Posted in Faith, Healing, Jesus, Mustard Seeds, Prayer, Thankful, thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Sermon

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly, they ran for the nearest fence. The raging bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make the fence. Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!” John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.” “But you must!” implored his companion, “the bull is catching up to us.” “All right,” screamed John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.’ ”  Ha!  Lord have mercy!

Our passage comes to us from Luke 17 where Jesus is instructing his disciples as he heads towards Jerusalem.  It opens with Jesus teaching the disciples about the way to live of Christ and them asking him to increase their faith.  What follows is the story of the mustard seed.  If they had such a minute amount of faith the size of a mustard seed, they could uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. The mulberry tree is a deeply rooted sycamore. It is not easily transplanted anywhere.  Jesus is trying to tell them they just have to do it.  They have to believe.  They have to not only talk the talk, but put their money where their mouth is, walking the walk.

Luke ends the section of the story by Jesus coming across the 10 lepers.  They were yelling at him because under Levitical law they had to be 50 yards, half a football field away from him because they had leprosy.  Also under Levitical law they had to report to the priests.  Leviticus 13:1-2, “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: ‘When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a leprous disease on the skin of his body, he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.’ ” Jesus, in instructing these ten lepers to appear before the priests, does so with the UNDERSTANDING that they will be healed before they reach the priests.  

These men and by extension their families had lived isolated lives.  All 10 of these men had to announce their sickness and they had to do so loud enough so that no one would accidentally rub up against them or touch them in any way.  Again in Leviticus 13:45, “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’.” It truly would have changed their lives and the lives of their families and their families families.  It would have transformed them into full members of society.  For such a transformation, why did only 1 go back?

We may think to ourselves, I would have gone back.  The other nine were so ungrateful.  Jesus had given them their lives back, how dare they not go back to thank Jesus?  How dare they be so ungrateful?  

But would we?  Or do we take for granted God’s blessings.  Do we somehow forget to say thank you because of our busyness, our ambivalence, or our nonchalance about Who truly brings the great good to our lives?

We are much like the little boy who was given an orange by a man. The boy’s mother asked, “What do you say to the nice man?” The little boy thought about it and handed the orange back and said, “Peel it.”

We forget to say “thank you” to God quite a bit.  We think that we’ve earned our blessings or we somehow deserve them, don’t we?  Just like we’ve earned that piece of pie after a hard run?  Just like we think we deserve that glass of wine after a hard day of work and parenting?

Hate to break it to us, what we have, everything we are, all of it is because of the Triune God – God, the creator, Jesus, our redeemer, the Holy Spirit, our comforter.  And the Samaritan knew that.  “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”  And what did Jesus say to him,  “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  He exemplified what the psalmist wrote and we read earlier tonight in Psalm 138, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart.”  He knew for sure and for certain that nothing he could ever do and nothing he could ever pay, could earn him or buy him Jesus’ transforming healing and power.

Robert C. Morgan in his book, “Lift High the Cross,” tells about a woman who has a gift shop on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Her name is Frieda Hannah. Frieda is a Palestinian Christian. She makes beautiful embroidery and cross-stitch work. Her specialties are altar paraments, clergy stoles, and Bible markers. She is a very frail woman. She has been in business at the same spot, the sixth station of the cross, for more than thirty years. Her eyes are beginning to fail her. She must wear thick glasses. If you go by Frieda’s shop you will see her smiling and greeting the tourists. She has made friends with thousands.

A teacher tells about being in her shop one day with a group of students. Another large group of pilgrims from America were in the shop, too. All of the members of this second group had their Bibles under their arms and crosses hanging from their necks. They were pushing and shoving, demanding to be waited on. A group of little Palestinian beggars had followed the group into the shop asking for money. These “Christian” tourists were indignant. The teacher said they made comments like, “Get these dirty kids out of here.” Or, “Why don’t they stay in Jordan where they belong?”

Frieda overheard these remarks. The teacher was embarrassed and apologized for his fellow Americans, even though he did not even know them. Frieda’s response was, “Oh, that is all right. I learned a long time ago that many of those who [take] the Bible literally don’t take it seriously.”

Frieda certainly takes the Bible seriously. During the last thirty years, using the earnings from her little shop, she has given over 1,000 Palestinian youth a higher education in North America or Europe. She has built and supported the operation of three medical clinics in the West Bank. She has built and operates two orphanages. There is no way of determining the good that this Christian woman has done over the years.

Frieda Hannah is a modest person. She is always embarrassed to talk about what she does. When asked on one occasion where she gets the energy and determination, she responded, “God did not place me in this world just to take up space. It is not enough just to go along. God wants me to make a difference where I can.” 

All of our blessings were given us by God.  God entrusts us to be good stewards of God’s gifts just like Frieda.  Let the blessings flow through your outstretched hands and let the Holy Spirit to guide them to the right place.  Let the blessings flow and be thankful.  

I couldn’t help but have the song “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw come to mind as I was writing this Thanksgiving Eve sermon.  It was written by Lori McKenna for her husband and their five kids as her list of all the things she wanted to make sure she’d told them.  

You know there’s a light that glows by the front door

Don’t forget the keys under the mat

Childhood star shine, always stay humble and kind

Go to church ’cause your momma says to

Visit grandpa every chance that you can

It won’t be a waste of time

Always stay humble and kind

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you

When you get where you’re goin’

Don’t forget turn back around

Help the next one in line

Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door say please say thank you

Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie

I know you got mountains to climb but

Always stay humble and kind

When those dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you

When the work you put in is realized

Let yourself feel the pride but

Always stay humble and kind

We, as Christians, get to not only be humble and kind, but to spread the joy, praise, and thanksgiving that the leper proclaimed!  We GET to do that.  We have the BLESSING of doing that!  A sour attitude spreads like spilled sour milk getting into the nooks and crannies and infects us, but if we believe in the faith of a mustard seed and a faith that the Great Physician, can even make us sinners, WELL, and we’ll be on the path to not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

Posted in Abundance, Courage, Fear, Fears, Gifts, Holy Spirit, Jesus, parable, Sermons, Spiritual Gifts, Talent

The Parable of the Talents

Matthew 25:14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.  The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This parable has so many interpretations.  Some look at it as a prosperity Gospel text – if you earn more, then God will bless you with even more.  A get rich scheme.  Some see God as the harsh master, punishing the slave that buried the coin.  But Jesus never actually says it represents God.  I’m choosing to look at the text this way.  God wants us to take courage and use our gifts, knowing that we have something to offer, and living up to our potential.  God wants us to use our gifts for the greater good, for God’s glory!

Y’all know me, I don’t like being still.  I don’t like feeling lazy.  I’ve created an indention on my bed that doesn’t match the other side – my baby tooth cracked in August and it had to be removed, COVID, fractured ankle, and tomorrow I get the implant.  Lord have mercy.  I have a definite fear of missing out and in more ways than I’d like to admit, my sense of worth is tied to my work.  I feel like if I’m not producing anything or cleaning something or washing or folding clothes, then I’m lazy or people think I’m slacking off.  Those are my own negative tapes and fears of not measuring up.  I think it was fear that made the slave bury the master’s coin in the ground.  Fear is a dangerous thing.  It can put these ideas in your head, these tapes – you’re not good enough, you’re not worthy, you’re not…and it can twist your pictures of people.  Maybe he was not a harsh master, maybe he didn’t do what the servant says he did.  Maybe the servant’s own insecurity had colored his vision.  Fear does that.  It clouds things and twists things, so we don’t see clearly.

