Sermons


Below are condensed versions of the weekly sermons. You can view the entire weekly sermons and special music by clicking on the youtube link:

https://www.youtube.com/user/RUMC83350

 

 

May 22, 2016 - Sermon "Decisions, Decisions" - Proverbs 16:1-3, 16-23, 32-33

 

We have come to that time of year when people are graduating High School and College; we know this is a historic event in the lives of these young people. It is sometimes called a rite of passage but, it is the result of personal achievement and accomplishment.

 

Today is the first day of the rest of your life" is an overused and very corny cliché, but it may in fact be the truth about defining the moment of graduation; or any significant moment in life; like a graduation. It is an historic day which marks the culmination of many years of hard work and the beginning of the next chapter in your life.

People graduating find themselves confronted with many decision. And the decisions that you will make, will shape the rest of your life. But, graduates are not the only ones making decisions; we all do. We decided to go to college; or not to go to college. We make decisions about our jobs; decisions about finances; dates; marriages; children. We make decisions about relations, and yes we even make decisions about our relationship with God.

 

So, the question for today is: How do we know when we are making the right decision?

 

This is why I have chosen proverbs for today scriptures. Proverbs is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It is filled with wisdom that will help us make the correct decisions in life.

 

The choices we make every day have consequences. Thus, every choice is important. Therefore before making any decision you ought to do two things – Think and pray. Give some thought to the consequences of your decisions.

 

Better yet, pray about it first. Ask for God’s leadership and direction. That sounds pretty simple– but so often we don’t do it. Why not? It is because most of the time our decision making process is backwards.

 

We make decisions one of four ways. Peer pressure, emotion or fear, intellect and then we consult God. I believe that the most important way and the most reliable way of making choices is used the least - and the least effective way of making choices we use the most. It’s kind of ironic isn’t it?  Let’s take a look at these four ways of choosing.

 

First, we have peer pressure. This is not always a bad thing. It’s really important whom you get your advice from. If you get the wrong advisor they can put pressure on you to do the wrong thing. We call that peer pressure – and we have all experienced it. The people we associate with will influence us. Remember when your Mother would tell you, “I don’t like you hanging around with those people. They are a bad influence. The people we associate with influence the clothes we wear, the way we do our hair, the words we often use are to appease, or please, our peers. Peers can even influence how you spend your money. And, more than we would like to admit, we make decision because of the pressure we feel from others. When we try to “keep up with the Jones” we really get in trouble. Many of our choices, if not determined by our peers, are at least influenced by them. However, if you have the right peer group they can influence you to make good choices.

 

The second great influencer of our choices is ‘emotion or fear’. Sometimes a choice made out of fear is correct but usually that decision is wrong. Making decisions out of fear is called is called the ‘fight or flight’ decision. This is our most basic of responses to a situation. How many people have gone to jail, or lost a job, or ended a relationship because they reacted out of fear? Most of our choices are not so dramatic, but when we speak out of fear, we can and do injure the people in our lives.

 

Instead of making decisions out of fear a better option is to ‘think’ before acting. God gave us a brain – we ought to use it. In other words, think before you act.


I have learned that a wise thing to do before making a decision is to get a pen and piece of paper, and write down the pros and cons of making that decision. This causes you to think a little deeper than you normally would by weighing all your options. Or, before you make a monumental in your life, sleep on it; take 24 hours before making that decision. Many times I have found that after I have waited a day, I will realize that either I was going to make the wrong decision or, what I thought was such a big deal is really not that big of a deal at all.

 

The point is that you need to think before you make those important decisions. And always consider your actions and the consequences of those actions. But, even our intellect can lead you astray.

 

Let’s talk about consulting God first. Before you make decisions, bring God into the conversation. When you are faced with a choice, go to God in prayer. The power of God or The Holy Spirit is a gift to us, to guide us, and lead us into making the right decisions. When we go to God first, we can be assured that our actions and the consequences of those actions will be correct. We may not like the consequences because they were not in our favor, but we can be assured they result is what is best.

 

I’ll use myself as an example. Occasionally, when I was in copier sales, the opportunity would present itself for me to lie in order to get the sale. Well, instead of lying, I would tell the customer the truth. I would say something like, my product cannot meet that specific need but this particular competitor can. I hate to lose your business but lying to you would only cause us both problems in the future. Every time that happened, I would receive a phone call from someone telling me they were a referral from the person I had been honest with. The person one the phone would tell me they were in the market for a copier and that they wanted to consult with an honest person. I am not telling you this story to toot my own horn. Buy, I am telling you this story to prove to you that if you consult with God and make the right choices your will eventually see positive results.

 

God will work out everything for our good if we let Him. When faced with an important choice, always go to God for direction. God gave us the responsibility of making choices – but He hasn’t left us on our own. He will help us make choices – if we seek His guidance.

 

Sometimes we make choices out of fear. Sometimes we make choices from peer pressure. But, if we include God first in the decision making process we will always see positive results.

 

Now, I would like to our graduates. To the disbelief of your parents, you are now an "adult". Now, that does not mean that you are invincible. That does not mean that you know everything. We applaud your accomplishments; you have set goals; you have worked hard; you have accomplished a great deal. You have overcome obstacles; tolerated some teachers and students you disagreed with, and even disagreed with your parents on the importance of watching dancing with stars before doing your homework.

 

But please remember, you are not superman or superwoman. We mortals and there are evils in the world that can consume us. Yes, you are graduating, but you are not "invincible". 

 

So many times in graduating, we want to run off and experience our freedoms, we want to take on the world; stretch our wings; and leave the Church behind. We think we don’t need God anymore, so we begin to make decisions on our own. But the best decisions that you make for your future, will be the ones that you make with God. The best decision that you can make is to walk with Christ, no matter where you go, what you do, or what the cost. Remember that with Christ leading the way you can accomplish anything. If you consult with Christ you will make the right decisions.

Even Superman had a weakness: His weakness was Kryptonite. And as you go off into the world, and begin to make your own decisions you too will face your weaknesses and challenges. Superman knew his weakness, and thereby always tried to avoid it, even though "evil" would often show up in his life. Your "kryptonite" will be no different. Know your weakness and then seek to avoid them. There are lots of pitfalls in life, things like drugs, alcohol, anger, resentment, fear, and irrational behavior. All these things will present themselves to you.  And you will have to make decisions.

 

Your Superman powers may well leave you thinking that you can draw strength from yourself. But Spiritual power can and will come only from God through Christ, and through the body of Christ which is His Church.

 

And so as you are going off into the world, and going off to college, I encourage you to form a relationship with the local Church. While you are away at college or, if you have graduated and are beginning your working career; I recommend you find a church to call home. Make friends at the church. These new friends will give you additional people to consult with and to use as mentors.

 

Always try to make rational decisions for your life that are based upon a relationship with God. It is not rational to be involved in illegal activities, no matter how innocent they may seem. It is not rational to party away your education. It is not rational to make decisions that will lead you to drop out of school; or to cause yourself to be fired. It is not rational to rush into marriage merely for companionship. Rather decisions made in life are ones that should be made rationally with God at your side.

 

I will leave you with this:  A man was once journeying in a faraway country and found himself traveling through a forest towards a village. The forest was filled with beautiful oak trees. Several miles away from the village the stranger began to notice that on several trees were painted a bullseye, and dead center of the bullseye was an arrow. 


As he traveled closer to the village, he began to notice that on every tree was painted a bullseye, and dead center was an arrow. On some trees, two bulls’ eyes had been painted and on each an arrow had been shot and hit dead center. The stranger grew excited wanting to meet the fine archer who seemed to never miss his target. Surely this must be the greatest archer in the entire world. As he approached the city, every tree was filled with targets and arrows carefully placed by the skilled archers bow, directly on the center mark. 


