Feb 26, 2016

Cheers & Jeers

Sometimes I wish I did not read the “Cheer & Jeers” column in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Several years ago, one Michael Polansky, complaining about a local TV station airing a beer commercial on Sunday morning when children might be unsupervised, wrote: “Parents might not realize that their children would be exposed to a beer commercial on Sunday morning.”

There was a day when few children would have had to suffer “television torment” on Sunday morning. Instead parents would expose children to fine people who taught their Sunday school classes. One of the greatest gifts any parent can give a child is the tools necessary to make good and righteous decisions in a child’s later years. Sunday school is a place where amazingly devoted adults nurture youngsters. These people regularly volunteer to guide our children. 

I want to thank all those who work with Sam Elliott, Lori Plamondan, and the rest of our Children’s Council as they assemble a children’s program. They volunteer as our church continues to secure a full time Children’s Director. We owe these folks, and others working with them, a great debt of gratitude. As the quotable Norman Neaves wrote recently, “Every life experience is a building block for the future.” Thus, I am proud that we are giving our children good experiences.

What if we gave our children a break from watching television on the Christian Sabbath and instead brought them to church on Sunday morning? No beer commercials to worry about here at FUMC of Arlington, I assure you, Mr. Polansky.

Come, Worship
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Feb 19, 2016

Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation

Lent is the time from Ash Wednesday until the dawning of Easter morning—or in some traditions—Holy Saturday. Between now and Easter, what we call “Spiritual Disciplines,” is the order of the day for believers. Lent is an appropriate time to address spiritual disciplines. Lent is the season of the church year when we walk with Jesus toward his ultimate destiny on the cross. For believers, Jesus’ death on the cross and the self-discipline that it involved, is nothing less than the most positive model of faithfulness. In the sense of renewing our confession of faith and deepening our relationship with God, we can learn much from Jesus about divine values and meaning.

If it can do anything for those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Lent is about the deepening of the spirit of those people called to God’s Realm. Over the next six weeks we would do well to explore aspects of spiritual discipline. The word “disciple” comes from the root word for “discipline.”  It is discipleship that makes our lives in Christ worth living. 

Richard Foster once wrote, “Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is primarily a spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”

Even more so, however, is that need for genuinely committed Christians to the cause of Christ. People of faith, who live sincerely from Christ’s spirit, can help our nation see beyond the superficiality of modern culture. Ours is a culture that needs a substitute model by which it can live. It is my deepest conviction that God furnishes us this model in the life of Christ. In the community that God gives us as a gift—the Body of Christ—we can thrive and live.

When Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), Jesus was serious. Consequently, Lent is a serious time in the life of our faith and in the life of our church.

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Stay, Learn
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Feb 12, 2016

Lent 1 & Luke

Luke 4:1-13 opens Lent for us and I suggest reading this text as a devotional. Instead of recounting each of the three temptations, that is—the temptation to turn a stone into bread, a temptation to worship something besides God, and the temptation to test God—I ask that we consider one implication of these temptations together. Contrary to popular opinion, people regularly are tempted at their points of strength and not tempted at their points of weakness.

Good athletes, for example, may be tempted to glide on talent, whether size or speed, and not live out the hours of disciplined practice required of less gifted persons. Or take the example of people enjoying good looks? These folks can charm their way through life and rarely require the work crucial to success as do other, plain looking people. Finally, we all know students who own superior intelligence and never crack a book to make good grades and advance in their field of endeavor. But the question is: Do you want a smart doctor who skated by in medical school?

Notice that Jesus’ temptations are plainly good things—bread, political power, and proof of God’ existence. Bread is good in a hungry world. Jesus having political power would be something to celebrate indeed. To know God’s existence beyond faith is certainly a tempting proposition to a world nurtured on the milk of the scientific method. Yet also notice that Jesus rejects each temptation without hesitation. Why?

Jesus rejects the first temptation, a stone to bread, because miracles alone do not feed God’s people. Jesus rejects the second temptation, all political power, because to provide real justice to the human family, people must be part of its structure. Jesus rejects the third temptation, putting God to the test, because of all Israel’s sins, this was the one which disappointed God most. Jesus understood what Israel often forgot: God alone is God. End of discussion. Period.

The moment that any of us embarks on work that deals with our fellow humans at the core, and depths of being where God and sin and holiness are at issue, at that same moment we become subject to countless dangers, interferences, pretenses, and errors that we would have been quite safe from otherwise. So-called “spiritual work” exposes us to spiritual sins. Temptations of the flesh, difficult as they are to resist, are at least easy to detect. Temptations of the spirit usually show up disguised as invitations to virtue (Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant; an Exploration of Vocational Holiness, Wm. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI p. 113).

When we are tempted as people, we are tempted at the points of our strength, not at the point of our weakness. To understand the power of temptation is to have some power over temptation. Too often we think of temptation as being tricked by a character in a red suit, pointed tail, and a trident. Temptation, however, is much more subtle than that. Thus our Lenten prayer for all of us is that we do not take lightly the power to do the wrong for what we recognize is the right reason. Luke reminds us of this truth.
Come, Worship
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Painting: The Temptation of Christ By the Devil by FĂ©lix Joseph Barrias, 1860

Feb 5, 2016

We Get Jesus with our Christianity

Next Wednesday, all day long, we begin our Lenten journey toward Holy Week and Easter. So you know one thing for sure—when you come to have ashes imposed during one of our services then know that you get God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit with the deal. Lent is when we prepare for the resurrection of Christ and we have this opportunity to make a good start.

Motivational speaker Bill Gove tells a story about Harry, who ran a small appliance store in Phoenix, Arizona. Harry was used to young couples who were price-shopping. They would ask detailed questions about features, prices, and model numbers, and one of them always took notes. Harry knew that when they left the store they would head for a discount appliance dealer to make comparisons. Still, Harry would patiently answer all their questions, even though it took more than a half hour at times.

When the couple announced that they were going to look around at some other places, Harry had a standard spiel to deliver. “I know that you’re looking for the best deal you can find,” he would say. “I understand that, because I do the same thing myself. I know you’ll probably go down to Discount Dan’s to compare prices. I know I would. But after you’ve done that, I want you to think of one thing. When you buy from Discount Dan’s, you get an appliance—a good one, I know, because he sells the same appliances we do. But when you buy here, you get one thing you don’t get at Dan’s. You get me. I come with the deal. I stand behind what I sell. I want you to be happy with what you buy. I’ve been here 30 years. I learned the business from my Dad, and I hope to be able to give the business over to my daughter and son-in-law in a few years. So you know one thing for sure—when you buy an appliance from me, you get me with the deal. That means I’ll do everything I can to be sure you never regret doing business with me. That’s a guarantee.”

Harry would then wish the couple well and give them a quart of ice cream in appreciation of their stopping at his store.  This is how Bill Gove finishes the story: “Now,” he says, “how far do you think that couple is going to get, with Harry’s speech ringing in their ears and a quart of ice cream on their hands in Phoenix, when it’s 110 degrees in the shade?” (Bits and Pieces, November 1991)

God in Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is what we get when we confess our live before the triune God. Best guarantee there is!

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Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

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