I preached a sermon at FIrst Christian Church (DOC) in Longview, TX based on Matthew 17:1-9.[audio http://traffic.libsyn.com/fcclongview/2017-02-26_092608.mp3|animation=no]
On February 22, 2017 I held the sixth session of my online Bible study, “Matthew Live.”
My latest for the Longview News Journal.
As a minister, I am asked a lot of questions. They can range from what my stance regarding a particular theological or political issue to where to find something in the Bible, to “if Adam and Eve were the only people on Earth, then where did Cain’s wife come from?”. I do not mind the questions; in fact, I welcome them and encourage others to reflect on their life and faith.
One question I often receive is “what is your favorite book or story in the Bible?” Some ministers are quick with their answer giving a well-rehearsed and crafted answer on why this book or story has had such a dramatic impact on their life or ministry. For me the question is difficult. It is like asking a movie critic which film is their favorite, chances are you are not going to receive a simple or straightforward answer.
The Bible is more than a collection of nice stories, rather it is a book of faith collected and collaborated over centuries to show the movement of God and the response of the people of God. Billions of people have turned to the sacred pages of the Bible to draw out inspiration and guidance for their life and family. Ask a 100 Christians their favorite Bible verse and you more than likely receive 100 different answers. Whether is it is the simplicity of the Gospel of Mark, the humanness of the Disciples, the straightforward nature of the Epistle of James or the centrality of love in 1 John, they all come together for the community of God to find a fuller picture of who God is, what God is asking of us and how we are to respond.
If pressed I will tell people that one of my favorite books of the Bible is Jonah. Most people both inside and outside of the church have heard about the man who was swallowed by a big fish. There is something about Jonah and his struggles that resonates with me. Jonah was called by God to proclaim good news to the Ninevites; the only problem was Jonah did not want them to be spared from God’s wrath. He disliked them so much that he wanted nothing more than to see them suffer. He felt as if they were beneath him and that they did not deserve the blessings from God because they should be reserved for people like him and him alone.
I believe that deep down we are all like Jonah, flawed and selfish.
Jonah’s story is more than a nice tale we tell children about a big fish, rather is an indictment for all people to examine our hearts in light of those we claim to be less than or undesirable. We might not use those terms but we have ways of marking and identifying who is “in” and who is “out.” Ministers across this country proclaim a God that is big enough and gracious enough to welcome even those who have been turned away. However, in practice this might be another story. Sure, we want people to come to a knowledge of the faith but it has to be on our terms and our way of practicing the faith and if it is not, then for some people that is a deal breaker.
The Story of Jonah reminds faithful followers of Christ that no one is outside the reach of God. Jonah was the one who was changed the most not the Ninevites. Jonah saw that God’s grace and mercy is not just for a select few but for all humanity.
Faith communities unfortunately find more and more ways to push out those whose theological understandings are not in sync with their stated beliefs and practices. If we surround ourselves with people who think, look, act, talk and believe like we do then we will have a generic and plain experience of God. I am not saying that faith communities should not have standards or theological statements but in my experience the more rigid the theological stance the more people it excludes.
Jonah was a selfish man who wanted nothing more than to tell the people who did not look, think or talk like him to stay away and get “what was coming to them.”
Who are the Ninevites in our life? Who are those people who we are have given up on, pushed to the side and erased from our memory? Who are we casting aside without question? What are we blindly believing without giving it a second thought? Who are we hurting or forgetting in the process?
I wish there were easy answer but alas there is not. We have to continue to examine our faith, our practices and our stances. It is not wrong to change your position about something regarding your faith. What you believed when you were 7 may not be what you believe when you are 77. We must begin to see the world through new lenses; the church is facing new challenges every day and sometimes the old ways are simply not cutting it.
Jonah was mad that God wanted to save people that he thought were less than desirable or did things that we would claim to be inexcusable. CS Lewis once said “we must forgive the inexcusable in others because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.” Let us hope it does not take a big fish experience to open our hearts and arms to those in our community and world who need a touch of grace and love.
After much technical difficulty I was able to do Matthew Live #5… live. If I keep having issues with my connection I am going to have to figure out a different way to do the Bible Study.
Thanks for watching!