The stranger hurried into the village and began asking, "Where is the greatest archer in the entire world?" But the people look bewildered. "What do you mean the greatest archer?" The stranger remarked, "Surely you must know of the greatest archer in the entire world. The trees surrounding the village for miles are filled with arrows which were shot from the skilled archers bow. Each target a perfect hit."


"O no," said one of the villagers. "You don’t understand, in this village resides the skilled craftsman who makes the arrows. He makes the finest arrows in all the land." The stranger interrupted, but surely the greatest archer must also live here as well, for I have seen that on every target was a perfect shot."

"No" said one of the villagers. "We have no fine archers, only an exquisite craftsman who makes so many wonderful arrows, that we just take them out and shoot them. But we don’t want the craftsman to look bad, so wherever they land, we then paint a target around the arrow."

Remember, you have been carefully crafted by the most wonderful Craftsman of all. So make decisions that exemplify His workmanship, and make decisions that will make you proud. 


 

May 15, 2016 - Sermon “You Can Do It Too” - John 14: 8-13

 

Would you believe it if you were told that you could do even greater things than Christ? It doesn't really sound possible that any human could achieve greater things than Christ. Yet, in this passage from John in today’s scripture, Christ says exactly that. He says, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." Whoever believes in Christ will do the works that he did, and even greater things!


Every time I read that verse I say to myself; yeah right. My ego is pretty big but even I don’t think I am on the same level with Christ. Not many people do.


At times we all want to do great things with our lives, and most of us have. We have raised a family, had a successful career, some of us are teachers or healers. We have people in our congregation that have recently graduated from college and are beginning the next chapter in their lives. We have people that are going to college for the first time. And we have people that are retired, for the first time. We all have accomplished great things in our lives but to compare ourselves to Christ is pretty big step.


It sort of feels sinful to even think that it is possible to do anything as good as, or better than Christ.


How could we ever compare to Christ? Think of all the wonderful things that Jesus accomplished during his time on earth.  He changed water into wine. He walked on water. He healed the blind. He interacted with all sorts of people, without any prejudice. Jesus walked all over his known world. He taught everywhere about a God who was coming to his people in a new way. He even argued with the Pharisees about how they had neglected God’s children and were living as hypocrites. He ate dinner with tax collectors and raised people from the dead. And when he died on a Roman cross, he defeated death itself. He was God's Son and the Son of Man. He came to reveal God and proclaim God's new kingdom in the world.


How could Jesus ever think that we mere humans would do greater things than he did?
The fact of the matter is that we won't ever be able to do many of those things we associate with Jesus, at least not on our own. Most of us won't change water into wine or walk on water. Unless you are a trained medical professional you probably won’t heal in the way Jesus did. We might revive people, but we will likely never raise a person from the dead. But, these aren't the kinds of things that Jesus had in mind when he was speaking to his disciples anyway.


As God's Son, Jesus knew that he came to this earth to do the will of God. Jesus came to proclaim the love of God and the establishment of God's new kingdom, which would reign on earth as in heaven; a kingdom of justice and mercy for all people.


Jesus came so that we might know God fully and completely. Jesus' greatest work was that he revealed God to all the people that he encountered.


So, our question for today is; g How are we going to do greater things than Jesus?

Well, Jesus knows that he will not be on earth forever, but he also knows that his great work must continue. And so as he prepares for his ascension to the right hand of the throne of God, he also has to prepare his disciples.


The passage we heard from John this morning is the beginning of that preparation. Jesus knows that he will soon be departing this world, and so he takes a moment in to emphasize the link between the believers continuing work, and the work that Jesus has begun. And Jesus makes clear that the success of the disciples' work is directly dependent on Jesus' departure to the Father. "Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."


The final events of Jesus' days on earth -- his death, resurrection, and ascension -- show us the fullness of his love for God, and the fullness of God's love for the world.


Now, by saying that we will do greater works than he, Jesus is telling us that our works will be even greater because we will reveal the completed story of God's Word made flesh and the radical love of God for the world. In other words, Jesus got the ball moving down the field but it’s up to us to carry the ball across the goal line. So, the works of Jesus' disciples are not greater than Jesus' works, but because of the humility of Jesus he is telling us that our job, the job of telling the world that the Spirit of God showed up, right here on earth, in the physical human body of Jesus is  greater than what he accomplished. And as a part of this new kingdom, we believers are called to continue the glorification of God through Jesus and that was the very purpose of Jesus' own works.


Think of how Jesus changed lives by introducing people to the loving God. And now, as Jesus' disciples, we are to continue that work; we are to reveal God to others.


We can do even greater things than Christ himself, because as Christ's own body at work in this world, we can continue to share the love of God with more and more people every day. Christ's transformational work can continue through us, Christ's disciples, which is the church.


Jesus is not talking about the miracles he performed, he is talking about the battles we will fight, and the hard times ahead that we will have proclaiming the Good News of Christ. The good news that God showed up on earth, to teach us the way of Christ.

 

So how can we continue Christ's work in this world with the great expectations that Christ expects of us? We do it by telling the story of Jesus, who is "the way and the truth and the life."

 

I heard a story earlier this week about a man who was trying to learn about Buddhist philosophy and the Buddhist understanding of God and other religions. On a trip to Indonesia, the man visited with some Buddhist monks and sat with them many hours as the monks explained their beliefs. Finally, feeling that he understood, the man summarized what he had learned. "So, you're telling me that God sits at the top of a mountain, and there are many paths that we humans can take up that mountain to God?" "That's right!" the monks said."Well, what if instead of following those different paths up the mountain to God, God came down the mountain to us?" the man asked.

 

Slightly surprised, the monks' eyes brightened in joyful thoughtfulness, "That would be wonderful!" they told the man.Then the man leaned forward and said, “Let me tell you a story about a man named Jesus." 


Like those disciples gathered together in the Upper Room listening to Jesus say farewell, we can get scared thinking about continuing his work in this world without him. But we don't have to find our way up a mountain; because the mountain came down to us.

 

We only need to tell others about Christ, "he is the way and the truth and the life." All we need to do is to point to Christ who is God among us; Emmanuel; God who, in his infinite grace, has come down the mountain so that everyone might know God, and have a personal relationship with God.


It is in knowing Jesus as "the way and the truth" that we are able to experience God as "the life." Because without Jesus, and left to our own devises, there is very little hope for us. And, in fact, that too is the message of scripture.


Do you remember Paul's words? "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." And "The wages of sin is death."


Without Jesus there is no life. That's why these words are so sweet to our ears; because Jesus also says, "I am the life. No one comes to the Father except by me." These words remind us that Jesus is our life. They are Jesus' invitation to all to come to him, to receive in him the gift of life that God created for all.


So how do we come to know the way and the truth of God in Jesus Christ? How do we experience abundant life and help others to do the same? The key is faith. It is faith that brings God's blessings to life for us. It is faith that takes us not to the foot of a mountain, but to the feet of God. It is faith that enables us to see the truth about our lives and to embrace the truth about God. It is faith that brings God's gift of life to us. And it is faith that enables us to continue Christ's great work and share the blessings of God with others. Faith comes from trusting in Jesus' word, living with God, following Christ's example, and continuing Christ's work. Through faith in Jesus Christ, everyone can come into God's presence. That is the gospel; it is God's promise to us.


In Jesus, we have "the way and the truth and the life" and not only us but the whole world. That’s why Jesus says, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these."


So let's believe in Jesus. Let’s believe in his teachings and his way of living and loving, let's have faith in God, and let's show others The Way into God's presence! 

 

 May 1, 2016 - "Peace I Leave With You" -  John 14:23-29


Ever since we were created, humanity has craved peace! Peace of mind, peace of heart, peace among the nations. And this is precisely what Jesus is offering as he speaks to the disciples in today’s scripture. The peculiar thing about peace is this; we are always striving after it. We yearn for complete peace in our lives––yet peace is rarely present in our lives. At times the peace we crave is so foreign to our existence that, any effort on our part to live in total peace seems fruitless.


