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Riverside, California
Studying scripture and preaching the Word to draw us into deeper understanding and more faithful discipleship.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Framily--week 1 marriage

How many of you have ever had a Lily and Griffith kind of moment?  Maybe out to dinner, maybe for a special celebration, or maybe while cooking dinner, or settling into bed, or driving to see family….one that reveals your hurts and resentments and struggles all at once?  Their exchange makes us laugh a little because there’s  truth in it that resonates for each of us.  The specifics of their story may be their own, but really, each couple has similar struggles. 
As I read through the scriptures for the story of a couple, there were a number of possibilities…though no one really had a flawless moment of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to point to. Even the couples in the Bible struggled and had messiness in their lives. Being among God’s people didn’t protect them from that.  And one of the couple’s with the richest story is Sarah and Abraham. And I read through Genesis marking their story and those two faced a lot together.  And we couldn’t narrow it down to just one moment, or just one story to highlight…it would have been unfair to them.  The richness of who they are is highlighted in their ups and downs.  They start out with a lot of years behind them before they even come together as a couple, then Abraham is called to be God’s leader and Sarah to give birth to the generations that will outnumber the sand on the beach…a notion she laughs at.  They struggle and struggle to get pregnant and finally recruit Hagar to have a son for Abraham, a decision that Sarah later regrets.  –She and Abraham went to Gerar where she played coy— and Abraham pretended Sarah was his sister, which only got them in more trouble down the line.  They continued to try for a baby of their own and finally Sarah got pregnant and then she kicked Hagar and Ishmael out.  And then there was the time Abraham felt called to sacrifice Isaac and took him up on the hill in obedience to God, only to have his son question what exactly was taking place up there.  And it wasn’t long after that Sarah passed away. 
                This couple went through it—the ups, the downs, a few more downs—they were stretched in their commitment to each other and to God.  And they aren’t the only couple like that—not in the Bible or in the modern day.  I think most of us would like to think that if we are called by God, and faithful to God we will be exempt from facing trials, but that’s simply not the case.  We all face challenges. 
                So what is our hope?  Why do we even bother to get married?  Well, I think the hope is that the love we share will continue to make us better as individuals and as a couple and that we’ll find peace and joy and comfort in our relationship.  And it can be easy for that to fall apart…that’s why marriage takes constant investment…you have to talk about how you’re feeling when all you’d really like to do is slam doors or drive away. You have to be forgiving when forgiveness isn’t deserved. You have to show love even when you don’t feel loved.  You have to laugh at the trivial stuff that gets your goat.  You have to remember that you too are wonderful and loveable and incredibly flawed.  Sticking with it requires a lot.  Divorce is a testament to how hard it is—life together isn’t successful on a whim. And when you risk the greatest vulnerability and openness, you’re likely to get hurt—by a breach of trust, by infidelity, by a betrayal, by trauma, by unmet expectations.  And sometimes those hurts become insurmountable.
                I don’t say that to be a nay-sayer about marriage—I believe in it. I stick with and work on mine because it’s worth it.  But I also want us to be honest, it’s hard.  They tell you that when you’re young and engaged…”Marriage is hard” but nothing really tells you how hard it is until you walk the journey together and you face financial struggles, or a major illness, or the loss of a parent, or struggle with infertility, or lose a job, or move away from family—“hard” doesn’t even begin to describe those realities.  And if you are married or have been married or live in a committed partnered relationship, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know…I just want us to be honest about it all.  Because if we pretend it’s all roses and chocolates and cuddling on the couch, then we set ourselves and those who look to us as an example up for failure. 
                We’d like the world to think we’ve got it all together, and really, we shouldn’t be airing our dirty laundry out for everyone to see, that violates trust and often creates some irreparable harm, but we do need to be able to own our imperfections.  So, we’re going to do a little exercise together.  It’s easy to look at another couple and think they’ve got it made, or they haven’t struggled like you have, but there’s a whole lot that lies below the surface that we don’t all talk about on a daily basis. 