My latest for the Longview News-Journal
So much is going on in our country and world right now. Tensions are high, names are being called and innocent people are caught in the middle. People are turning off the news for it is too grim, too painful, too sad. Social media has once again become a place of vigorous support and strong opposition. What we experienced during the long and painful political season has not gone away. No one is listening to the other side, frankly no one is listening period. If anything, people are digging their heels in deeper and standing their ground without giving their position a second thought. We hold to party lines and tweetable one liners that make ourselves feel good or superior but we are unwilling or unable to consider the other position or even question our own beliefs.
We as a nation need to find some commonality, some common ground to unite around. We have no greater allegiance than to God, no party, administration, ideology or cliché can ever undermine that.
The Church needs to be a voice of reason and truth, a place of refuge and sanctuary. Followers of Christ must return to the holy scriptures to draw out it’s ancient wisdom about loving neighbors and welcoming the stranger.
Politics and rhetoric will only get us so far and it is nowhere near where we need to be or even should be. As a Christian I am aware of the intersection of my faith and the world. It is hard to excuse certain actions based on my theology and understanding of the Gospel. As a follower of Christ, I am called to not only examine myself and my own understanding of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, but how those teachings, commands and ideals are being played out in the world. This type of examination is difficult because it might mean that we change our position on certain issues or even go against the status quo of our community or even our church.
There has been a lot of discussion about the ban imposed on seven countries by the President’s executive order. At the heart of this issue are those caught in the middle of escaping war torn areas. These refugees are trying to find a place of welcome, rest, comfort and peace. Their lives have been turned upside down by senseless and needless violence and millions of people have left everything behind so that they might merely survive.
As Christians, we know of a similar story. After the birth Jesus, Herod the King called for the death of all children two years and under. Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled their home, leaving behind everything they had and escaped to Egypt. In that single act, Jesus the Christ became a refugee.
Are we going to turn away mothers and fathers doing everything in their power to ensure that their children are safe? Ask any parent what they would do if faced with a similar situation and the resounding answer you would get would be “anything.” Those seeking refuge did not ask to be put into this situation. They did not ask for the homes to be bombed or their lives to be radically changed. All they ask is for compassion, shelter, grace, love and acceptance. What they are asking from us is the heart of the gospel.
We turn away Mary and Joseph all the time. Mary and Joseph come to us in the form of hungry children, refugees from war torn areas and families living paycheck to paycheck; to deny them denies Christ. While we might think that we would not be so cold or brash, to judge someone based on their country of origin, gender or immigration status means that we have decided to turn away the image of God. We metaphorically say “there is no room in the inn for you tonight.” Is there room today? Who are we turning away in the name of our religion or personal/political causes?
We have to see each other as the bearers of the image of God. This reflects the world in which God wants us to create. Christ taught that the most important and greatest commandment was to love God and to love every person just as much as you love your own self.
People are more than the product of their decisions, religion, country of origin or perceived sins. They are beautiful children of God who God loves just as much as God loves you and me. The coming of Christ into the world was the invading of the secular space and showing humanity that God’s love is real, God’s mercy is right and God’s grace is given to all people, in all places and at all times. Faithful Christians must reclaim this not just when it is convenient but at all times.
We might feel uncomfortable or scared thinking about “welcoming the stranger,” but what is scarier is letting fear overshadow love, letting the unknown overshadow grace, letting our anxieties stop us from sharing the love of Jesus Christ. There are no easy answers. This is tough and faithful work but it is the fulfillment of the most basic teachings of the Bible: love God and love your neighbor.
May we see past our preconceived notions and caricatures to see all of humanity as living, breathing, bearers of your divine image. No place of origin, nationality, belief system or status can ever change that fact.
So much is going on in our country and world right now. Tensions are high, names are being called and innocent people are caught in the middle. People are turning off the news for it is too grim, too painful, too sad. Social media has once again become a place of vigorous support and strong opposition.
We as a nation need to find some commonality, some common ground to unite around.
The Church needs to be a voice of reason and truth, a place of refuge and sanctuary.
Followers of Christ must return to the holy scriptures to draw out it’s ancient wisdom about loving neighbors and welcoming the stranger.
Politics and rhetoric will only get us so far and it is no where near where we need to be or even should be.
Below is a prayer that I wrote recently and I hope that it encapsulates the feelings I am experiencing.
Feel free to share it.
May we find God’s peace and comfort anew.
A Prayer Moving Forward
By: Rev. Evan M. Dolive, M.Div.
