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.

Posted in (in)courage, Breathe, Busy-ness, Devotional Life, Forgetting, Goal, god is with us, God's Voice, Jeremiah 29:11, Rest, Straining

God Speaks

I went to the kids’ award day for the third nine weeks, watched Kathie Lee Gifford’s last Today Show, walked the dog with my husband, Mike, and cleaned out my car.  I haven’t washed or cleaned the car since we left Mt. Pleasant in July.  It was gross.  When I found this devotional book that I’ve had in there for a year or more. IMG_2570 (1) I put it in there because I often have a busy schedule.  Well, if I’m honest, I ALWAYS have a busy schedule and I need to get in my devotions when I can.  Stuck in traffic, waiting at the doctors’ office, waiting in a drive thru line, before I go into work – you get the idea of why I put it in there.  You know what?  I have used it approximately 3 times.  I check emails or I’m calling someone or ….. I’d forgotten it’s in there.

I thought about taking it to my office where all the other prayer books are.  But then, I would never use it….except for maybe a staff devotion or a devotion for church.

I subscribe to the (in)courage blogs and I know I’ve not taken enough self-care by how many blogs I have in my inbox.  (I have many.). As I was in the massaging pedicure chair, I was reading this blog titled “Here, Take a Moment to Breathe,” and at the end, lo and behold it’s the book that’s been riding around with me for years under my console.  Much cleaner, I must say.  I got the message loud and clear.

The sermon on Sunday is based on Philippians 3:12-14. The verses are about pressing towards the goal.  If we (I) don’t take time to breathe, if we (I) fill up our calendars, even if it’s doing great and worthy stuff, then we’re missing out on the richness of living the daily Christian life.  It’s not about getting little Jesus fixes, but it’s about the day to day spending time with our Creator, our best friend, the Spirit that intercedes for each of us.  

I’m going to live into these verses, “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.”  Not rear view mirror living, but windshield living.  Taking it ALL in and straining/leaning/inching/muscling toward what lies ahead.  What’s our goal?  What are we pressing for?  The prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus?  I think it’s what Matthew 22:37-39 says “37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  

First, we HAVE to stay connected to the TRUE VINE with every ounce in us.  Otherwise we are short-changing ourselves in the abundant life that Jesus wants to give us.  Second, we have to love people enough to show them Jesus in our every day lives.  “Go ye and tell ALL the world” that I have an abundant love for them.  I want a relationship with them.  If they seek me, they will find me.

I think that’s the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus – to have our essence be so in tune with the Lord that it shows.  That IS our greatest goal in life – our greatest prize!  In her final words, Gifford referenced a Bible verse. “Jeremiah 29 says, ‘I know the plans I have (for) you, declares the Lord,’ ” she said, getting choked up, ” ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.’ That’s not just true for me, you guys, that’s true for everybody watching. Trust Him. Let Him love you like He wants to love you,” she continued. “Like I am loved by all of you.”

Looking forward to Sunday, my friends!

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Kathie Lee Farewell

Peace Over Productivity by Becky Keife

 

 

 

Posted in Disciples, Inc., Lincoln, Mark 9, Team

We are ALL on the same TEAM.

Preached at Bethany UMC on World Communion Sunday

To listen to audio – https://soundcloud.com/bethanyumcsc/october-7-2018-sanctuary?in=bethanyumcsc/sets/2018-sanctuary

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Mark 9:38-41 (NRSV)

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

The disciples were complaining to Jesus about a person who was not in the card-carrying club of the Disciples, Inc. casting out demons in Jesus name.  The Message puts it this way: “We stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.

The disciples clearly had already developed an “us versus them” mentality. Perhaps we’re no different. When you’re a member of an exclusive club, whether somebody is “one of us” or not is terribly important. One thing any of the ultra-elite clubs has in common is elitism. John wanted to make sure that non-disciples weren’t casting out demons. Most people might think that getting rid of a demon is a good thing. But apparently not John.

What’s even more comical, or disturbing, is that this incident comes on the heel of the “Who is the greatest?” argument that the disciples had been having. They didn’t get it then, and it is clear that in today’s text, they still don’t get it.