                For our exercise, I’ll ask that if you are married or partnered and you’re able that you stand up. And I’m going to share some situations and if it’s true for you and your significant other, you should sit down.  And once you sit, if there’s another that’s true, if you raise your hand so that we can visually bear witness to what we face as couples.  Now, these things relate to what we fight about…some of us call it fighting. Some of us call it quarrelling, or a discussion, or an argument, or a disagreement, or a squabble, or yelling…whatever we call it, it’s the thing you do when there’s tension and dissent.  Now, stand up, and when I say something you’ve “fought” about, I want you to sit back down.
·         How to load dishes into the dishwasher
·         Which way the TP goes on the roll
·         Putting the toilet seat down
·         Dirty clothes that don’t make it to the hamper
·         How fast or slowly you drive
·         Where to spend the holidays
·         Whose turn it is to take out the trash
·         The temperature for the thermostat
·         Who will get up with the baby in the middle of the night
·         How much money you spend
·         How much time you’ll spend with your inlaws
·         How you parent
·         How much you work
·         Who is more stubborn
·         What show to watch
·         What car to buy
·         What amount of debt is reasonable
·         How you communicate your wants or needs
The point is, none of us is immune. None of us, as couples walk through our relationship without struggle.  Being a couple is hard.  It’s hard for Lily and Griffith, for Sarah and Abraham, and it’s hard for us.  We’re two different people trying to come together and make life work. We fight over big things and over little things—almost to the level of ridiculous sometimes. 
Rick said I could share a personal story of ours, so I’ll give a simple example…but one that shows just how easy it is to get into it—and how ridiculous we can be.  One Saturday morning about a month ago, I wanted to get a bunch of things done and so I asked if he would help with just 2 of them…moving the couch, and pulling out the big oriental rug in the living room and he said sure.  And as I worked on other things, he started to wash the cars and had the hose on, so I went to turn it off, and he barked at me. So I walked away and left him to wash the car on his own.  I walked back in ticked off, and decided I didn’t need his help after all….so 6 months pregnant I started moving furniture and vacuuming so I could pull out the oriental rug.  I knew it was ridiculous as I struggled to get around, but I was determined to show him.  At one point I went back out and he said he was ready for the water to be off, I told him to handle it himself and walked back in.  (We practice the utmost maturity in our house!)
Not long after, he finished with the cars and came in to see that I had moved all the furniture on my own.  He shook his head and started to help with the oriental rug.  It’s a huge heavy rug that’s really impossible to move on your own…it easily weighs 100+ pounds and there’s no way I could have managed on my own, but Lord knows I would have tried.  We managed to work together to put the room back together and each asked forgiveness a couple of times over.  It’s nothing big, especially in retrospect, but without humility and a bit of laughter those moments can build on larger hurts and resentments. 
But our covenant to love one another, to forgive and be gracious keeps us striving for better communication, for a deeper affection, and for laughter through it all.  Hopefully for each couple, it’s worth the effort, because we are better with our partner, because we find laughter and joy when we are together. Because they bring us peace.  Because despite all the fights, they still love us and we still love them and we find ways to make it work. Because we don’t want to do life without the other. Because they’ve seen us at our worst and choose to stick with us anyway. Because in being open and vulnerable we are shaped and transformed by the power of love to become better in who we are.  So we stick with it. 
There may not be any perfect relationships, in this room, or in the Bible, but there are certainly ways to be better in our relationship—and that’s when we follow godly wisdom and advice.  When we live the words of Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 13, we become closer as a couple. Listen again to Paul’s words to the Romans:
Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. 10 Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. 11 Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. 12 Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sunday morning prayer

