Dec 2, 2018
“Are You Still Looking?
Dec. 2, 2018 Jeremiah 33:14-16 & Luke 21:25-36
  • 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.

  • Sep 30, 2018Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: Making the Most of Now
    Sep 30, 2018
    Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: Making the Most of Now
    September 30, 2018
    Psalm 124 &James 4:13-17

    We talked a few weeks ago about how much we love our kids, distractions and all, in our church. I love doing the children’s time because it gives me a chance not just to explain God’s love, but to connect and hear their perspective on life. It’s amazing to hear how a child views the world and how those views and perspectives change over the years.

    But that’s simply a part of how a child changes and develops over time. Even simple things change over time. When I play hide and seek with my granddaughter at seven months, it’s as simple as picking her up so she can’t see my face, I drop it back down and she is startled and then begins to laugh. Owen is not quite two, and his game is much different. He hides by crouching down in a chair and then popping up to look at you. And he is startled when he pops up, looks for you and you have moved. I’ll often wait until he crouches down and moves around until I am behind him and then I speak, and he jumps, totally startled.

    Now Sean is six, and it’s a very different game at six. They hide. Oh, they may hide in the exact same place every single time, but they hide. Now, he’ll laugh if I get to close to him. But then I begin to move away and again move behind him. I wait until he peeks out looking for me and then I say something or touch him. Completely startled.

    And you’d think that would go away, but it doesn’t. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times I’ve unintentionally scared my daughter because she will be wrapped up in a phone conversation and not see me or hear me come into the house. I’ve gotten good at ducking phone calls, by the way.

    When you look in one direction or focus too much in one direction, one aspect of life, life will sneak up on you. In fact, life has a habit of sneaking up on you. Not paying attention to your surroundings can not only blind you to what is around you but can be dangerous, as well. My Dad told the story of being out hunting alone in the woods and hills of Kentucky looking on the horizon for whatever he was hunting, and stepping on and being bitten by a copperhead snake. And walking back some 12 to 15 miles to get help. You know, when your father has a story like that, it really dampers your ability to complain about anything.

    At least, I thought my father told me that story to toughen me up. As I got older, I began to see how he was trying to teach me a lesson. You’ve got to look where you are going, you have to look at where you are stepping. You can't be too focused on what's coming up next, because life has a way of sneaking up on you and startling you or biting you just at the moment when you least expect it.

    But, of course, that’s the problem, isn’t it? We as human beings can’t help but look beyond, can’t help but look to the horizon. We’re not all that much different than the child who plays hide and seek and has someone sneak up on them. We always want to know what’s coming, and we miss what is around us.

    But that is the unique part of who we are as humans. It’s a part of the God nature berthed into us. We can think about and contemplate the future. No other animal does this. Animals can learn from experiences and react to them. But only humans have the ability to think about what might happen, think about all of their different options, about what might happen in all sorts of scenarios. We are planners by nature.

    Now, that ability to plan can keep us out of a lot of problems. We can avoid a lot of situations by thinking about them and how we might handle them. If I do this now, it might cause problems for someone else, so I have to weigh that and figure out how I might deal with that situation.

    And that’s great. But the dark side to that is that our ability to think about our future, to look ahead can also cause us a great deal of anxiety. Worry about what might happen, worry about all of the bad things that might happen in our lives. Those moments when you wake up at three in the morning and for no reason began to think about the day that's coming, and you feel your mind whisper two of the most frightening words you’ll ever hear "What if." Ever play that game, What If. What if this mole on the back of my neck isn’t a mole. What If mom falls and there is no one to help her. What if my child doesn't get into a good college. What if they do, and we can’t find a way to pay for it. What if he leaves me. What if I never find someone to spend my life with. What if we never have children. What if I lose my job? What if I fail, What if I succeed.

    My goodness, when you think about all the what-ifs that burrow into our brain, really think about awful scenarios that might happen, it's a wonder all of us aren’t just walking mannequins of anxiety. And I’m not so sure we aren’t. Anxiety can paralyze us, steal our joy, lead us into some dark places, hurt our relationships, keep us from stepping out, keeps us from finding our full optimal. Anxiety may keep us from failing, which isn’t always a good thing, but it certainly keeps us from succeeding in life. Anxiety binds us, drags us down into the pit of despair.