Historians have provided us with some information about peace in human history. Since 3600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace! During this period there have been 14,351 wars, large and small, in which 3.64 billion people have been killed. The value of the property destroyed would pay for a golden belt around the world 97.2 miles wide and 33 feet thick.


Sometimes the very thing that we are looking for is covered up in our overzealous searching. Ironically, it has probably been our misplaced longing for earthly peace that has kept us from finding true peace.

 

A longing for earthly peace has often proven the catalyst for war because when we focus on the earthly peace, God takes second place. And that is backwards. We need to find peace with God through Christ first. Then earthly peace will happen. It is only the knowledge of the true peace, found in Christ Jesus, that gives us real peace. This is the peace that “passes all understanding,” which is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which puts our hearts and minds at peace 100% of the time.

 

So how do we experience such peace? How can we get back on track? Christ’s words in today’s gospel reading point us in the right direction, and it begins with the Holy Spirit, which is Christ’s gift to his disciples and to us. But, the Holy Spirit means nothing if our primary concern is for the things of this world. Why, because when we focus on the things of this world, we end up in war. War with each other and war with other nations. So we have to begin by focusing less on the world and focusing more on God. And once we decide that we want to orient our lives to God and pursue more fully the peace offered by Christ, and then we have to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Christ didn’t just say to the disciples, “The Father will send the Holy Spirit in my name and you’ll know peace.”

 

 What Jesus says is that the Father will send the Holy Spirit, and this Advocate will teach us everything and remind us of everything Jesus has said to us. Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the comforter or counselor, the Holy Spirit is our Advocate. When we become distraught or confused, the Advocate is the voice inside us that brings us peace and guidance in accordance with God’s will. But even beyond that, Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will continue to teach us, just as Jesus has taught us.

 

If we are to grow as Christians, then we have to be students; and it is the Holy Spirit that leads us always deeper and deeper into the truth of God. We just have to keep our minds opened and focused, while not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the things of this world. And when we do become overly distracted by worldly matters and we will, the Holy Spirit will remind us of what Jesus has said in the Gospels. And when our thoughts wander, the Holy Spirit brings us back to the Word of God, saving us from bad decisions or arrogance.

 

We have all experienced something like this in life. We are tempted to do something wrong and are just about to do it, when in the back of our mind comes a saying from Jesus, or the verse of a psalm, or the loving words of a parent. In the moment of danger these thoughts flash into our minds; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. If we will be attentive to this work, then we will know true peace.

 

Peace doesn’t come just from saying, “I believe in Christ.” Peace comes when we affirm our faith in Christ and then attend daily to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in every place in our lives. If we are faithful, then nothing that we experience in life can ever take us away from the peace offered by Christ. If we listen to that little voice in our heads it will tell us exactly what we need to know. And this is what Jesus teaches the disciples as he speaks with them after sharing in the Last Supper.

 

The Holy Spirit did not appear only at certain times at certain points in history, and then withdraw; the Holy Spirit is in the world today. And for all who will stay attentive, the Holy Spirit still teaches, and still guides, and still leads deeper and deeper into all the truth.

 

As Christ prepared for the end of his time on earth, he had little to leave. Even his clothes would soon be the property of the squadron of Roman soldiers charged with crucifying him. And certainly the disciples were distraught to think how they might continue without Jesus; they had been following Christ and listening to him for three years. Jesus was their guide and teacher, their greatest mentor. But Jesus did have one gift to give, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the assurance of peace, and the guarantee that although he will not be with us physically, we will never be disconnected from him. Christ was going away, but the peace he offered was very real then and is very real now. And this power is strong enough to bring us through whatever lay ahead in our lives. 

 

For centuries, humanity has longed for complete and total peace in the face of uncertainty and strife. A half century ago, Bob Dylan wrote, “The Times They Are A-Changin”, but not much has changed. We still live in a war-torn, troubled world. We stand anxious in the midst of vast natural disasters and recurring economic meltdowns.

 

Thomas Merton writes, “Man is not at peace with his fellow man because he is not at peace with himself. He is not at peace with himself, because he is not at peace with God.” We seek peace, but we fail in our efforts to attain peace until we encounter the Source of peace.


Brothers and sisters our world is always at war. There are many individuals in our world that do not wish to live in peace, but I believe they are in the minority. I believe the vast majority of all the people in our world want to live in peace. We all want the same thing. We want a clean, healthy, and safe environment to work in and to raise our children. But, we are always fighting some leader’s war. Isn’t it strange how the people that live in different countries can live in peace but it’s our rulers or elected officials that can’t.

 

There is no peace apart from God. We find our peace in God and I hope one day our leaders can find this peace. And peace is precisely what God wants for us, no matter what is happening around us. And we have Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to help us find such peace.

 

Christ leaves us with these words. “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.” Amen.

 

April 24, 2016 - "What Is A Christian?" -  John 13:31-35

 

It’s hard to make friends sitting in traffic. I try but I often fail. I want to like the person that passes me going 90 MPH, but I often find myself wishing ill will on them. There have been people from time to time that I have encountered in my life that I simply don’t care for.

We all have people in our lives that we don’t like. Some people come into our lives that we simply cannot stand to be around. These people can be at work, in the mall, at school, at home, or the freeway. Like of many of you I have tried to understand why I don’t like them. Is it a personality clash; meaning our personalities are so similar that we see in them that we really don’t like in ourselves.  Or, some people are to sarcastic, or their too serious, or they always interrupt you when you are talking. Or, they are so sensitive that they never find humor in life.


I’m going to let you off the hook today. It’s OK not to like everyone. Why, because we are all different. There’s no way we can like everyone we meet. We can try. Have you ever told yourself,” I’ve tried to like that person but I just can’t.  Be glad that you tried. That’s a sign of a kind person. But, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just accept the fact that it is nearly impossible for you to like everyone. However, according to today’s scripture, as followers of Christ, as Christians, we are required to love everyone as Christ loved us. I know what you are thinking, yea that’s not going to happen. But, there is a difference between liking someone and loving someone. I don’t need to like you in order to love you. So what’s the difference? If you like someone, meaning you are friends with them, you want to spend time with them; talking, sharing a meal, going to a movie together. But, when Christ tell us to love each other like I loved you. That’s a whole different thing.


“Love one another.” It is the simplest, clearest, and hardest command of all. It’s sort of like telling an eight-year old boy to listen. It seems like an easy request, but for an eight-year old boy, listening is about the hardest thing to do, except maybe to sit still. Love one another. Jesus’ words sound so very easy, but when we really try to live that commandment; as the weak, broken, sinful creatures that we are, it is not so simple after all. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus commands of us. And this command stands at the very heart of Christianity; it summarizes the full spirit of discipleship. When it comes to following Christ, there is nothing more important than to love one another as Christ has loved us. But, do we really love in this way? Do we really want to love this way? I read a comment by one Christian that said, “It is decidedly impractical to love as Jesus loves in our time. Personally, I think that is a cop-out. This person is trying to find a way to not follow the commandment of Christ while still calling himself a Christian.


I have said this before and I will say it again, being a Christians is not easy. If you read the Bible closely, you should be prepared to be uncomfortable.” It is so easy to say, “We should Love one another.” But at times it’s such a difficult thing to do. If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t have to do much soul searching to see that we quite often fail at love.