Lord God, my purpose is to serve you.  And in serving you it is to serve your people—to teach them, hopefully to inspire them, to lead them back to you.  This day as I prepare I feel fully ill-equipped. I am tired. I am worn out. I feel completely empty with nothing left to offer them.  Remind me that it is not about me, or about what I have to offer, but instead it is about you and what I take from you to give to them.
Your people need your Word. Your people need your truth. I need those things for myself as well.  Show me how to proclaim your Word with confidence and with conviction. What is it you want your people to hear this morning? 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Keeping It Reel--Despicable Me

Scripture: Acts 9

Theme: New beginnings
Main points: no matter who we are, or what we have done, or how hated we might be, God offers us second chances and new beginnings. 
Who was Saul?  Saul was a Jewish leader, head strong in what he knew and determined to hold the course for the beliefs and traditions he cherished.
What was the problem?  Even in trying to serve God, he was persecuting others who were trying to serve God. As a Jewish leader he couldn’t see any truth in the Jesus-followers. He wanted to stop them.  He wanted to follow God and others to follow God, but only in the ways he had known before.
How did God speak to him?
God spoke to Saul through Jesus, challenging the persecution, not just of Christ-followers but of Jesus himself.  God caused the blindness. Then Saul had to be dependent on someone from “the way” for relief
Why does Ananias matter?
Ananias is someone who was also obedient to God, listening and heeding God’s leading to go and pray with Saul, even though Saul was hated and Ananias was at risk being with him. 
Why did we pick this scripture?
A huge part of the Christian journey is the first part, the part where we decide to choose Christ, to invite him to live in our hearts and to follow him.  Our defining moment, or at least one of them, is when we stop going only with what we know in our heads and start listening to God and doing as God directs us.  Being a Christian isn’t about knowing all the right things, not in terms of head knowledge, it’s about being a faithful follower. That means we have to go where God takes us, trusting God enough to let our own convictions go so that we can follow.  Saul’s story captures that truth and shows us what that looks like in very concrete terms. 
Saul certainly believed in God. And as a Jewish leader, he would have been well versed in the laws of the Bible. He sought to be faithful in who he was and what he did, but he wasn’t prone to listening to God, not from what we see here in the scriptures anyway.  He knew that he knew what to do. And he went with it full force.  He was not about to be stopped.  So, the only one who could stop him was God.  And God did just that—stopped Saul in his tracks.  Bright lights and temporary blindness were pretty convicting.
So Saul stopped, out of necessity, and he heard from God. We don’t know what his prayers were in those days, or even what the conversations were with those around him.  But what we do know is that those moments changed him.  And he chose Jesus, he chose with his heart, even when all of his head knowledge from before told him “no”, he chose Christ. 
                For very different reasons, Gru was known as a very bad guy and most folks didn’t want anything to do with him. He was mean spirited and only about his own agenda.  He wanted to be the world’s worst villain and he didn’t care who he hurt in the process.  And then these little orphan girls interrupted his life.  And at first, he didn’t see any use for them and then he saw them only as a means to an end--to his ends, he could use them as a trap against his enemy. So he went to adopt them… not for their sake but for his—so he could have the power he desired.  It was purely selfish.  But slowly they started to chip away at his hardness of heart. 
                In this next scene, Gru has to tell his minions that they are broke, and there is no way to afford the dream of taking over the world and then the girls do something that speaks to Gru….
CLIP #4 We have no money…girls’ piggy bank
                This simple gesture starts to change Gru’s heart.  Luckily for Gru subtlety worked a lot better for him than it did for Saul.  Love and kindness started to shift his perspective, and his love for the girls grew. 
Saul needed the 2x4 to the head approach, so God struck him blind…there was no denying something happened there! For both of these men, a powerful moment, one of love and one of divine intervention stopped them in their tracks, it forced them to reexamine what they knew they knew and listen for what the better direction might be.  For Gru, it meant choosing love over destruction, for Saul, it meant choosing Christ over the rules he held so high.
For each of us, our journey begins with a choice…maybe our first choices are to listen, or to ask questions, or to be willing to go to church with a friend, or a spouse, or a parent.  But then at some point, we have to choose for ourselves.  Will we follow Christ?  Will we allow him to live in our hearts so that our lives may be transformed?  When we choose him, love breaks through in ways we can’t expect or explain and when it does it changes us. 
Now, some of us have had Saul like moments. We can look at the pieces of our lives and it’s like one side is here…in a place of darkness, or hard heartedness, or selfishness, and the other side is waaaaay over here laced with love, grace, and peace. 
Others of us have simpler nuances that define the changes in our hearts.  We don’t have one of “those” stories of conversion or change…God has just been part of our story and part of our lives. 
A Methodist professor once said that our conversion is kind of like an old roll up shade.  You know, the ones that were a solid sheet of some kind of plastic, and you would pull on the bottom to make it roll up…you could just pull and let go and it would race to the top and hit the window sill as it did.  Or, you could pull and hold on and help it gradually roll up.  This professor said our conversion is often like one of those options.  Some of us are like Saul…it’s quick and instantly noticeable. One quick flip of the wrist and then we release and watch it fly. Others of us have a more gradual change, one like Gru that requires a collection of moments that finally build to a place where we can see and distinguish the change for ourselves. The light is revealed, but only bit by bit, inch by inch. 
We didn’t read it this morning, but Saul’s story is a powerful one…we could preach the rest of the year learning about who he was and what he did.  But most of us know him as Paul…the one who was changed by God who went on to be one of the greatest evangelists and church planters that ever lived. Gru’s story is a bit different, he’s not an evangelist, but he is changed by the love he shares with the girls.  This scene captures his change:
CLIP #5 time for bed, unicorn story, transformation, kissing the minions
There is no ONE way to get there. God uses lots of paths and lots of people to help us see and experience the love of Christ.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Keeping It Reel--How to Train Your Dragon

