Jan 13, 2019
A Year of Living Generously: Be Not Afraid
January 13, 2019
Isaiah 43:1-7 & Luke 3:15-17, 20-22
  • Jan 13, 2019A Year of Living Generously: Be Not Afraid
    Jan 13, 2019
    A Year of Living Generously: Be Not Afraid
    January 13, 2019
    Isaiah 43:1-7 & Luke 3:15-17, 20-22
  • Jan 6, 2019A Year of Living Generously: All We Have
    Jan 6, 2019
    A Year of Living Generously: All We Have
    January 6, 2019
    A Year of Living Generously: All We Have
  • Dec 30, 2018Staying Connected with God
    Dec 30, 2018
    Staying Connected with God
    12-30-2018 Connecting with God
  • Dec 24, 2018Christmas Candlelight Worship: Small Blessings Change the World
    Dec 24, 2018
    Christmas Candlelight Worship: Small Blessings Change the World
    Christmas Eve-Eve and Eve Candlelight Worship: Hebrews 10:5-10 & Luke 1:39-45
  • Dec 23, 2018A Song of Faith
    Dec 23, 2018
    A Song of Faith
    12-23-2018, Micah 5:2-5 & Luke 1:46-55
  • Dec 16, 2018If You’re Happy and You Know It
    Dec 16, 2018
    If You’re Happy and You Know It
    12-16-2018 Scriptures are: Isaiah 12:2-6 & Philippians 4:4-7
  • Dec 2, 2018“Are You Still Looking?
    Dec 2, 2018
    “Are You Still Looking?
    Dec. 2, 2018 Jeremiah 33:14-16 & Luke 21:25-36
  • Oct 21, 2018Questions: Who’s On First?
    Oct 21, 2018
    Questions: Who’s On First?
    Series: Questions

    October 21, 2018

    Psalm 91:9-16 & Mark 10:35-45

    One of the pivotal moments in the book and musical “Les Miserables” comes when the hero, Jean Valjean, has an opportunity to finally be out from under his past. Imprisoned for many years for stealing some bread and trying to escape, Valjean has broken parole and started a new successful, even reputable new life.

    But as with many of us, maybe all of us, Valjean learns that one can outrun one’s past and its consequences for only so long. His nemesis, the intrepid Inspector Javert, has arrived and threatens not only to unveil who Valjean really is but take him back to prison and completely unravel his well-constructed life.

    But then an opportunity happens. A man who greatly resembles Valjean has been caught. He is put on trial. And Valjean is faced with having everything he ever wanted. No more running. No more accusations. He can live his life in prosperity and in peace.

    And in the musical, Valjean sings of his internal struggle. He who has been saved by the grace of God must condemn another man in order to be free. Over and over in the song, Valjean asks, Who Am I? Am I the person I once was, or am I a new person. Who Am I? If I let this man go to prison, does that not simply prove I am who they have said I am all along, an evil person? Who Am I? Am I a new person merely because I have changed my name, have money, do nice things for others? Or am I different? Have I changed? Who Am I?

    Valjean bravely stands before the court and admits who he is and saves the innocent man. Valjean answers who he is. But isn’t that a great question? What would you do? Who are you? More than a song, I believe that is a question all of us ask. In fact, that may be the theme song for our lives. Many of us are on a lifelong quest to discover who we are. Who Am I?

    Over the next several weeks, we are going to be asking a lot of questions. In this new series, Questions, Asking Jesus the most important questions in life. And there may be no more important question to ask than this one. Who am I?

    Who are you? What defines your life? For many of us, it may be our jobs, our positions in life, that answer that question, this is who I am. Yet what do you do when you can no longer be that person? I spoke to a clergy friend who retired this past annual conference. I asked him how he was enjoying retirement. He said to me, “You know, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.” He said, “I had to come to grips that a large part of what defined me had gone.”

    He’s not so different than many of us. Many of us treat life like a hall of mirrors, and we vainly look for our reflection, a pure reflection so we can know who we are. For him, a large part of that reflection was in the mirrors that speak of his ministry. But who was he when he stepped away from that reflection?

