Elaine has been fasting from the internet, so I am posting this for her. It is exciting to see what God is doing in her durring her fast. Stay tuned for renewed blogging zeal when she returns. Here is an excerpt from a sermon she gave telling about her decision:

I did not fully realize what was going on, but God guided me to the realization that for the past 3 years I have slowly grown more addicted to the internet. Last fall, I heard about a place for people to go to recover from addiction to the internet and computer. I chuckled at the thought. I knew there could be addiction to anything, but at that time, I didn’t really take it seriously.

It started out as a coping mechanism for depressed feelings. While I was on the internet, I could forget everything I was feeling about myself. It has recently been total isolation of myself from my life and family.

My in-laws expressed concern in September and I didn’t believe that it was so bad. I fought against the idea that I was allowing it to control me. At Christmas, we talked about it again. Chris knew the truth, but was patiently waiting for the Holy Spirit to bring me to place where I could accept it. He stood up for me with his parents because I had been trying to control my internet use while I was there.

Since then, God has been showing me how much I was letting it control me. Finally, about 2 weeks ago, God convinced me to fast the computer for a day. One day without any computer at all. I felt like I had lost my lifeblood. It was a ridiculous feeling. I knew it wasn’t right to feel that way about a silly computer. Computers are good tools, but bad constant companions.

I was missing so much by retreating into my computer. That day of fasting was enlightening. I was so much more aware of my surrounding and my family. I laughed, really laughed like I hadn’t in a very long time. I enjoyed my children. I saw them. I saw that they needed me. They needed a mom not a person attached to a computer called mom who didn’t do much mothering at all.

That night I made the decision to wait until 8 pm the next day to get on the computer and internet. I decided to do that from that point on. I would not use it while the kids were around. That went well for a few days, but still I was trying to control myself and not letting God control me. That first night that I went back to using the internet at night, the kids were not going to sleep when they should have been and I got very angry with them. It was an irrational anger. That made me realize that I was like a drug addict who needed her fix. My drug of choice is the internet I suppose, which is no better. Exodus 20:3 says, “”You shall have no other gods before me.” I was upset that the kids had dared to interrupt my time with my computer. I disgusted myself with that realization!

I have asked forgiveness, but I must give my computer and it use to God. I must let God control me instead. That is a daily battle.

Right now I am again fasting (and I only tell you this because it is so appropriate to the sermon). I feel I need to see what life can be life without an addiction. After that, I will lay down some ground rules for the computer and try to use it mostly for work. I have a battle ahead of me, but I am no longer hiding from God, but with Him. He is now my hiding place. The computer was not doing a good job of helping me cope because it is not meant to do that. God is.

God can free each of us from the sins that control us. None of us are exempt from the temptation to sin. We are sinful beings who can only be clean through God’s forgiveness. Take the time before communion to examine yourself through God’s eyes, he’ll help you see what needs to be forgiven and changed. He’ll even help you change it. If you would like prayer, please let us pray for you, either while communion is being served or later whenever you are ready. I covet your prayers as I wage war on my addiction.

Matthew 20:1-16: The Kingdom of Heaven is like this… Opening: Romans 11:33-36: O the depth of the riches of both the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became his counselor? Or who has first given to him that it might be paid back to him again? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. Fair. It’s a concept that we all learn early in life. I think that is especially true of those with siblings. This week we saw that Foster knows the concept. We replaced Ella’s toddler bed with a twin size. She kept sleeping half on and half off of her bed. I knew it was time. I wanted her to like the new bed, so I let her choose the paint color and what I was going to paint on it. It won’t come as a surprise that it is dark purple with a light purple princess crown with those fake gems glued onto it and pink flowers with gem centers. It turned out very cute. But someone else was a little jealous. He didn’t actually say, “It’s not fair!,” but he pouted and even screamed. At one point he was acting like he was only one or two. He wouldn’t come in the house unless mommy escorted him in. He wouldn’t eat his ice cream unless mommy sat by him. He wants a Lightning McQueen bed. And he wants it now, not when he gets bigger. He wants two days worth of mommy working on his bed and giving him that attention. It felt very wrong to him that Ella got a new bed painted how she liked, and he didn’t. Have you ever thought that it’s not really fair when people get saved days or even hours before they die? I have. Here I’m devoting my entire life to God, living every day out for Him to the best of my ability. Especially since as a pastor I have extra responsibility. And then these people live it up and then get saved just in time. I’ve always been glad for them, but I’ve also thought that they somehow got away with more. I don’t think like that any more. Actually, I think the opposite way. They are the ones missing out and I feel bad for them and want them to get saved whenever as long as they do at some point. But, I used to think that it wasn’t quite fair. That is what the morning workers were saying. This parable is showing us how much we think like that. The workers who started in the morning were saying: “It’s not fair! He worked only an hour and he gets paid for a whole day? If he gets paid that much, then I should get more. I don’t care what I agreed to. If I had known, I wouldn’t have agreed to that amount.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, God’s kingdom is crazy! But, it is good crazy. God is merciful and kind, forgiving and loving. The way that Jesus tells this parable is really great. He got everyone’s attention, reeled them in and then hit them with the twist. He told about an everyday situation. I read a great summarization of the literary qualities of this parable written by Roger Hahn. I made a few slight changes to the word order, but this is almost exactly what he wrote.