John’s confusion could have been well-intended. He had already witnessed and participated in things with Jesus that nobody had ever seen before. It would have been easy to understand the God-given power behind miracles as something reserved for Jesus alone and those sent by him. Jesus doesn’t have the same reaction.  Jesus takes on a decidedly inclusive and unthreatened response to privilege. He realizes that the work of God isn’t for the few elitist members of Disciples, Inc. — after all, he chose teenagers, fishermen, and tax collectors as his Twelve in the first place. Jesus has a larger cosmic perspective, an all-encompassing world view and when the fields are ready for harvest, it’s all hands on deck.

What can we learn from Jesus’ response to John? Surely there aren’t any parallels in our churches today, right? Is the church the most elite club in the world? Is there a dress code?  Like Mike’s first time at the country club where they made him wear a suit jacket? Are we guilty if giving the side eye, if people are sitting in our pew?  What if people genuinely want to connect with God and be used by God in a meaningful way, but we are accidentally standing in the way?  That’s something to think about.

We don’t get details about the “someone” of verse 38, but John said that he was not ekolouthei — literally meaning “not following us” or “not a disciple.” Somehow someone not yet known as a follower of Christ had gotten wind that demons could be cast out in the name of Christ. We don’t know anything else about the story of “someone,” but isn’t it possible that serving God — even with potentially impure motive (and we don’t know that was the case here) — caused him to believe in the power of Christ as the Messiah?  If you cast a demon out of a person using the name of Jesus, wouldn’t that have an affect on you?

Jesus was concerned with something so much larger than just one demon’s being cast out. He wanted to ensure that his future church would never feel like an elite club. Instead of being exclusivist, he wanted her to be as inclusive as possible.

So how do we turn our churches into the least elitest places of our culture? When we do this, we will truly “bear the name of Christ” (v. 41), and neither church insider nor outsider will need to feel that he is “not one of us.”  The church is a place where all are welcome.  Both Clemson fans or South Carolina fans.  Both Ohio State fans and Penn State fans.

We are ALL on the same team.

That may be hard for some of us to hear and understand.  We in our self-righteous anger thinking that we’re the only RIGHT way.  ALL “sides” are guilty of this.  I know many faithful Christians who are Republicans and I know many faithful Christians who are Democrats.  Jesus calls us to be united under his leading, his direction, as HIS FOLLOWERS.  When we’re getting ready to demonize the other, we need to check ourselves in the Spirit.    We may get rebuked by Jesus as the disciples did.  The harvest is ripe and the laborers are few.  So what if they don’t look like us or speak like us or dress like us if they’re preaching Jesus and it brings about Christ’s transformation that only he can do…great.  I can’t busy myself policing other people’s behavior if I’m to do what Christ is calling me to do.

In the 1996 movie Phenomenon, John Travolta plays George Malley, an ordinary man who sees a bright light descend from the sky and discovers he now has super-intelligence and telekinesis.  I’ve always loved what he says about the apple.  “You know, if we were to put this apple down, and leave it, it would be spoiled and gone in a few days. But, if we were to take a bite of it like this,” he then takes a bite of the apple as he continues, “it would become part of us, and we could take it with us, forever.”  I’ve always wanted us to treat communion that way.  With only a bite of bread and a dip of juice, we can be changed people.  And we can take that with us, forever.  If we take the words seriously, we can be changed with this meal.  Even us judgmental disciples.  As I said last week, Jesus is always working on us, pruning us, shaping us, molding us.  If we think of this like we are ingesting Jesus and his likeness will pour out of us, what would that be like for us personally and in our communities, and by very extension, our worlds?

While he was President, Lincoln attended church almost every Sunday at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where Dr. Phineas Gurley was the pastor. Lincoln’s presence caused such a commotion that Dr. Gurley gave Lincoln a key to his private study just off the platform, and Lincoln would often slip in and listen to the message in the Pastor’s study. After one particularly eloquent, moving sermon, Lincoln was leaving and his assistant, John Hay remarked, “Mr. President, wasn’t that a great sermon?” Lincoln thought for a moment and said, “It was a good sermon, but it was not a great sermon.” His assistant asked, “Why do you say that, Mr. President?” Lincoln said, “Well, the speaker was eloquent and the content was excellent, but it wasn’t a great sermon, because Dr. Gurley forgot one important matter. He did not ask us to do something great for God.”