    Some of us look into the mirror that reflects our family life, and that’s how we know who I am, who am I, I am husband, wife, mother, a grandparent. And yet because of the effects of life and time, eventually that reflection changes those who define you, find their own lives, and suddenly that reflection is cloudy; you may step away from that mirror and again ask Who am I? Relationships may not last, the reflection can be broken.

    I am defined by the reflection of others, I am who they tell me who I am. I know some people like that. Their self-worth, their purpose in life, their personhood, is defined by how others see them, its defined by that reflection. But who am I when I can’t see the mirrors?

    Of course, some of us have grown up with a funhouse mirror experience. And the reflection we have is warped, it shows us a distorted view of who we are. But you know, if that's the only reflection you have, eventually you’ll come to believe that’s who you are.

    In many ways, that’s the question that John and James are asking Jesus. Jesus, who are we? How do you see us? Can we sit on one side, and one on the other when you have Your kingdom? Of course, they pictured Jesus ruling over Israel, and they would be His right and left handed men, second in power. That’s who we are, isn’t it, Jesus? How do you see us?

    And Jesus says to them, in effect, that they are asking the wrong question. Or perhaps more accurately, the right question, but asking it in the wrong way. Jesus says “the only way you can truly see yourself as I see you see you clearly is to ask this question. Who is on first? Who sits on the throne of your life. It’s not the side thrones that matter. What meters is Am I or am I not sitting clearly at the center of who you are.”

    You see, that’s the problem we often make, if the election of my job or position is on the throne, it will fail me some day. If my relationships are at the center of my life, they will fail me one day because they will change. If other people and their opinion of me is at the center of my life, on the throne of how they reflect back to me, I will be in trouble. We find ourselves constantly trying to validate our lives, finding honor and purpose in life by other people. Yet their understanding is constantly changing. And we find we can never accurately measure our purpose by how other people see us because it’s constantly changing like a hall of mirrors I am one way with one person and somebody completely different when I am with someone else.

    Of course, the most dangerous thing we can do is set that distorted mirror on that throne. Do you know some people who put that warped reflection solidly in the middle of who they are/ How painful, how miserable they are?

    So Jesus says to John and James “Am I clearly at the center of your life, am I sitting on the first throne. Because it is only then you will see yourself as you truly are and see your purpose in life.” What do we see? What is the clear reflection of who we are?

    First, we find that we are loved. I know we say it a lot almost every week, but that’s because we can forget so easily that God loves us. That's who you are. Who am I, I am a loved child of God.

    But the mirror says you are sinful, you are imperfect, you have flaws and blemishes. But that’s only my false reflection. The reflection says I am loved.

    Oh, but the mirror will show you your past, show you the mistakes you have made, reflect your guilt. And Jesus says all that’s true. But that’s not who you are. You are not your mistakes. You are not your past. You are not what other people have done to you. You are a beloved child of God. You are not what others have said you are. You are not your job, you aren’t your relationships, you are not your titles. You are so much more.

    And you were created to change the lives of others. You see, that’s the other part of the reflection, isn’t it? Jesus says “see yourself clearly that you are loved.” But then Jesus also says “see you were made to lay that reflection at my feet and love others”. It’s almost as if Jesus says to John and James quit worrying about who you are because I know who you are. Spend more time loving and caring for others. Soul searching isn’t a bad thing. But the only way to truly find your purpose is in loving and helping others. That’s a part of our DNA as United Methodists. Wesley noted that the Methodists grew closer to Jesus and saw themselves clearly the more they did for others. The more they served, the less they worried about their reflection. And of course, the more they reflected Jesus to the world.

    And in the end, isn’t that the real question? Am I a reflection of Jesus to the world around me. Not do they see me. But do they see Jesus in me. Who are you? A loved child of God, more than your reflection, called to serve and reflect Jesus. That’s who you are. Amen

  • Oct 15, 2018Common Sense for Extrodinary Times: Tempted
    Oct 15, 2018
    Common Sense for Extrodinary Times: Tempted

    October 15, 2018

    James 1:12-18 & Mark 1:9-13

    We have all experienced being tempted because it is part of life and happens to us every day. We can be attracted to people, things, behaviors that may not be right for us, that can harm us. When tempted, it is easier to follow our usual response and not question the results. We usually don't stop to think about the consequences but choose what gives us comfort at the moment.

