Sermon "Skill in Your Hand & God in Your Heart"

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Row, Row, Row Your Boat!

Did I tell you about the time I fell out of a canoe? Well it was the one and only time I have ever been canoeing, and of course I fell out of the boat. It was several years ago that I participated in a regional leadership program. The program not only included various workshops and training sessions, but we also had team-building activities, one of which was to pair up and canoe down the Tar River. I had never been canoeing before, and thought it would be a great experience for me, even though I was a little nervous.
So the instructor gave us the how-to's and the what-not's, fitted us with a life jacket and then pointed us to our canoes. The lady that was sharing the boat with me, it was her first time too; she was in the front and I was in the back. I thought it would be a better spot for me, but later found out it was more responsibility than I was ready for because it was my job to steer it. But, I figured it couldn't be that bad because it was in the middle of a dry summer and the instructor said the river was really low and slow, and in some places we may even have to get out and carry the boat for a short distance.
Well God's word says there is nothing too hard for Him, but sometimes I think there is nothing that easy for Eric. It was a long canoe, with enough room between me and her that two other people could have joined us. And that made coordinating our paddling difficult. About halfway through our trip down the river, somehow she shifted too far one way, and I shifted too far the other, and when we both tried to straighten ourselves up, we leaned too far the same way and....the boat tipped over. Now, through most of the trip, the river was barely deep enough to get my knees wet were I walking across it. But, wouldn't you know that where we fell in was one of the few spots that was about shoulder deep.
So then was the challenge of getting back in the canoe. The instructor had told us what to do if we happened to fall in, but I barely paid attention because I thought how hard could that be. Well I found out exactly how hard. I am so glad the instructor paddled over to coach us back in the boat. We first had to flip it back over, then, with the boat now at eye level, had to reach across to the opposite side, grab on and pull ourselves in with this funny kicking, wiggling, don't pull too hard cause you'll be right back in the water motion. And to my surprise, somehow we did it. We were soaking wet, and my partner was piping mad, but..we made it.
I think God reminded me of that story because being on this Christian journey is a lot like that experience on the river. Sometimes, even when life seems slow and easy, it can throw you for a loop and we can find ourselves neck-deep in water. But even with the reality of that, I thank the Lord that when I gave my life to Him, He didn't just let me set sail solo. He gave me all my brothers and sisters in Christ who have turned their boats around and are now paddling in the same direction as me. In particular, those who are in my church family are in the same boat. As was on that day on the Tar River, we don't always see eye to eye, and we sometimes have a hard time coordinating our strokes; but we're at least going in the same direction in the same boat. So if we float, we float together, and if we tip it over sometimes, we're at least in the water together.
I know that no church could ever be perfect because it will always be filled with imperfect people. But if you are a part of a local church family, then you need to thank God for the blessings of the Body of Christ. It's so good to know that we are never in this river alone.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Momma's Voice and the Light on the Porch

As it's starting to get dark earlier now, it reminds me of when I was little our play time outside got cut short this time of the year. The rule was no matter where we went out to play or what we were playing, we had to be home before it got dark. Of course getting dark is not something that happens in a moment, but darkness gradually creeps in. But when my momma laid down that law, we knew exactly what she meant. She meant that when the outside light on the pole came on, it was dark, and my behind better already be in the house. I remember that no matter what we were playing or how loud we were when playing it, the faint hum of that light coming on would drown everything out and send us running home.

I remember playing ball at the elementary school right down from my house. It was the only thing close to a playground in our neighborhood and both young and not so young people would gather there after hours to play basketball. Well, there was one rare time that I was out there by myself. I was enjoying having the court alone, and was really into my own imaginary game. I was probably doing my usual "3,2,1..and Magic scores the winning shot!" (of course I was playing the part of Magic). But in all that fun, I did not hear the hum of that light coming on. But what did grab my attention was the voice of my none-too-pleased mother calling my name from our back porch. It was at those times that I wished my name was anything but Eric.