    And it’s into that place that James speaks a word of Good News and hope in our Scripture today. We’ve called this series Common Sense in Extraordinary Times. James speaks some life-giving words of sanity into our anxious times. So I hope if you’ve been dealing with worry and anxiety as you look at the horizon of your life, that you will read and re-read what James says here.

    First, let me say this. If you are dealing with anxiety, that life-paralyzing fear and despair, please make sure you are talking to your medical professionals. God will and can heal you. But understand that one of the ways we find healing is through the hands and skills of those in the medical profession. There is no shame in admitting we need help and our anxiety is overwhelming.

    One of the things that James says here is that anxiety can blind us to what is around us. Just like looking at the horizon, looking in a what might happen can allow life to sneak up on us, so it is with anxiety. Anxiety, spending so much time worrying about tomorrow, can blind us to the blessings of today. We can be so worried about our child’s future that we never enjoy them today. We can get so caught up in what might happen that we don’t see the good things we have in one another right now. We can be so worried about our spouses or what might happen that we become blind to the good things about one another God is blessing us with right now.

    One of the best ways to counteract our anxiety, our what-ifs is to concentrate on the nows. When you get caught up worrying about the what ifs, take a few moments and look for what you are being blessed with right now. You’ll find as you begin to see the blessings around you that much of the worries about the what ifs will begin to dissipate. Try praying this prayer, “God, please keep me from being so caught up in what might happen tomorrow that I miss what you give me today”. One of the reasons we do something as simple as saying grace before a meal is not only to give God thanks but to settle ourselves and realize even in the anxious times of life, God still blesses us.

    James says ‘remember your place’. Psalms and proverbs remind us, wisdom begins with realizing God is God, and we are not. James says it’s arrogance to believe that we can control what happens tomorrow. And that if we could control it, we would always make good decisions. James says isn't it better to know that you don’t have to deal with the what ifs? That the goodness of life doesn’t dependent you? Isn’t it a blessing to be able to say God you are God and you have my horizon. You have the what ifs. And I trust even when things may not go the way I think they will, You have Your hand on my life.

    God has His hand on your life. Give it to Him, turn the what-ifs over to Him. Open your eyes to the blessings of God, and let go of the things you can’t control. Experience His peace and be blessed.


  • Sep 23, 2018Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: A True Audit
    Sep 23, 2018
    Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: A True Audit

    September 23, 2018

    1 Corinthians 1:18-24 &James 3:13-18

    I want to thank all of you who have or are intending to help with the recovery from Hurricane Florence. I know many of you may have given through UMCOR which is the relief arm of the United Methodist Church. If you haven’t done so, I would ask you to prayerfully consider doing something at some point Hurricanes are incredible phenomena of weather. They are both powerful, and slow. We watched for weeks, it seems, this hurricane build up strength as it began to creep up toward the Carolina Coast. I heard one person say having a hurricane come at you is a bit like being stalked by a turtle.

    With so much time to prepare, we saw people begin boarding up their homes and businesses and get ready if they were able to, flee the storm. What I thought was interesting was to see so many people take stock of what they had in order to get ready to face the storms. They took an audit of everything they had in their homes that was important to them. They took what they could and made a record or video of what they couldn’t take but was still valuable to them. I even saw pictures of people write their phone numbers or address on their pets in case they got separated from them during the storm.

    The impending storms revealed what was important to those facing the hurricane, didn’t it?

    What about the hurricanes in your life? When the hurricanes blow, when crises appear, what are the treasurers of your life, where have you spent your time and energy. Who are you when the storms of life turn toward shore?

    Let me ask you that question again. Who are you when the storms of life turn to shore? Because the truth is, the hurricanes of life will always turn to shore. Oh, not everyone, surely. We often, by prayer and God’s grace, avoid hurricanes and crises. But there are times when, despite our best prayers, we experience disappointment, crises, the winds pick up as if everything in our lives swirls around us and we feel as if we are going drown.

    I think what never occurs to us is that sometimes the allowance by God of the storms coming inland into our lives is, in itself, an act of mercy and grace. Why? Because it is then our true hearts are revealed. Not how we would like to be, but we see where we have spent our time and energy. We see who we truly are. They reveal to us the depth of our relationship with Jesus. And, perhaps, as we take stock of how we live in crises, we might wonder, am I the person God wants me to be? If someone were able to look at the record of your life, in the storms, who would it reveal you to be?