I’ve used this before, but I need to hear it every now and then.  Marianne Williamson writes in Manifesting the Glory of God, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant and talented?  Actually, who are you not to be.  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Sometimes we’re afraid to let go of our fear.  It’s like stepping out of our most worn, comfy pajamas into “real clothes.”  2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  We need to take courage, to take heart, Jesus overcame this world.  Jesus overcame every single one of our fears and he’s ready to answer if and when we choose to listen.

 Getting over your fear is hard.  Its  journey and daily choices along the way.  It’s retraining your brain and relishing in the love of God.  As Dorothy Day writes in On Pilgrimage, “Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is Love. Love casts out fear.”  God is love.  In 1 John it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  Perfect love casts out fear.  And there’s no more perfect love than Jesus’ love.

Perfect love, Jesus’ love leaves no room for the enemy to weasel in.  When we’re feeling down and discouraged, Jesus helps us say, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”    If we profess that Jesus is Lord of our lives. We should mean it. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If he’s Lord of our lives, Jesus can give us the strength to let go of our big and small fears, insecurities, shame – we can let go of all of the “stuff.” Once Jesus helps you let go of the fear, you can grab hold of all the gifts he’s given you!  We all have something to give.

1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-7 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

For the common good.

I heard Quaker theologian Parker Palmer tell a story about abundance once. The way I remember it is that Palmer was a passenger on a plane that pulled away from the gate, taxied to a remote corner of the field and stopped. You know the feeling: The plane stops and you look out the window and see that you’re not on the runway and the engines wind down and your heart sinks. The pilot came on the intercom and said, “I have some bad news and some really bad news. The bad news is there’s a storm front in the West, Denver is socked in and shut down. We’ve looked at the alternatives and there are none. So we’ll be staying here for a few hours. That’s the bad news. The really bad news is that we have no food and it’s lunch time.” Everybody groaned. Some passengers started to complain, some became angry. But then, Palmer said, one of the flight attendants did something amazing.

She stood up and took the intercom mike and said, “We’re really sorry, folks. We didn’t plan it this way and we really can’t do much about it. And I know for some of you this is a big deal. Some of you are really hungry and were looking forward to a nice lunch. Some of you may have a medical condition and really need lunch. Some of you may not care one way or the other and some of you need to skip lunch. So I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. I have a couple of breadbaskets up here and we’re going to pass them around and I’m asking everybody to put something in the basket. Some of you brought a little snack along — something to tide you over — just in case something like this happened, some peanut butter crackers, candy bars. And some of you have a few LifeSavers or chewing gum or Rolaids. And if you don’t have anything edible, you have a picture of your children or spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend or a bookmark or a business card. Everybody put something in and then we’ll reverse the process. We’ll pass the baskets around again and everybody can take out what he/she needs.

“Well,” Palmer said, “what happened next was amazing. The griping stopped. People started to root around in pockets and handbags, some got up and opened their suitcases stored in the overhead luggage racks and got out boxes of candy, a salami, a bottle of wine. People were laughing and talking. She had transformed a group of people who were focused on need and deprivation into a community of sharing and celebration. She had transformed scarcity into a kind of abundance.”

After the flight, which eventually did proceed, Parker Palmer stopped on his way off the plane — deplaning, that is — and said to her, “Do you know there’s a story in the Bible about what you did back there? It’s about Jesus feeding a lot of people with very little food.”

“Yes,” she said. “I know that story. That’s why I did what I did.”

She was living out of the “abundance of Jesus.”  Being the hands and feet, walking and talking the talk.  She made ready what it says in 2 Timothy 1:14, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”  You see we all have a good treasure entrusted to us and we are able to use it with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

We all have something to give.  If we use our gifts to God’s glory, God will give us far beyond what we ask and imagine.  It talks about “abundance” in this parable and if we all give what we have, what we are able to, that’s what it’s like to live in abundance.  To give what you can out of the blessings that God has given you.

Luke 21:1-4, “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  See, this is not a parable of prosperity Gospel.  Jesus recognizes when we’re withholding our treasures and when we are giving out of our “abundant living” all that we have.  Jesus sees potential in everyone and everything.  He sees us as we could be without the fears and the baggage.  When we let the Holy Spirit work and live within us, we don’t worry about hoarding our gifts.  We give them freely.  If we know nothing is ours, then we let our gifts freely flow through our fingers to where the Spirit needs and where the Spirit leads.   

The story is told of a team of engineers who worked for Thomas Edison in his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. For many months, they pursued a line of research that ultimately led them nowhere. What had started out so promising turned out to be a blind alley. In fear and trembling, they went in to see the boss, to tell him of their failure.

Edison surprised them all by congratulating them. True, they had come up with no useful invention, but they had increased the scope of human knowledge. They had eliminated certain possibilities that would, in the future, allow others to direct their own efforts more effectively. Most of all, they had fulfilled their assignment. They had not buried their talent in the ground. They had risked much in a quest for great reward.

The problem with playing it safe is that, all too often, it means not playing at all. The call goes out, in the church, for people to pitch in and help in some way, either financially or by exercising other spiritual gifts. Too often the voice of fear in our heads wins out. “Not me,” it says. “I couldn’t do that.” Or there’s “Not now. Now is not the right time.”

Always, the immediate follow up questions should be: “If not me, who?” and “If not now, when?”  Who are you to play small?  You’re a child of the Most High King.  Who are we to play small? We are the body of Christ? Jesus’ ambassadors on Earth, We have been entrusted with a treasure, our gifts and graces and the Holy Spirit here to activate them “for such a time as this.” What are we waiting for? Are we going to let our fear, the enemy’s whispers, stop us? Are we going to bury our talents in the dirt? No, with Jesus’ help, we are going to stand up and be who God created us to be, as the new creations that the Potter wants us to be and knows that we are.

To view the actual worship service, click here: https://vimeo.com/showcase/bethanyumcworship

Posted in Cross, Jesus, paul, restart, Sermon

Time to Restart

I started with word games, 4 different ones, so when one showed the commercial in the free version, I could go to the next one.  Evy got me into picture finds and I’ve become obsessed with them.  Every time the clock winds down, it turns red and flashing at the 30 second mark, and I have 3 or more left, I get frantic trying to find the silly little pictures.  It’s amazing how frustrated I get.  I don’t want to restart.  They give me that option every time or I could get 45 seconds, if I pay for it, and I don’t want to pay.  I inevitably have to restart.  I don’t want to.  But I have to.  I know the game gets easier, if I restart, because I’ve done it before, but something in me – does not want to.  Or how many of you have mashed the power button on a computer or copier when nothing else works?

Sometimes we HAVE to do a hard restart.  We don’t want to, we sure don’t want to, but sometimes we have to.  Sometimes our lives need a reset because we’ve worn a path pacing back and forth trying to decide whether to make a change or not.  We sometimes don’t want to move on.  We sometimes want to cling to the past like old comfy pajamas.  You know those that have small holes in them and you can’t bear to throw them out.  We dread the changes that we would have to make in our lives, all the work it’s gonna be to let go of the past.  We’re afraid to face the new realities, the new normal.  Paul knew that without God in the mix, we could never make real change on our own.  Paul knew this secret and he’s trying to teach us as well.

Philippians 3:13-14

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

For us to follow Paul’s example, we have to make peace with those around us, with ourselves, and with God.

Paul had a lot of stuff in his past.  Remember who he was.  Before he became Paul.  He was Saul.  Saul persecuted early Christians.  He tortured and stoned them.  He was on the way to do more destruction of followers of the Way, until he has an encounter with Jesus and is blinded for three days. He is saved by Ananias; he is transformed into Paul boldly preaching about Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah and Son of God.  Jew and Gentile alike were puzzled and perplexed by this.  On one hand you had Saul that ultimate enemy and bad guy and then you have Paul – the greatest apostle ever….

When he says, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”  He means it.

