Bread Of Comfort / 2nd Congregational Church of Warren /


2nd Congregational Church, Warren

August 2nd, 2015

John 6:24-35

“The Bread of Comfort”

In his book entitled God’s Psychiatry, Charles Allen tells this story:

As World War II was drawing to a close, the Allied armies gathered up many hungry orphans. They were placed in camps where they were well-fed. Despite excellent care, they slept poorly. They seemed nervous and afraid. Finally, a psychologist came up with the solution. Each child was given a piece of bread to hold after he was put to bed. This particular piece of bread was just to be held—not eaten. The piece of bread produced wonderful results. The children went to bed knowing instinctively they would have food to eat the next day. That guarantee gave the children a restful and contented sleep.

Before I get to far into my talk this morning, I want to thank you and Pastor Andy for inviting back to be with you, our last time together was a great blessing to me. I hope and pray that our time together over the next three weeks are a blessing to you and that we are all drawn closer to the Savior

Over the next few minutes were are going to spend time together unpacking and walking thru this very famous passage of Scripture. For those who know or have studied the Gospel of John, this is the very first “I AM” statement of Jesus. In other places Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd”, “I am the Door”, “I am the way”, “I am the truth”, etc. etc.

For those who know the Jesus story, you will remember that Jesus didn’t spend too much time in capital of Jerusalem with those who were politically and religiously connected, instead he spent most of his ministry about one hundred and sixty kilometers north in the city of Capernaum, which was this hot bed of cross-culture that laid on the west side of the Sea of Galilee.

The greater context of this morning’s gospel reading is the famous story of Jesus feeding thousands of people along the Sea of Galilee with just five loaves of bread and two fish.

Jesus feeds the people, he and his disciples then travel over the Sea of Galilee to get away from the crowds to get some rest, on the way across the Sea of Galilee there is a great storm, Jesus calms the storm with his word, the day ends and this is where our gospel story picks up this morning.

The crowds of people who experienced the miracle of the loaves and fish want to see Jesus again, so they start to search for him. They find him in Capernaum and they ask him this question, which on the surface seems pretty normal, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

This seems like a pretty reasonable question.

But Jesus looked through the surface and saw that the question was not coming from a place of correct motivation, and in one of the rare times where Jesus gives a rebuke to the crowd, he looks at them and says this, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” This crowd of people were not really interested in Jesus, his messages or even the miracles that he performed, they were looking for some sort of gratification, they wanted some thing that was a temporal benefit, in this case they wanted a free meal. They had eaten to their fill for free the day before and they wanted to do it again today.

They wanted Jesus to give them some sort of instant or immediate gratification.

Have you ever prayed this prayer…”God give me patience, now!” or “God, I need this item right now!” Kirk Wilkinson, in his article, “The Curse of Instant Gratification” writes this; “We live in an ‘instant-on’ and ‘always connected’ world where information and entertainment is available at the touch of a finger. You can watch tv or a movie from your smart phone; you can take a library of books with you where ever you go on your tablet and you can now communication with folks all over the globe regardless of where you are through apps on your electronic devices. This type of instant gratification has lead us to society that runs on quick fixes.” In the world of fast food, social media, texting, high speed communication and information traveling at the speed of the internet, the idea of saying “no” to instant or immediate gratification is becoming harder and harder.

As people living in Twenty First Century America we are living in a society where we don’t like the word “no” or the words “not now, I can or will wait for later”. Listen to this blurb from a article from Bucknell University called “Instant gratification and its dark side”:

“The unmistakable message people receive in both the workplace and the marketplace is that faster is better. Indeed, companies are counting on people’s impatience to sell their services. Indeed, companies are counting on people’s impatience to sell their services. Internet service providers promise ever-faster connections — for a hefty price, of course. Verizon is aggressively promoting its Quantum service, which comes in several different speeds the company claims “will take your breath away.” Verizon’s “rocket fuel” speed — about $210 a month — promises to download a high-definition movie in 2.2 minutes or upload 200 photos in 31 seconds. Still too slow? There’s also “supersonic” speed — about $300 a month — that will finish the video download in 1.4 minutes and the photo upload in 20 seconds.

Similarly, a growing number of retailers are trying to tempt consumers with costly same-day delivery options. Amazon offers same-day delivery in some cities, which means packages ordered early in the day will arrive by 8 p.m. If that still seems like eons, then just wait a few years. Its R&D team is developing Prime Air unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, to get packages in customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less.

