Fan or Follower: Followers Turn to God

The English language is made up of words and phrases that helps us to express ourselves with others.

Some of these phrases express a need, such as “I am hungry.” Some of these phrases express our physically state, such as “I do not feel well.” Others, however, simply suggest our preferences for something, such as “I like bananas.”

Of all the words and phrases in the English language, I believe there is one phrase that is more difficult than any other to say. That is because it is a phrase forces us to do the uncomfortable. It forces us to look within ourselves. It also requires us to understand what someone might be saying to us and to take a good hard look at our life.

The phrase that, I believe, might be the hardest for any of us to say is this: “I’m sorry.” Saying “I’m sorry” means to admit that we have done something that has hurt someone else. It means to confess that our actions, words, or thoughts might have caused pain for someone. At the same time, it also means to take the first step towards reconciliation and renewing our relationships with one another.

All of us can think to moments when we have said, “I’m sorry” to someone or have needed to say, “I’m sorry.” It is never easy to admit when we have done something wrong or caused pain towards another person. However, we can all think back to those moments and recognize that in those moments when we’ve said, “I’m sorry” it has led to healing not just in our relationships with someone else, but also within our own soul. Continue reading

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Fan or Follower

John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples. We don’t know what was taking place before this scene begins. Perhaps they were talking about the day’s activities. Perhaps they were talking about the baptism that took place the day before, when Jesus of Nazareth was baptized in the Jordan River and a voice was heard proclaiming him as the Son of God.

Who knows what was taking place when we receive this causal reference that Jesus walked past them as they talked. At first glance, this seems like a very innocent interaction. Perhaps Jesus had stayed with John and his disciples after his baptism and was preparing to head out and start on his journey. What may have been a simple gathering would soon become a time of introspection and decision for John’s two disciples. It starts with how John the Baptist responds to this passing interaction. John looks at his disciples and says, “Look! There is the Lamb of God.” He basically tells them, “You see that guy there? He’s the One we’ve been expecting. He is the Messiah.”

What would these disciples do? So, Andrew and the other disciple, who we believe might have been the Apostle John, ran off to meet Jesus. When they catch up with him, Jesus asks, “What do you want?” It is a question intended to allow them to search their hearts and respond accordingly. They take a moment and respond by saying, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Andrew and the other disciple weren’t interested in Jesus’ lodging arrangements. They were asking if they could become one of Jesus’ disciples and follow him. They wanted to join with him and learn from the Lord.

Jesus responds to their request with an invitation. He says, “Come and see.” He invites these two disciples of John to come with him and see what was about to take place. To see the life changing things Jesus would do and to hear the words he would teach. To see what it truly means for Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of all. Jesus invites them to follow him. They respond by going with him and following him on his itinerant journey.

In some way, each of us have responded to Jesus’ invitation to “come and see.” Jesus has invited us to come and see what he is doing and, in some way, we have responded. The way we have responded to Jesus’ invitation can be found by taking a deep look within our hearts and examining how we feel about Christ and the Lord’s love. When we do we might see that there are two basic ways we have responded. We have responded either as a “Jesus fan” or as a “Jesus follower.” Continue reading

Remaining in Christ Even When We Want to Walk Away

Saturday afternoon, between sessions of chasing our son off the fireplace ledge, I caught a repeat of one of my favorite sports documentaries. It is the ESPN “30 for 30” piece on the 1980 rematch where Sugar Ray Leonard challenged Roberto Duran for the welterweight title.

For those unfamiliar with the fight, it was a rematch that came roughly five months after an initial fight that saw Duran upstage Leonard to win the championship. The match, and the hype surrounding it, demanded a quick rematch, which took place in New Orleans.

It was a match that was dominated by Leonard’s quick moves that took Duran off his game, which was more of an aggressive style of boxing. He had no answer for Leonard. So much so that in the eighth found Duran gave up. He quit. He did so by uttering those famous words of “no mas.” No more. Duran had all he could take – later claiming he was sick with cramps – and walked away from the fight and his championship. Leonard was declared the winner by TKO.

As I reflect upon that match, I cannot help but think how we can be like Duran. We have the tendency to say “no mas” when faced with difficult challenges. We would rather not deal with difficult personalities or unwelcoming individuals. We would rather say “no mas” to financial problems, family struggles, or a whole list of obstacles that we may face.

This is true not just in our personal lives, but also in regards to our relationship with Christ. When things get tough or overwhelming it is easy for us to walk away from Christ and say “no more.” The reason is that we believe our faith in Christ promises us an easy life that is void of various challenges and difficulties. We buy into this belief so much that when difficulties or temptations arise, our faith is weakened and we end up, sadly, walking away.