Paul definitely has baggage.  Most of us don’t have the label of murderer.  Do you think the new Christians were scared of Saul, I mean Paul.  I would not blame some of them for being apprehensive, giving him the side eye, or being wary.  Paul had to have known it.  Had to have known how people would see him.  Annanias is hesitant as he says, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”  The Jews had commissioned Paul to be the angel of death, but the Lord was teaching Paul about mercy and grace.  The Lord talked to Ananias and Ananias went to heal Paul.  Afterwards, the scripture says Paul hung out with the disciples for a few days in Damascus.  Hung out?  Hung out?  He was sent there to kill them!  God makes a way for us to have peace with others.  God makes a way for us to have lives so transformed that it is obvious for all to see.  It must be God.  God was with Paul.  God was with Ananias.  God was with the disciples.  The Holy Spirit was working all around them in that situation and throughout Paul’s life.  God doesn’t leave us as God finds us.  

God worked through Paul and God can work through you and me.  

We have to believe we are worthy of leaving the past behind.  We have to throw out those comfy, holey pajamas.  We have to stop looking at our lives through the rearview mirror and look at the big, wide open windshield in front of us.  If we constantly are looking back then we can’t move forward.  Paul, I’m sure had some guilt, but he knew what he had to do.  Keep focused on the present goal.  “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Do you hear that?  It’s a call of God in Christ Jesus.  God still calls us even with the baggage, even with our pasts, even through our tears and shame.  We make peace with ourselves by acknowledging our past.  We make peace with ourselves when we say it out loud.  We make peace with ourselves by letting Jesus into our hearts and letting him heal us.  

One of the most powerful and visual images that I have participated in was a time at Camp Pee Dee.  There was a canoe lake and a fishing lake at Camp Pee Dee and we walked this big, giant, life-size cross to the fishing lake.  It took a lot of us kids to carry the huge thing to the lake.  As we took turns, I don’t remember if they told us to be somber or solemn or we were being rowdy camp kids, but I remember thinking about carrying this alone and no wonder Jesus fell a few times.  When we got to the lake, again I don’t remember what was said or who the minister for the week was, but they had little pieces of paper and nails and we were to nail our sins to the cross.  Just that image brings up so many emotions, we were all crying in the pool house after using a hammer to nail our sins into the cross.  That image has stuck with me.  The Triune God knows all about us, knit us together in our mothers wombs, knows when we sit and we rise, knows every thought in our heads and every action that we’ve done – and loves us anyway.  Pursues us anyway.  Died for our sins.  

MercyMe’s “Flawless” comes in to play here:

No matter the bruises

No matter the scars

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt

Or how deep the wound is

No matter the pain

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

When we make our peace with God, God is able to use us.  What Jesus says to Ananius to get him to go to Paul in Acts 9:15-16,“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  We may not have the proclamation power of Paul and we certainly don’t want to suffer like Paul, but Jesus uses us as his instruments, to be his show and tell in the world.

There’s a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette called “Christ You Offer Us Your Welcome.”

You have given us a mission — to invite our neighbors in —

and your call to love and listen is a place we can begin.

We need more than open houses; we need, first, to give our hearts.

By your Spirit, make us servants; that’s the way your welcome starts.

May we set a welcome table, may we find a common ground

where no one will feel they’re labeled, where acceptance can be found.

We don’t need to entertain there, or to do things that impress —

just to hear folks’ joy and pain there, and to love so all are blest.

In much the same way, Rachel Held Evans writes, “I had questions about science and faith, biblical interpretation and theology. I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake. 

“What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or pastors wearing skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.”

When we take this meal, we’re following Paul’s example, making peace with those around us, ourselves and God.  But we’re also following Paul’s example because when we take this meal, it’s like a restart.  Forgetting our sins that lie behind us and pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. In this meal, we take part in this holy mystery that should forever change us if we let it.  And that’s what Jesus wants – that’s what Paul did; he was forever changed from Saul into Paul.  He proclaimed the Word made flesh and dwelt among us!  He had proclaimed hate and was a destroyer AND then HE was the biggest big mouth and planted churches and wrote several parts of the Bible.  If Jesus can transform him, what are we waiting for? 

Jesus came and saved a wretch like me and he wants us to use our gifts, talents, imperfections and peculiarities to find the lost, the lonely, the desperate, the seemingly bad guys and show them the WAY – to show them Jesus – so that he can transform their lives just like he continues to transform ours.  Jesus wants us to be the Church joined together in this common meal, in this Holy Communion, throughout all the world, all sinners, saved by grace, all broken people, put back together again, whole.  It’s time to restart and get out of our own way.  It’s time to restart and let God use us.  It’s time to restart and go ye and tell the world about Jesus!

Posted in calling, God, Judgment, Mercy, Sermons

Shake My Head

You’ve heard the Jonah story so many times, most of you can recite to me.  Let me review where we are in the story because I’m not talking about the storm or the belly of a fish – I’m talking about God’s mercy to Jonah and Nineveh and each of us!

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh but Jonah fled to Tarshish and got on a ship in Joppas.    Lord sent a great wind that created a big storm and the men on their ship were praying to their gods and throwing off anything they could off the ship but Jonah had gone to the bottom of the ship and was fast asleep.  The captain woke him up and said pray to your God, we need all the help we can get.  Well, they cast lots and realized Jonah was the guilty one, the one fleeing from God.  So they threw him overboard and the text says God was merciful.  He calmed the sea and Jonah was swallowed up by a large fish, where he stayed for three days and three nights.  When Jonah was in the belly of the fish, he prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance and then the fish spit him out.

Jonah was given a second chance to answer God’s calling and he went to Nineveh in the beginning of chapter 3.  The text says Nineveh was so giant of a city it would take 3 days to walk the length of the city and after only a day’s walk, he proclaimed, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” In verse 5 it says, “And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.”  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he had the entire country fast, repent and pray to God to have mercy on them.  That brings us to our text this morning.

Jonah 3:10-4:11
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.  But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.  6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

But first, let me say this, Jonah is acting like a dramatic teenager.  3 days to walk in the midst of the city and he walks for only a day, he yells this one sentence.  And lo and behold the whole country fasts, repents, prays.  The text doesn’t tell us any details about Jonah except that he is the son of Amittai, but he immediately wants to run away and the only reason chapter 2 happened, his prayer happened, was the fact that he was in a fish’s belly.  Maybe he’s embarrassed to give this news to Nineveh, maybe he mumbled, “Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  In any case, the people put on sackcloth and repented.  He was obviously not expecting that.

See why I think Jonah’s a moody, melodramatic teenager?  3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 

I was a very dramatic teenager.  I would roll my eyes like a pro and one day I ran up the stairs saying, “I hate this town and everybody in it,” and slammed the door.  So I know melodrama – exaggerated, overdramatic, and sensational – and I know what Jonah was feeling.

He says it here.  “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”  Like, I could have stayed home watching Netflix.

He then made a booth – a walled structure with s’chach (plant material, such as overgrowth or palm leaves) and waited to see what would become of the city.  At this point my parents would have shaken their heads at me.  I had dodged their first instruction and peaced out, only to come back after I was in the stomach of big fish, or like the prodigal “coming to himself” in the pig sty eating pig pods, but my parents, God our Loving Parent, and the Father in the prodigal story gives us second, third, and fourth chances.  God lets us be dramatic because we are God’s children.  God doesn’t release us from the consequences but even when we’re stubborn and obstinate, God is still there, sometimes shaking his head with a smile on his face, sometimes shaking his head with concern on his face.