“One day,” Amazon boasts on its website, “Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.” Of course, that begs the question: Why wait even half an hour for a drone delivery when a customer can download an e-book, music album or movie in a few seconds or minutes with Verizon’s supersonic internet service?

Of course, in our modern society the idea of waiting has long been considered an annoying waste of time, and I am afraid that our technology has only intensified the feeling.

“The promise of technology was that it would make us masters of time,” says Professor of English Harold Schweizer. “It has, ironically, made us into time’s slaves.”

The professor is a passionate advocate of the value of waiting and even wrote a book titled On Waiting. To Schweizer, waiting gives people time for thinking, inspiration and regeneration.

Getting back to our gospel story this morning;

Jesus calls these instant or immediate gratifications “food that spoils”.

With out taking too much time, I want to focus some attention on some of these “food that spoils” that we see in our lives;

The first, and I hate to jump into this one first, but I find it necessary, is money. How many of us compromise for money? How many people compromise their belief systems, their marriages, their relationships, their ethics just for more money.

Jesus made it very clear to us when he said “A person cannot serve God and money. Either he will love one and hate the other, or hate the one and love the other.”

In my ten years of pastoral ministry, I cannot tell you the number of times I sat with some one on their death bed and listened to them as they regretted the amount of time and effort they spent trying to obtain more money, at the experience of those who they loved.

My brothers and my sisters, when it comes to the nature of money, let me please remind you that money, no matter the amount, will ever satisfy your soul.

Another “food that spoils” that we encounter are possessions. Now I am not saying we can’t have things, but Jesus made it pretty clear when he said “What good is it if we gain the whole world, but lose our soul?”

How quickly are we to run to the credit card for that item that we need now?

Many of us in the Christian Church have fallen into the trap of the need of keeping up with the Jones’. We want and will have the newest, best, fastest, no matter how much debt it puts us into or how many years it will put us behind the eight ball.

How many of us would like to do things like go on missions trips, or spend more time helping at the church, but we simply cannot because of how much debt we have?

A final “food that spoils” that I would like to give a bit of attention to our need to be right. How much time is spent, how much money is spent, how many hours are spent, how much energy is spent, on the need to be right. One doesn’t have to spend too much time on social media to see how much effort folks put into showing others that they have the correct political view, correct theological view, correct economic view, correct sports views.

Saint Paul reminds us that the mature believer esteems others above themselves.

So if we aren’t to go after the food that spoils, what are we to invest in? Jesus says there is “food that endures to eternal life”.

What is that food? Jesus says it is having faith in God, and having in such a way that it becomes like living bread or life giving food.

Let me ask you a question, is having faith in God an easy task? It is not is it? Some times it is a struggle. Some times it is hard. Some times is drains our emotions. Some times we question our sanity when it comes to having faith in God. Being a person of faith is not easy, there is an element of discipline to it. There is an element of effort and sacrifice. But in the end, is it worth? It sure is. Jesus says that it is much more important to have faith, then it is to have those things which are temporary, it is more important to have those things which bring eternal life than those things which spoil.

He said that the bread that fills our souls is much better than that bread that fills our stomachs.

My prayer and hope this morning is that in the middle of this society of consumerism and debt, that we find our soul’s satisfaction in our faith in God.

Amen.

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A Kingdom Approach To Abortion


I do not know if there is a more hot button topic along the American political landscape than the issue of abortion. There are groups and organizations that fund-raise tens of millions of dollars a year to make sure their particular view on the subject is heard. There are protests, sign holders, marches, prayers, petitions, rallies and often times this is a issue that can be the sole reason why a person may vote for a particular candidate.

As a Christian I have struggled with this issue.
As a Christian leader I have struggled with this issue.
As a human being I have struggled with this issue.

For near sixteen years I have been looking for ways I might be able to give verbiage for how I believe and feel. I have never felt totally comfortable with the answers that those on the religious right have given about the topic, though over the years I have mostly identified with their views.

Recently I picked up the book “The Myth Of A Christian Nation: How The Quest For Political Power Is Destroying The Church” by Greg Boyd and within its pages he expressed his views on the issue of abortion in the way that I have been trying to do for over a decade.

This is from Chapter 7

“A Kingdom Approach To Abortion”

“To illustrate, consider the highly charged and divisive issue of abortion. Whether one should vote pro-life or pro-choice is clearly an important question for all citizens to consider. Because all kingdom-of-the-world issues come in complex political packages, numerous complex considerations will affect how one votes on this issue. There are, of course, many difficult metaphysical and ethical questions to consider. When does the fetus become a full person? When does it acquire a soul and take on the image of God?