The opening verses of the parable reflect the way of life in Galilee at that time exactly. The listeners would have nodded in agreement at each detail of the parable as Jesus told of the hiring of workers and the agreements that the landowner made with each group. Even the fact that the manager had the job of paying the workers was part of the customs of that time. The familiarity of all these details enticed the listeners into the story. Everything was so familiar that they became emotionally involved in and committed to this story. The first “clue” of the surprise ending came when the landowner ordered the manager to pay first those who had come to work last. The custom was to pay those who had worked all day first so they could go home first since they would be the most tired. Thus, this unusual instruction alerts the listener to pay close attention. When those who had “signed on” at the last hour received a full day’s pay, a denarius, a murmur passed through the crowd of Jesus’ listeners. What would the rest be paid if those who worked only one hour received the full reward? Here we see Jesus’ purpose in having the landowner order the manager to pay those first. Everyone will see and will wonder. Everyone will see and will develop their own expectations of what the rest of the workers should be paid. By constructing the parable so that all the workers are paid the same, Jesus pushes every listener into a response. The nature of the response reveals a great deal about the heart of the listener. Will they rejoice with the workers who received a full day’s pay for one hour’s work or will they grumble with the workers who complained?

It is hard to be so involved in the story and not take a side. Jesus wanted them to react so that they could see what their reaction was, even evaluate their reaction and, hopefully, see how God was different and more loving than we can imagine.

Hahn also wrote, that “verses 13-15 explain the viewpoint of the landowner. He had done no wrong. The workers who worked all day received the denarius for which they had agreed. Everybody else received more, in some cases much more, than they had expected. No one received less than he had expected. As owner, the landowner had the right to be generous with some if he wished. Only the most perverse logic would refuse him that right.”

They couldn’t really argue with him because they had agreed whether they knew all the facts or not, they had agreed. Really, the facts were none of their concern. Jesus wanted to show God’s grace and generosity. He also wanted to answer Peter’s question from Matthew 19:27. Matthew 19:27-30:

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

God doesn’t care about the how, when or why of people coming into His kingdom. The details do not matter. They are insignificant to Him. He only cares that they come. He wants to see each of us saved. None of us are better than anyone else. He doesn’t judge based on what we deserve, but based on His grace. Does God think any better of Ella because she got saved a year younger than I did when I was a child? No. He only wants to rejoice that there is one more soul saved. One more soul that he loves SO much that He sent his own son to die for her. It is the same with each of us. A.W. Tozer wrote, “Nobody ever got anything from God on the grounds that he deserved it. Haven fallen, man deserves only punishment and death. So if God answers prayer it’s because God is good. From His goodness, His lovingkindness, His good-natured benevolence, God does it! That’s the source of everything.” A.W. Tozer: The Attributes of God, 47. Another interesting detail of this parable is that the landowner continued to go out and search for workers. Did he really need workers for that last hour? We don’t know what Jesus was thinking. Maybe the landowner would have needed to get the harvest in that night. But maybe he was just concerned that there were other workers out there that needed to work so that they could feed their families that next day. So, he kept going to look. He wanted to bring all the stray workers in and give them work and pay. He wasn’t belittling them when he asked why they were standing idle. He was more surprised that he hadn’t found them sooner. Again, God is just like that. He searches for us and he sends those of us who are saved out to search for Him, as well. Only God know where each of us is both physically and spiritually. Through the Holy Spirit he works through everyone’s hearts to bring them closer to Him. He comes again and again to us, never giving up. Now that is grace and generosity. We are talking about the God of the universe here. He doesn’t have to do all that for us. We are insignificant in the scheme of things, but we are not insignificant to Him. God’s greatness is a wonderful thing to sit and think about. We will never understand it all. God himself tells us that. Isaiah 55:8, 9 says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” Job 11:7: Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? And Isaiah 40:28 says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.” However, regardless of the fact that we will never fully understand God, we must seek to understand all that we can. Another quote from A.W. Tozer:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”

–A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.