Worship Focus: Living Like Christ—all that we are called to do…includes getting to know people, pushing through our prejudices and past beliefs to see and know people for who they really are.  It might be an unexpected comparison, but we are using “How to Train Your Dragon” to help us see how stereotypes and prejudices can stand in the way for really getting to know someone, and how we need leaders who are willing to risk breaking the rules to show us a bigger story.  To get started we’re going to see a clip on the book of dragons and all the things the Vikings think they know about them and how they should respond to each dragon.

Video: How to train your dragon: (1:30)
VIDEO CLIP #1: Book of dragons…all the evil things they do…kill on sight, kill on sight, kill on sight

2 Corinthians 1:4 (CEV)
He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble. 

 Luke 18:9-13 (CEV)
Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:

Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn."
The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, "God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner."


Explain the scripture passage. 
1)      Who were Pharisees?
2)     What did tax collectors do?
3)      What were their relationships? 
Pharisee related to the tax collector a lot like the Vikings related to the dragons.  All of them were the same: evil…maybe evil in different ways, but all evil.  And they should be treated the same…kill on sight.  Now, Pharisees didn’t kill the tax collectors, but they didn’t accept them either.  You didn’t eat with them or hang out with them, you didn’t want anything to do with them,.
In a similar way, the Vikings despised the dragons. They had had some really bad interactions and they only knew them as the enemy so that’s how they treated them and that’s how they taught everyone else to relate to the dragons.
But then there was Hiccup…the son of the King and he sees things a little differently. He never really wanted to kill the dragons and one day he came across one that was injured.  In dragon killing class he was told that all dragons will ALWAYS go for the kill…but this one he had met didn’t….so he started to wonder if they were right about all the things they thought they knew.  So, he tried an experiment…he took some food to this one dragon to see what would happen…
MOVIE CLIP #2: First fish…toothless smile  (2:15)
                This simple gesture initiated a relationship between Hiccup and Toothless.  It wasn’t a feast. It wasn’t a month’s worth of food, it was one simple fish, but it conveyed humility, trust, a willingness to build a relationship.  And Hiccup’s kindness was immediately reciprocated with Toothless’ kindness.  Kindness begot kindness. Love begot love. 
                I think sometimes we over-complicate the issues in our lives.  We see someone who is different and all the things we think we know about them and when someone challenges us to think differently or get to know them we create scenarios in our head where it would be way too challenging to move past where we are.  But, in reality, the potential for change lies in simple actions…. actions filled with love, kindness, humility, and openness for what could happen. 
                In the scripture story today, there is no future in the story…Why? Because the Pharisee had no willingness and no humility. All he saw was what he thought he knew and he didn’t care about who the man was, or his faith in God that compelled him to pray. The Pharisee didn’t see a man, all he saw was a reputation and a stigma. 
Hiccup isn’t a biblical character, but he lives like one…he lived like Christ…by willing to see Toothless for who he was, not just his reputation, Hiccup shared grace and acceptance, something that Jesus did often.  In the scripture from today, the Pharisee refuses to do anything with the tax collector, but in a different story, Jesus invites himself to  a tax collector’s house for dinner…he ate with him, got to know him, spent time with him.  Everyone else looked at Jesus and thought he was absolutely crazy, but Jesus didn’t care.  He wanted to show grace, kindness, and humility and when he did that, he got to know the person.  In a similar way, Hiccup reminds us that as Christ-followers it’s our job to live like Christ, to be open to those that are marginalized, stereotyped, and disliked. It’s our job to move beyond what we think we know and actually spend time with people, getting to know them for who they really are.
Toothless wasn’t the only dragon got to know, as he spent time with Toothless, he was forced to encounter others….and this is what happened…