    In a very real way, that’s exactly what James is asking in our Scripture for today. I like the book of James, as I’ve said before. He has an incredible way of looking at really extraordinary, complex issues, and simplifying them for us. In today’s Scripture, James says “how do we know we are saved? How do I really know that I am a Christian? I mean, it has to go beyond knowledge, doesn't it?” Dallas Willard said one of the great mistakes we make as Christian is in the idea that knowing more about Jesus makes us better disciples. But one can know everything Jesus says about loving one’s neighbor, and even agree that Jesus is right, and it is good. But it doesn't mean that we will do it. So how can I know? In a way, James asks if there was an audit done of your life, what would it reveal?

    James says one of the convicting indicators that show we are saved, that we have given our lives to Jesus and have a life-transforming, ongoing relationship with him is this: our lives will be

    marked by doing foolish things for the Lord. Let me say that again. How do we know we are saved? Our lives will be marked by doing foolish things for the Lord.

    So let me ask you, if you look at your life, what foolish things have you done for God lately? Because that’s what God asks us to do, isn’t it? He asks us to do all sorts of foolish things, and those that follow Him are the ones who do the most foolish things and are seen as the most foolish of people. Has God asked you to do something foolish for Him lately? Is He asking you to do something foolish right now?

    We are called to do foolish thing such as help people who can’t pay us back. Now, the world looks at that as incredibly foolish, why would do you do something for people who can’t pay you back? But we do. We get no benefit from it, yet we do it. Now, I’m just not talking about giving money to people to help them out, although that's a good thing. But what about the other foolish things we are asked to give that we may never receive back? Jesus tells us that we are to give kindness and a kind word to those that will never be kind to us. He tells us we should love those that will never return that love to us. He says we should forgive people who will never forgive us and don’t, even appear sorry for what they have done. The world says it’s foolish. Jesus says it’s the mark of a person who is following the Lord.

    We are to be gentle and peaceful in a world that says that’s not how you get ahead. If you want to succeed in life, you have to toot your own horn, you have to run over people, step on them if you must, do what you have to, go hard, to be successful. Jesus asks us to live in a completely different way, to live a foolish life that strives for peace, that calls for us to be gentle in how we treat other people.

    The world tells us that we need to work to attain as much security as possible, don’t leave anything to chance. Jesus says we’re to live a life that foolishly lets go of anxiety, that refuses to worry about things it can’t change, or hurry something like tomorrow that can’t be hurried.

    Look, living like Jesus calls us to live will look like foolishness to the word. Let’s be honest, it will look like foolishness to us sometimes. Do I really believe Jesus can transform my life, can make me be a different person? Does He really forgive sins and change us so we don’t even want to sin anymore? The world says that’s foolish. The way to deal with sin is to allow God to change us.

    Yet, James would remind us that it is through and only through the foolishness of Jesus that the world will be redeemed. And every day, you come across people who are starving for

    foolishness. Your closest relationships are starving, you live in a foolish way before them. Loving, forgiving encouraging them when the world will not. Your co-worker friends are starving for something the wisdom of the world cannot give. We live in a world that has become bankrupt, relying on a wisdom that cannot deliver, and we are starving, feeding off a wisdom that cannot sustain us.

    What the world needs right now, perhaps more than it ever has, is a church willing to be foolish for Jesus. Who are fools willing to give up victim time and money to go and be in mission and help those we will never see again. To give to a ministry that help's people you will never know. Foolish enough to pray for the salvation of people. Foolish enough to turn the other cheek. To go the extra mile. To believe that Jesus can change lives.

    So what about you? Is God calling you to be foolish? Are you just a fool enough to say yes? At the beginning of the message, we asked you to think about the audit of your life. You know when the world looks at you, that’s what it does. It’s looking at you to see what you think is important, looking at how you live your life, if you live to what you say to believe. If we were to do that audit today, would we see someone foolish enough to live for Christ? Amen.

  • Sep 16, 2018Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: Small but Mighty
    Sep 16, 2018
    Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: Small but Mighty
    September 16, 2018
    James 3:1-12 & Psalm 19

    It is exciting when a baby says her first words: mama, daddy, ball, milk... phone!