I imagine God shaking his head with an exasperated look on his face when Jonah made his booth to await Nineveh’s destruction.  God gave his own eye roll because Jonah was pouting.  He didn’t want to give in and say God was right, those people deserved the same chances to make mistakes as he did.  You see when we’re disobedient it comes from us being self-focused.  We are all about us.  Blinded to our own failings.  When we get that self-righteous, woe is me, I’m worse off than you are, we can’t SEE others needs, others stories, anything.  We can’t see clearly those around us.   We make them into caricutures.  When we become so me, me, me, we can’t see.  When we become so me, me, me, we can’t be a we.  

Jonah is not thinking of God’s mercy to him.  He ran in the exact opposite direction God had called him to.  God called him to modern day Iraq and he sailed for Spain.  Only when he was in the belly of a big fish did Jonah actually have a reality check.  Only when he was in the belly did he pray.  Only when he was desperate did he bargain with God. He wanted mercy for himself, he wanted the fish to spit him out on dry land.  Mercy is great as long as it’s not extended to an enemy.  And Jonah doesn’t think Nineveh should get the same mercy he did.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own stuff as we demand all the grace in the world, BUT no matter what we say, we don’t want God to extend grace to “those” people.  We get in our heads that God’s grace is a limited quantity, that it’s the last drop of water on a hot day.  We don’t understand God has unlimited mercy for each of us.  Shake my head again at Jonah and for that matter each of us.  South Carolina fans vs. Clemson fans, Republicans vs. Democrats vs. Green vs. Independent vs. Libertarian, Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter…we are all in need of God’s mercy and grace.  We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.  And we ALL need to repent, fast, pray and put on our sackcloth and ash.  None of us has a leg up on the competition – God’s mercy and grace is the greatest equalizer.

 Jonah needed an object lesson of showing mercy and God gave him one.

“6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”” 

God asks Jonah, “Are you sure it is right to be angry about the bush?”  Jonah has dug in his heels and says, “Yes, angry enough to die!!”  Oh the defiant drama, but God is patient and used it to teach Jonah.  It was an object lesson after all.

“10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?””

He’s calling Jonah out and to account in these two sentences, ending in this question that shows that our God is a God of mercy and cares about all of God’s children.

As an aside, I’ve always used this last part to say, God cares about the animals.  Just sayin’.

God created the bush and God created the people, who was Jonah to question God when the people of Nineveh repented.  God gives third and sixth chances and never WANTS to punish us, as his children, whom God formed in our mother’s womb, but he does give us consequences.  If Nineveh hadn’t repented from their wicked ways, it would be a different story.  God showed mercy to Jonah AND to the people of Nineveh.  Our God is a God of mercy.

A. W. Tozer reminds us “Mercy is not something God has. Mercy is something God is. Mercy is infinite, boundless, and unlimited.”

I used to think that the God of the Old Testament was about only judgment and wrath and the God of the New Testament was the God of mercy and love.  That is far from the truth.  The word “mercy” appears four times more often in the Old Testament than in the New Testament.   If you view God as a Loving Parent it explains a lot.  Some of you may have not had that example, yours may not have been model parents.  But our God is.  Both just and merciful.  And it’s there for each and every one of us.

Cynthia Bourgeault, in Mystical Hope writes, “When we think of mercy, we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together. The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional — always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Just like that little fish swimming desperately in search of water, we, too “swim in mercy as in an endless sea.” Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love.”

Mercy is something God is.  This is the first thing to remember.  The second is God can use us to bring deliverance to God’s people.  Jonah certainly didn’t choose to be a prophet.  He did all that he could not to be.  But God still used him to deliver his message.  Nineveh – 120,000 people who did not know their right from their left – were saved because Jonah delivered God’s message.  God can and will use you to send God’s children a message of God’s love and mercy.  God’s love letter to the world.  Even if we’re kicking and screaming, even when we’re a petulant, dramatic teenager, God will use us.  And that’s the point.

There’s an old story about what happened when Jesus arrived back at the gates of heaven, following his ascension. All the heavenly hosts were gathered to welcome God’s Son, to celebrate his return home. Everybody had questions. They’d heard of his exploits on earth. They wanted to hear it straight from him.

Jesus described his adventures at great length: the preaching, the teaching, the healing. They laughed when he told them how he’d tied the Pharisees’ theological arguments up in knots, and they wept when he described both the agony of the cross and the joy of resurrection.

Someone asked him, “Lord, now that you no longer physically walk the earth, who will share the good news?”

“I’ve got a plan,” said Christ. “I’ve selected 11 followers, my closest friends. To them I’ve given the responsibility of sharing the good news.”

“They must have some incredible talents, those 11,” remarked one angel.

“Well, actually no,” the Lord responded. “These are average people, with ordinary abilities. They’re vain and sometimes foolish. One of them, their leader, denied me three times.”

“But, Lord,” objected another angel, “how can you be sure they’ll get the job done?”

“To be perfectly honest, I can’t be sure.”

“What do you mean, you can’t be sure? What if they fail? What’s your backup plan?”

Quietly Christ answered, “I have no backup plan.”

We, imperfect melodramatic teenagers, are God’s plan to show mercy to God’s children.  We are to be messengers, calling the people to repent and turn from their evil ways.  When they do, we don’t look down our noses at them, we rejoice and welcome them, God’s mercy lived out.  God showed mercy to Jonah, God showed mercy to the people of Nineveh, and God shows mercy to you and me, so that we will show mercy to others and will tell them about God’s mercy, mercy lived out.

Posted in Anne Lamott, Jesus, Mercy, Romans, Sermons

We are the Lord’s

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

    and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

How many of you like red grapes?

How many of you like green grapes?

How many of you do NOT like any grapes?

Red grapes, Green grapes, or no grapes – we are all children of God.  

Vegetarians.

Vegans.

Absolute Carnivores.

We are all children of God.

Virtual.

Hybrid.

Fully home-schooled.

We are all children of God.

Democrat.

Republican.

Independent.

We are ALL children of God.

That last one you had some feelings about, didn’t you?

We live in an extremely divided time right now.  But Paul was facing the same thing in Rome.  He was trying to unite the body of Christ from getting stuck on surface issues, preferences or opinions.  He was trying to unite a divisive Church into getting their priorities straight.  Jesus calls us to welcome not judge.  Jesus calls us to be peacemakers not quarrel over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  We should put our energy in things that are life-giving not life-draining, not in winning a point in an argument that is not essential.  Paul says both in living and dying, we are the Lord’s.

The old-time preacher, Donald Grey Barnhouse, tells the story of three men cast into the ocean by a plane crash. No one knows their plane has gone down. There they are, treading water, hundreds of miles from land.

One of the crash victims is a very poor swimmer. Another is a fairly good swimmer. The third is an Olympic gold-medalist.

The gold-medalist may well judge his two companions to be less-than-perfect swimmers. He may even deign to give them a few pointers on stroke and breathing, before setting off on his impossible journey toward land.

What does it matter? The poor swimmer will drown in 20 minutes; the average swimmer in two hours or so; the Olympian in 15. All of them, left to their own devices in that vast ocean, are bound to die.

No, what these men need — all three of them — is not a swimming coach. They need a savior. They need a helicopter or ship to come by and pluck them from the waves.

If all of us — as the Scriptures affirm — are sinners in need of a savior, then what sense does it make to judge others?

There are several scriptures about judging and in one of them if we judge harshly, we will be judged harshly.  Matthew 7 says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

Syngman Rhee says, “We must stand not on the judgment seat, but in the witness stand, where we witness to the saving love and work of Jesus Christ.”

Through Jesus’ grace and mercy, the only thing that saves us from God’s judgement, we are able to fully focus on the person, not our preconceived notions, assumptions, or judgments.

Did you know in The Book of Discipline, which orders the life of United Methodist Church’s, our Doctrinal History is all about this?