MOVIE CLIP #3: Everything we know about you is wrong (1:01)
                Everything we know about you is wrong.  Have you ever had one of those experiences?  They are powerful.  I will confess this to you…I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie in my life because I thought I knew something about certain people or certain groups of people and then, by whatever circumstances, I spent some time with them and got to know them for who they really were and I had one of those moments where I thought, “everything I know about you is wrong.”  Like most people in this room, I have judged people like Dan based on their piercings, I’ve judged others based on their hair style or funky clothes, others based on accent, others on skin color, others based on where they lived or how they lived, others based on education, others on social status.  I’ve judged a lot of people.  Now, I’m not proud of that, not at all, but I do have to confess it. I have to be honest and recognize that not only have I judged people, but I have misjudged people. And God tells me, through the stories of Jesus, that that’s not acceptable, that’s not who I am supposed to be. 
                We are called to get to know people, not just know about them, or listen to what others say. But instead we are supposed to build relationships, to spend time together, not just once or twice, but long enough to build a relationship that we would stand up for, one we would fight for. 
                Toothless and Hiccup did just that.  And after they formed a friendship, it required that they take the next step, that they share what they had learned--that the dragons weren’t what everyone thought they were. 
                Let’s take a look.
MOVIE CLIP #4: Be careful with that dragon…toothless to the rescue (3:25)
                Hiccup took a stand; he dared to go against the grain. He didn’t just get to know Toothless and the other dragons and then keep it a secret. He made a statement. He told his whole town that he didn’t agree with their stereotypes—the dragons were not who they all thought they were.  And that wasn’t terribly popular.  It was the same way for Jesus. When he went home with the tax collector for dinner, people chided him, they ridiculed him, they said he was foolish, that he was breaking the rules.  His decision wasn’t popular either.  But Jesus wasn’t worried about what people would say about him. He was worried about living with grace, kindness and humility.
                So when we say we are called to live like Christ, it means we are to take a stand. After we get to know people and learn that they aren’t what other people say, or that they aren’t who we thought they were, we are supposed to share that with others.  It starts with us, but it doesn’t end there.  When we learn that the person with piercings is actually a really faithful Christian leader, or the person whose skin color is different likes the same music we do, or the person who sleeps on the streets is an amazing musician.  We can learn a lot about people, about all the things they have done, and the talents God has given them. And when those relationships break apart our bias, we should help others to do the same. 
                God didn’t create us to be divisive and hateful. God created us for friendships that matter and help us to grow in love, kindness and humility.  Sometimes that proves more challenging than others, but that doesn’t mean we should give up…it means we have to muster our courage and do what we know is right. 
                Hiccup and Toothless had an invaluable relationship, so when Hiccup was in danger, Toothless came to help. And then when Toothless was in equal danger, Hiccup had to decide whether or not he would do the same…

MOVIE CLIP #5: It’s a mess….I’ll probably do something stupid…that’s more like it. (1:33)