We all face the temptation to say “no more,” but what might we do in response. John 15:4 gives us some guidance. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (NLT) What does he mean? We must find ourselves deeply dependent upon the love of Christ in all things. Remaining in Christ is about a relationship that is renewed daily by a desire to grow in our fellowship with God and our yearning to be directed by the Lord’s love.

As we remain in Christ, we will see that Christ’s love and grace is all around us strengthening us in preparation for our challenges. Remaining in Christ reminds us that there is never a moment that we are alone. We face the challenges in life with Christ going before us, beside us, and behind us. God is always present.

It is not easy to remember this, nor is it easy to continually remain in our relationship with Christ. It is a relationship that requires us to do the things necessary to promote spiritual growth that allows us to remain upon the vine of Christ’s love. This includes prayer, Scripture reading, being in fellowship with other believes, serving, and other spiritual disciplines. As we take on these things, we will see that our relationship with God is strengthen and we are better able to withstand the temptation to say “no mas” in difficult moments.

The Sacrament of Identification

Throughout my life, there have been many words used to describe me. Some of these words are funny. Some of the words are personal. Some are words that attempt to identify me through my work or passions.

I’ve been described as a son, a husband, a father, a public theologian, a writer, a pastor, a preacher, an editor, an advocate, as gregarious, a nerd, a poor golfer, a sports fan, and very competitive, especially when it comes to board games.

These are all adjectives that are part of who I am. Each of us here have adjectives that describes aspects about us. Words that shine a light on who we are, where we’ve been, or where we believe our lives are going.

We are fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, workers and retirees, veterans, leaders, and so much more. I am sure we could go on. Each of these adjectives are special and define so much about our lives and what we hold to be important. Continue reading

Simple Gifts

The wise men of Matthew’s gospel appear to us as mysterious individuals who came from the East to visit Jesus in Bethlehem. In all honesty, they may be one of the most mysterious groups of individuals in all of Scripture.

I say this, because we really do not know that much about them. What we do know of these “wise men” has come from cultural understandings, oral traditions, or artistic renderings of this great story that is shared with us each Epiphany Sunday. Matthew only tells us that they followed a star, which led them to Jerusalem and Bethlehem around the time of Jesus’ birth, and they wanted to worship this child.

Our lack of knowledge about the wise men have created some interesting back stories to their narrative. For some time, we’ve assumed that there were three travelers who journeyed to visit Jesus. That is because it is equal to the number of gifts they brought with them. We have suggested, through research, that they likely began their journey somewhere near Arabia. This is because of the location where some of the gifts that they gave could be found. Some have suggested that these were kings of the orient, but, yet, they treat Jesus as the true king of the world. Based on Matthew’s Greek usage, we believe they might have been either magicians or astrologers. It is most likely they were astrologers, because of their observation of the stars. And, yes, we’ve even added names to them, such as Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.

No matter who these wise men were, how many there were, what they did, or where they came from, they are important contributors to the early events of Jesus’ life. They were among the earliest visitors to see the long-awaited Messiah in person. Once they arrived to Jesus’ home, their actions towards the child are very important. What they do serves as a model for us as we desire to be people who respond to God’s love and revelation of himself through Jesus.

On this Epiphany Sunday, we celebrate that God’s love is made known to the entire world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the day of celebrating that Christ is made known to all people through the light of his love and truth. This light appeared as a star in the sky for the wise men and it guided them to town of Bethlehem and Jesus. It was a journey that took about two years, but it was well worth the trip to experience the Messiah in person.

For us, the light of Christ is the revelation of God’s love. It is the light that shines into our lives and brings forth hope, peace, joy, and love in way that connects us with God and each other. The light of Christ teaches us what it means to follow the Lord, by instructing us to be people who echo the words of Christ by how we live with each other and the world. The light of Christ is the beacon of hope in times of darkness and it guides us toward a better way of living that is more about God and less about us.

God’s revelation of the Lord’s love and truth, through Jesus, demands a response. For the wise men, it meant leaving their homes and going on that long journey from Arabia to Bethlehem. But, it also meant for them to do something very beautiful and powerful. It was an act that they intended to do from the moment they first saw the star of Christ in the sky. They went to Bethlehem so they could worship Jesus.

The wise men did not make the journey to Bethlehem for any other purpose. They went so they could offer a deeply holy and personal response to God’s truth being made known in the world through Jesus. They recognized that in Jesus is truth, grace, and hope. Nothing, not even Herod’s attempt to use their visit for his own purposes to prevent Jesus from fulfilling his mission, would distract them from worshiping the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Nothing would stop them from worshiping Jesus.

