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Shine

Shine

Exodus 34:29-35 “Moses came down from Mount Sinai” (Exod 34:29). This sentence sounds like an everyday thing… at least where I live.  Here in far-western North Carolina we talk about how someone went “down the mountain” from Nantahala into Andrews, just like we say we went “up to Happy Top” when we go to the neighborhood on the upper end of town, or that we went “through the gorge” when we travel through the Ocoee to Chattanooga.  These opening words look much the same:  Moses is simply going “down the mountain” from Mount Sinai to the Israelite camp. But this isn’t simple.  This is far from everyday. Moses wasn’t just coming down from a mountain – he was coming down from an experience with God.  When Moses was up on Mount Sinai, God spoke to him “face to face,” “like a friend” (Exod 33:11).  Moses even got a rare glimpse of God’s glory (Exod 33:22-23).  Sure, it was just a glimpse; but that’s more than my two eyes have ever seen. Moses’ descent isn’t so much topographical as it is spiritual.  Moses is returning after a close encounter with our Creator God. And it shows. “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exod 34:29). Moses has a very important delivery for the Israelites:  the “two tablets of the covenant,” i.e., the Ten Commandments.  This would be special, anyway, but this is actually the second time Moses...

How to Love (Your Enemy)

Luke 10:25-37 My first sermon of 2019 must have been for me more than my congregation… because I can’t get it off of my mind. It was about the wise men, and how they followed a star to find Jesus.  How we don’t get a star to follow but we do get clear commands to love God and love our neighbors.  Those love commands are like our star; if we keep moving closer toward love, we’ll be led closer and closer to Jesus. Normally, once I preach a sermon it leaves my brain to make room for the next one.  Not this one; it stuck with me.  It wasn’t that it was a new concept; I learned that we’re supposed to love God and neighbor in children’s Sunday School.  But it’s surprising how easily one can get distanced from the love commands.  At least this “one” can; I get buried under statistical reports and filling staff positions and an almost-finished new church website and articles for the local paper and… Well, “love” slips to the bottom of my to-do list.  It can even fall right off the page.  I can forget that my #1 responsibility is LOVE. This reminder came like a diagnosis of my spiritual health:  I need to give love more priority.  Then, as I worked my way through the gospel of Matthew during my devotional reading, I came across what felt like the prescription for treatment: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute...

All About It

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 I want to tell you what I’m all about. In my teens it was music.  I’ve always liked music; I can remember spending many middle-school hours listening to the radio in my room.  But in 9th grade my relationship with music changed forever, because in 9th grade I met Michelle.  During our fourth period freshman art class my new friend would slip me CDs to try by bands I’d never heard of.  My mind was blown.  As it turns out, some of the best stuff never even gets played on the radio!  Who knew?! As the year went by our friendship grew… and so did my music collection.  Once we got our driver’s licenses Michelle started taking me to concerts in small little venues downtown.  I bought my own CDs and began listening to those bands almost exclusively.  We made friends from the music scene, and my clothing started to resemble theirs:  hooded sweatshirts and big, baggy jeans and skateboarding shoes.  I put band stickers on my car and patches on my backpack. I was all about it. I honestly thought I’d be all about music forever. But in my 20s I found another love:  the outdoors. The summer before college, I worked for a backpacking ministry for the first time.  Then, as a college freshman, I discovered that my school had an awesome outdoor club.  From then on out – through college and seminary – my world became more and more about the outdoors.  I spent my summers on the Appalachian Trail; I spent my falls and springs day hiking; and winter was for snowboarding.  When...

A Love that Doesn’t Disappoint

Romans 5:1-11 This month I want to talk about love. Because it’s February, and because Valentine’s Day is on Thursday.  Because love is already on our minds (that, or the lack thereof).  And it should be on our minds, always – but not the swooning, cupid-and-his-arrows, rom-com kind of love that dominates this month.  The kind of love that should fill our hearts is more like this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus said “all the law and the prophets” hang on those two greatest commands.  Doesn’t that sound like a sweet deal?  I mean, there used to be 10 and now there’s just 2!  And all we have to do is love! But love isn’t easy.  It’s hard.  We know this about romantic love:  once you get beyond the meet-cute and the infatuation, things get real.  The same is true for our two greatest loves.  During the retreat or the mission trip, loving God with our whole selves is easy!  But in the regular, day-in-and-day-out, loving God first and most is a challenge.  It’s not so different with loving our neighbors:  it’s easy in theory, when we’re imagining friendly Wilson-like characters waving at us from behind white picket fences.  But what about all those really annoying neighbors, the ones that walk across our yards without speaking to us after we’ve had a long, hard day at work? Loving God and loving our...
How to Take a Leap of Faith

How to Take a Leap of Faith

Jeremiah 1:4-10 Have you ever had the sneaking suspicion, “I’m supposed to do that” – “that” being some out-of-your comfort zone, new kind of thing? Okay – that’s kind of vague. It’s hard to describe what it feels like when God calls us to do something, partly because it hits many of us differently. Very seldom does it happen like it did for Jeremiah, a James-Earl-Jones-sounding voice telling us to “GO, THEREFORE, AND PREACH!” And very seldom is the thing we’re supposed to do as epic as Jeremiah’s: taking God’s message to a whole nation. For most of us, God’s call is more like an urge or an out-of-nowhere thought. The thing we’re supposed to do can often be done right in our own neighborhoods. It can be like this: Noticing a group of people that’s underserved, and feeling like someone’s got to do something about that. Or seeing a need in your community and thinking that you’ve got a skill that could help meet that need. Or feeling like you’ve got a message in your heart and there’s a Sunday School class or a pulpit where that message needs shared. All of those can be the Holy Spirit communicating God’s call to us. Which is kind of exciting to think about. Out of love, God created us: “before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” God tells Jeremiah, and we can imagine God saying those same words to each one of us. Out of that same love, God saved us from our sin; and then, God loved us enough to make us like partners in God’s...
How to Listen to the Bible

How to Listen to the Bible

Nehemiah 8:1-10 Have you ever daydreamed through the Scripture reading in worship? Yep – me too.  And not just back when I was sitting in the pews; sometimes, I’m thinking so much about my sermon that I miss it. I don’t want to miss it.  I don’t want you to, either.  So today, we’re going to learn from the story of when Ezra read the Law to the Israelites… and it they heard it so deeply, they cried.  But first, a little historical recap to set the stage.  The southern kingdom of Judah was taken by the Babylonians in 586, destroying the Temple in the process.  For almost 50 years the Israelites lived in exile, until the Persians came to power in 537.  The Persian King Cyrus told the Israelites that they could go back home and rebuild the Temple.  That project wasn’t a quick one, but finally in 516 they were able to dedicate the Second Temple.   Today’s Scripture takes place in 458 BC – another 58 years down the road.  Ezra, a priest and a scribe, was sent to Jerusalem by the Persian King Artaxerxes.  In a letter, Artaxerxes tells Ezra, “You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand” (Ezra 7:14). The implication is that they’ve been without the Law (read:  first five books of the Bible) all that time.  In Nehemiah 8 we get the story of the first reading of the Law to the people.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder...