Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Madness of Mercy - Deuteronomy 4

Mad City Sales on the Beltline in Madison, Wisconsin wants to be your car dealer!  I’m crazy Bob, and he’s crazy Tom, and we’ve got some crazy good deals for you!  We’ve given so many people such spectacular deals on outstanding preowned vehicles and taken in so many thoroughly excellent trades, now we’ve got a crazy number of used cars available at crazy good prices.  This is an absolutely spooky good time to buy a car at Mad City Sales – home of crazy good deals!  Come on down to Mad City Sales today, right now, this minute, and get rid of that old junker you’ve been just dying to unload.  Mad City Sales – where the deals are just crazy!

          Don’t you just love commercials like that?  Aren’t we all just sitting around our radios anxiously waiting for the opportunity to buy a used car from a couple of crazy guys?  Because everybody knows crazy people offer the very best overall used car buying experience, right?!

          Ludicrous!  Yet I think we try to sell God and his lavish, loving grace and mercy the same superficial way.  As I watch what is going on in churches around the world, sometimes I think we advertise Almighty God in much the same high pressure, high emotion, crazy huckster shilling a used car sort of way.  This merciful God is crazy!  All grace and mercy all the time!  All the holy without any of the heartache!  Come on down to the First Baptist Church of Iron River where crazy, constantly weepy and crazy wonderful Pastor Kevin has a spectacular deal for you on the crazy good grace of God!  Can I get an amen, my crazy brothers?  Let’s get crazy!

          While the grace of God is truly amazing in every good sense of the word, while we can and will talk about the staggering madness of God’s mercy this morning, there is a fuller story to be told.  There is a bigger story making the madness of God’s mercy even more amazing…

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Shot From Bucky...

Never underestimate what a small seed with time and perseverance can accomplish!

Ice Lake Quiet


A Baby Update...

I thought you all probably needed a baby update right about now.  She's doing great!  She learned to pull herself up and promptly fell out of her playpen!  Ah, the worry years have now officially begun...

Celebrate The Small Stuff (Mark 4:26-34)

Does my granddaughter Reagan really matter?  While my wife and I think she’s the cutest, smartest little grand-daughter the world has ever seen, are we just biased?  In the overall scheme of the universe, does one little girl matter that much?  I mean, hey, let’s face facts here – the kid can’t even feed herself, change her own pants or carry on a meaningful conversation.  I love her and everything, but I’m not really sure she’s a great investment.

          Right now, she’s just sort of a pretty, little penny, isn’t she?  She’s all shiny, cute and new, but you can’t pay for a Snicker’s bar, cheeseburger, or even a stale bag of circus peanuts with just a penny, am I right?  And let’s talk about pennies…who really cares about pennies?  Hypothetically, we could save up a mountain of them and buy something meaningful, but most of the time, we don’t even bend over to pick one up when we see it laying on the sidewalk.  Who cares about pennies?  Pennies are just something we now leave in the penny cup at the gas station or grocery store just to keep them from jangling noisily in our pockets or purses.

          But is that how God thinks of shiny pennies and tiny people?  It isn’t, is it?  What if I told you the Kingdom of God was just a rusty, tiny little penny on the sidewalk?  What if I proved that the Bible has an entirely different perspective on what is big and what is small?  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rebellion In The Vineyard (Matthew 21:23-46)

When my Tesia was a very little girl with us in Panama, we used to spend regular Friday and Saturday nights playing cards and games at the home of our Senior Pastor and his wife, Bill and Marla Johnson, very good friends of ours.  We would often play, eat, laugh and talk until the very wee hours of the morning.  We would put the kids in pajamas early in the evening and, one by one, all the children would just drop where they were playing and fall asleep until the grownups finally got tired, collected our sleepy urchins from floors and couches and went on home.  One weekend evening, as we were driving over to the Johnsons house yet again, my little Tesia piped up loudly from the back seat and said, “Daddy, why are we always going over to the pastor’s house?  All you guys do is just talk and talk and talk and talk!”  I chuckled, gave her a quick answer and explanation and then offered her a solution.  I told Tesia that if, at any point in the evening, she thought daddy was talking too much, she could come over to my side, look me right in the face and say, “Daddy, yap, yap, yap!”   Tesia ran off to play and I forgot all about our little talk.  So you can imagine my laughter and surprise when, several hours later, my cute, cuddly little girl in her footie pajamas walked right over to Pastor Bill in the middle of a really good story, looked him straight in the eye, shook her head and said, “Yap, yap, yap!”

          I love telling that story because it makes me laugh.  And laughing in church is almost always good!  But I also love it because I am utterly and completely convinced that is exactly how Almighty God regularly feels about us.  I am truly convinced our LORD regularly stands among us, shakes his head and mutters, “Yap, yap, yap!  All you people do is talk, talk, talk!”

          The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus’ often frustrating conversations with yap, yap, yapping religious people.  In Matthew 21, the LORD had just triumphantly entered Jerusalem to much fanfare and controversial adulation, only to stomp into the temple and drive out business people and greedy money changers.  And then he healed a bunch of outcasts and offended the yapping religious classes by accepting their praises.  The next morning, reentering the holy city hungry, he cursed a fruitless fig tree and it immediately withered.  When the disciples marveled, Jesus used the moment as a teaching opportunity to discuss the great power of faith.  But then Jesus reentered the temple, headquarters of the yap, yap, yapping religious people…

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Restore Us Again (Psalm 85)

We’re back together again, aren’t we?  Even though I prepared this sermon almost three weeks ago, before I left on vacation, I knew I would be coming back here this morning grateful to be back here.  I knew weeks ago that this morning would be a wonderful time of restoration for us.  I knew it would be good to come again into the house of the LORD with you folks.