Worship is an act of humility that calls us to give praise, honor, and glory to the one for whom these things are truly deserved. The wise men knew Jesus, even at such an early age, is worthy of their praise and worship, because of who he is as the Son of God and what he would do and continues to do each day. Jesus is the one who breaks down the walls that divide. He is the one who is the personification of love, joy, hope, and peace. He is the one who is the author of truth. He is the one who is the provider of grace and salvation for all. It is for these reasons, and so much more, that the wise men came to worship Jesus.

It was an act of worship that demanded that they gave of themselves to Jesus. That is what worship is all about. Worship is an act of giving of our full self in response to God’s love. This involves every aspect of our lives, physical, emotional, and spiritual. In this instance, the wise men gave of what they had, something physical, to signify their love of God. They opened their treasure chests and gave Jesus three gifts, which were gold, frankincense, and myrh. These were simple gifts given out of love and as an act of worship towards Jesus.

The wise men came and worshiped Christ through their presence and their gifts. It is why we have gathered today. Worshiping God is one of the most important things we do in our faith. It connects us with our Lord and each other, but it also sends us out into the world to be messengers of God’s love. As a community, we worship through our prayers, giving, singing, and retelling of God’s love. What we do on Sunday morning is akin to what the wise men did so many years ago. In response to how God has been made known to us in our hearts, we have come with open hearts to worship the Lord.

Yet, worship is not just something we do on Sunday mornings. It is an everyday way of living. True worship is about a life lived in response to God’s revelation. It is not simply something that happens for an hour on Sunday morning. Worship is about a way of life. The presence of Christ in our lives cries out for us to live in a certain way that connects us with the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ. Worship can take place every moment of our lives, because every moment is an opportunity to praise the One who came to save and share joy in the world.

The wise men give us a guide on how we can do this. We worship the Lord by “giving of ourselves” to the Lord. As the wise men worshiped Jesus, they offered what they had as an act of worship.  This is what it means for us to live daily in worship. It is about making a commitment that everything we do, everything we say, and everything we seek to be is done in response to God’s love and the Lord’s desires for us. The free gift of God’s love calls us to be people who desire nothing more than to praise God by how we live.

It may seem difficult to live in daily worship, but I promise you it is not. We can be people who give of ourselves in response to God’s love. One way we can do this is by welcoming others into our lives and communities in the same ways God has welcomed us. In a culture that is often separated along political lines, socio-economic divisions, or cultural traditions, a people who seek to worship the Lord daily by how we live can be powerful and transformative change agents by welcoming others without expectations, limitations, judgments, or restrictions. It is a welcome that is like how Christ welcomed us. We were welcomed, faults and all, by God and redeemed by his grace. We live in daily worship by giving of ourselves in the ways we welcome others freely and make them a part of our communities and fellowships.

We also worship as the wise men did through giving of ourselves in acts of love. This might be the greatest gift we can offer the world in response to Christ’s love. We live in a world that is often defined by anger, resentments, and frustrations. What if we decided to go out and show a better way. To share the same love with others that Christ offered us, by seeing the worth and importance of others. To love as God loves means we must remember that every person, no matter who they are, is a child of God and created in God’s image. This remembrance calls us to treat each other with kindness, peace, joy, hope, and sincerity.

As well, we give through daily acts of worship by how we share hope in the world. Hope is a word so often used, but seldom authentically shared. That is because when things become difficult it is easy to simply give up and call it a day. Giving hope means we go into the world with the confidence of knowing God is with us and never leaves us alone. Worshiping daily in hope means we share words of encouragement with those who are struggling or frustrated. Worshiping daily in hope also means we are willing to go out, in acts of grace, and share Christ’s hope through acts of kindness in ministries to the sick, poor, brokenhearted, abused, and hurting in our community.

Every day is an opportunity to worship to God. We are sent out from these communal times of worship to continue the worship in our communities by how we live and love in the world. Lives lived in worship truly changes how we interact with each other and can change the world in powerful ways.

Today is not just Epiphany Sunday, but it is also the first Sunday of a new year. This is a new day and a chance to commit ourselves to how we will share Christ’s love in our communities in 2014. What if we made the decision, today, to make every day a day to worship God in response to God revealing himself to us? What if we said that everyday we at Trinity would worship God by how we welcome others in Latonia, Covington, and Northern Kentucky, to walk with us in our common journey of faith in Christ? What if we said that everyday was an opportunity to worship God by how we share love with each other and the people around us? What if we worshiped God every day by sharing a hope that is always present?

I believe if this is what defines us, not just in 2014 but always, then something amazing will happen. Lives will be changed. Stories of redemption will be shared. Hope will be made real in our lives and the lives of others.

So, what are we waiting for? Let us be like the wise men and live each day in worship to the Lord. Let us give to God through daily acts of worship that respond to God’s love. And, let us worship in our community by being people who welcome others, love fully, and hope always.