“This perspective is apparent in the Wesleyan understanding of “catholic spirit.” While it is true that United Methodists are fixed upon certain religious affirmations, grounded in the gospel and confirmed in their experience, they also recognize the right of Christians to disagree on matters such as forms of worship, structures of church government, modes of Baptism, or theological explorations. They believe such differences do not break the bond of fellowship that ties Christians together in Jesus Christ. Wesley’s familiar dictum was, “As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.””

We think and let think.  We’re not to judge how “Christian” someone is just like we’re not to see who’s the biggest sinner in our friend group?  That is exhausting.  Wouldn’t it be more fruitful if we nurtured our own walk with God through delving into the Word OR we live like Jesus, showing the world what he’s like, actually being his hands and feet?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

Everyone’s entitled to God’s grace and is not for us to judge.  That’s God’s job.  Our job on Earth is to show people Jesus.

We’re not called to live in Judgment House where doors are locked and bolted; where there’s no handle on the outside of the door and you can only get in if somebody lets you in. We’re called to live in Grace and Mercy House, whose door is always open and a welcoming committee is there to greet you. And if they’re aren’t there when you enter, it’s not because you’re not welcome, it’s because they’ve gone out in search of others like you who need a place to live.

Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  And Jesus gives us a choice of living in the Grace and Mercy House in freedom or in bondage in the Judgment House?  If we’re not judge, jury, and executioner, it gives a lot more time to be real with God’s people.  When Anne Lamott first started going to her church 21 years ago, she was still drinking. So she would often show up with these extreme hangovers. She writes, “But what I would hear is these very, very old people from the South, saying: “Jesus’s only as far away as his name, he’s only as far away, call on the name of the Lord” and “He shall hear you, he shall answer, he’s only as far away as his name.”

So it might be a habit that if I said: “Jesus,” or if I just said, “hi,” there’s only one person I’m reaching to. I got into the habit of calling for, reaching out to, and then experiencing this very, very dear parental response, as a mother or father might speak in the night when the child is afraid. Say, “I’m right here, what’s up?”

We never know what people are hearing or seeing or feeling or what they’ve been through.  “We must stand not on the judgment seat, but in the witness stand, where we witness to the saving love and work of Jesus Christ.”  If we do that we’ll have a much more happy and fulfilled life.  If we do that we’ll work to welcome the weak, welcome the lost, welcome the vulnerable.  If we do that no one is put on the pedestal, except the One who should truly be there…Jesus.  Vegan.  Vegetarian.  Carnivore.  It’s all about Jesus.  

So as James says, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak.”  May we stop and pause before offering words of judgment.  May we hear people’s words, stories, hearts.  May we lay down all of the hatred, bitterness, angst that’s easy to spew about other people and rest in the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus.  That’s one thing we can practically do this week.  And when the enemy weasels its way into our head, may we call on the name of Jesus’ in whom’s grace we stand united.  Amen and amen.

Posted in Darkness, Forgiveness, Light, Love, Needtobreathe, Sermons, Slumber

Love One Another

Romans 13:8-14

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

We are called to love one another and to do that we should wake up from our slumber, lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and then we will be able to “put on” our Lord Jesus.

Wake up from our slumber.

I have always loved the Needtobreathe song Slumber: 

Days they force you

Back under those covers

Lazy mornings they multiply

Glory’s waiting

Outside your window

Wake on up from your slumber

Open up your eyes

We need to wake up and wipe the sleep out of our eyes.  Wake up from complacency.  Wake up from auto-pilot.  “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near.”  We need to open our eyes to the possibilities of spreading the Good News, of spreading light of spreading Jesus to the whole word.  We don’t need to be day dreaming about it, we need to snap out of the day dream, and trust the One, as Ephesians says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  But first we must,

Lay aside the works of the darkness and put on the armor of light.

Notice the sins are the ones we think of us singular, personal sins such as adultery, murder, stealing, coveting, drunkenness, quarrelling, jealousy, debauchery or licientiosness.  But the “you” is plural.  It’s like y’all.  Paul is telling us all to lay aside the darkness inside each of us, not pointing one of us out.  But, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  

We are called to literally lay aside the darkness and choose the better way.  

In the 1986 film, The Mission, Robert De Niro plays Rodrigo Mendoza, a brutal slave trader from the conquistador era who has captured, sold and murdered many native South Americans. Although he scarcely thought twice about killing a native in the past, when Mendoza murders his brother in a fit of anger he is overcome with remorse. A Jesuit priest gives him a penance to atone for his sin: he must accompany an expedition of Jesuits deep into the rain forest, where they plan to teach the natives about Jesus Christ.

On the trek into the forest, Mendoza binds up his armor in a net. He ties a rope around this heavy burden and drags it along, to remind himself of the violent life he has left behind. The sack of armor slows the expedition, but the priests tolerate it because they know how important it is to the penitent man.

Close to their destination, the missionaries climb to the top of a waterfall. At the top, they warmly embrace the native friends they have come to know on an earlier journey. But then the natives spy the exhausted Mendoza, still ascending the rocks beside the waterfall, dragging his armor behind him.

They know him, and they fear him. One of the natives grabs a knife and runs over to Mendoza, holding the blade against his neck as though to kill him in revenge. Mendoza looks up at his assailant, preparing himself for death.

But then something surprising happens. The native does slash his knife, but what he cuts is not Mendoza’s throat. He cuts the rope holding the bag of armor. The entire company watches the conquistador’s burden fall away, falling end over end down the waterfall, smashing onto the rocks below.

Mendoza cries like a baby, fresh from the womb of God. A priest says, “Welcome home, brother.” Then, his real instruction begins.

Jesus doesn’t want us to carry around our baggage of sin; he frees us from that and scatters it far and wide.  It takes a lot for us to let that sink in.  Total forgiveness for our awful stench of sin.  Us hanging on to the sin can lead to darkness, if we don’t cling to the Lord’s good forgiveness.  

Lay aside the works of the darkness and put on the armor of light.  Not the heavy armor of sin, but armor of light.  To protect as from the darkness.  To protect us from the evil that so quickly creeps in.  God does not leave as defenseless and alone, he instructs us to lay aside, to put away from us, the darkness of sin and put on the armor of light.  We must truly repent and turn away from sin, that’s how we’ll be children of the light.

“Put on” the Lord Jesus through a personal connection and a community of support to help us.

A mother with two young children put them to bed and went to prepare herself for bed. She put on some old clothes and went to the bathroom. She washed her hair and wrapped a towel around her head to dry her hair. She applied cold cream on her face to remove her makeup. Just as she was about to wipe off the cream, she heard the noise of her children playing in their room. She stormed into the room, hollered and told her two small children to get back into bed, reminded them that it was time to sleep, turned out the light and slammed the door. As she left the room, one of the children, with a trembling voice, asked the other, “Who was that?” 

We don’t want others asking, “Who was that?” when they look at our lives. We want others to know Who it is Who lives, breathes, and shapes our lives. We want Jesus to be all over us!

It’s not putting on airs, putting on the ritz, or putting on your make up; but it’s putting on Christ.  It’s not just being nicey nice or putting on an act, it’s actually taking on the characteristics of Jesus.  Jesus exemplified the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  As we put on Christ, we should start with those virtues listed in this Galatians text.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Those are a good place to start!

How else do we “put on” Christ but by being in the Word, creating a spirit of gratitude, and not letting the world, or the devil, get the better of us.  