Holy are you O Lord, among all the nations! Holy is your name among the earth! You are wondrous and mighty, powerful and strong; you are humble and meek, you are gracious and loving.
Your majesty is found all of around us.
Your grace is found in laughter of children and friends, your welcome is found at tables where bread is broken, your grace is found when forgiveness is extended even when it is hard to do.
Help us to examine ourselves to find those places where your grace is calling us to let go of grudges, calling to seek others through your eyes, calling us to forgive others and even ourselves.
Our hearts break thinking of those in our world who suffer needlessly because of violence, war, oppression and racism. May we be a tune to your spirit which calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; for we know O God that if we do these things to the those who are considered the least of these, then we are doing it to you. Help us to see past labels that we have artificially placed on people. May we see past our preconceived notions and caricatures to see all of humanity as living, breathing, bearers of your divine image. No place of origin, nationality, belief system or status can ever change that fact.
Guide our church that it might make bold choices for the sake of humanity remembering the call of justice placed on our lives as followers of Jesus the Christ.
Guide our state that it might see people as more than labels and numbers
Guide our country to find ways to be a place of welcome and rest
Guide our leaders to seek you first and your ways.
Guide all of our hearts that we might not get caught up in political rhetoric but base our decision on our gospel of peace and love even it might mean going against the status quo.
You have called your people to find area where people are broken and hurting and out of your compassion help to mend those broken places and bandage old wounds.
Help us see where you are calling us to and away from this day, now and forevermore.
Give success to the work of our hands!
In the name of Jesus the Christ, the Holy One of God we pray. Amen.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Here is the third installment of my Facebook Live Bible study, “Matthew Live.”
Today in the United States a new president will be sworn in. After a long and divisive campaign where dozens of people threw their name into the hat to be on their party’s ticket, one person was elected to the highest office in the land: Donald J. Trump.
His election has been met with everything from tears of joy and tears of sadness, with marches in support and in protest. Some people are scared for their future or their family’s future. Some people believe this is the best course of action for the US. Some people are stuck somewhere in the middle.
This day is one that reminds that we are a nation divided and it will take all of us together to find ways to put aside political loyalties for the sake of the common good.
I believe that we as people of faith regardless of church membership or doctrinal beliefs must continue to find ways to bring forth the kingdom of God in the world today.
May we live into our calling as followers of Christ and seek out ways to bring light to those in darkness, feed those who are hungry, shelter those seeking refuge. May we be reminded that we are called to a higher standard of interacting with humanity one grounded and rooted in love, mercy, equality and justice. Anything that is outside or contradictory of these calls is simply insufficient.
I do not know what the next four years hold. I do know, however, that if the Church comes together around the cause of Christ then we will see a transformation of cities, churches, families and lives that we have never seen before. It will take strength, it will take courage, it will take listening to others, it will take unity not discord, it will take growing in our faith and stepping outside of what we are used to. The church must abandon a model that insists on doing things alone; we are all children of God, we are all followers of Christ and we must unite together today to show the nation that though we are different in Bible translation preferences or stances on doctrine we hear the call of Christ to take up our cross and follow him.
Will you join me?
A Prayer for the Inauguration 2017
Our nation is divided O God on this day of transition. Remind us that no matter who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that you are the creator of life, the giver of love and the source of mercy. You revealed this to humanity through the coming of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Remind us of his call to love all of humanity, to restore those who feel broken and to bring forth a world that embodies your essence.
Help those who face an uncertain future. Direct those in elected positions that you are their guide, their source of being and the one to turn to in times of trouble and confusion. May our elected officials discard labels and set aside deep seeded political grudges and actually come together for the better of all people residing in the United States of America.
We pray this in the name of one who came that we might have life and have it abundantly, Jesus the Christ, the Holy One of God. Amen.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Below is my second session of my online Bible study which I am referring to as “Matthew Live.” The name was suggested to me and I can change it when we go to another Book of the Bible.
Thanks for watching and I would love to hear your feed back.
Today I held my first online Bible study via Facebook Live. This is a new venture for me and I thought that it went well. I did not think that rambled on too long. I had to broadcast it earlier than I would normally do it given a scheduling conflict. I hope that people are interested in it and continue to watch.
I started a new page on the site where all the videos will be embedded. So if you miss a week you will have a one stop shop to go back and view them. You can find them here
I hope that you enjoy the videos!