Why do bad things happen to Good People? – The Book of Job

I will admit, I am a big Job fan.  Ever since I led a 7th & 8th grade Youth Group and we performed a play on the book of Job, I became a fan.  It is a morbid, sobering book in the Old Testament that seems to tell a tale of a uncaring God delivering heaps of problems on a faithful, prosperous man, Job.  On October 7th Rev. Sam Wilde delivered an interesting look at the first section of Job and included a very interesting perspective on Job’s wife.  On October 14th Pastor Rick started us into an exploration of the poetry in the book, a tale woven like a fine, complex fabric filled with the colors of the various characters involved in Job’s story.  I have posted both on the pastor’s page so you can read each sermon.  Pastor’s Page

This coming Sunday, October 21st we will conclude our exploration of Job as we try to answer the ages long question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I hope you will join us Sunday, the service starts at 10am.

Pastor Rick

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respond, respond, RESPOND!

A lesson from James 1: 17 – 27

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Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger….. it seems that this is the opposite right now of so much of what happens in the world today. Every day I get up and pray, make some coffee, then check the headlines and see the results of our ‘slow or never listen,’ react quickly, get angry world. It’s enough to send me back to bed.

It’s odd don’t you think that James writing just after his brother Jesus’ death would see the same problems in that ancient world? I mean, we are talking about 2,000 years ago in a civilization that didn’t have electricity, cars, big business, internet, instagram, or twitter. You sent a letter by handing it to someone who was headed in the general direction you wanted the letter to go and you may never even know if it got there. Nothing was all that quick back then but here is James telling everyone in the new church, ‘slow down and think about it!’

James, writing so long ago, provides us with a form of continuity and connection to our ancient world and through it to God. He starts his letter with a reminder, a bit of a humbling reminder, everything we are, have, see, experience, our entirety is a gift from God. I love Peterson’s interpretation of Jame’s statement of these gifts, “The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” His interpretation is consistent with most of the others when he calls God, ‘the Father of light.’ Unlike Star Wars, God has no dark side, God is the light of the universe and James is pointing out, we carry that light.

It is here that James, who we will later hear more about in the coming weeks, reflects on what we must do with that light we have been given, how do we remain faithful to the gift from God. His first opening salvo is this statement about listening and speaking about controlling our outbursts and especially our anger. As we will find out, to James, faith cannot be passive. Someone who simply professes “I am faithful’ has missed the point. Even in the simplest, seemingly passive part of our lives, conversation, we must take action. Yes, for James, faith without action is no faith at all.

His writings are really spirited and full of instructions… listen again to this part about faithful action.. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. ( and the Word is capitalized here) Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”

Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger

James wants us to not just hear and respond. I think we have enough of that nonsense in our divisively charged political climate. We have enough of people forgetting the light and going instead with gut level, angry responses. No, James really wants us to not just hear something, and he is talking about more than conversation here isn’t he? James has assumed that we have received the Word. That’s the Word with a capital “W” as in Word of God, in other words, the gospel. Do we come here today, listen to the Word and then like someone who looked in the mirror and two minutes later forget, or do we integrate it into our actions, do we incorporate our faith fully into our lives.

We are seemingly pressured in this world to respond, respond, respond. Everything. I am amazed that my own children expect me to stop whatever I am doing when they send me a text and respond. I have to remind them that sometimes I cannot, like right now, it would be rude to stop my sermon and respond.. “OK, I will pick up the dry cleaning” or “yes, that is a lovely burrito, looks yummy” and then resume my sermon.

James wants our first faithful action to be to slow down from this response driven insane world and integrate our faith into our lives. Quick to listen – really, hear what is being said, texted, instagramed, Facebook, tweeted…. where ever, listening is an active effort. It means reflect, value, research if needed, and for James, reflect on what you heard against the Gospel, against the values from Jesus’ teachings.

Then ‘Slow to speak’ – do you really need to re-tweet that snide comment? Do you really need to respond to that angry statement from someone else? Do you really need to share gossip? Statements about someone else that may hurt them? How does what was said reflect in your mirror against the faithful person you want to be? How does what that person said, did, acted, tweeted stand up against the gift of light God put in you in this world?