    We celebrate their vocabulary with lots of praise. Last Saturday, one of our grandsons who is 1 ½ was staying with us. He was wandering through the house calling out my “grandma name” which is “Nono.” Hearing him say my name made me happy. Between our first efforts at speaking as a toddler and our last words in life, we say thousands and thousands of words. Some of those words we are glad that we said. There are other words we still regret saying because of the damage we caused. Words have lasting consequences. We know this because we’ve been scarred by and have hurt others with our speech.

    In our present sermon series, we are studying the book of James. James is a short letter to Christians that contains cautions about our behavior. One of his main concerns is about talking. Words are powerful because they can influence lives. What we say is important. You may forget a few sentences you once said, but the words may be remembered by someone else for the rest of their life.

    James uses the image of fire to describe the effects of our words. Words can spread like wildfire and cause much more harm than we ever imagined. A fire can start small and spread and cause the loss of hundreds of homes, of forests, and lives.

    We remember this past summer there were wildfires out West with tremendous damage. Read again James' description:

    “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!

    It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that.

    By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it.”

    In 2004, a movie came out entitled “Hotel Rwanda.” The film tells a portion of the story of what happened in the country of Rwanda in 1994. There were growing tensions and conflicts between two groups of people who lived there: the Tutsis and the Hutus. The President of the country died in a plane accident which was then blamed upon the Tutsi rebels. The movie brings out the role that words had upon the political situation.

    A radio station broadcast news of the day and they referred to the Tutsi people as “cockroaches.” They were an infestation in the country. People listened on their transistor radios to the derogatory words spoken, words which became slogans and fanned the flames of hate. In the movie's story, the manager of a hotel there is a Hutu and his wife is a Tutsi. Circumstances lead him to try and save as many Tutsi people as possible from genocide. He offered them sanctuary inside the hotel, and later tried to lead them to safety. His efforts did save some people, but in the Rwandan war, over half a million Tutsis civilians and their supporters were killed. Over half a million people.

    Words spoken can influence how we think about other people, how we look at them, how we treat them. Our tongues can ignite a fire that could possibly burn out of control.

    Gary Chapman is a pastor and author whose writings focus on relationships. In one of his books, he used a unique metaphor for words saying that words can be like “bullets or seeds”. As bullets, words are meant to harm, to injure, to leave a mark, maybe even destroy. Words as seeds bring support and respect. They nurture and promote well-being. Words that encourage life take root inside and help the listener to thrive. What do your words accomplish?

    In our time, almost anyone can send out their words to a large audience. Through social media, we can instantly share our opinions, our likes and dislikes. We can pass on what others have shared with us: true or false, for better or worse. What started out as one comment can easily snowball into an avalanche.

    We can make fun of and degrade people we will never even meet! A young man who was being bullied at school said that he could never escape, the taunts from school followed him home on his phone.

    Kate Bowle is a professor at Duke Divinity School where she teaches those who are studying to be ministers. She is also a wife and mother of a little boy. In 2015, at age of 35, she discovered that she had Stage 4 cancer and is undergoing cancer treatment weekly trying to extend her life. In her public writings, she has expressed what she is going through when you are in your thirties and facing your death.

    She has received many responses from friends and strangers everywhere telling her what she should do and what she should feel, with many responses coming from other Christians. As you will see, some of their words have not been particularly helpful to her soul.

    They give her reasons for her illness; they said that God is teaching her a lesson, that her sickness is a consequence of her sin. They point out that she is whiny and that you can't always get what you want. Someone told her to just keep smiling, that her attitude will determine her future. Words were shared that tear down faith, not build it up.

    She has also received the gift of words that lift her up and bring healing to her soul. Words from those who have also walked through the valley of the shadow of death. People who have expressed to her how, even on the darkest days, somehow they knew that God had not abandoned them. They pray for her journey, her healing and for her peace.

    The acronym THINK was constructed years ago but I believe it is still an excellent guide whether you are talking on the phone to your Aunt Sue or on Twitter. It is attributed to Alan Redpath who was a British evangelist and pastor in the 1900s.

    Simply ask yourself before speaking/writing: is what I am about to say True -Helpful -Inspiring-Necessary -Kind?

    Pay attention to your words. How often do we justify our destructive words by saying that the other person deserved it, that they started it, or that they unloaded on us and so we paid them back?