We have defined “one another” so tightly that it means only, “Love the people who sit next to us at church or, the people that reinforce your thoughts and ideas. We seem to have been taught that the proper response to our neighbor is to turn our backs on entire populations because of ageism; their too old to a certain job, or they are the wrong religion, or the wrong sex, or any of a number of other reasons to exclude someone. I believe it’s very easy to think of all kinds of ways to not love one another, and often this happens because we define love too narrowly, or we put love of ourselves above love of others. Ultimately, love shows itself not by self-service but by the service we render to the ones we profess to love, especially service that inconveniences us or, that calls us to sacrifice. This is the kind of love that Jesus commands of us, is all about the other person. Such love results into service of others not in order to show off and to bring the spot light to ourselves. This is the kind of love the God has for us; the love that Jesus showed to this world during his time that he walked among us. It may take us a long time to understand how vastly great this love is, but it is also at the heart of knowing who the true God is and what God is calling us to do.


This love that Jesus asks of us is more than just “loving your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus says to us, “love one another as I have loved you,” he’s telling us to take ourselves completely out of the equation; true love is all about the other person, the love that Jesus asks of us is all about serving God by being obedient and by serving the needs of others. And isn’t this exactly what Jesus did? So, as followers of the way of Christ shouldn’t we want to emulate this kind of love?

 

Throughout his ministry on earth Jesus emphasized that he was in constant communion with God the Father. Remember, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” And that obedient love took Jesus into some amazing places!


Jesus’ obedient love took him to a wedding in Galilee where he turned water into wine. Jesus’ obedient love took him to a well where he encountered a prostitute and forgave her. It brought him face-to-face with the Pharisees, who Jesus taught with patience and love, even as they continued to harass and insult him. Jesus’ obedient love carried him among crowds where he healed lepers, paralytics, and chronically sick people. Jesus’ obedient love took him into the tomb of a dear deceased friend, who walked out alive only moments later. And Jesus’ obedient love took him all the way to the cross, where he died in obedience to God’s will and taught all of us a great lesson about the love of God.


Certainly, the love that Jesus shows us and asks of us is a sacrificial love, but that sacrifice is borne out of complete love of God and obedience to God’s will. This love is unconditional, it includes everyone, and it excludes no one! 


In preparing for today’s sermon I read a story about a preacher and his encounter with a homeless man that I believe drives home the message in today’s scripture. The story is about a preacher that worked at a church in the slums of New York and he tells a remarkable Easter story. He tells us that, It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie, sat down. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward for communion; and many were still kneeling at the chancel in prayer. As I sat there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty; he was disheveled and filthy. We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever they need. So as I sat there, and I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it now, “What a way to end Easter Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more booze.” The man walked up to me. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible stench worse than anything I had smelled in my life. It was so awful that I could barely face the man to speak to him. Yet I took a deep breath asked him, “What’s your name?”  “David", the man replied.  “How long have you been on the street?” “Six years.” “How old are you", I asked?  He replied, "Thirty-two.” He looked fifty; his hair was matted; front teeth missing; probably a wino; his eyes were glazed over. I enquired, "where did you sleep last night, David?”  He responded, "an abandoned truck.” 


Well, I keep in my back pocket a money clip. I fumbled to pull the clip out, thinking; I’ll give him some money. Usually we don’t give money to people; we take them to get something to eat. But I was too tired, so I took the money out and tried to hand it to him. David lifted his hand and pushed the money away. He said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the one you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.” 


I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me, just to get him out of my hair. I was only concerned about myself.


See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. But, there is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels. But, that soon changed.


David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening as something came over me and I started to weep deeply. Then David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was standing there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. 


Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this man, I can’t use you, because this is why I called you. This is what you are about. You are about this man and his horrible smell.


Christ changed David’s life. He started memorizing portions of Scripture. We got him a place to live. We hired him in the church to do maintenance, and we got his teeth fixed. They detoxed him in 6 days.  He was a handsome man when he came out of the hospital.

A year later David got up in front of the congregation and talked about his conversion to Christ. The minute he took the mic and began to speak, I said, “The man is a preacher.” This past Easter we ordained David. He is an associate minister of a church in New Jersey.

Christ had changed my heart that day too, I had been so close to saying, “Here, take this money; I’m a busy preacher and I have no time for you.”


Love is about so much more than convenience; it’s about obedience, whatever the cost. For a preacher in the slums of New York, the cost was a smelly hug from a drunken homeless man, and for Christ that cost was ultimately the cross.


There are certainly costs for us, too, if, we take this command from Jesus seriously. Loving Jesus’ way means that we will die to self, but this is the key to life! And loving this way isn’t safe or comfortable, but it’s the only way to find joy and happiness; and this will give us true freedom!


By following Christ commandment, we will find ourselves in the slums, the mental hospitals, or the prisons. We will have with the burden of carrying loads of food to the hungry, or fixing the broken homes of the poor.


And we will begin to take moments to tell others about the amazing love of Christ. Yet, this will not be easy. We will have to work against the cynicism and skepticism of others, and we might even lose friends in the process.


But ultimately it’s not about us anyway! Love is all about the other person. That’s what Jesus was saying to us as he spoke with the disciples in the Upper Room. This commandment to love others as I have loved you will overflow into service, not in order to show-off or get pats on the back, but because this love is the most natural form of love there is. This is the love that we were made for, and it is the badge that the Christian community wears before the world.


What will the world see when they watch us? Will they see the obedient and sacrificial love of Jesus, or will they see petty selfishness? Do people know you are disciple of Christ by how you love? What Christ asks of us is to be unselfish, generous with ourselves, obey God and use our lives for others.  And when we can love one another in such a way, our love of God will grow as well, and we will know more fully God’s unconditional love of us.


The problem that we face in our world today is that Christians are not known for their love. I have read articles and national polls, and you can too using Google, where the people polled identify Christians as judgmental, homophobic, Christians are not allowed to think for themselves, Christians have a very low view of women, and we are hypercritical. In addition to all this the one word that never makes the top ten lists is Love. And that is very sad.

So how do we change this attitude? We change people’s attitude by living the love of Christ in all our affairs. When we leave this building we lead with Christ. Remember that saying form the 90’s What Would Jesus Do?


My challenge for you this week is this. Use the saying “what would Jesus do all week.  Use that saying this week and see if you act differently. And be honest with yourself. If you find yourself acting like Christ then great. If not, then you have some work to do.

The command from Jesus is clear, but the choice is ours. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” What will your choice be?

 

April 17, 2016 - "What Is My Purpose?" -  Jeremiah 29: 10-14 and Acts 9:1-6


We spend the first half of our lives making decisions, planning for the future, studying, preparing for life and then we spend the second half of our lives in therapy trying to understand why we made those stupid decisions.


I started out life after college in sales. After graduating with a degree in finance I was ready to conquer the world and make a fortune. I had good years and bad years but, after a while I began to ask myself “is this it” I this what I am surpassed to be doing with my life?


My career began by selling copiers and then I switched to being a financial advisor. No matter what I did that same questions came up. Is this what I am supposed to be doing with my life? Am I doing life right? In other words, what is my purpose in life?


Many of you may be having similar thoughts. Or, you many have had similar thoughts in the past. You may be graduating from high school and about to enter college and you are trying to decide on a major. Or, you are graduating from college and you are struggling with what career is best for me. Some of you may be like I was and you go to work every day or you have retired and you ask yourself “Is this my purpose in life”?


We are not the first people to have these questions about life. In Jeremiah, the Israelites had just been conquered and had been marched back to Babylon to life in exile. Verse 10 reads: The Lord proclaims: When Babylon’s seventy years are up, I will come and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, and to give you a future filled with hope.


God always has an interest in our future and He cares about our future. Sometimes the problem is we are the ones who don’t have any interest in our own future. We just get up every day and go through the motions. We get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to work or begin our activities for the day. Then we go home watch TV, go to bed, and do the same thing again tomorrow. It’s like we don’t even have a plan or care about our future.


Or the other end of the spectrum is that we are so concerned about our future that we are not living today. We are always planning for tomorrow, and because of this we never quite accomplish everything we wanted to do today and this leads to frustration. And we tell ourselves that tomorrow will be different.