I’m going to ask you to do something great for God today.  I want you to take this meal and live like changed people, a living testimony for all the world to see.  In an increasing non-church culture, you may be the only witness the world ever sees of the grace and love of Jesus.  Live it.  Rest in God. Show people Jesus.

Posted in Demonize, Evil, Faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Other, Peace, UMC

Walk by Faith.

We left two magazines at the store, they’re part of my ritual of self-care, so I went back to pick them up.  Mike had just gotten back from fixing a bass pedal and he asked how I was.  My heart is cloudy and rainy like the sky in Summerville this afternoon and as I listened to Needtobreathe’s Difference Maker from their Wastelands album.  The jumbled thoughts from the Judicial Council decision and our divisive political climate where weighing heavy on me.  As I preach Children’s Sabbath on Sunday, I’m struck by the theme “Walk by Faith.”   I didn’t know who to call, to express my grief, looking for hope, so I began talking to Jesus, as the tears began to fall.

I wish there weren’t “winners” and “losers.”  I wish we didn’t demonize the “other” side.  I wish we could listen and not be planning our counter-attack in our head.  I know, love and respect some clergy that will leave the UMC if the Traditional plan passes at General Conference and I know, love and respect some that will leave if the One Church Plan passes at General Conference, not to mention the people in the pew.  I also know, that God will still be God, and some of my blog readers and most of my friends don’t much care what happens in our denomination.  (smile)  But earlier, I turned on the news…….I have no words, much less for an explanation for my 9 and 11 year old who are full of questions.

As I was mulling these things over in the car I realized, I need to “Walk by Faith.”  I don’t know how to navigate the denomination divide/political climate/interpersonal relationships with all kinds of the land mines out there!  But I know Who makes crooked lines straight.  I know someone that says He’s the way, the truth and the life.  I know that I will ask the Holy Spirit to guide and lead me in the coming months of navigation.  The Devil is alive, y’all.  Evil is real.  He seeks to disrupt.  He seeks to divide.  And isn’t he having a field day in our lives today??!!  Progressive.  Conservative.  Moderate.  Libertarian.  Liberal.  Evangelical.  Democrat.  Anarchist.  Republican.  And everyone in between.

We all need Jesus.

I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

We all need hope.  We all need the light.  We all need to seek the good in the world.  We all need Jesus.  When the world is at it’s darkest, when all hope seems lost, we TRUST and MOVE and have our very BEING in the One who commands even the wind and the waves with a Word.

My prayer as we continue to be bombarded by all sorts of “stuff” is that we rest on the Almighty love and grace of God.  We trust Jesus to shield us and He seeks to work all things for our good.  Remembering as we go on the twists and turns of this journey who we are and Whose we are.  Holy Spirit come down and heal our hearts.  Give us the ears to listen and the words to speak.  Give us your boldness to speak up.  Blow peace where you will, igniting, uniting, and sometimes dividing when we do more harm than good.  Give us your wisdom and discernment and shine your all-encompassing light on every thought and situation. Help us to seek to be followers of Jesus who walk in the way that leads to life.  We walk by faith, not be sight.  Please give us Your vision for Your kingdom come.  Amen.

PDBlog_WalkByFaith

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

We Choose to Step Out.

9-2 SermonTitleOkay, let’s review – God created us and we’re all God’s children.  God chooses us just as we are, we are chosen FOR something, to use our gifts and graces in the world, and we choose to follow Jesus wherever he leads.  We’ve also talked about the underlying theme of fear throughout this whole series.  Following Jesus is not a moment, it’s not a one-time thing, it’s a life.  When we accept Jesus into our hearts, when we are made into new creations, when we realize God’s justifying grace is for us, when we have that “ah ha” moment and make the decision, it’s not one choice, but it’s a million little choices.  We choose to step out; it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement of the Triune God.