    The book of James recognizes that we struggle with being tempted. In the 4th chapter, there is the description that we have cravings that battle within us. We long for what we don't have, and it disrupts our lives.

    In our Scripture today from James 1:12-18, there is the important clarification that God does not tempt anyone. God does not set traps to trick us and see if we will mess up. Instead, temptation comes from our own desires, our own wants, our own “gotta have it or else.” Our days are filled with decisions, and we can feel caught between what we know we should do and what we would really rather do. To be who God wants us to be and to live an abundant life is

    shaped by the choices that we make....all the yes's and no's.

    Our sermon series has emphasized the practical wisdom of the book of James. I hope that today's message will be practical and helpful for all of us in dealing with our temptations. We want to teach our children ways to set boundaries, to make good choices, to be aware of their needs. We earnestly desire that self-control will be a fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

    First guideline: Ask God to give you an awareness of yourself, an understanding of your behavior and what may be drawing you away from God's will. Hopefully, those who love us will help us see ourselves as we are.

    A young woman had the habit of checking her phone constantly at work, at meals, when she was with her boyfriend, at late hours when she needed to be resting. This was affecting her work, her health, and her relationships with others. She said that to be on her phone was necessary to keep up with life and she would be too stressed if she didn't. However, when she seriously evaluated her use of the phone, her phone time did not give her peace, but actually stressed her out more. Her desire to be on the phone was overwhelming. The lighted screen was always available and enticing. She was beginning to see that the amount of time on her phone was not the best for her, and she wanted to change.

    An important self-evaluation: What are my true needs that God will help meet? What gives life to me and what doesn't?

    There are a variety of things that we can choose to help us cope with life: electronics, overworking, shopping, drugs, money, food, alcohol, the Internet, gambling, relationships, etc.

    With all these options, we pray that God will help us see what will lead us to peace and what doesn't.

    Another guideline: be aware of your limits. There are times when we seem to have a strong will power and other times when we give in so easily to whatever attracts us. Our willpower can be affected by the stresses in our lives. Our brains can become fatigued. When you have had a full day of making decisions, of being under many demands, and maybe skipping lunch, when you get home, you are more likely to be impatient/angry, to snack too much, to watch too much tv, to get too little sleep, in general, to make unwise choices.

    A classic case of this is the Biblical story of Esau and his brother Jacob. Esau had been out hunting all day and came in tired and famished for food. Jacob had been preparing a delicious lentil stew. When Esau asked for some, Jacob was willing to ease his hunger. But there was a price: Esau had to forfeit his inheritance to his brother. In this situation, Esau had little self-control. To get the stew, he would agree to most anything.

    There is a common sense warning from 12 Step groups: When you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, be aware of how vulnerable you may be to things that are tempting. Don't be overconfident of what you think that you can handle. There may be situations and people that you should avoid. Likewise, there are places and people that you should turn to for support and guidance.

    There was a woman who prayed “Lord, if you really want me to get a dozen donuts, then there will be a parking space for me in front of the store.” And she said: “Sure enough, the Lord provided, after going around the block 8 times, a parking space opened up.”

    We are surrounded by ads, commercials in the media that speak right to our weaknesses and get our eyes off of our intended goals.

    The Lord can give us strength by helping us to be prepared. Before we are faced with a temptation, we need a strategy for responding. If you are anxious, bored, feeling down, what will you do? What is your plan B if Plan A doesn't work so well?

    When you are in the midst of saying “maybe” “yes” or “no”, ask yourself:

    “If this action is not leading to what I hope for in my life, then why say yes?”

    In the 1960s, Dr. Mischel at Stanford University did a test with pre-schoolers to see their reactions to being tempted. A favorite treat was put in front of them. The teacher was to leave the room, and the child was told that she could choose to eat the one marshmallow in front of her whenever she wished. However, if she waited for 15 minutes until the teacher came back into the room, she would get two marshmallows.

    Some children ate the one marshmallow as soon as they were alone. Others used all kinds of self-control actions. They closed their eyes, they pushed the treat away, they encouraged themselves by talking or singing. They waited for the bigger reward. That is a perspective of strength also in our Christian walk-to have the patience for all that God will provide. For those little children who were successful, their focus was on what would be if they waited.