In other words, what we think we know of God is as much as we let God be. We must open up our minds to know more so that we can let God be God. For example, I believe that the reason we see fewer miracles and spiritual gifts is because we expect them less. We need to seek God for them. But if we think that God doesn’t do them anymore, then we aren’t seeking and, therefore, aren’t seeing them. Also, what we know of God is how we show God to the world. The better we know Him, the more accurate we are in that showing. If we do not know God well, we will be showing a poor image of God that may cause others to stray from God instead of to Him. God is a great and wonderful I am hoping my dear hubby can find an awesome video of this song to use during the service. “Indescribable” by Laura Story and Jesse Reeves

Indescribable! Uncontainable! You place the stars in the sky, And You know them by name; You are amazing, God! All powerful! Untameable! Awestruck, we fall to our knees As we humbly proclaim: You are amazing, God! Incomparable! Unchangeable! You see the depths of my heart And You love me the same; You are amazing, God!

Sources Used:

This is my sermon for this coming Sunday. Tell me what you think!

Date preached: 5/25/08, Sebewaing

RCL After Epiphany 8A

Text: Matthew 6:24-34

Subject: Why is God telling us not worry?

Complement: Because we have Him to trust in the lean times.

Exegetical Idea: If they serve God, He will provide for the Israelites – They need not worry.

Homiletic Idea: If we serve God, He will provide for us so we needn’t worry either.

Purpose: Hearers will ask God to be their Lord and provide their needs.

Type: Deductive, Expository

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

That poem, by Robert Frost, has always been a favorite of mine. The yellow wood reminds me of northern Michigan where I lived when I was young. And the constant decision of which way to go both on a walk and in my life has been beautifully detailed in this poem by Robert Frost. I always imagine myself gazing at the two roads deciding if I will take the less traveled, maybe even more difficult way or the easier way that most take. I have always likened them to the narrow and wide paths that we choose between in our life. I have chosen the narrow path to God rather than the wide path to wealth, power and destruction.

That is what our passage of scripture speaks of this week, too.

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God AND wealth.” Matthew 6:24 NIV

Here, Jesus breaks down our choices into two paths. There is the path serving God and the path serving wealth. (more…)

So, Chris and I did our Lent sermon for Easter morning. It fit perfect. I don’t think I did as well this time. I was SO nervous. Maybe even more than last time. But, I insisted on a video if I was going to do it again, just for you , my loyal readers! It’s more audio than video because we just have the iSight in Chris’ mac. But, you can see a little bit and hear all of it.  Enjoy!

Well, writing my sermon as if I were writing a blog post seems to have worked well. I was able to more easily change things up and add stuff that I hadn’t typed. Usually I am to scared to stray off my notes or manuscript at all. So, thanks again to Jerrell Jobe for the great suggestion. I wish I had it on video so that I could compare the new way with the old way, but I don’t. I hope everyone’s Sunday was great!

Here is my sermon in blog format. Let’s see how this works. Thanks, Jerrell Jobe for the idea. He just suggested I try writing my sermon as if I were writing a blog post so that it would be easier for me to preach it without reading it and so it will sound more like me. Does that make sense? Thank you, also to PS (a.k.a. purple) for her sermon that I so enjoyed reading. I took some of her ideas and integrated them into my sermon. Also, thanks to St. Inuksuk for the bone idea. Lastly, thanks to Gino and 10b travelling on Flickr for use of their photos. Well, I will preach it tomorrow, so I will let you know if the knew format helps with the preaching. It was fun to write this way.

Today I want to talk to you about God life-giving breath. But first I have talk to you about dry bones. Ezekiel has a vision that is recorded in Ezekiel 37. Verses 1-6 say:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'”

The Lord took Ezekiel to a valley of bones. Some commentators believe that this was the same valley that Ezekiel was commissioned at in chapter 3. That would make this vision seem very real to Ezekiel. Maybe God wanted him to know what an important real message this was.

The Lord led him around the valley. Ezekiel could have just glanced around and saw what he needed to see: a valley of dry bones, but God wanted him to feel full weight of the vision of bones. Ezekiel saw that there were many (probably thousands) of bones. Which meant that there were many people represented by the bones, perhaps an entire nation. He also saw that the bones were very dry. There was nothing left on them. These bones were dead. They were without hope.

Otis enjoying a ham bone by Gino on FlickrMost of us here have eaten ham. It is Pastor Chris and I’s favorite meat. He makes the world’s best double glazed honey ham. When we get done eating our ham, there is still meat on the bone, the bone is a dark color and there is still marrow and fat attached. These bones were clean and dry. These were more like a ham bone after you’ve given it to your dog and he has picked it clean, after it is has been bleached white with age and exposure.

The word “dry,” in the Old Testament, referred to raisins (dried out, shriveled), hungry people (dry, empty stomachs), chaff (the dry outer hull of wheat) and trees (especially in the desert climate they are in need of life-giving water).

