Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday morning, did you really have to come today? Wait, I guess it did. After all, Monday always follow Sunday and yesterday was Sunday. I know it was Sunday because I had the opportunity to worship with 40+ youth and adults at Camp Wartburg. I didn't have the pleasure of worshiping with my friends and family at St. Paul's, Troy but that didn't change the fact that I did have the pleasure of worshiping with 11 members of St. Paul's, 3 members of Bethlehem Ferrin, as well as members of Edwardsville, Sparta, Murphysboro, Waterloo, Belleville, Greenville and maybe another congregation or two (depending on where the camp counselors attend worship). What a pleasure it was to worship at Camp Wartburg. The weather tried to stop the worship. Just as we all gathered in the outdoor worship area at the camp, the rains came. At first, just a light rain and then heavier. It was crying, "Stop this worship!" To which we responded, "NO!" Moving up the hill to the pavilion, the praise team of Sparta went from electric to acoustic, and we were dry and able to worship the Lord. It was a great morning for worship.

And I thought, as the rains came down, about Dean Mafereka of South Africa telling us about the problems that they have when it rains. The metal roofs make it so loud that they have trouble hearing what is being said. They have no PA system (neither did we). But the roof on the pavilion didn't make so much noise that we couldn't hear the Word of God.

At that moment, I gave thanks to the Lord for being able to share the Word of God with the campers at the SID Junior High Retreat. They could hear the Word. The rains came and they could hear! It isn't that way around the world. In fact, in many areas of the world, they are not able to gather to hear the Word of God without fear for their life. The biggest fear we had was...I am not sure that we had a big fear. Maybe a spider crawling across a table or the person next to us singing off key with "Good Morning God." No, we had no fears about worship. There were probably a lot of fears in the hearts of each person that was there on Sunday but it wasn't about what would happen if we gather for worship.

Rejoice in the Lord always! That was part of the epistle reading. So we rejoiced in the Lord. Fix your eyes upon Jesus. That was the theme. So we fixed our eyes upon Jesus. Clothed in the garments of righteousness given in the waters of Baptism, we gathered at the Feast of the Lord, even as the Gospel reading told us. (No, there was no communion as these were Junior High students who hadn't been confirmed yet. And the Feast was there - in the Word! Too often we forget that the Word is powerful and elevate the Lord's Supper above the other Means of Grace. But that is a whole different line of thinking than this blog puts forward.)

It was a great weekend. I give thanks for being able to take 10 youth and Penny with me to this Retreat. I pray that they grew in their faith. I know I did. I also grew in my relationship with them. I give thanks for St. Paul's, Troy making it possible for this to happen.

Now, on to the new week. Rejoice in the Lord always. And fix your eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Jumping to Conclusions

You see the person dressed in leather and immediately think that he must be some sort of radical biker that strikes fear into the heart of all people. The man has tattoos on his arms and you immediately figure he is a gang member. Jumping to conclusions, it's easy to do. Ripped jeans, beat up car, suit and tie, sandals instead of shoes, shoes and dark socks with shorts, long hair, short hair, colored hair, bald head, and a variety of other things that immediately lead you to jump to conclusion about a person you have just met or perhaps that you have just seen walking past you at Walmart or McDonald's. You look at them and figure you know all about them. Why? Because you look at them and come to a conclusion about them and their situation.

That happened in my reading this morning. It is something that gets lost in the general reading but for some reason, it struck me this morning. Hannah has gone to Shiloh to pray and ask the Lord to give her a son. She is torn apart by infertility (which is what we call it today, instead of seeing that the Lord is the One who controls conception and not man). She longs for a child. She is tormented by Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah (let's not get into the whole issue of several wives and the problems this has always caused when it took place). Peninnah can have children and she looks down her nose at Hannah because she cannot.

So Hannah is at Shiloh, pouring out her heart to the Lord. She is praying from the depth of her heart. We are told, "As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heart." (1 Samuel 1:12-13 ESV) SO what conclusion does Eli jump to? "How long will you go on being drunk. Put your wine away from you," he says to her. (1 Samuel 1:14 ESV) He immediately figures she is some drunk woman muttering to herself in the midst of a drunken stupor. He looks at her and has it all figured out.

That is us! We do that! I know that I do (though I am not proud of it and try to reign in my sinful nature that leads me to act in that way). You see the person, you figure you know what is going on. But do you? How many times are we wrong? How many times do we make the wrong judgment about a person? How often do we not give a person a chance just because we "know" what type of person he or she is based on what we see? Eli did, and he was the priest at Shiloh. He should have known better but he didn't. He was following his sinful thoughts. He condemns Hannah before he even knows her.

Let's not do that. Let's ask the Lord to help change the way we act. Hannah corrects Eli. She sets him straight on what is going on. Most of the time, we don't have that opportunity to be set straight by the person we have judged. We see him, we judge and we walk on. Instead of jumping to conclusions, if we are really concerned about the person, perhaps we should lift them up in prayer at that moment. Ask the Lord to help the person in whatever situation he or she might be in. Perhaps they are stuck in their circumstance and are looking for a way free. Perhaps they are stuck in sin and are happy in it. Perhaps they just dress or look the way they are and in fact, they are far from what we make them out to be. It doesn't matter. Ask the Lord to be with them, to help them in whatever they are facing. And if they need help, ask the Lord to use someone else to help them. (Got you there, didn't I? That is exactly what we do. We don't want to get involved so we ask the Lord to help a person and then walk away. Perhaps YOU are the one that the Lord wants to reach out to the person to help them. Perhaps.)

And then ask the Lord to forgive you for acting like Eli, for jumping to conclusions without knowing what is going on. Ask Him to help you to change from a critical person to a loving person, from a judgmental person to a helpful person. Eli's life changed following that encounter with Hannah. He learned over the next couple of years that the Lord had a plan for the people of Israel. And it all began with this women he figured was drunk. How wrong he way! Perhaps you and I have been just as wrong.