    Responses to temptation varied among the children, as it does among us. I admire folks who seem to be so disciplined and have no problem in saying no. I would guess that all of us have areas in our lives where we struggle and make choices that are harmful for us and the people around us. What tempts me may not be a problem for you, and yet we can empathize with one another and encourage one another in our battles.

    When Dr. Mischal was working with the children and testing their endurance, he discovered that a big factor in being able to wait was that the child had to have confidence and trust in the teacher. They trusted that the teacher was telling the truth and would really give them the promised marshmallows.

    Trust is important for us also: that God is the giver of good gifts and will provide what we need. Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth and said: “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength, but he will provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”

    We look to God to help us, to guide us out of harmful situations, to give us a vision of a better future. He rescues by providing family and friends to support us, by understanding our prayers, by showing us new ways to know his joy and peace.

    Self-control is a partnership between us and God. We grow in strength as we choose wisely. We grow in humility when we fail. Through it all, God continues to be faithful.

    I have found comfort in this description of Jesus in the book of Hebrews which says: “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are”. Jesus knows what it is like to be to be presented with options that seem on the surface to be right, but are wrong. In His choices, Jesus remained faithful to his mission, always trusting in God's love above any other way.

    Jesus stands with us; we are not alone in facing our formidable desires.

    Good news is that change can happen, that new habits can replace the old tired ones. I believe that there can be victories! When you thought that you couldn't say “no” one more time, but you did. When you felt pressured to go along with the crowd, but you made a better choice. When you were ready to give up, through God's grace you were able to keep going. Small victories every day that gives our lives more joy. Small victories today that lead to victories tomorrow.

    The poet in the book of Lamentations wrote these words which I feel as if they could come from our hearts:

    “I remember my wanderings away,

    I remember them well, and my soul is downcast.

    Yet I also know this and I have hope.

    Because of the Lord's great love, we are not destroyed.

    God's compassion never fails.”

    Take heart, the Lord's strength will bring us through.

  • Oct 7, 2018Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: We All Belong
    Oct 7, 2018
    Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: We All Belong
    October 7, 2018
    Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: We All Belong
    Psalm 19:7-14 & James 5:13-20
    Rev. Dr. Brian Jones

    It is truly beautiful here in the Fall, isn’t it? I grew up in flatter parts of Ohio, so I’ve always been fascinated by hills and mountains. I would go to my grandparents’ home in West Virginia and be just so surprised to see fog on the top of the mountain almost every morning until the sun burnt it away. Feeling surrounded constantly by the mountains overlooking the area. Realizing that no matter where you went, you could never get there in a straight line. You had to wind yourself around the mountains and hills. A store only ten minutes away on a straight line might take a half hour to get there because you had to wind yourself around the mountains.

    You can imagine my excitement when my uncle invited me one day to take a hike with him and walk up to the top of the mountain. I couldn’t wait to get going. My excitement dwindled

    quickly about ten minutes into our hike. At that point, I began to realize that the walk was going to be all uphill. Now, I know I should have thought of that earlier. My only defense is that, as I said, I grew up in the flat suburbs and later flat farming country in Ohio.

    Let me tell you if you haven’t ever experienced it, uphill is hard. It’s work. On and on we trod. I walked until I didn't think my legs could go any further; I was at the point where my feet hurt and my legs felt as though they got heavier with every step. I got so tired that I couldn’t even lift my head. I looked at my feet urging myself to take just one more step. I looked at my watch and saw we had been hiking for almost 13 minutes. It was then I knew this was going to be a long day.

    Finally, I thought we made it. We got to the place where the ground blessedly leveled out. We stopped and looked back at the town far below us. I could make out the top of my grandparent’s house. Glorious view. And my uncle said OK, let’s get going, we have a long way to go. I said “what do you mean we have a long way to go, aren’t we going back down?” “Oh no, I said we were going to the top of the mountain today”. It was then I learned about the foothills, I looked up and sure enough, there was this massive mountain in the background. We had walked a good part of the morning and we were only at the foot of the mountain.