Your answer to these questions will affect, and be affected by, your views on a host of other ethical questions. For example, do you believe that the morning-after pill is as bad as partial-birth abortions? Would your ideal society punish women who use the morning-after pill as severely as people who murder infants or adults? How should we weigh the rights of the unborn at various stages of development against the rights of the woman whose body it now inhabits? And to what extent do you believe government should legislate the answer to these questions as opposed to leaving the answer up to the woman and others involved in the pregnancy?

Related to these questions are a host of other complex considerations that will affect how you vote. For example, how does the party or candidate that most closely reflects your view on abortion fare on other issues you deem important: concern for the poor, economics, foreign affairs, war, the environment, and so on? How much weight do you put on each of these convictions? Also, what do you deem attainable at the present time in our culture? Is it more efficient to work to outlaw abortion outright, or is it better to minimize abortion by, say, voting for the candidate and party you think will best help the poor, since there is a demonstrable link between the rate of poverty and the rate of abortion in the U.S.? Even more fundamentally, do you think it more efficient to hold an uncompromising stance on this issue, or is it better for the unborn, and for society as a whole, for you to work with people who have different beliefs than yours to overcome our present polarization and find a middle ground? What do you believe is the best way to create a culture in which abortions are as unnecessary and rare as possible? How one answers all these difficult and important questions affects how they vote.

But kingdom people need to understand that none of these questions are distinctly kingdom questions.

The polarized way the issue is framed in contemporary politics is largely a function of various groups trying to gain power over each other for what they believe to be the good of the whole, and while we as Americans have to consider these questions before we can give an informed opinion (a vote) when asked, there’s no reason we—as kingdom-of-God participants—should allow this political way of framing the issue to define our approach.

Jesus never allowed himself to be defined by the political conflicts of his day, and neither should we. The distinctly kingdom question is not, How should we vote? The distinctly kingdom question is, How should we live?

How can we individually and collectively come under women struggling with unwanted pregnancies and come under the unborn babies who are unwanted? How can we who are worse sinners than any woman with an unwanted pregnancy—and thus have no right to stand over them in judgment—sacrifice our time, energy, and resources to ascribe unsurpassable worth to them and their unborn children? How can we act in such a way that we communicate our agreement with Jesus that these women and their unborn children are worth dying for? How can we individually and collectively sacrifice for and serve women and their unwanted children so that it becomes feasible for the mother to go to full term? How can we individually and collectively bleed for pregnant women and for unborn babies in a way that maximizes life and minimizes violence? We answer these distinctly kingdom questions not with our votes but with our lives. And, note, we don’t need to answer any of the world’s difficult political and metaphysical questions to do it. The unique kingdom approach to abortion isn’t dependent on convincing ourselves and others that we have “God’s knowledge” about highly ambiguous questions. It’s based on our call to love as Jesus loved. There’s a scared woman; there’s a growing life inside her, which, however it got there and whatever speculations one holds about its metaphysical status, is a miraculous creation of God. And the only relevant question kingdom people need to answer is, Are we willing to bleed for both? Voting and picketing costs us little. The kingdom approach costs us much. But it is precisely the costliness of the kingdom approach—which looks like Jesus dying on Calvary for those who crucified him—that makes it a unique kingdom approach. And because it manifests the beauty of Jesus, it glorifies God and has a power to change the world in a way that kingdom-of-the-world strategies never could.”

To me Greg Boyd nails it on the head.

The ultimate question isn’t how we vote, but how we live.

Are we willing to lay down our lives and love unconditionally the mother, the life that is growing inside her and those who might express a different belief or thought than we do when it comes to abortion?

Are we willing to put political rightness to the side so that beauty of Jesus can be manifest?

Please buy Greg Boyd’s book, it is well worth the $10 on Amazon.com.

Peace & Grace

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Black Friday & The Christian Consumer


It seems like advertisements for Black Friday started very early this year.

Promises of large sales and great deals starting on the night of Thanksgiving or on 12:01 AM on Black Friday have taken over the airways, tv channels and Pandora and iTunes radio.

Companies and corporations have poured untold billions into advertising, so that in return folks buy their products this holiday season.

No doubt in the next few hours we will read about folks standing outside of stores for hours on end, we will read about people being injured or killed because of a stampede at a Big Box store, we will see videos of people fist fighting over the last in stock hot ticket item of the year.

