thought people from “New York” would act.  They even said this person was “just showing Jesus’ love.”

So what really happened is judgments were made without “knowing the story.” No one ever asked me why I felt the way I did – no, it was not because I was from “the north.” No one took the time to get to know me.  Yes, I know that is a danger in being the pastoral family – people have all sorts of assumptions about us – and we are judged on those. And to a point, we sometimes have assumptions about those in the church.

So why did I feel this way? When I was younger I had a foster brother who touched me in an inappropriate way. If someone would have asked me, I would have told them that I did not mind getting hugs from men but that a person in the church had crossed a line that that moved into inappropriate territory. This was belief and it was my decision to make because it was my body. As time went on, I wondered how I would be judged at the next event – slowly the wall was built.  I would come home and cry because I felt I was being punished for something that was not my fault and for something I hadn’t done.  Then I though about those outside the church – those who may have been in the church, but on the fringe – if that was the way I felt – if they didn’t take time to get to know me – what about those outside the church?  Would they take the time to find out that every life has a story?

In every church there are people who sit in the pews – there are people who are on the fringes who need love and care.  They are afraid that they are going to be judged without people knowing their story.  Dale and I love working with the fringe people. Sometimes that gets us in trouble those on the inside think they aren’t getting our attention. Jesus spent a great deal time with the people on the fringe – those whom the Pharisees judged as publicans and sinners — the people who were hurting. I really want to encourage – both pastors and their spouses and even more so church to remember that every life has a story.  Each person that touches the church has a story.  Sometimes to get to know the story might mean that we may get messy.  Remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead?  The people said, “Don’t get involved now.  He’s been dead for four days. By now he stinks!”  And yet, Jesus did what those around told him not to do.  Yes, it was messy, but it was glorious.  Getting to know the story of those around us may be messy – it will take time – it may take money – but it will be glorious.  I encourage you to watch the video below.


Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Why Ash Wednesday?

Ash-WednesdaySo today is Ash Wednesday…today also marks the beginning of Lent (which is Latin for Spring.)  Lent is forty days of prayer and fasting before the season of Easter.  You may say, “hold on a minute, there are 46 days between today and Easter.” You would be correct.  The forty days refers to the weekdays – the six Sundays between now and Easter are not fast days.

These forty days are days of preparation for the celebration of Easter.  In the early church, the forty days preceding Easter, where a time to prepare the baptismal candidates for baptism on Easter Sunday. At least for me over these next forty days, I focus on the cross of Christ – the sacrifice that was paid for my sin.  In reality that is what Ash Wednesday is really all about.  It is a service remembrance that we are all human, that we are all frail, that we are all dust and to dust we will return.  Today many will read the words of David in Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,
    because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
    blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
    Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
    and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
    yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
    teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
    you have broken me—
    now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
    Remove the stain of my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
    and they will return to you.
Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;
    then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
Unseal my lips, O Lord,
    that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Look with favor on Zion and help her;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit—
    with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.
    Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

Times of reflection are important in our lives.  Take a look at how God reminded the Israelites time after time to remember.  The best example is after Joshua led them across the Jordan River.  Once they had crossed, God commanded them to take twelve stones and pile them up as a memorial to what God had done.

Jesus even instituted the Lord’s Table, so that we could remember.  I think that is why I find myself drawn to these more liturgical forms of worship.  One of the things that I have learned is that these forms of worship do not have to be cold and formal.  It depends on the attitude of the heart.  Isn’t that the way it is with all of our worship – it depends on the attitude of our heart.

I did not grow up in a liturgical church. In fact, I was in my thirties when I first was introduced to the church year.  The first time I ever participated in an Ash Wednesday service is while I pastored a small church in upstate New York.  We were invited by another evangelical pastor to the community ecumenical Lenten services.  While I wasn’t an official member of the group, several times that year, I participated by leading part of the worship along with the other clergy.  Yes, it was strange, and it was awkward, but there was a sense of connecting with the greater Church.

Some may think, I am doing something that is catholic.  One of the things we tend to forget in our 21st century minds is that for 1500 years after Jesus’ resurrection, there was only one church.  Immediately following the Reformation, you would have seen very few differences in worship from the church that Luther started as a result.  Even the grandfather of our own movement, John Wesley, was an Anglican and would have followed the forms of the Anglican church.

Here are two links that ask the same question: “Why Ash Wednesday?” and answer it in greater detail.  I liked the way both of these writers said it.

One of the things that I have noticed is that those who attended our service last year, where greatly moved, not only by the Ash Wednesday service, but by our Good Friday service as well.  All of these help us prepare our hearts to celebrate Jesus crucifixion and his resurrection.  How will you be preparing your heart?  What areas in your life need to be renewed?  Is there a place in your heart for revival?

Ash Wednesday

ash crossAsh Wednesday (February 10, 2016)




2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10 | New Living Translation

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says,

“At just the right time, I heard you.
    On the day of salvation, I helped you.”

Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.

We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

Return to the Lord

From Joel 2:

That is why the Lord says,
    “Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
    Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
    but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish.
Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve,
    sending you a blessing instead of this curse.

A theme for Ash Wednesday could be return to the Lord.  It is the words penned by Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth.  It is the words spoken by the prophet Joel.  Today marks a new season – the season of Lent.  Today is Ash Wednesday.  In another post, I’m going to answer why Ash Wednesday, but at the moment I want to take a look at these scriptures.

Return to the Lord.  So many times we make a big deal about New Year’s resolutions.  Even though it’s only been six weeks since New Year’s, I’m sure most of us have already laid those aside.  I don’t think many see those resolutions as a spiritual exercise or a spiritual discipline.

In both of the passages I highlighted, we find call to return to the Lord.  There’s something about the way that it is said that demands urgency.  This is not a call that we hear very often anymore.  The prophets of the Old Testament were very good at it.  Even John the Baptist was good at it.  It doesn’t seem like we have that kind of prophetic voice anymore. Return to the Lord, while there is still time.  We are reminded that now is the day of salvation.  This is a spiritual exercise – this is a spiritual discipline.  This is why I love the church calendar and the seasons of grace – for lack of a better way to put it.

Last year our church at the time had an emphasis on revival and renewal – just in time for Spring and in time for Lent (which just so happens to be the Latin word for Spring.) I love the fact that just as we are in the heart of winter (and we are going to get another blast of winter this weekend – apparently cold and then some snow,) we start thinking about how soon all will be well – it will get warmer – and the grass will turn green – and the flowers will bloom.  During the winter, the vegetation “goes dark.” But in Spring, it all comes to life.

We have those times – more often than we would like to admit I’m sure – that we get into spiritual winters.  Lent is a time for us to renew ourselves – to return to the Lord – to put ourselves back on track.  Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are dust and to dust we will return – we are human – we are frail.  It is only through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection that we are saved and are able to live lives that are pleasing to him – so today – Come, return to the Lord.  He is merciful and compassionate and filled with unfailing love for His people.