In Acts we find Saul, later to be called Paul on his way to Damascus when he is suddenly knocked off his feet and blinded. Saul had decided on a career but, according to today’s scripture God had other plans.


Saul was born in the Greek city of Tarsus and learned at the Jewish synagogue there. Saul was educated as a rabbi by in Jerusalem. He spoke Aramaic and Greek. He was the son of an orthodox Jewish father, and a son of a Pharisee. And Paul himself was a Pharisee. So, this means he has had a deep love and appreciation for his Jewish faith, and could easily speak to people who were rooted in Judaism. He was a Roman citizen through his father. And at one point this saved his life. Also, being a Roman citied meant that he could speak in the public square without fear of persecution.  He was a strong leader in the Jewish community and his zealousness for the law was unmatched by many. It was that zeal that leads him on the road to Damascus.

 

So why does God chose Saul that day. I bet Saul was pretty secure with his purpose in life.

But, God has a way of taking our backgrounds, whatever they are, and making good out of them. We may have some wonderful things about our backgrounds that have given us special skill and knowledge. We all have things we can be proud of.


However, there may be things about our backgrounds that we are not proud of. We may just soon forget these details about our lives, but God takes our background and uses it for our and his benefit. We may have been through some trauma in our lives. God can take that experience and use us to minister to other people who are in the middle of the same kind of trauma. We can say to them, "God brought me through this and God can bring your through it too."


So, here is Saul with all of this background. A background that has led him to believe that the Christians are absolutely wrong about what they believe. He has gotten instructions from the chief priests to bring Christians back to Jerusalem for judgement. Then, suddenly a bright light shines around him and he is struck down. Then a voice cries out, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He replies, "Who is it, Lord?" "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Now go into the city and I will tell you what to do."

Here is Saul, proud of his background and what he believes. Now he is struck down, blinded and needs to be led into town by the hand. In some ways it might seem unlikely for God to choose Saul to be one of the major leaders of the church, especially since he originally wanted to eliminate the Christians. However, we see that God uses his background to God’s advantage.


So, Paul the Christian started out as Saul the persecutor of Christians but after an encounter with Jesus he changed. He found his true purpose in life. Saul thought he knew what his purpose was in life but God had other ideas. Like some of you here today, you think you are fulfilling your purpose in life while others may be like me and wandering if there is something else you need to be doing.


One thing that was required of Saul was that he needed to change. Do we really believe people can change? If we don’t believe people can change we are missing a big part of the gospel message. The Gospel is about Christ coming into our lives and shaking us to our innermost core of our being and then we’re never the same again. We may not have the kind of experience like Saul or Paul had, but we believe that God is continuing to work in our lives and make us into the people God wants us to be. And this may be unsettling to us because we may wonder, can we change?


Maybe we have some destructive things in our lives and we can’t quite seem to shake them, even when we want to. But the message of the gospel is that we can change. God is in the business of changing people’s lives.  And for some that change helps us understand what our purpose in life truly is. This change may not come all at once, but little by little as we open ourselves up to God’s work in our lives, we change.


Paul has said in Galatians 2:19-20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."


So, if God had a purpose for Israel and for Paul does God have a purpose for me? 
God’s purpose for you is very simple. God’s purpose is for you to be happy. Now what do I mean by that?


First of all you must know yourself and be yourself.


Knowing your own strength and weaknesses will lead you in the right direction. People who know themselves, are people who have a sense of destiny. Also, and this is a big one, don’t try to be someone else. “The best thing you can be is a bad copy!” Just be yourself. You will never discover your purpose in life if you are trying to be someone else.


Many people spend their lives trying to be like other people or, they are working so hard at becoming what other people think they are supposed to be doing. I’ll use myself as an example. All my friends in college, with the exception of a few, were going to be in sales or management of some kind. So, I just followed along because that was what everybody else was doing. And this was in the early eighties when our country was changing. Back then if you weren’t a business or engineering major you were nobody. And I wanted to be somebody so I go a degree in finance. But no matter what I did in my life I just wasn’t happy. I kept feeling like there was something else I was supposed to be doing with my life.


The circumstances we find ourselves in today are not permanent. We can change anytime we want. Stop trying to make other people happy and do what you want to do. Then you will find true happiness.

So, how do you find out if you are fulfilling your purpose in life? Ask yourself am I truly happy? And be honest with yourself. When you get out of bed in the morning are you excited about what you are about to do? Or, you might not be the excitable type so are you pleased with your choices? Or how about this, do you find fulfillment with your daily activities? 


Once you discover your true identity you can’t begin your true journey. A healthy self-identity will create a healthy relationship with you. A healthy relationship will lead to healthy self-acceptance. A healthy self-acceptance will lead to a truly successful life.


Let me be clear, when I’m talking about success, I don’t mean getting richer. That is a narrow definition of success. Success is achieving your purpose in life.


And finally, after you decided on your true purpose in life, whether you are a teacher, a fireman, farmer, nurse, construction worker, sales, business owner, or you are retired and you spend some time volunteering, I believe no matter what we are doing our ultimate purpose in life is to help other people. Think about it, if you are a teacher you help students, people in the medical field help sick or hurting people, fireman come to our aid in desperate times, sales people help us make decision that improve our private and working lives. And without construction workers we would be sitting outside today.


In Corinthians Paul talks about the body of Christ. He tells us that we all matter to each other. We all have different gifts to offer the community in doing God’s work. And in doing God’s work we are helping each other.


Also, I believe you fulfill your purpose in life every day. And many times you don’t even realizing that you are doing it. You help a friend change a flat tire, or you carry someone’s groceries to their car, or you take someone to the doctor or you simply sit and listen to a friend talk because they had a bad day.

So, what is your purpose in life? Your purpose in life is not regulated just to your career. You are not defined by your job. Your career is part of your life.


Your purpose in life is to consult God to uncover what truly makes you happy. And then get busy making your dreams come true and your purpose a reality.


Brothers and Sisters life is short, so wouldn’t today be a good day to consult with God, be honest with yourself and start living your life’s purpose? 


April 10, 2016 - "Feel Like Quitting?" -  Nehemiah 2: 16-20 and 4: 6-14

 

Many years ago, there was a man in Kentucky who had recently retired from the postal service. He was sitting on his front porch when his first Social Security check arrived, and he looked at it, and felt so frustrated. He thought to himself “Is this all I have to look forward to for the rest of my life?” I’ve put in long and hard hours and this is all I get? Was it really worth all of that hard work?  But he didn’t get discouraged. He sat down and made a list of all his blessings and the good things he had going for him.  In other words, he made a gratitude list.  Included in that list was his mother’s recipe for fried chicken which included eleven different herbs and spices.  He was the only one who knew that recipe.  So he went to a nearby restaurant and asked if he could cook the chicken and they said yes.  Pretty soon, it became the most popular item at the restaurant.  So he opened his own restaurant and called it Kentucky Fried Chicken and the rest is history. Harland Sanders was tired and frustrated but he refused to give up.


The Franciscans Monks were the first to systematically grow grapes in California.  They grew the Muscat grapes to make Muscatel wine.  One year, they had a terrible drought and the grapes withered on the vine.  They thought they were going to lose everything they had and were very disappointed.  But, these monks would not become discouraged and give up.  Some of them took those withered grapes to town and sold them as Peruvian delicacies”.  And that was the beginning of the Sun Maid Raisin company. These Franciscans had a potentially disastrous problem but refused to give up.


We’ve all been there before haven’t we? You may even be there now; ready to give up on whatever you’ve been battling with for such a long time.


Perhaps it’s the end of school and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel but you just don’t feel like writing that last paper or studying for that last round of tests. Or, you are the teacher and you are ready for the school year to be over and you need that extra bit of inspiration to make it to the end. Or, you are working on a project at your job and you are so close to finishing but, you really don’t want to continue on. Perhaps, you have decided to make a change in your life. You have decided to make a career change. You have planned it all except you just can’t seem to find the strength to go all the way and make the change.