Slow to anger – Oh, I wish some of the people in leadership in this country would let their own light shine instead of reacting with anger. I tell you when I get up and read the headlines and see the rhetoric I wonder where God’s light has gone. The anger, the reactionary messages, the failure to listen to each other and most of all the failure to listen to God’s word on how to treat each other, well, I do want to run for the covers.

It’s funny that James must have seen all this too. This battle between who we see in that mirror and who we actually are. James writes about living our faith. He pushes us to be faithful not just in word but really in action and he starts with something so common, listening to one another. He starts there because if we cannot do that, then we need to go back to bed and pull the covers over our heads and dwell in the darkness. He wants us to remember that God brings the light to the world through us.

Be that light. Be quick to listen….. reflect on what you are hearing, filter it through your faith and the gifts you have been given. Before you speak, slow down. Is what you are about to say shining God’s light or throwing away His gift? Slow to anger. When you listen, think, ponder, reflect on the Gospel and then decide if it reflects God’ light that you should become angry. I think you will find yourself with less anger in your life.

2,000 years ago people were just like you and me. They had struggles, they didn’t listen, they forgot the gifts from God. They forgot their faith, they forgot Jesus telling us about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Today, we are finding ever more ways to do the same, even faster. Slow down. Make time for your faith. Make time to listen, you just might finally start hearing the Word of God and end up changing what you see in the mirror each day.

Amen

 

romans122

That’s a wonderful passage don’t you think? I read this passage in Romans and thought – “well, that is what has happened to me!” I am not conformed to this world, just ask my wife Julie. It’s that second part though, ‘be transformed by the renewing of your minds’ that I think most people get stuck in. How on earth do I renew my mind?

By the time you read this it will have been one year since I accepted the request from our District Superintendent to come to West Springfield UMC and “get my feet wet” in ministry. It has certainly been a period of mind and spiritual renewal for me and I hope also for some in the church.

It seems Paul is telling us that by renewing ourselves, we will be transformed. Certainly renewal is critical to getting things to change. What forms can renewal take though when you are trying to ‘discern the will of God in your life? I’d like to recommend a couple of practices that might seem so basic you’ll say “I know that!” Bear with me though because I think knowing and doing are often distant cousins.

1. Prayer – yes, you’d expect that from a pastor wouldn’t you. But ‘doing’ prayer is more complex than you think because it requires you to set aside time. When I say prayer, I don’t mean the dinner time favorite, “God is great, God is good and we thank Him for this food!” Prayer requires, more like demands, privacy, isolation, dedication, and separation. Prayer is hard mostly because we don’t want to set aside time from our busy lives for ourselves, alone, reflecting. Prayer is hard because we might be afraid of what we will feel, think, worry, or even look like if someone sees us praying. To pray is to give yourself over to God, it is surrendering in a way. In Mark 8:35 we hear “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Jesus has told us that we have to surrender our life, even if for a moment in prayer, in order to save it.

Here’s the challenge then. Pick a time in the day, it does not have to be long but you have to commit to it. Set aside that time for yourself to lose yourself in prayer. Turn off your phone or leave it somewhere else, be alone, be quiet, and have a talk with God. Don’t worry about ‘how to pray right,’ God listens to it all. The important part of this is to release yourself from everything else, even for 5 minutes each day to be in prayer. It’s going to be hard at first, your mind will wander off, you’ll think about what to have for dinner, almost anything. To focus simply start telling God what’s been happening in your life, like talking to an old friend. It’s the first step to renewing your mind.

2. Scripture – and yes, the pastor is going to recommend you read something from the bible. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, thought that reading scripture was critical to development of character and to bringing us closer to God. Where do you start in the giant bible? You can follow our lectionary readings which you can find online at https://umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar or you can pick a verse at random. Again, the point here is to set aside time at least weekly to do this. The good news here is that you can do this alone, or with someone else. I’d suggest a short passage. I’d also suggest you follow what is called ‘lectio divina,’ Latin for “Divine Reading.” It has a traditional model of read; meditate, pray; contemplate. If that is a bit challenging, you can try an alternate which is read; contemplate; read the same passage again; contemplate. The goal in all scriptural reading is to challenge yourself to interpret what it means to you in your life. Don’t worry about reading the ‘right’ version of the bible by the way. Instead read the best version for you. I like both the Good News and The Message versions for readability. The important part is to actually do oa reading, at least once a week.