I’ve been waiting a long time for love by 10b travelling on FlickrThe Lord asked Ezekiel a question. Can these bones live? Ezekiel answers well. He could have said no, but that wouldn’t have given God credit for all He can do. Ezekiel was probably thinking, “Well, they are pretty dead. It’s not likely.” But he realized that God was powerful enough that He probably could do it. So, he answers, “O Lord God, you know.” It was a safe answer, but it also shows that he knew God was powerful.

The Lord then tells him to prophesy to the bones. Now that is a strange thing to do. Ezekiel probably thought, “God, why are you making me do this? You could do it. What do you need me for?” That’s what I would have thought. Who wants to talk to dry bones? I’d be afraid someone was hiding behind some rocks watching and they would start laughing. But Ezekiel is obedient and prophesied saying:

“Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

Ezekiel did what he was told. I wonder what he thought would happen. It’s easy to be cynical and not expect anything. Especially since Ezekiel had prophesied many times before for God and he had always had to speak words of death, destruction and exile. Sometimes, as a pastor, I wonder if what I preach will stir anyone to action. I expect that while he did what God asked of him, Ezekiel felt the same way and didn’t really expect anything to happen. They were dry bones after all. You can’t get any worse audience than that! I think that might be worse than having no audience at all.

But, he says, “suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” They were being resurrected! What an amazing moment that must have been! I know that when I see something happening in our church, like being asked to start a Sunday evening Bible study, I get excited. This rattling noise was like the sound of battle or an earthquake or of God’s impressive glory. The same word is used in chapter 3 when God lifts Ezekiel up and takes him where he is to prophesy. Ezekiel knew that the sound he heard was God behind him. Though he hadn’t seen it, he had heard God’s glory. So then, he looks at the bones and sees that they have muscle and flesh and skin. But, he notes that there is still no breath in them.

So God tells Ezekiel to prophesy again. Ezekiel prophesies saying,

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”

“Breath,” in Hebrew is the same word that is also used for spirit and wind. The way God tells him to say it emphasizes the determined will of God to “cause (the breath/Spirit/life) to enter their bodies. Isn’t that powerful? They needed God’s Spirit, his life-giving breath.

And what happens? The once dry bones are now alive and breathing. Verse ten says that they “stood on their feet, a vast multitude.” Wow. In Hebrew, the verse uses the equivalent of two verys in other words, a very, very large group. An exceedingly large multitude of people.

So, what did this vision mean? Well, God tells us very clearly what it means. Sometimes, he’s not so clear as this instance. In verses 11-14, God says:

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.'”

At the time of Ezekiel, the Israelites were far from their home, having been taken captive by Babylon. They were suffering physically as well as spiritually. This was all brought on by their own sin and God was working to bring them back to Him through these trials. But they wondered what had happened to God. They felt alone and didn’t know who they were. The Israelites felt hopeless. They felt like dried up bones, dead.

Ezekiel is to prophesy once again, but to his own people. This message was to give them hope and bring them back to God. Here God is promising them that he will resurrect them; bring them back to life and their home. He is foretelling his action so that they will now it was His doing when it happens. Through their political and physical restoration, He will restore them spiritually. He will breathe His life back into them. And this will start by breathing hope into them with the message Ezekiel will prophesy.

Not too many of the Israelites listened to him until some years later when Cyrus the Great of Babylon allowed displaced people to return home in 538 B.C.

Now that we understand the message and the meaning of the message for the Israelites, what is the meaning to us? There are all kinds of things that cause us to feel spiritually dried up. What have you let come between you and God? What fears and anxieties keep you from living the resurrected life? In John 11:25, Jesus, just before breathing life back into Lazarus, tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” God can breathe new life into you today.

So let go of whatever is keeping you from living the resurrected life. Maybe it’s concern over your finances or who the next president will be. Maybe you have medical issues or a relationship that isn’t healthy like it should be. Maybe you fear the violence in the world or are addicted to something that keeps you from God. Maybe you feel alone, you wonder if there really is a God. You wonder if God does actually care about you. Whatever is making you feel dry and dead, give it to God. He will breathe new life into you. He will bring restoration to your soul. He loves you deeply, more than we can even comprehend. He only longs to bring you back to a healthy life in Him. All you need to do is accept the gift of life he offers and give your problems and questions to Him. Don’t let your problems drag you into the grave any longer.

I am really nervous tonight. Tomorrow night, Chris and I are tag-team preaching for the first time. That is enough to make me nervous, but we are also acting. I am Mary Magdalene and he is Peter. We are doing this for our community services leading up to Easter. Each week a different pastor is a different person from the Gospel of John. The problem is that I don’t act. I never have and I think it may be the first thing in a long time that I have truly felt fear about doing. I can’t even seem to practice with Chris. My mouth is just like sewn shut. I think that I will be able to do it, but not until I’m in front of everyone and don’t have any choice. Of course that worries me because what if I’m wrong and I still can’t do it??? I think I can, I think I can…

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