We all need encouragement and support from a community of faith.  To sing our song to us when we are down and out, to sing our song to us when we are weary and discouraged to help us sing when we’ve lost our tune.  Bishop Woodie White, retired United Methodist bishop, tells about the chaffinch bird, a little reddish-brown bird found in Europe. The chaffinch sings like a canary, but there is something unique about this popular songbird. When people take them into their homes, the little birds soon forget how to sing. When they forget how to sing, they get sick. Eventually, they become depressed and die. Unless, of course, they are taken back to be with other chaffinch, in which case they congregate and relearn how to sing and are well again.  We are like the chaffinch, we don’t need do it all by ourselves, we need to be with others to help us forge the rivers and help us scale the rocks of the mountains.  Our fellow journeyers make us stronger, the full body of Christ, not divided – ONE. 

Through putting on Christ individually and as a community of Christians that’s how we can really love one another.

It’s all about love, friends.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” 

I was hearing in my head, “when love is the way,” and realized it was from Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at Prince Harry and Megan’s wedding.

“Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.

Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.

Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

When love is the way, there’s plenty of good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.

“Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.

When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.”

When love is the way we wake up from our slumber, lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and then, then we will be able to “put on” our Lord Jesus and love of our neighbors as ourselves.  

Posted in 3 Simple Rules, Christian, Forgiveness, Marking, Romans, yoda

Marks of a Christian

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There’s a lot to take in here, so we’re going to use as our matrix, John Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules:  Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love with God.

Do No Harm.

In Elmer Bendiner’s book, The Fall of Fortresses, he describes one bombing run over the German city of Kassel: “His B-17 (The Tondelayo) was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That wasn’t unusual, but on this occasion their gas tanks were hit. Later, as he reflected on the miracle of a twenty-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, the pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told him it wasn’t quite that simple.

On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask the crew chief for the shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but eleven had been found in the gas tanks. Eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast them out of the sky. Even after thirty-five years, the event was so awesome that it leaves the author shaken, especially after he heard the rest of the story.

Bohn had been told that the shells had been sent to the armory to be defused. The armory told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They couldn’t say why at the time, but Bohn eventually discovered the answer. Apparently when the armory workers opened each of those shells they didn’t find any explosive charge. The shells were clean as a whistle and just as harmless.

Empty? Not all of them. One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured the base for until they found someone who could decipher the note which read: “This is all we can do for you now.” 

Click below….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqY0pP6oogQ 

That’s a somewhat exaggerated clip that gets to the heart of road rage, social media angst, and our general hair trigger rage.

Oh, the harm that goes with unforgiveness to the people we’re not forgiving…and to us.

I’m up here preaching about forgiveness and unforgiveness, and those of us that truly need that message, are the ones thinking I’m preaching to someone else.  We’re not like the lady hitting the guy over the head with her purse or pocketbook, but we have the unforgiving nature that leads to the root of bitterness that leads to a critical spirit welling up and festering inside of us.  Sometimes we’re afraid to let our grudge go.  We’re afraid to lay it down because we’ve gotten comfortable with it, we think it protects us, shields us, BUT WE HAVE TO LET IT GO.  2008d3e1014e8220bd2b786f9373ba02As Yoda says, ““Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” You will suffer more with unforgiveness than the person you won’t forgive.  It’s like a bullet, you have to take it out for the wound to properly heal.  You have to root out the bad stuff, before you can truly heal and bring about the good.

Y’all know the passage from Matthew about seeing the dust in other people’s eyes while we’re walking around with giant planks in our own eyes.  We have to be real and honest with ourselves, others and God.  That’s the only way we have a hope of living up to the marks in this passage, the marks of the Christian life.  In Romans 12:18, If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  Let the peace of the Holy Spirit flow through you.  When we get angry or frustrated, we need to let it out and vent to God.  We can even hit a punching bag, scream in the shower, anything to get out our anger productively, not destructively.

If it’s more than just a tiff or annoyance and someone has actually hurt us, our Loving Parent God, will deal with it.  Paul writes in verse 19 – 21, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Leave room for God’s wrath and do not repay anyone evil for evil.  That does harm to the community, your witness and you!  And Paul hardly ever uses the word “Beloved,” so you know it’s important.  Get the anger, hurt, vengeance out of your system, and leave it for God to take care of.  Our Loving Parent has a clearer picture of the who’s, why’s and how’s of every situation.  Give it to God, so we can go about doing all the good we can.

That brings us to the second Wesleyan pejorative. 

Do Good.

Romans 12:9-13 – Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 

Fred Craddock, tells a story of a church that lost track of the importance of hospitality. Sadly, it was a church he once served, early in his ministry. It was located in the hills of eastern Tennessee.

Years later, Fred returned to that church. He brought his wife, Nettie, along for the ride — for she had never seen it. As the two of them drove to the little town, Fred reminisced about a time of controversy in that church. The nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory was expanding, and new families were moving into the area. Fred, the young pastor, urged the people of this beautiful, little white-frame church to call on the newcomers, to invite them to join them.

“They wouldn’t fit in here,” was the curt reply.

A week later, there was a congregational meeting. “I move,” said one of the longtime members, “that in order to be a member of this church, you must own property in the county.” The motion passed, over the pastor’s objections.

When Fred and Nettie pulled up to the old church building, years later, it looked to be a busy place, much busier than he remembered. In his words:

“The parking lot was full — motorcycles and trucks and cars packed in there. And out front, a great big sign: ‘Barbecue, all you can eat.’ It’s a restaurant, so we went inside. The pews are against a wall. They have electric lights now, and the organ pushed over into the corner. There are all these aluminum and plastic tables, and people sitting there eating barbecued pork and chicken and ribs — all kinds of people. Parthians and Medes and Edomites and dwellers of Mesopotamia, all kinds of people. I said to Nettie, ‘It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be in here.’”

Hospitality.  We must not be stingy with God’s grace, we have to share it, and by us sharing it, it multiplies.  We have to be the Gospel lived out.  What that means is we have to show them our real, authentic selves trying to live out what Christ commands us to do.  We will mess up.  Definitely.  But we have to aspire to do the good, be the light, and seek the higher way.

Yes, there is evil in the world, and Paul knows it. “But God’s people are to meet it in the way that even God met it, with love and generous goodness,” says N.T. Wright. God knows that “the way to overthrow evil, rather than perpetuating it, is to take its force and give back goodness instead.” That’s what Jesus did on the cross, and what we are challenged to do in daily acts of love and sacrifice.

wafflehouse

Betty Meadows, general presbyter of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery (a position similar, in some ways, to bishop) describes a summer sabbatical that transformed her life. She left her church world behind and went “under cover” for three months, working as a Waffle House hostess. To her surprise, as she put it, “the risen Christ showed up every day.”

A van broke down in the parking lot, on the Fourth of July, carrying a family from Alabama. No garage or mechanic could be found. A waitress heard of their plight and called her boyfriend. He arrived 15 minutes later and fixed their van, for the price of a cup of coffee.

“The risen Christ in the mechanic and the waitress,” writes Betty.

A lawyer set up shop in the Waffle House, offering legal help to the needy of the community, for what they could pay — or for no payment at all, if they couldn’t afford it.

“Day after day,” writes Betty, “this lawyer sat at a table, smoking his cigar, meeting client after client, turning down no one. The risen Christ in the lawyer.”

A woman hobbled into the restaurant, a cast on one leg, but displaying signs of other medical difficulties. The police had just arrested her boyfriend for drunken driving and had impounded his truck. She was turned out on the street, with nowhere to go. The restaurant was so busy, none of the staff could give her a ride to the bus station, but she called her landlord, who lived an hour and a half away. He dropped everything, and drove right over to pick her up.

“When the landlord arrived,” writes Betty, “I said to him, ‘How kind of you to drive so far for one of your tenants, for this woman.’

“The man looked puzzled. And then he said, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’

“The risen Christ in the landlord.”