We decided to go on the Sawmill Branch Trail last Friday as a celebration of the first week of school being completed.  We went to Precious Treasures, otherwise known as the candy store and get 3 different kinds of cotton candy and ice cream.  I constantly looked at “You are Here” maps on the trail to make sure we were going the right way.  I even had my google maps on my phone to Enoch and I guiding us and Mike and Evy.  We knew we were on the trail, but we didn’t know at what point we were or which way to go.  That’s the position in which we find Esther.  She knew where she was, in King Xerses Court, but she needed God to give her direction on what she should do, and God’s Spirit to lead her steps and guard her mouth.

The story takes place in the 5th-century B.C. somewhere in the 470’s or so. Xerxes I (519-465) is the king in Persia. You might call him “king of the world.” He is known as Xerxes the Great. He invades Greece in 480 (he came to power about 486). He is a monarch with absolute power and authority. Even today his legend is immortalized in Hollywood in movies such as 300 (2006). It begins with a party lasting for seven days. In Esther chapter 1: 8-9 it reads, “Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.” Can you imagine a party lasting for seven days? It would be like Mardi Gras or Carnival in the extreme. The party never ends. On the seventh day, the King, who was in “high spirits” from wine orders Queen Vashti to make an appearance so they can behold her beauty; she’s his centerpiece after all. But Queen Vashti refuses to come. The text doesn’t say why she didn’t come. Maybe she didn’t feel like it or maybe she was sleeping and she didn’t want to be rudely woken up by a summons from the king. We’re not sure. As the eunuchs give the Queen’s response to the King, he’s furious. Queen Vashti was gone by the end of chapter 1.

How did Esther arrive on the scene? While the king was having second thoughts for having Vashti banned, his servants encouraged him to gather beautiful young women from every province in the kingdom and let “cosmetic treatments be given them. And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” The king thought this was a very good idea.  His own version of The Bachelor.

I feel like at some points I’m telling a fairy tale. Esther was the most beautiful, fairest in the land. There was a Jewish man named Mordecai, and he had brought up Esther as his own daughter because she was an orphan. And so of course, she ends up with the king. I’m skipping several plot points here – the twelve month beautification in the king’s harem and the king actually choosing her for the final rose. The king gave a banquet in Esther’s honor and they lived happily ever after.  As Lee Corso on College Gameday says, “Not so fast!”  What happens after happily after? Things get real.

Shortly thereafter, when Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gates, he overheard two of the king’s officers plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai let Esther know, and she warned the king about it. Mordecai was given credit for unfurling the plot and the two treasonous guards were hung on the gallows.

Now you should be hearing villainous music and lots of bass and minor notes because I’m about to introduce the character of Haman. It says the king “advanced him and set his seat above all the officials who were with him. All the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down.” But Mordecai refused, because he was a Jew, who would bow to no one except God. The kids and I have been reading through the Old Testament and God is very serious about the Israelites worshiping other gods.  This made Haman very angry and he along with his wife and his advisors plotted against the Jews making plans to get rid of them. Haman uses his influence on the king and makes the king a pawn in his chess game against Mordecai, saying the Jews don’t keep the same laws. So the king agrees with Haman.

When Mordecai learns this he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth. When Esther finds out, she is obviously distressed because she is a Jew and from the beginning Mordecai told her to be silent about her heritage in the palace. Mordecai sends this note to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

For such a time as this.

She sees the “You are Here” sign but she wonders why?

Perhaps you’re here in this world at this particular time in this particular place for such a time as this.

What ensues is some palace intrigue.

Esther was not permitted to see the king unless he had asked for her otherwise she could be put to death. And she had not been called in to see the king in 30 days, so she, her maid-servants, and all of the Jews of Persia fasted earnestly for three days before she built up enough courage to enter the king’s presence. When the king saw Esther, he was pleased and held out his scepter to her. He then asked Esther what she wished of him, promising to grant even up to half his kingdom should she ask. Esther requested a banquet with the king and Haman. During the banquet, she requested another banquet with the king and Haman the following day.

Cue villainous laughter, Haman was already ordering gallows to be constructed to hang Mordecai. At the same time, Esther 6:1 says, “On that night the king could not sleep, and he gave orders to bring the book of records, the annals, and they were read to the king” and he remembers that Mordecai had saved him from the previous assassination attempt and the king realizes he had not rewarded Mordecai.  God was working everything for good.