    Notice how others react to what you say. When someone is upset by our words, do we respond by saying they are just “too sensitive or they can't take a joke.” Let's listen to ourselves. Remember to think. Be careful in what you write and what you say. Look again to verses 9-10 —“With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. No more should we bless God and curse people who have been made in God's image.”

    James calls on us to examine ourselves closely -- to focus on the words that come out of our mouths – words that reveal who we truly are.

    This is the most convicting thing I will say today. Our words reveal our hearts. We may deny it, but it is true.

    In one of Jesus’ teachings, He said we will know what kind of tree it is by its' fruit. Words show the condition of our hearts. Jesus taught “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Anger, jealousy, insecurity, pride, hatred, hurt, bitterness, can come out of our hearts and be revealed in our words.

    We will face moments when we think “Where did that come from, I can't believe I just said that!” Then is the time to ask God to show you what is not right in your heart and ask God to give you His guidance and power to deal with it. It is also the time to apologize for the hurting words you have said.

    This spring, there was a young boy named Harrison in Chesterfield, England who made his debut as a goalie for his soccer team. Harrison has had quite a few health challenges in his life, and it means a great deal that he is able to play soccer.

    Unfortunately, in that first game, his team lost 11-0. His dad, Allan, posted a video of the game which featured all the saves that his son had made as a goalie. The dad did a very vulnerable thing. He asked if soccer fans would share some words of support with his son Harrison. This was a risky request because anyone can be ridiculed o line, even children.

    Wonderfully, soccer fans from Canada, America, and India sent messages of support. Dozens of professional soccer players responded. One player wrote: “Brave as a lion and kicks it a mile. Keep up the good work.”

    Why did his father ask for their input? He said that he just wanted to get the message to his boy to keep on playing, to not give up.

    I believe that our heavenly father wants us all to pass on messages to the rest of His children: messages of wisdom and guidance, messages of hope and encouragement, messages of truth and forgiveness.

    To share words that bring life, and not words that diminish another human being.

    My grandmother died when I was eight years old, but fortunately, she wrote notes and letters to me. I still have a few of them. She shared words of love and support with me that still are affirming after all these years.

    Words do last a lifetime. What legacy are we leaving?