“But God’s people are to meet it in the way that even God met it, with love and generous goodness.”  We have to show people Christ and that leads us to our third rule.

Stay in Love with God

An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, celebrated orchestra conductor, what was the hardest instrument to play. Without hesitation he replied: “Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” 

We stay in love with God, by knowing our place.  We are the second fiddle to Jesus and when we reflect Jesus as our Lord and Savior, a beautiful harmony emanates everything.  When the world sees our “goodness” we point to Jesus.  Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  It’s not by our own merit; it’s not by my own strength.  Ellie Holcomb writes about this temptation in her song, “Only Hope I’ve Got.”

I don’t wanna tell some arrogant story

Or let myself believe I’m you!

I don’t wanna be a thief who’s stealing Your glory…

Will You help remind me of what is true? 

The ONLY hope I’ve got, It’s You.

We stay in love with God, by taking care of our devotional lives.  We stay in love with God, by inputting good stuff in, and letting the bad/angsty go.  We stay in love with God by actually making God a priority – in our time, in our lives, in our hearts.  If we live out the calling in Romans 12, we automatically will fall more and more in love with God as we show to the world the true marks of the Christian life.

Do no harm.  We’re able to let go of our unforgiveness and angst and bitterness.  Do good.  We’re actually able to put more good out in the world through our being ambassadors of Christ.   And finally, we are able to stay in love with God, by reminding ourselves we are not God, and the only way to any kind of goodness is through Jesus.  Thus, we can live the true marks of the Christian life.  We can do no harm and put good in the world by staying in love with Jesus.  He’s the only hope, we’ve got and we can trust in the Triune God conquering Evil at last!

Posted in blessed, Sermons

God is on Our Side

Psalm 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side

—let Israel now say—

if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,

    when our enemies attacked us,

then they would have swallowed us up alive,

    when their anger was kindled against us;

then the flood would have swept us away,

    the torrent would have gone over us;

then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,

    who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird

    from the snare of the fowlers;

the snare is broken,

    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,

    who made heaven and earth.

This scripture says to me, we have to trust God, our Loving Parent, put our hope in Jesus, our Savior, and be led by the Holy Spirit, our advocate and comforter to share with the world that God is on the side of God’s people.

First of all, we have to trust God, as our Loving Parent. 

Dear Mom,

Scoutmaster Webb told us to write our parents in case you heard about the flood and got worried. We’re all okay. Only one of our tents and two of our sleeping bags got washed away. Nobody drowned because we were all on the mountain looking for Chad when it happened. Oh yeah, please call Chad’s mother and tell her he’s okay. He can’t write her because of the cast on his arm.

I got to ride in one of the search-and-rescue Jeeps! It was neat! We never would have found him in the dark if it hadn’t been for all the lightning. Scoutmaster Webb got mad at Chad for going on a hike alone without telling anyone. Chad said he did tell him, but it was during the fire, so he probably didn’t hear him.

Did you know that if you put gas on a fire, the gas can will blow up? It was so cool! The wet wood still wouldn’t burn, but one of our tents did, and some of our clothes. Boy, Johnny is going to look weird until his hair grows back!

We’ll be home Saturday if Scoutmaster Webb gets the car fixed. It wasn’t his fault about the wreck. The brakes worked good when we left. But he said with a car that old you have to expect something to break down. That’s probably why he can’t get insurance. We think it’s a neat car. He doesn’t care if we get it dirty, and if it’s hot, sometimes he lets us ride on the tailgate. It gets pretty hot with 15 people in the car. He let us take turns riding in the trailer until the highway patrolman stopped and yelled at him.

This morning all the guys were diving off the rocks and swimming out in the lake. Scoutmaster Webb wouldn’t let me because I can’t swim, and Chad was afraid he would sink because of his cast, so he let us take the canoe across the lake. It was great. You can still see some of the trees under the water from the flood. And Scoutmaster Webb isn’t crabby like some scoutmasters. He didn’t even get mad about us leaving the life jackets behind. He has to spend a lot of time working on the car, so we’re trying not to cause him any trouble.

Guess what? We passed our first-aid merit badges. When Dave dived into the lake and cut his arm, we got to see how a tourniquet works. Also, Wade and I threw up. Scoutmaster Webb said it probably was just food poisoning from the leftover chicken. He said they got sick like that with the food they ate in prison. I’m so glad he got out and became our scoutmaster. He said he figured out how to do things better while he was doing time.

I have to go now. We’re going into town to mail this and buy some bullets and more gasoline. Don’t worry about anything. We’re doing just fine.

Love, Your son

God is our Loving Parent.  The spin cycle of sin…Romans 8:31 says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

All kind of calamities are happening.  Fires in California, two hurricanes in the Gulf, and I’m not going to get into the global pandemic and all of the affects its having.  God is not like the Mother who gets the letter from her son.  God is actively engaged in our world today, working things for our good.  

Amy Grant, the Collection, was my favorite CD growing up and her song “Angels,” reminds me of this concept.

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.

A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way.

Near misses all around me, accidents unknown,

Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.

But I know they’re all around me all day and through the night.

When the enemy is closing in, I know sometimes they fight

To keep my feet from falling, I’ll never turn away.

If you’re asking what’s protecting me then you’re gonna hear me say:

Got his angels watching over me, every move I make,

Angles watching over me!

Angels watching over me, every step I take,

Angels watching over me.

God is ALWAYS, always working for our good, even when it doesn’t seem like it.  Even when we’re under attack.  We are a BLESSED people, writes the psalmist, because we haven’t been surrendered as “prey” (v. 6). Indeed, because of the Lord’s help (v. 8), we have “escaped” (the word is used twice in v. 7).  We’ve got to trust God has our best interests at heart, ever working in the midst.  To sharpen us so that we’ll better persevere, to give us strength and sustenance on the road ahead when we’re desperately tired and parched, to give us a future with hope.

Second of all, we have to put our hope in Jesus our Savior, the only hope we have this side of heaven.   

Peter J. Gomes, chaplain of the Memorial Church at Harvard University, wrote a book titled The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus Christ: What Is So Good About the Good News? (New York: HarperCollins, 2007). He tells about a time some years ago when South African novelist Alan Paton spoke at Harvard. At the time, the apartheid regime of Paton’s home country appeared to be close to collapse, and a black majority government would soon take over. Many people feared that massive bloodshed was imminent. During a question-and-answer time, a woman asked Paton, “Given all that you have said and we have heard, are you optimistic about the future of your beloved country?” Paton replied, “I am not optimistic, but I remain hopeful.”

Gomes writes that he has thought much about that distinction between optimism and hope ever since. He recalls that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once warned against cheap grace. Similarly, Gomes warns against “cheap hope.” He explains: “Hope is not merely the optimistic view that somehow everything will turn out all right in the end if everyone just does as we do. Hope is more rugged, the more muscular view that even if things don’t turn out all right and aren’t all right, we endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us. Something of the quality of that hope is found when the psalmist asks, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.’”

Such muscular hope comes with a price, writes Gomes. It’s the kind of hope that requires work and effort, with no real guarantee of when, how or even whether we will see a positive return. Citing Romans chapter 5, he states, “Paul’s sequence reminds us of this: We pass from sufferings that are not avoided to ignorance, which is the quality that allows us to keep on when it would be easier to quit. The process of enduring produces character, that inner quality not to be confused with image or reputation, that is who we are when no one is looking. It is from character that hope is produced. This is where the old aphorism comes that says, ‘Show me what you hope for, and I will know who you are.’”