Early the next morning, Haman came to the king to ask permission to hang Mordecai, but before he could, the king asked him “What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman assumed the king meant him, so he said that the man should wear a royal robe and be led on one of the king’s horses through the city streets proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!” The king thought this was appropriate, and asked Haman to lead Mordecai through the streets in this way. After doing this, Haman rushed home, full of grief. His wife said to him, “You will surely come to ruin!”

The king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther and after they had feasted sufficiently, she took courage and stepped out.   Esther 7 starting at verse 3 “Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request.  For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?”  Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!”

And you can guess what happened to Haman. He was hung on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai.

How do we relate to the story of Esther?  Haman reaped what he had sown? Did God place us exactly where we are now, in this time, and in this place “for such a time as this?” How can we stand up on behalf of the poor, hurting and marginalized in our own lives by speaking truth to power? In what ways are we challenged by the story? How does Esther’s story intersect with your life and where God is calling you?  Is God calling you to fast and pray and take the courage and boldness only God can give to step out in faith?

What did Esther have?  She had an attitude of openness to God’s leading.  She was willing to take risks, gathering her lady’s maids and praying and fasting as Mordecai gathered all the Jews together to pray and fast right along with her.  She knew what the cost was, “And if I perish, I perish.”  Sometimes what God calls us to, is to be faithful to the opportunities God puts before you.  Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War 2. She was imprisoned for her actions. Her most famous book, The Hiding Place, describes what transpired.  She knew what she was talking about when she said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

“For such a time as this.”  Esther knew that taking that step could mean her very life, but as Uncle Ben says in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Esther didn’t know what would happen AND her life was on the line, but she knew that God was with her every step of the way.  That’s the thing to remember.  Jesus journeys with us as we take that first critical step.

We just have to be willing to take it.  Remember Jesus walking on the water?  In Matthew 14 it says, “And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  Peter who’s always leaping before he looks, the brash, bold Peter.  I could show a clip from the movie The Son of God or Bruce Almighty as he walks on the water, but you get the picture.  Well, what happens?  Peter gets scared about what’s happening all around him and he begins to sink.

We automatically hate on Peter, BUT at least he gets out of the boat.  It takes loads of courage to even attempt that first step.  And then another.  And then another.  The key is keeping our eyes on Jesus and NOT all of the other “stuff” in our lives.  We have to abide in the Word and put on our full armor of God to get through the daily grind.   I’m just as guilty.  I have to set aside time in my day for intentional time with God.  Not for sermon prep, not with the kids at Bible story time, but for ME.  Y’all see this staircase?  It has a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  I like that image.  The first step is often the scariest, most intense.  Who knows what God has in store for us after we take that first step, but I know we have an endless staircase to explore depending on him, letting him carry us up a few of those steps, and climbing in Jesus’ beautiful, amazing grace. If we truly walk with Jesus, we’re going to go through some trials and tribulations, no doubt, but it will indeed be also filled with awesome mountaintops, joys that are unceasing, and the promise of life everlasting.  James 1:2-4 says, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”  That’s the promise of God.  God doesn’t leave us in the muck and mire, but in God’s sanctifying grace we’re made into new creations, growing in Christ’s perfect love and mercy, and ready to share that love with all the world.

I visited L’viv, Ukraine during the protests in January 2013.  I arrived on the day the first protester was shot and he happened to be from where I was the keynote at this conference for college students.  I wrote in one of the sermons that I gave, “This may be naïve for me to say as an uninformed and ignorant American who’s been here for less than 48 hours, but God can work and move in seemingly impossible situations and God can make a way when we see no hope of there being a way forward. I know y’all know that because I can bear witness to intentional prayer times for the future of this country, I can bear witness to the fasting for the future of this country, I can bear witness to the fervor I’ve seen since arriving here to seek the will of God. I know you all believe that God can move mountains, because as we hung up posters in one of the universities, it showed a picture of a protester that was killed holding a sign that said, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

As Corrie ten Boom put it, “Don’t bother to give God instructions; just report for duty.” Yes, you are here.  We are here.  We may not know all the who’s or why’s.  But God does.  And God can guide and lead us to help shave or sand off our growing edges, the things that hold us back from being fully present to go or to step out.