Well this is why I chose this reading in the book of Nehemiah for today’s lesson. Nehemiah is a great story about both the causes and the cures for discouragement. Many years earlier in the history of Israel, the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed and the people were now defenseless and vulnerable to their enemies. Nehemiah was called by God to lead the people in rebuilding the walls. But it seemed like an impossible task and the moral of the people was low. They were very discouraged and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. 


So, our question for today is; why do we become discouraged?


First of all I believe we let ourselves become fatigued- v.10 says “the strength of the laborers is giving out”. When you are physically tired and worn down, it is almost impossible to be emotionally and spiritually up beat. So what is the best thing to do when you are fatigued? Get some rest. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is just go to bed and get some sleep.


Isn’t it amazing how much better things seem to be after a good night’s sleep? Fatigue can often lead to discouragement so it is vitally important that we get the proper amount of rest. Fatigue and discouragement seems to show up when you’re half way through whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. v. 6 says “So we rebuilt the wall until all of it reached half its height.” They only built half the wall.


Everyone has energy at the beginning of a new task, but about half way through, we begin to wonder if we’re going to make it. When you reach the midpoint of your project that’s when you start to tell yourself “if I stop now I can still recover my losses this won’t have been a total waste of time. Or, if I just quit I can sail through the end with an OK grade or my boss won’t be delighted but at least I won’t get fired. But, you are tired and wondering if you should even try to continue. That’s why so many people never finish what they start, because half way there, they are worn out and they give up. Are you worn out and discouraged with life? If so, Get the rest you need and that will help solve the problem.


The next thing that can discourage us is frustration-and also in v.10 it says “there is so much rubble” In trying to rebuild the wall, they discovered that there was litter and debris and trash lying in the way. Broken bricks and mortar were getting in their way and they became frustrated.


If you’ve ever cleaned up your yard, and you think you are finished and they you notice that there is one more stick over there.  Whether it’s at home or at work or at school, it just seems like the rubble never goes away, does it? At work there is always one more report to do or at school there is just one more test to pass. We can’t avoid the rubble in life. Those things that discourage us are part of life. So we need to be able to recognize it and know what to do with it or you will never reach your goal. What is rubble? Rubble is anything in your life that keeps you from accomplishing your goals.


You may have made a New Year’s resolutions but found that the rubble was getting in the way. Perhaps your goal was to read your bible more often but you find that there’s too much noise in your house or there is always a good show on Netflix. You’ve got to be able to recognize the rubble in your life and know what to do with it.


What distracts you today? What keeps you from achieving your goals? Whatever it is; that is your personal rubble, and it will aggravate and discourage you until you do something about it.


Last and not least is Fear- v.11 “Also our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.’” Their enemy was doing everything they could to see that the wall would not be rebuilt. They ridiculed them, they criticized them and finally they threatened them. And the Jewish people were discouraged because of their fear of being hurt or even losing their lives. v.12 “wherever you turn, they will attack us.” Fear certainly causes us to be discouraged.


What are your fears today? Fear of failure? Fear of rejection? Fear of health problems? Fear will certainly cause feelings of discouragement in our lives. When you’re discouraged over fear in your life, you can become paralyzed; not knowing what to do next. Fear renders us unable to think clearly so eventually we give up.


So in this story, we see 3 things that can cause us to feel discouraged- Fatigue, Frustration, and Fear. So, what’s the solution? What is the cure for discouragement?


First of all, rest your body and your mind- As I’ve mentioned earlier, one of the simplest and best things you can do to help with discouragement is get away and get some rest. When you read this whole chapter, Nehemiah actually gives his people some holidays. He gives them some time off to get the proper rest that they need.


But what do we do? We make excuses that we don’t have the time to rest. There’s an old saying “Well, if you can’t make time to rest now, you’ll find plenty of time to rest in the hospital later on.” The choice is yours. 


Psalm 127:2 “In vain, you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-for He grants sleep to those He loves.” God created your body to work but He also created it to get the rest it needs in order to the do the work that is required. Rest is so important that God made it one of the top 10 commandments. 
Another way to not be discouraged is to pause and reorganize your life- v.13 says “therefore, I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears, and bows.” Nehemiah didn’t give up on the goal, he just reorganized the people and put them in their proper places.


When you are discouraged, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing the wrong thing, it may mean that you’re doing the right thing but in the wrong way. It is always a good idea to pause and evaluate your progress. That way you can make the necessary adjustments so you won’t get discouraged and quit.


If you want to lose some weight, reorganize you’re eating patterns. If you’re over committed, reorganize you’re time. To beat discouragement doesn’t mean that you give up and quit, simply reorganize and do things differently. 


The best way I have found to reconnect and refocus is to pause, stop what I am doing, and go find someone to help. When you are helping someone else you are concentrating on them and not on your problem, or your project. It may sound selfish, but it’s not. Helping others will always make us feel better. I believe it’s designed that way.


Also, if you are feeling discouraged reach out to your church family for help and ask us for encouragement. That’s what we are here for. God knows that we need each other to keep from getting discouraged. We’re told to “love one another”, “encourage one another”, “serve one another”, “and pray for one another.” We need the support of our families at home and at this church in order to keep from getting discouraged. If you’re feeling discouraged today, reorganize; make some changes and find support from your family at home and at church. 


And finally, always remember to keep God in the process. When we forget to ask for God’s strength and guidance we will become discouraged, lost, resentful, frustrated and angry. God is our source of power that we use every day to empower us and guide us as we go about our daily activities.

V.14 tells us “Don’t be afraid…remember the Lord who is great and awesome.” When feeling discouraged and worn out, you must get reconnected and recharged with God. When feeling discouraged, you must get connected to the Source of our power.

 

So, how do you respond when you get discouraged? Do you blame yourself or do you blame someone else? The people, who have learned to win in life, have learned how to get back on the horse after it’s bucked them off. John Wayne said “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” Successful people see failures not as an end but as a temporary setback. 


The death of Jesus on the cross was not a failure; it was only a 3 day setback.


Sometime this week you will find yourself frustrated. And then it’s decision time. Are you going to give into the fatigue, the frustration, and the fear? Or, will you pause, reorganize, reconnect with God, and allow God to give you the strength and encouragement you need to keep fighting until you have won?


 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

 


 


 

 

 

 


 

 


 


 

 

 


 

 


 


 

 


12/6/15

Title: From Darkness to the Light

Scripture: Luke 1:67-1:79

In 1962, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Albany, Georgia, for holding a prayer vigil outside of the Albany City Hall. Though King was only in jail for fifteen days, it gave him the opportunity to finish a book he had been working on, a collection of sermons that would be published a year later under the title, “Strength to Love.” It was during those days in the Albany jail that King penned some of the words that would become the most famous and oft-quoted from that book. He wrote, “The only way to defeat the darkness is by loving your enemies. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”


Christmas is God’s response to the brokenness and pain of this world. The birth of Jesus Christ is God’s way of dispelling the darkness and bringing light into the world. We need this Christmas hope. In fact, we need Christmas because we need light now more than ever!


This morning, we come together to celebrate the second Sunday of Advent. Today, the song of praise is on the lips of the priest, Zechariah. And what Zechariah is celebrating above all is how he sees light at last overcoming darkness.

 

Zechariah is the husband of Elizabeth and the father of John the Baptist. At the point at which he breaks out into this song we heard a few moments ago, Zechariah has been mute for nine months. You see, when the angel Gabriel came to visit Zechariah with the news that his wife, who was beyond childbearing age, would conceive and bear a child, Zechariah didn’t believe it. So, as a result of his doubt, Zechariah was struck speechless until eight days after John was born, when he was circumcised and given his name. It was when Zechariah confirmed that his child would be called John that his tongue was finally loosened and he broke out into this song of praise.