But suddenly when I heard her calling my name, not only in that moment did I realize I was in trouble, but I also realized how dark it had gotten. I guess since my eyes were gradually adjusting as the light gradually dimmed, I hadn't noticed. So now I had to walk home, or run home since momma was still calling my name, in the dark. The further I went, the darker it got, and the more scared I became. By the time I was halfway home, I could barely see two feet in front of me, and the walk home that was probably a tenth of a mile seemed like ten miles. I started hearing all kinds of noises and seeing all kinds of shadows that my mind quickly fashioned into the most horrific monster it could dream up. So I knew I needed to make it home and fast. So it came to me that I should focus on the light on my back porch and my mother's voice. By following them, I was able to make it back. And even though I knew there was a scolding waiting for me, I didn't mind because I was just glad to be home.

You know, that reminds me that sometimes in life, or even just sometimes in my mind, I stray away from home. I step away from where God wants me to be. Somehow I lead myself to believe it's ok because I'm not that far from home. But I have seen how this world around me can grow dark real quick. And there have been times when I finally realized that I had strayed, it had already gotten so dark that it was hard to find my way back. But the Lord is reminding me through this story that when that happens I need to do now what what I did then. I will follow the light and listen for God's voice. No matter how dark this world gets, it will never drown out the light of God's word. In Psalm 119:105, it reads "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path". I see it and so I will follow it. And no matter what noises are out there, I believe God's word that says "My sheep hear my voice" John 10:27. I will focus on God's voice, and when I hear it I will follow it.

If you have found yourself far from God, I want you to know that you are not as far as you think. Even though you can be far from Him, He is always near to you. Read His word! Listen for His voice! And go back home! It's just like following momma's voice and the light on the back porch.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Do You Need a Touch from Jesus?

I'm sure this whole Ebola outbreak has been on your mind as much as it has been mine. We can't help but to think and talk about it all the time, because it's constantly on the news. The updates are always that it's spreading more and more people have died. I heard one health official make an attempt to minimize the outbreak, and perhaps minimize our fears, by comparing it to other deadly outbreaks in history. Like the Bubonic Plague pandemic in the 14th century that killed millions, possibly hundreds of millions. I suppose when you line this Ebola outbreak up side by side with The Black Death, as it was called, or even the Spanish Flu, or Cholera, it does seem minor by comparison. But even if Ebola has only killed thousands where others have killed millions, to the people who lost someone they love to the virus, it is the worst epidemic to ever hit the planet. Not to mention our heart pounds harder when we read about a killer virus in the newspaper as opposed to a history book.
A few days ago I read a story online about a 9 year old girl in Liberia who was standing in the street weeping (pic in comments). She had just lost her mother to Ebola, and no one would get close to comfort her because they feared she was infected. So she cried alone while even the people who love her kept their distance. That breaks my heart. I have two daughters, and I can't stand even just the thought of them crying alone without me or anyone else getting close enough to comfort them.
That makes me think of the story of Jesus healing the man with leprosy. Leprosy has been around for a long time; perhaps since near the beginning of time. It has claimed the lives of millions of people, and still today there are over 200,000 cases annually. It is contagious, and without treatment it leads to death. In Jesus' time, lepers were cast out of society, ostracized by even the people who loved them. Most were sent to leper colonies. Those who lived anywhere near others, they were often made to wear a bell around their necks so people would hear them coming and get out of the way. Can you imagine what it would be like to suffer something so bad for so long and no one would come close enough to comfort you? Jesus could. That's why when approached by a man with leprosy, the burden of His heart overpowered the concern in His head, and He reached out and touched the man when no one else would (Matthew 8:1-4).
Do you ever feel alone and rejected? Ever feel like your issues are so messy no one wants to get close? Or maybe you feel like what you've got going on is so complicated, you know people would give you that look if you told them? you just keep it to yourself. And you suffer...alone. Well I hope that you and that 9 year old Liberian girl will know that you never have to suffer alone. Just call on Jesus and you will see that He will never hesitate to approach you and whatever kind of stuff you have going on in your life. Jesus experienced loneliness and rejection so that we don't have to. If you really open up your faith and believe, then you will feel His hug though you can't see His arms.
And while you're praying, let's pray about this Ebola outbreak. While we wait for them to get a handle on its spread, while we wait for a cure, while that little girl waits for a hug, let's give it to over to Jesus who can fix anything.
Now go and hug somebody today. They probably really need one!