Remember Isaiah 43:1-3, “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

For such a time as this.

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We Choose Jesus.

8-26 SermonTitleWhat did we talk about last week?  You might remember the movie clip from The Rise of the Guardians of the nesting dolls or the quotes by Queen Elizabeth II or Larry Bird about talent, but the main point was when God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something, and our fears are the main things holding us back. We ended with star stickers that represent your gifts and graces that God specifically gave YOU and how you are called to use them in the world.  This week we transition from God’s going after us in God’s reckless love (God’s prevenient grace) to choosing Jesus (God’s justifying grace).

Our scripture today is Luke 19:1-10.

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Did you ever climb trees as a kid? We had a magnolia tree in a neighbor’s backyard that was perfect for climbing. If you know anything about magnolia trees, their branches are close together, which makes it an easy tree to climb. We spent many afternoon of my childhood climbing trees.

That’s why the story of Zacchaeus has always fascinated me. The story of Zacchaeus is familiar to many of us. He was the short guy who had to climb a tree to see Jesus. There’s even a song that we sang in Sunday school.  “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. Jesus said, “You come down for I’m coming to your house today, for I’m going to your house today.”

Zacchaeus wasn’t the funny short guy climbing in a tree that I pictured in my mind’s eye as a child. He wasn’t the wee leprechaun that I imagine when using the word “wee.”  He’s the chief tax collector. Zacchaeus doesn’t need to be told he’s a sinner. Society’s already made that clear. He doesn’t need people to tell him he’s an outcast. He already feels it.

The English word sin is used to translate at least six Hebrew and seven Greek words. Soren Kierkegaard defines sin this way. “Sin is the steadfast refusal to be your one true self.” That is a very different understanding than the typical definition of sin. Evigras of Pontus’ understanding of sin is that sin is a “forgetfulness of God’s goodness.” Jesus actively sought out sinners and made room at the table for them, he was searching them out reminding them of God’s love specifically for them.

You would think that the religious people would get used to Jesus hanging out with the social outcasts, lepers, women of ill repute, tax collectors, dirty and smelly fisherman, but they didn’t catch his vision or what he was trying to do.   They reject any idea that he would pick THOSE people over them. He CHOOSES to hang out with sinners and NOT the hyper religious or wealthy. They are surprised by this EVERY time. I want to shake my head and ask, “Don’t you get it?” Jesus chooses to go where no one else would go. Jesus chooses the least, the last, and the low. Jesus chooses the ones what society stamps “not good enough.” Jesus chooses us sinners. In verse 10, it says Jesus came to seek out and to save the lost. Jesus didn’t seem to mind that he was getting a “reputation” for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. Everyone that he encountered, he saw as a person in need of God’s love, even the Pharisees.  Those that looked down their noses at him.

If they would stop looking down their noses and judging, they would realize we’re all in need of God’s grace and mercy because in fact, we’re ALL sinners. They probably didn’t like when he said in Luke 6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Or verses 41-42 “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” As Mother Teresa says, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” If you think you have it altogether, you’re still a sinner saved by grace.  The world calls us to judgement and hatred of the other, but we are not called to live as the world lives, we’re called to be a city on a hill, resting in God’s love and mercy and sharing that with the world.

I’d like to tell you a story, “There was a young, intelligent university student named Bill. Bill was what some people call a “free spirit” or “hippie.” He had wild long hair, always wore the same old and torn T-shirt, jeans and no shoes. Across the street from the university campus was a church. The people there were rich, older and well-dressed. They wanted to help the university students nearby, but they did not know exactly how to do it.

Well, one day Bill decided to go visit this church by his university. As usual, he went wearing his only jeans, old, torn T-shirt and his dirty long hair. The church service had already started and was full, so Bill walked down the center aisle looking for a seat. People were getting more and more uncomfortable as they watched this unclean, wild-looking young man. Finally, Bill got to the front and saw there were no more empty seats, so he just sat down on the floor right in front of the preacher. No one had ever done that in this church before! By now, everyone was upset and distracted.