Many centuries ago, another group of people prepared to worship again – a group of ancient Hebrews.  Smart scholars speculate these people were gathering together in a time of drought, great need or poor harvest, but the truth is we don’t know exactly when this people gathered to worship, we don’t know the precise occasion or situation, we don’t know who wrote the song they sang other than the group of guys the song was written for – the Sons of Korah.  But it doesn’t matter that we don’t know all these picky details, because we know exactly the profound restoration they were singing about.  As we open our Bibles to Psalm 85, we surely do know the restoration they were hoping for.  We can absolutely sing the same song they sang.

Let’s listen to the song as we too gather to worship and be restored this morning…

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Our Ely Crew!

Waiting (Psalm 27)

When I was fourteen years old, I anxiously looked forward to the day when my voice would deepen into a nice resonant, Ray Thielbar bass and my face would sprout a nice, thick, evenly growing crop of utterly manly beard hair.  At fifty-three, I’m still waiting for puberty.

          At about sixteen, after giving up on my silly, Vikings middle linebacker pipe dreams and going to Haiti for a mission experience, I began waiting for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to call and let me know that Dr. Graham was hoping I would take over his preaching ministry.  Still waiting on that phone call…

I’ve spent my whole life waiting on one thing or another.  Sometimes the waiting has become so utterly intolerable, I’ve actually given up on things.  This week I may possibly lose my blog domain name because I just can’t stand the thought of waiting one more minute for Google to get its act together!  I’m increasingly convinced the entrance to hell will be a huge waiting room where people will sit tightly packed into a windowless, sweaty, smelly computer cube farm for a few centuries while loudspeakers politely announce, “Thank you for calling Google.  And congratulations for even finding our number!  Your business is very important to us.  Please continue to hold as we utterly ignore your computing crisis.  Have a nice day!”

          I hate waiting!  Hate, hate, hate waiting!  I hated waiting so badly when I left the Army that I made a promise I would never stand in line again.  Good luck with that sort of resolution!  On Saturday, Monica and I will get on a plane to Virginia in order to spend a week with family.  I’m looking forward to every minute of next week except the air travel part.  Ugh!  Wait in line to check in.  Wait through the security line for an utterly dehumanizing, paranoid and comically pointless TSA cavity search.  Get stuffed into a cramped, toxic and stuffy tin can with a hundred or so other miserable, waiting drones and wait for another few hours nervously nibbling mini pretzels and Dixie cups of Pepsi.  Wait for luggage at the other end, hoping against hope we won’t be waiting for a few days while the airline retrieves our wandering, wayward stuff from Topeka or Tennessee!  Quite honestly, I would very happily spend five days in a car over five minutes on an airplane, because I’m not waiting in a car (especially in my Hemi Hyundai).  I’m traveling.  I’m moving.  I’m making progress; living large, snarfing my donuts, curly fries and cheeseburgers.  I’m watching the utterly fascinating and beautiful world pass by my windows and I’m not waiting for anything…unless, you know, I get stuck somewhere and have to wait…

          I hate waiting.  I hate waiting!  So you can imagine my difficulties when I come across verses like the one at the end of our Bible passage this morning.  In Psalm 27:14, like an exclamation point at the end of the chapter, we are told: “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”  Great!  I spend my whole life waiting and now I’ve got to wait on God too?  Great!  Just great!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Soar Like An Eagle (Isaiah 40:21-31)

Our famous scripture passage today talks about soaring like an eagle.  Isn’t that just a gorgeous image?  Who wouldn’t want to do that?  I know the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about people becoming angels or getting wings when we die, I know all the comforting claptrap we hear at funerals about flying and getting wings is unbiblical, but I sure wouldn’t mind if the flying stuff were true.  I would love to fly.  Super Kevin!  That would really take care of my little, commuting to the UP every weekend issue, wouldn’t it?  I would absolutely love to soar like an eagle, wouldn’t you?  Isn’t this just one of the most beautiful images in the book?

          But then there’s reality…

          As most of you know, my current day job is a customer service position with a company selling clothing, safety gear and equipment to people who work mostly outdoors.  And my good company sincerely cares about giving excellent customer service to our customers; I take pride in knowing they genuinely do desire to give astounding customer service.  And good service is made a little easier for us since a great many of our customers are elderly farm families who just aren’t comfortable ordering over the internet; a lot of nice, gentle old farmers and their wives.  Most of our customers are truly wonderful, but a few of them can be really awful; some of them famously awful.  I took a call this week from a woman so terrible, so horrible her name is very well known among my coworkers.  When I discussed her truly awful phone call with others the next day, one coworker joked, “That woman doesn’t need astounding customer service; she needs an exorcist!”  I promised I would forward him all her calls in the future!

          How am I supposed to “soar like an eagle” when I’ve got to spend time with people like that?  Remember the old saying I’m sure many of us are already thinking right now: “It is hard to soar like an eagle when surrounded by so many turkeys!”  I know that’s a very judgmental and arrogant perspective.  For one thing, that joke assumes I’m not regularly a turkey myself!  But life sure does feel that way a lot, doesn’t it?  LORD, I would love nothing more in the world than to soar like an eagle, but right now, I’ve got a lot of turkey junk keeping me grounded.

          And let’s be brutally honest about our turkeys here, shall we?  My petty, customer service turkeys are just the very tip of the iceberg on this soaring issue, aren’t they?  How do you soar like an eagle if you’re trying to live a good Christian life in northern Iraq these days?