And what Zechariah is celebrating is that he sees at last God’s fulfillment of his ancient covenant promises to deliver and save his people, and that Zechariah’s son John will be the one to introduce the saving Messiah to the world.

Zechariah says that John will be a prophet of the Most High God, preparing a way for him, and telling people how God, in his immense compassion, will save the people from their sins. Zechariah shares this vision of God bringing light to those sitting in the shadow of darkness and death, and guiding people on the path of peace.

 

As we talked about last week, the ancient Hebrew people expected the “Most High God,” the Messiah, to be a conquering hero; someone who would sweep into the world and quickly destroy Israel’s enemies. The Jews fully expected that their enemies would suffer the same violent fate they had been suffering for generations. But when Zechariah begins to prophesy he tells a different story. His son, John has come to show us the path to Jesus, and Jesus is coming to show us the path to peace; not by overthrowing the enemies, but by dispelling the darkness of the world.

But here’s the thing about celebrating Christ. In order for us to celebrate who Christ is and all that he did, we have to understand exactly what it was that Christ accomplished. And Zechariah pretty much sums it up for us here. Christ is the light of the world, who has overcome all darkness.
And, Christmas is God’s declaration that darkness will be driven out of this world once and for all because love has come.

 

We are all waiting for Christ’s second coming; a time when God will establish his Kingdom here on earth for all time. In this “in between time,” we still see the signs of darkness around us. But that’s why we also need to celebrate each Christmas, to remember the light that shines in the midst of such darkness. Zechariah sang, “Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, and to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.”

Over 2,000 years ago, Christ’s brought joy to the lives of many who were living in fear and hardship. Today, we can rest secure in the same promise. Even in the midst of the darkness of this world, Christ, the light of the world, will return to drive out once and for all the darkness that haunts us. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”

My friends, May you know the truth this Christmas that, “The light always shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish the light of Jesus Christ!” Amen

 


11/29/15


Sermon Title: “Not What We Expected”

Scripture:
I Corinthians 1:18-31

 

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

When we think of superheroes we often think those larger than life characters that can leap tall buildings in a single bound. They can be invisible. They can fly. They seem to be indestructible. When we think of superheroes, words like humble, gentle, and loving don’t come to mind. We want someone who is powerful and dynamic to save the world.


With the world in such desperate shape, you would think that God would send a superhero to save it. Okay, maybe God wouldn’t send a superhero in the sense of tights, capes and the ability to leap over a tall building in a single bound, but you would think that God would choose to save the world through a powerful, charismatic leader who could wield power wisely and crush God’s enemies. But God doesn’t work the way we do. God’s ways are not the same as our ways and we don’t always understand his methods. Rather than send a powerful hero into the world, he sent a defenseless baby. But God always has done things a little backwards from how we would do them.

 

In ancient times, the Hebrews had been under Roman rule for a few hundred years and they were ready for a savior. They were anticipating a warrior king like King David. But, God didn’t send a warrior he sent a baby.


God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who think they are powerful. So, what did God chose to send to save the world? A baby; a baby that would grow up and be executed for crimes he didn’t commit. So, as we begin the Christmas season, let’s explore God’s plan for saving the world. Sending a baby is a strange way to save the world, but it’s the only way that would work.


Let’s consider why God chose to send Jesus as a baby rather than a superhero to save the world.

 

• Superheroes are larger than life…Jesus is humble.
When we think of a superhero we think of someone who is larger than life. They fill the room with their presence. When Batman shows up, you know he’s there. The cool the cape, the Batmobile, the bat signal and all those cool toys he uses to fight crime. Batman is larger than life. You can’t miss him. God’s way of saving the world didn’t involve a superhero who was larger than life. God’s plan, strange as it may seem, involved a baby born in a barn. This seems like a strange way to save the world. Jesus was humble. He did nothing to draw attention to himself, but he did everything to draw attention to his Father. And he calls us to do the same.

 

Philippians 2:3-8, tells us, your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

 

God’s method for saving the world was not what we expected.
• Superheroes are overpowering…Jesus is GENTLE
If you shoot at Superman the bullets just bounce off. Then he takes the gun and wads it up like a little piece of paper. Superman can bend the rails of a railroad track to save the train or to detain the bad guys. Superman has the power to weld steel with his eyes or to see through the side of a building. Let’s be honest; Superman is overpowering.

But God chose not to send a hero that was overpowering. God chose to send us Jesus, who is humble and gentle. Jesus was the perfect example of gentleness. His response to a broken and sinful world was to gently restore that which was broken.

Often we misunderstand gentleness. We have a tendency to associate gentleness with weakness. We often believe that if someone is gentle, then they are weak. Christ was gentle, but I assure you he was not weak. The power of God was very real in his life and ministry. The miracles he performed were powerful. His ability to endure the cross when he could have rejected it, speaks of his power. His resurrection and triumph over death clearly reveal his power. Jesus was powerful, not weak, but he knew how to wield that power with a gentle touch. Super heroes overpower their enemies, but Jesus saves the world through true gentleness.

 

Superheroes are overpowering…Jesus is gentle. God’s method for saving the world was not what we expected.

 

• Superheroes offer punishment…Jesus offers forgiveness.

Most superheroes offer punishment to evil doers. They hunt down the bad guys, they fight the bad guys, they capture the bad guys, and they punish them, or at least they let the authorities punish them. One of the primary themes that run under the surface of our favorite superhero stories is the theme of crime and punishment. And Superheroes offer punishment.


You’d think that when God wanted to save the world he’d send a hero who would punish those who were doing wrong. He’d want someone who could offer the severest punishment and judgment possible so that they could pay for ruining his beautiful world. And that is what the ancient Hebrew’s were expecting. But, instead, God offered forgiveness.

We read in
John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

 

Somewhere along the line we have developed the idea that God sent Jesus to punish the sinners of the world. But God sent Jesus to save the world, not to condemn it. Jesus didn’t come to offer punishment, he came to offer forgiveness.

If it were up to most of us to save the world, we’d send a superhero who was larger than life, who was overpowering, who displayed mighty acts and who would offer true punishment to those deserving it. That’s what superheroes do to save the world. But God had a better plan. He sent his only Son too humbly, and gently, loves us, and forgive us.

Application: What is it that I want you to take away from this sermon? I guess there are two things.

1. I want you to realize that God works in ways that are different than we would work. He has the big picture in mind and if God could use a simple baby to save the world, strange as it may be, then when he works in our lives in ways that don’t make sense, we can still trust him. After all, he did save the world.

2. If we truly are striving to be like Christ and grow in our relationship with God, then we can learn a lot about how to deal with others, especially those who hurt and disappoint us, by looking at how God chose to save the world.

I believe:
• we need to learn to be humble in dealing others
• we need to learn true gentleness in all of our relationships
• we must learn to display love, even to those who don’t deserve it
• and we must offer forgiveness to everyone.

 

God chose a strange way to save the world, but it’s the perfect pattern for building our relationships, which is what saving the world was really all about.

 

God chose to restore the broken relationship between the people of earth and with the people and God.

 

Yes, God chose a strange way to save the world, but aren’t you glad he did?


 

11/22/15

 

Condensed Sermon titled “Why Worry”

 

Matthew 6:25-34

 

Several years ago one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, "What did you think about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?" The astronaut replied, "I remembered how my spacecraft was built by the lowest bidder."

 

Growing up in Texas, we have a lot of tornados. Every spring brings lots and lots of tornados. There are sirens on the top of buildings that blast there ever popular screech alerting us that a tornado is in the area. Also, the TV, and your cell phone start making noises. Now, if a tornado is in the area you are instructed to go immediately to the innermost room of your house; preferably a closet, and if you can cover your head with something sturdy, just in case you are hit in the head by flying debris.