Then, a respected old church deacon got up and started toward the front. Everyone was thinking: “You can’t blame the deacon, he really should correct this disrespectful young man.” Everyone was watching. Even the preacher stopped his sermon when the old man finally got to the front. Then, they were all completely surprised to see the old deacon drop his walking stick and very slowly sit down on the floor next to this young hippie. He did not want this young man to sit alone and feel unaccepted. The people in the church were moved to tears. Finally, the preacher said: “What I am preaching about today you will probably never remember. But what you have just seen you will never forget!””

Jesus came for all of us. It doesn’t say, “For God so loved some of the world…” The great God of the universe came down and was Emmanuel God with us and he seeks relationships with each of us. Just as Harry seeks the horcruxes in the later books of the Harry Potter series, just like they seek the ring of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, just like they seek the Lost Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones, and they seek treasure in the Mummy, National Treasure, and the Goonies, our Lord SEEKS us. And we don’t have to hide who or what we are. God knows us. God knows when we sit and when we rise. We are sinners. We are lost. We don’t have to put on our masks every day that we put on for work or school. We don’t have to hide behind our answer of “fine” when someone asks how we’re doing. With God we can let our guard down. God already knows the things that we’d rather keep hidden. What we’re worried about, our hopes, fears, and dreams. That should give hope to ALL of us because Romans 3:23-24 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” We have all fallen short. None of us immune. It is a free gift of grace through Jesus.

This is a poem by Roberta Porter. It’s called “Transforming Love.”

“God wants our lives –

Not Sunday morning shiny,

But all of the fragments of our failures,

Shards of struggle and sin

We’ve gathered, hidden, on our way.

And in Jesus’ transforming love,

His willing brokenness, sacrifice, rising,

Our sorrow and pain become gifts

To be used for others,

Our weakness the dwelling place

For the Spirit’s strength,

Our broken-open lives

Bearers of God’s grace.”

We’re not perfect. None of us are. At least Zacchaeus was aware of his sinfulness. He was aware that he needed saving. As C S Lewis perceptively wrote in his classic book, Mere Christianity:  “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.” It doesn’t say in the text when Zacchaeus made a change of heart – if it was when he saw Jesus, when Jesus recognized him worthy to speak to him, actually when he invited him down from the tree, or as he was climbing down the tree, but it’s clear that this is a lifestyle change. It’s clear that he has repented.

He says in verse 8, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” It was biblical custom to only pay them back twice as much, so he’s going above and beyond because of this encounter with Jesus.

How do we encounter Jesus? Do we pretend to not see him, as we do people in the grocery store that we want to avoid, or do we not meet his eyes because we are ashamed, or are we so oblivious to our own faults like the Pharisees? Maybe Jesus liked to hang out with sinners because they were real. They chose to be honest about their flaws or growing edges. Zaccheaus chose to lay it all out there, repent, change, make amends – a complete 180 – and then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Today salvation has come to this house.

Zacchaeus’ are obviously “out there” – the social misfits, the people on the fringes or outside society’s norms, BUT there’s a bit of Zacchaeus in all of us. We’re all Zacchaeus.

God’s providence is alive and amazing.  God can and will meet us each where we are.  God will give you the evidence you need to help you believe. Like in Luke 9:24, when the man of the child that Jesus is healing says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” One of the most profoundly honest prayers.  I believe, help my unbelief.  Just ask. Seek and you will find.  Bob Goff says, “Follow the footsteps of God. Walk (don’t just fall) in love. Love God. Be like Jesus.” For God so loved the world….Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save the world.  WE CHOOSE TO FOLLOW JESUS.  He’s saved and redeemed us.  I’m reminded of the Big Daddy Weave song, “To tell you my story, is to tell of Him.”  As we grow as Christian disciples, in the likeness of our Rabbi Jesus, he will give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak to tell our stories of how he’s redeemed us.  We choose to follow Jesus. We choose to follow him because he’s the answer to all of our quests, to all of our journeys, to all of our adventures. He’s the One that we’ve been waiting for and the world needs to know. Will you be a walking and talking testimony?  Will you share it by living your life of faith out loud? The good, the bad, the ugly and the faithful. Growing in grace and growing the depth of our faith that the world may see and know that our God reigns and God’s grace is available to them without price, without strings attached. Tax Collectors. Prostitutes. You and Me.