Buy.

More.

Things.

Isn’t that the corporate message of this season?

Go into debt, spend what you don’t have, buy, buy, buy!

In light of the teachings of Jesus, what is a Christian consumer to do?

How should a Christian respond to the consumer drive of Black Friday?

In a portion of Jesus’ most famous sermon he said this:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

And

“You cannot serve both God and money”

Jesus gave his followers a clear warning to avoid consumerism and greed.

People who follow him are to avoid the trappings of earthly treasures and instead are called to focus upon heavenly efforts and service.

During this holiday season let us put people above corporate profits, let us place heavenly efforts above hot ticket items and in the name of God let us serve those around us.

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Shame & Storytelling


Every human being has a story.

Every mom and dad, every grandmother and grandfather, every son and daughter, every person in your place of work, every person you bump into on the street and every person who sits beside you at your place of worship has a story.

Our stories are made up of our experiences, those events we have gone through, our struggles, our celebrations, our achievements and our secrets.

Our secrets.

Those things we did, or happened to us, that we would rather not make public or talk about.

Or think about for that matter.

Those experiences which are attached to shame.

Shameful and shame-filled events.

Growing up in a traditional northern New England home I learned at a young age that it was best not to talk about family secrets or give recognition to events that might bring shame. Better to ignore, better to keep silent, better to keep secrets and to sweep the ugly things under the rug.

I am not placing any blame on my parents as they are both amazing parents and pretty special human beings; but there is just something in the culture that I live in that pushes people away from telling their “whole” story.

That is what shame does, it keeps us from telling our story. It forces us not to be open and authentic with one another with our stories.

In my last blog “Shame & The Christian Church” I showed how shame is a thief and a cancer, how it robs from us and can cripple us.

Telling your “whole” story is a good tool in the battle against shame.

James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, wrote this in his letter to the early Christian community,

“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for one another so that you can live together whole and healed.” *

Within the context of telling our story, that verse could be re-wrote to say this,

“Make this your common practice: Tell your whole story to each other and pray for one another so that you can live together whole and healed.”

James,under the influence of God, reminded the early Jesus followers, and reminds us today, that as we tell our stories to others and as we engage in divine communication (prayer), it opens the door for wholeness and healing.

Telling your story to someone will not fix all your problems and it may not bring total wholeness to your life, but it will open the door.

It will plant seeds of wholeness, healing and love where once trees of shame grew.

Within the next seven days purposely and intentionally tell your whole story to someone.

It will take courage, and all sorts of fears will try to get you not to do it, but believe me, it will be worth it.

Tell your whole story to a clergy person, to a family member, a friend, a loved one, or you might even have the courage to pull a Forrest Gump, and tell your story to a complete stranger sitting on a park bench while you eat your way through a box of chocolates.

You are not alone.

You are unconditionally, radically and scandalously loved.

And your story is worth telling.

I leave you with this quote from noted author and speaker Dr. Brene Brown,

“You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

*James 5:16 MSG

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Shame & The Christian Church


Shame & The Christian Church


It has been one year and change since I  have blogged and boy has my life changed. I am no longer in relationships that I was once in. I am no longer in the career that I had spent the last ten years in. I am now living in a different community, I own less, and I find myself expressing my faith in a different way.

Despite some very hard challenges, I find myself at age thirty four probably living authentically for the very first time in my life.

For years I have allowed all different types of pressures to keep me from being “real”, from being the person who I am, and who the Creator created me to be.

As I allow for authenticity in my life, I realize that there are things in my life, in my soul, in my heart, in the inner parts of my being that are very painful, that have left some deep scars and that I would rather leave unexposed.

Let me pause and ask you (dear reader) a question, “Do you have something in your life that causes you shame? Do you have a story, an experience, a secret that if posted on Facebook or Twitter would drive you into a shame spiral and make you not want to leave your house or answer your phone for a while?”

Of course I know the answer, the answer of course is “Yes, I do”.

We all do.

Over the years I have listened to some folks stories and at the end I can only ask the question, “How are you functioning?”

I have been a Christian for twenty three years, I have been involved in some sort of Christian ministry for seventeen and I have served as a church minister for over a decade and if there is an area where as a faith community we have failed I believe it is in this area of shame.

There is something I have to just make transparent here;

Shame has been used as a tool.

Shame has been used as a tool on probably more than one person reading this in the context of a Christian Church or from the mouth of a misguided preacher in some sort of attempt of spiritual abuse or manipulation.