  • Sep 2, 2018Coming Home: Standing in the Gap
    Sep 2, 2018
    Coming Home: Standing in the Gap
    Series: Coming Home
    Sept. 2, 2018  
    Acts 3:1-8 & John 17:1-10
    One of the saddest stories I ever heard was from a man who was a dentist. On the outside, it would seem that he had everything he would want. He had a loving family and a very successful practice. His practice had put him in an economic bracket where he could afford pretty much everything he wanted in life. He certainly didn’t lack for the finer things in life.  Yet, for some reason he was filled with dissatisfaction and anger.
      Now, anger is one of those things we think we can contain and manage much better than we do.  But the truth is, when we have anger, even when we put a lid on it, it’s eventually going to come out somewhere. It may come out against another person who just happened to be there when the pot boiled over. Or it might manifest itself in depression, or ulcers, or high blood pressure.  But it’s going to come out somewhere.   And this man simply couldn’t figure out why he was so angry. He had everything. He was at the pinnacle of his career. Why wasn’t he happy, why was he so angry? It got to the point where it began to affect his marriage, his relationship with his children, and his health. He knew he had to do something.   Finally, he began to talk to his pastor. And the pastor said, let’s assume something. Let’s assume there is no anger for angers’ sake. Let assume something. Or even better, somebody has caused his anger. Who are you angry at?  And the man thought about it for a long time. Days, in fact.  Finally, he came back to his minister and said I think I have it figured out.  I know who has caused all this anger.   He said I am mad at me. Well, I am mad at the 18 year old version of me.  The pastor was surprised and said, ‘well why are you angry at the younger you?’ He said ‘who was the 18 year old to decide what I wanted to do with my life?  Who was he, at 18, to decide that I would be a dentist for the rest of my life. Or that I even wanted to be or ought to be a dentist?’  He said ‘I finally realized I hate being dentist.  It’s not that I’m not good at it, I have the skills and experience. But I hate it.  Every day, I hate doing this for a living. And the only reason I am doing it is because some 18 year old punk decided he could dictate what I would do with my life.’   Isn't that sad? Angry at the 18 year old version of his life whose decisions put him on the path he was on, he thought, for the rest of his life.  Feeling imprisoned by decisions that put him on a path that he simply didn’t want to be on.      This is Labor Day weekend.  Tomorrow, many will celebrate Labor Day, will celebrate their vocation by not going to work. Although Labor Day is a federal holiday, it’s also one that ought, I believe, to be celebrated in the church.  Vocation is important. When we work, we are touching a part of the image of God in us. God creates, he works, and when we do the same, we are doing a good thing. We were made to do so. What we do ought not be something we do simply to get paid.  How sad is it when we see it only as a way to make money and not a way to make the world around us better, to do something important.  Of course, like that dentist showed us, while having a vocation is important, choosing the right one is important, as well.   I thought about that looking at those who wore today what you wear at work. And I thought about it for all of these children who wore what they want to be when they grow up. I hope you get to be all of those things.  And I hope you have chosen well because what you do matters.   If it’s true that what we do matters, should that also not be true for us as Christians?  What we do matters, what we labor at as the body of Christ matters.  And what we choose to do can be the course for our lives.  What have you chosen to do, what is your vocation?   Jesus, at the end of the book of Matthew, gives us the Great Commission. Jesus says our vocation is to make disciples of Jesus Christ going into all the world to redeem the world.  Now hear that. Our vocation is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Not grow larger churches, which is great. Or sway everyone to our way of thinking. But, everyone's role is to help those who don’t know Jesus to give their lives to Christ and to help others grow deeper in their faith. Not just my vocation, but yours, as well.  What are you doing to fulfill your vocation? Have you chosen well?   Again, that seems to be a pretty daunting task. How do I make disciples of Jesus when I’m trying to fit everything else in my life in?  What can I do at my age, with my issues, schedule, how am I supposed to make disciples of Jesus Christ?   Knowing this series, it ought to come as no surprise to you, that the place to begin to fulfill your vocation is to pray.  Look at Jesus, the very first thing Jesus does, every time, to fulfil his vocation, to redeem the world, is what? What does Jesus do? He prays every time, He prays for others. Jesus intercedes for them, He lifts them up in prayer. Sick, a disease, sorrow, whatever it is, Jesus prays for them. Look at our Gospel lesson today.  Jesus interceding for His disciples. I love this prayer solely because it’s so un-miraculous.  I mean nothing happens at first here. It’s just Jesus saying ‘Father, I love these guys.  I know they aren't perfect. But I love them. Watch over them.’ He intercedes for them.  Peter and John with this man in Acts? They say ‘let us stand in the gap between you and what you need,’ and they pray for him, and he is healed.   There is a reason why, as we have spent this summer together, we have had such a big emphasis on prayer. It’s because, I believe, as we look to the Bible, there is no greater foundation for our vocation as making disciples of Jesus Christ than prayer.  Praying for others may do more to bring about the redemption of the world than we can ever realize. Prayer has brought more people to Christ than any sermon ever written. More people have given their lives to Jesus because their parents faithfully prayed for them every night than all the eloquence of every preacher combined, even mine.    More people have experienced healing through the simple faithful prayers of the people around them than through all the experience and intellect of every person in the medical field. More people have experienced healing and the mending of broken hearts because someone somewhere was praying for them than the combined wisdom every counselor could provide. More people have been freed from the chains of addiction, rescued from their own bad decisions by the simplest prayer of a child than any 12 step program has ever done.   Now, does that mean that preachers and doctors and counselors and programs aren’t necessary or important? No, of course they are. God works through them.  But often they are the answer to the prayer that someone has prayed.  So often, lives are changed in ways we can never understand because someone was willing to stand in the gap and pray for another person.   I’ve read recently, especially in the light of a tragedy, that when people ask for prayers, they really aren’t accomplishing anything.  If all we are doing is equating prayers with good thoughts, or, God help us sending you good vibes, then I would agree.   But that is not the Christians’ understanding of prayer. Prayer isn’t sending someone good thoughts. It’s the vocation of standing in the gap between people and pain, it’s inviting God to unleash the power of the Holy Spirit into people’s lives, into people's hearts, into the world. It is our first step in walking alongside God in the ultimate redemption of the world.   Now, what we need is not less prayer, but more. We need a church that, from beginning to end, are people of prayer asking God to move, heal, help, and redeem. Will you be those people? Every day, will you fulfill your vocation, be a person of prayer, and live with no regrets? Amen.