3. Challenge yourself – renewal is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone. I know when I started preaching I thought ‘who am I to discuss faith with someone? I’m a computer guy!’ It was quite literally a leap of faith. So what about you? What have you been fearful of trying? At West Springfield there are several existing and new possibilities. The United Methodist Women come together in Christian Fellowship, doing projects to help the church, the community, and the world. We are restarting our Sunday school program this Fall. How about joining to assist in a classroom (don’t worry, we will provide a ton of guidance and materials!). How about joining the new study group starting this October? Ready to roll up you sleeves? Join in on the Big E meal service during September.

Cannot find something that fits? Come and talk to me, we will explore somethings that might work for you. Who knows, maybe you will create something new! The point is to try and step outside of that safe and cozy place and reach for something that will challenge your spirit.

So there it is three things you can try to transform yourself. Start with one and see if Paul was right. Go ahead, get your feet wet too, the water’s fine!

Blessings

Pastor Rick

Is your heart at peace or at war?

Is your heart at war or peace this Easter?AdobeStock_67863635-1024x684

“Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”  Matthew 26:21

It is this small bit of the story for Holy week that brings me closer to God. Why? Haven’t I been betrayed by others? How do I feel about them now? More importantly, haven’t I too betrayed others? Haven’t I betrayed myself? How many times have I betrayed my promises to God as well. “I will try harder. I will forgive him/her? I will not lie any more? I will go on a diet?” It is a frightening, almost endless list.

I have just finished reading “The Anatomy of Peace,” a book recommended by our Bishop. It was produced by an organization called “The Arbinger Institute.” (if you wish to borrow my copy, let me know) Within it’s pages is a story of loss and redemption or at least a possible way towards redemption for some fictional characters who are struggling in their lives. The book focuses on a single theme, whether our hearts are at peace or at war.

It made me think about Jesus in the garden. His posture, his words, his calm demeanor as portrayed in the Gospels convey one thing for me, His heart was at peace, even with those who would abandon and betray him. There is a subtle difference here between having a heart at peace and a heart that is resigned to defeat and war.

As a Christian, for that matter as a human, we are often torn between the struggles of our relationships with one another, even our relationship with God. How many times have we turned from God because our hearts were not at peace with God but instead upset and at war. How easy it is to be angry at God when things go wrong in our lives. The same is true for many of our relationships.

This lent, I have been praying, more than ever before in my life. I have found that a consistent time of the day (for me it is early morning, I am an early riser) has helped me remember to pray and to stay in prayer just a bit longer. What I have found from this is that my heart truly does stop waging the hundreds of ‘wars’ that move around inside my head and settles down, it rests at peace. All those struggles stop for a moment, suspended, and in the words of the authors of the book “I step outside of my box” for just a while and see the world around me no longer filled with objects but with beauty and peace.

That’s part of the point of the book. We as humans cannot see each other until we see each other as humans, as people instead of labels, objects if you will. In today’s politicized world, stepping outside of the box is not easy, for me, prayer has made it possible.

I then think of Jesus in the garden. Why was he there? In Matthew 26 it says “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” I think he was there to bring his heart to peace. He knew His end was near, He even knew he would be betrayed. I think he needed to make sure he saw His disciples the way they really were, as people complete with faults and struggles of their own ( in church speak it would be ‘filled with sin’). Part of me thinks he wanted to see Judas and Peter as people one last time before what was inevitable would happen. So, he prayed.

I understand that the book is designed to appeal to a broad audience and so it must remain outside of faith. It is a shame in a way because one of the suggestions for getting out of our own boxes could have been ‘to spend time in prayer,’ ‘to pray as Jesus must have in that garden.’ God was there, God is here as well, whether it is in the early hours of your busy days as I do, or some other time, I encourage you to take a moment to bring your heart to peace instead of war, to sit, lie, stand, kneel, in prayer this Holy week, for certainly a heart at peace can change the world.

 

Pastor Rick

 

 

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