Miss Congeniality was on this weekend.  Sandra Bullock’s character plays an FBI agent, gone undercover in the Miss USA as Gracie Lou Freebush.  She jokes that she’s hoping for world peace.  I’m not talking about that kind of hope, I’m talking about this muscular hope, where we actively work with Jesus to make it happen in the world.  If we’re hoping for world peace, we better be actively working for peace on our own lives in word, deed and Spirit.  If we’re actively working for muscular hope, we show that in our own lives, we radiate that hope, and we point people to the hope in Jesus.

Thirdly, we have to be led by the Holy Spirit to blow hope, peace, love and joy to a world that is so stressed out, angry, and battered.

Rabbi Hugo Gryn used to tell of his experiences in Auschwitz as a boy. Food supplies were meager, and the inmates took care to preserve every scrap that came their way. When the Festival of Hanukkah arrived, Hugo’s father took a lump of margarine and, to the horror of young Hugo, used it as fuel for the light to be lit at the festival. When he was asked why, his father replied, “We know that it is possible to live for three weeks without food, but without hope it is impossible to live properly for three minutes.”

May the world know that the church exists not to raise hell, or give ’em hell, but raise hope and give ’em hope. As Psalm 124 reminds us: “Blessed be the Lord .… Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (vv. 6, 8).  We’ve got to show people through our very lives the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” 

It’s easy to give in to anger, strife, and the ceaseless complaining of this world.  It’s much harder to be a city on a hill that stands for light in the ever-growing midst of the darkness.  Don’t give in.  Trust God to provide, cling to the robust hope in Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit guide and lead you to who you need to talk to, giving you the words to speak, and using words to inspire and create a spirit of cooperation and unity, not divisiveness and dissatisfaction.

Isaiah 51:1-6

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,

    you that seek the Lord.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,

    and to the quarry from which you were dug.

2 Look to Abraham your father

    and to Sarah who bore you;

for he was but one when I called him,

    but I blessed him and made him many.

3 For the Lord will comfort Zion;

    he will comfort all her waste places,

and will make her wilderness like Eden,

    her desert like the garden of the Lord;

joy and gladness will be found in her,

    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4 Listen to me, my people,

    and give heed to me, my nation;

for a teaching will go out from me,

    and my justice for a light to the peoples.

5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,

    my salvation has gone out

    and my arms will rule the peoples;

the coastlands wait for me,

    and for my arm they hope.

6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,

    and look at the earth beneath;

for the heavens will vanish like smoke,

    the earth will wear out like a garment,

    and those who live on it will die like gnats;

but my salvation will be forever,

    and my deliverance will never be ended.

Our help and our hope is in the Lord our God who will always be on our side.  If we trust God, put our hope in Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide our steps, we will truly be the body of Christ in the world.

Posted in Fear, Scripture, trust in God

No Fear

Do y’all remember in the 90’s the No Fear t-shirts?  My brothers had to have them.

no fear

It’s hard to not have fear.  Fear about the safety of our children. Fear about shootings and bombings happening all over the world. Fear about our health, our college funds, our retirement. Fear about climate change and what the world will be for our grandchildren. These are definitely first world problems…some people worry when they will get their next meal and fear for their very lives.

Christians are meant to be fearless.  If we let fear rule our lives, it will paralyze us and our efforts to spread the Gospel.  We name our fears and worries in our prayers and give them to Jesus.  Naming and saying it out loud takes away its festering power.  Like a boil, festering, it can ruin our spiritual lives.  If we say our fears out loud they no longer have any power over us.  That is, if we don’t pick them back up again.  It’s hard not to because we think we can figure it out on our own or box the fears up on our own.  We think we have to do it by our own strength.  It’s Christ strength that is within us that says “No” to fear.  It’s the Holy Spirit at work within us that says “No” to fear.  God created Adam and Eve in the Garden to have no fear or worries and not til they had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge did they experience fear.  It was not God’s design to have us as fearful beings.

We have power over this fear.  In God’s Word, in prayer, in being thankful, and seeing and knowing the fear, but overcoming it in Jesus’ name.  The Enemy seeks to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus calls us to boldly proclaim his Good News to all people.  We don’t have to just bob passively through life because we have a God who became flesh who is right beside us.  In Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”  In Joshua 1:9 it says, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.”  God walks right beside us even through the valley of the shadow of death.

At night when the fears and worries creep in, give it all to God in prayer and the things for which you are grateful. As it says in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Wise words.  Jesus even taught about this very thing in Luke 12:22-27, “He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

It’s hard to convince someone to trust.  That’s basically what it’s about.  If you’re fearful and worried all the time, do you have the trust and faith that God will work it out?  It’s a nature of God question.  Trust me, if you put these things in practice by digging into God’s word, intentional prayer, and being grateful for what you have, I promise it will change your life.  You will still face hard times, but lean on the One who never will fail you.  The One that says in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  And promises to love you no matter what in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The Triune God is faithful and true, and will never leave nor forsake us.

I’m preaching Sunday about common phobias and fears and I’ve created a handout with my favorite verses about conquering our fears.  We are going to write down some of our fears then lay them at the altar and give them to God.  As 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” If we seek the Lord’s direction in our lives, if we put our fears and worries in God’s mighty hands, as Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

I’ll close with this song that I love by Ben Rector called “Follow You.”  Have a great weekend!

Follow You by Ben Rector

Go on, lay your troubles down
Set your feet on solid ground
Peace deep as I have found
I wanna follow you
Come on, all you weak and weary
Come round now if you can hear me
Poor, sick, and God-fearing
I wanna follow you
I said I wanna follow you
Leave all your trouble
Leave all your sorrow
Set down your burden
Come on and follow
Come on, heavy laden
Don’t wait for tomorrow
Come on, my brother
Come on and follow
Go on, leave your worries, too
Not a bit of good they do
There’s a word that’s coming through
Go on, leave your worry, too
So I call your name in the middle of the night
I wanna know can you hear my cries?
June heat and moonlight
I wanna follow you
I said I wanna follow you
Leave all your trouble
Leave all your sorrow
Set down your burden
Come on and follow
Posted in Easter, Jesus

Blah -> He IS.

I know I’m not supposed to be admitting this.  But I’m really not feeling Holy Week.

I was geared up last week for Palm Sunday, excitedly showing clips from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” to get at Jesus’ suffering a “traitors” death for each of us.

But I’m literally blahhhhhhh, it’s Easter.

The bulletins are printed.  The scriptures and titles picked. The slides and videos done.

I have my cascarone eggs and olive wood crosses for Easter Sunrise and Easter.  I’m not sure what I will do with them.  I’ve come up with different angles throughout the week but I’m not satisfied.

I’m up late looking for inspiration scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, emails…I’ve thought about using Tiger Woods’ redemption, the Avengers Endgame supposed “resurrection,” among other things. 

I know to preach, “He is Risen!  He is Risen, Indeed!”  And I know and trust the Holy Spirit will show up.

Maybe it’s the desire to spend Spring Break with the kids, falling on my face on Tuesday afternoon walking the dog with scrapes on my knees, my elbow and my face, an overall malaise with Notre Dame burning, the Mueller Report and Rachel Held Evans, or hearing on the Today Show this morning that church attendance is at an all time low.

Perhaps it’s the pressure of a new place.  Or all of the Easter advertising.  Or coming up with a fresh spin.  Or wanting to get it right…perfect…the most epically awesome Easter sermon ever. 

Perhaps you’re feeling blah too.

Perhaps we need to hear the story anew and afresh.  Perhaps it can be an actual personal encounter or a real Word of Grace.

“Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,

    and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,

   and I hold the keys of hell and death.

Because I live, you shall live also.”

Because He Lives.  Even when we’re feeling blah, He IS.  Even when we’re feeling trapped, He IS.  Even when we don’t feel worthy enough, He IS.  Even when all hope seems lost, He IS.  Even when………He IS.