    I kind of went into shock at that point, so I don’t remember exactly all the details of that day. Other than there had to be at least five separate times when the ground seemed to level out, and if I thought we were at the top, only to be told we had to keep going. Eventually, we made it to the top. And then began our walk back down the mountain, which was a far easier journey than the one we took to the top.

    Now that happened a long, long time ago, so I don’t remember all the details, of course. But I’d remember that feeling of thinking you had reached the top only to see that you weren’t even close. Thinking I had reached the summit only to find somehow somebody had moved the mountain top away from me. I remember wondering if I could ever reach the top of that mountain.

    I think one of the reasons I remember it so well is that experience mirrored, in many ways, with my walk with God. Wanting and striving to be good enough for God and doing my best, only to find that the summit, God himself, has moved. Never thought I could be good enough for God.

    Do you know that feeling? Some people will work all their lives trying to be good enough for God, clawing up that mountain only to find that just when they thought they had reached where

    God is, He had moved a little higher up on the mountain, the stairs farther than we thought. Oh, if I can only reach this point, if I can only do so many good things, if I try to be a better person then God will love and accept me.

    Some of us simply never try to get up the mountain at all. We look at our lives, and we look at our sins. Sin that weighs us down, and we know we can never climb a mountain with such a heavy chain around our necks. We look at the mistakes we have made, the bad choices we have made. We look at who we are when we think no one is looking. And the summit, reaching God, is so high, we think why even try.

    Some of us stop trying. Oh, we tried to be good enough for God, we’ve tried to live the right way, but we have failed so many times. So many times, we tried, we prayed God forgive me and I’ll never do it again. And we do. And we fail God so many times that we are sure if we ever could be good enough for God, He wouldn’t accept us. The summit would move.

    If you’ve ever felt that way, if you’ve ever thought, what’s the use, I can’t reach the summit, I can’t make it, I want you to look again at our Scripture for today. There is something very subtle but incurably powerful, in James’ words today. Look at the people He names. James talks to those that are suffering. Those that are cheerful. Those that are sick. Those that have sinned. And he tells them to pray because if they pray, God will answer.

    Now did you catch what is going on? James paints a picture where everyone if they come, will be loved by God, the good, and the bad, the sinner and the saint, the sick and the well, the hurting and those that are cheerful. No matter who you are, God has a place for you. And if we reach out, He will answer us.

    You see, our idea that we have to be good enough for God, that we have to work to get accepted, that we can’t make it up the mountain, that we have too many problems, is a lie of the devil. The Bible says all are welcome, all who reach out will be loved. You see, that’s what Grace is all about. Being loved when we are unlovable. Being carried to the top when we can’t walk. Being accepted when we can’t even accept ourselves.

    I find even good church folk and believers in Jesus have a hard time with this. We still get caught up in being good enough, working harder, or believing deep in our hearts that God can’t forgive or love or accept us. But I want you to know that He can. Look again at what James says. In a few verses, he touches almost every part of the human condition. So today, whether you are cheerful, or you are sick in your heart, uou may have come here today hurting and no

    one knows it, your life might be covered in sin. But James says right here, just as you are, Jesus loves you.

    He encourages you to pray. Why pray? One, because prayer creates intimacy with Jesus. And God wants to have that intimate relationship with you. Secondly, because it’s about transformation. You can’t pray and remain the same. Look at what James says, if you are cheerful, give praise and become even more joyous. If you are sick, pray and find healing. If you are hurting, pray and find relief from your pain. If you are sinful, pray and know that Jesus will break the chain that's weighing you down, draining your spirit. Pray and that fear of failure will leave you.

    You know James also encourages us that we need to do the same. Note how he turns the view back to us and calls us to love each other. Are you getting it? As the body of Christ, we are to praise with the cheerful. But also love the sick. Love the hurting, love the failures. We are to be a place where it’s Ok not to be perfect.

    Isn’t that what we ought to be? Aren’t we to be like Jesus? Loving those that have never been loved? Telling people who aren’t perfect that God loves them and can change their lives. Now, we can say yes to this, of course. And we should. But let’s remember that we are the church not just the building or where you go on Sunday. But you and I are the church. Has God put some less than perfect people in your life? Will you pray that God will specifically use you as an instrument of His grace? Will you come and experience that love yourself? Amen.