I am sorry if you can relate to shame being used in a church context.

Author, scholar and noted public speaker Dr. Brene Brown has said this on the subject of shame, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives; secrecy, silence and judgement.”

Secrecy.

Silence.

Judgement.

In my over twenty years in the Christian Church I have found these three things to be growing in abundance. As I take an objective view of my personal life I see these things growing or taking root at during different times and seasons.

“Let’s not talk about that…” Secrecy.

“Don’t talk about that…” Silence.

“Because you talked about that, I am now viewing you differently…” Judgement.

It is so much easier to not be authentic, it is so much easier not to deal with the things that hurt, and it is certainly much easier not to talk.

The problem with shame is that shame is a cancer.

If not dealt with, it will grow, and grow, and destroy more of your heart, and take control of your mind and soul, until it cripples you completely.

Shame is a thief.

And where the Christian Church has failed in its efforts, the Savior of the Christian Church has not.

Many years ago the Savior found himself dealing with a person who probably had some shame issues, and after shielding her from the religious leaders of the day, Jesus looked at her and said “Neither do I condemn you…”

Jesus didn’t tell her, “Why don’t you keep your hurts and pains a secret”.

Jesus didn’t tell her, “It’s probably better if you don’t talk about your experience”.

Jesus didn’t pick up a stone to throw at her in judgement.

Shame will convince you that because you are flawed, you are no longer acceptable. You are no longer acceptable to have healthy relationships. You are no longer acceptable to thrive within a faith community, and you are certainly not acceptable to God.

But the person who exists as grace personified says “even though you are flawed, you are cherished”.

There is a thought that exists that says “Because you have hidden shame, you are a second rate person of faith. If only you had true faith, than your shame issues would go away.”

This idea is rooted in hell.

The true thought is “You have hidden shame, you are like every other person sitting around you and faith tells us that although we deal with shame, we are cherished, God is with us and there is a process of healing that is available to us”.

In all of our efforts of trying to hide our shame, the voice of the Savior is quietly still saying to us “Neither do I condemn you…”

Moving forward in my journey I hope to never use the tool of shame again, and my prayer and hope for those around me in my community of faith, especially its leaders, is that they too would retire shame for good.

Even after following the teachings of Jesus for two thousand years, we still have much to learn.

I am sorry you went through what you did, I really am.

Please know that you are not alone and that you are loved, unconditionally and radically.

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Idols


“David Powlison writes:

… that most basic question which God poses to each human heart: “Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight? Questions . . . bring some of people’s idol systems to the surface. ‘To who or what do you look for life-sustaining stability, security and acceptance? . . . What do you really want and expect [out of life]? What would [really] make you happy? What would make you an acceptable person? Where do you look for power and success?’ These questions or similar ones tease out whether we serve God or idols, whether we look for salvation from Christ or from false saviors.”

Do we really have faith in God or do we place our hope in our idols?

Are we loyal to anything more than Jesus?

Is our faith reflected in our charity?

MTM

 

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John Calvin on evangelism


“It ought to be the great object of our daily wishes, that God would collect churches for Himself from all the countries of the earth, that He would enlarge their numbers, enrich them with gifts and establish a legitimate order among them.”     –   John Calvin

 

One of the most common charges raised against those who practice Calvinism or Reformed Theology is that it is not conducive to fueling a long term passion for missions and evangelism. Views of John Calvin’s attitudes towards outreach have ranged from hearty on the positive side to opposition on the negative side. Some go so far as to say that he is the father of the missionary movement.

To get Calvin’s views on evangelism correct, we must to look to and understand what Calvin wrote on the subject. Most of his views can found in Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Here is a list of six reasons for evangelism according to John Calvin;

1) God commands us to do so.

“We should remember that the gospel is preached not only by the command of Christ but by His urging and leading.”

2) We want to glorify God.

“True Christians yearn to extend God’s truth every where so that God may be more glorified.”

3) We want to please God.

“It is a sacrifice well pleasing to God to advance the spread of the Gospel.”

4) We have a duty to God.

“It is very just that we should labor to further the progress of gospel.”

5) We have a duty to fellow sinners.

“Our compassion should be intensified by knowing that God cannot be sincerely called upon by others than those to whom, through the preaching of the gospel, His kindness has been known.”

6) We are grateful to God.

“We owe it to God to strive for the salvation of others.”

May the Lord turn our hearts towards the spreading of the Gospel

+MTM

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