 

But, what do we do? We go to the window and look up at the shy. We have become immune to tornado threats. The attitude is …what are you going to do? You can’t run. If you get hit by the tornado you just get hit. And then we curse at the TV because the tornado warnings are interrupting our TV show.

 

Today I want you to remember a phrase; “don’t create the wreckage of the future.” What do I mean by that? 95% of what we worry about does not come true. We waste time worrying about tomorrow. We spend time thinking negative thoughts and devising plans as to how we will handle the situation when it arises. We tell ourselves we are just trying to be prepared. But, in reality, we are creating all this wreckage in our minds that will never materialize. Even when things are going good in our lives we still are plagued with worry.

 

Worry comes from a lack of faith and trust. The Greek word for worry means to be anxious; to be troubled with care or to be agitated. Also, The Greek word for worry means to seek one’s own interests or to be absorbed with one’s own affairs. The central issue of worry is really the central barrier to discipleship.

 

In today’s scripture, Jesus is striking at the heart of the issue of worry and showing the true heart of discipleship. When we worry, we are taking our focus off of Christ and placing it on our own interests. The truth is the reason that you worry rests in the fact that you have not fully given the situation over to God. If you worry you cannot trust, if you trust you cannot worry. Worry is a one-way street that takes you away from God.

 

Jesus uses the specific areas of food and clothing to illustrate what caused people of his time to worry the most. Jesus illustrates this by describing the nature of birds. Even in the depths of winter birds always seem to have food. Birds have been provided with rich resources of food and the God given instinct to find that food. They spend a great deal of time and effort to find food but they never store it up. They live from day to day.

 

The next illustration Jesus uses is the  example of clothing. This is another one of those areas that most Americans don’t have to worry about. Most of us have many different things to wear, so, we had to decide what to wear today. The two things, food and clothing, mentioned by Jesus, were symbols of wealth and fame in his time.

 

Jesus makes it extremely clear that worry and faith will not and cannot mix. Either we have our trust in God or we don’t. God is either everything or God is nothing. Jesus clearly is saying the things that worry the world are not the things that Christians need to concern themselves with.

 

We don’t worry about food or clothes but we do worry that we are not wearing the same clothes as the celebrities. We worry that our car does not look as nice as the one a co-worker drives. And we worry that the neighbors will have nicer Christmas lights this year than we will.

 

Also, it seems the older we get the more we worry. I see it in lives around me. I see it in my own life. You worry as your kids and grandkids get older. You worry that they won’t get in college and then you finally get them in college you worry they won’t graduate. Then you worry that after graduation they won’t get a job…

 

Jesus gives a clear solution for worry. He says to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. Remember, one of the definitions of worry is to seek one’s own interests. Jesus is telling the disciples to do exactly the opposite of what the world does. Our first priority in life needs to be God. When we live our lives pursuing God, God gives us everything that we need. Notice I said God gives us everything we need, not everything we want.

 

Now let me be clear, making preparations for tomorrow is always a good thing to do. Making these preparations the focus of life is unwise, to obsess and worry about what tomorrow holds is foolish. Remember, God is God today and God will still be God tomorrow. So, there is no need to create the wreckage of the future.

 

It will not make any difference that you are 10 pounds’ overweight, or that your child didn’t make all stars, or that your spouse put a dent in the fender. What will count is how you lived and loved during the past 50 years. When you look back on your life the things that stressed you out will end up being of no consequence.

 

So, learn to trust God. Birds trust God to supply their needs. However, God does not come along and drop the worms in their mouths. Trusting God doesn’t mean we are lazy and indifferent, but it does mean we know that God will provide what we really need.

 

Worry says, I don’t believe God can handle this particular problem. So, I think I will spend time today worrying about things that I can’t control. If we can’t control the outcome it makes us worry. In other words, we don’t trust that God is big enough to handle our problems.  By not trusting God we are saying, if God would just get out of the way and let me run the show, life would be so much easier.

 

And finally, since today we are discussing worry, I would like to take a few moments to talk about the events of the past 2 weeks. …. Isis wants you to be afraid, they want you to worry, they want to disrupt your life and your daily activities with fear and worry. Don’t give in to their desire.

 

Why am I not worried? Because we have the best Military on the planet. We have the FBI, CIA, homeland security, and local law enforcement. All of these people are working tirelessly to keep us safe.

 

Also, I hear a lot of opinions on the news about how to react to the current terrorist’s attacks.  I believe a leader should demonstrate reason with a well thought out plan.  A leader’s words should have a calming effect on people. A leader’s words should not attempt to incite fear and panic, while masquerading this fear and panic with a distortion of reason.

 

The growing controversy over the refugee crisis in Syria will be a moral test of our battle with ISIS. Comments by elected officials calling the nation to shut our doors to the refugees, or only admitting Christians as some have called for, or even shutting down some mosques as one person has suggested, is utterly shameful, and it’s not what our great country stands for.

 

 

I saw an interview with a man whose wife was killed in the attacks in Paris.

 

These are the words this young man spoke to the men that murdered his wife.

 

On Friday night, you stole away the life of an exceptional being. The love of my life, the mother of my son. But you will not have my hatred.

I do not know who you are, and I don’t want to know – you are dead souls. If the God for whom you kill so blindly made us in his image, each bullet in my wife’s body would have been a wound in his heart.

 

Therefore I will not give you the gift of hating you. You have obviously sought it, but responding to it with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that has made you what you are.

You want me to be afraid? To cast a mistrustful eye on my fellow citizens? To sacrifice my freedom for security? You lost. Same player. Same game.

 

I saw her this morning, finally after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as she was when she left on Friday evening. As beautiful as when I fell madly in love with her more than 12 years ago.

Of course I’m devastated with grief – I will give you that tiny victory. But this will be a short-term grief. I know that she will join us every day, and that we will find each other again in the paradise of free souls which you will never have access to.

 

We are only two, my son and I, but we are more powerful than the world’s armies. In any case, I have no more time to waste on you. I need to get back to Melvil, who is waking up from his afternoon nap. He’s just 17 months old. He’ll eat his snack like every day and then we’re going to play like we do every day. And every day of his life this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom, because you don’t have his hatred either.

 

Amen.



 November 15, 2015

 

Sermon “I Work Therefore I Am”

 

Luke 14:1-6; Exodus 8: 1-11

 

Today we seem to believe that we must constantly work on something or we feel we are wasting time? It’s not just work, its TV, Internet, video games, movies. We seem to have this need to always be moving.

But it seems the only Sabbath we get is when we enter the Sanctuary. We see family and friends to visit with and worship with. It’s the only time all week that he could just sit back, be quiet, and experience the presence of the Lord.


We then visit for a while after the worship service. And then are off to restart our usual routine.

Most of us are simply too busy, or make ourselves too busy, to stop, to relax, to be still before the Lord, for even a few moments.


We confuse business with being productive, with being successful.


And for some reason, prayer for many just does not feel "busy" or "active" enough. We are a people in a society in which being busy makes us feel worthwhile.


So what happened? Perhaps progress or the advancement of technology is what happened.

However, one of the benefits of technology is that it should make our lives easier. All the information in the world is accessible through our cell phones. But, with all these new conveniences did we end up with more time to relax; do we have more down time?


No, we filled our time with other duties; we find other ways to be busy. I am sure some of you are thinking, yes technology is great, and I agree it is. Technology allows me to accomplish so much more than I could without it.


Many of us even seem to fear the quiet.... I was like that. I couldn’t stand the quiet. I always had to have the TV or the radio on.  We need noise..... It seems we somehow can fear the quiet.  It's as if we are fearful of what might happen if we would just be still to be quiet, before God.


The original intent of the Sabbath was to not work and be in communion with God and with your family.

Sabbath (for our Jewish friends) starts at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday. During this time you would attend worship service at the Synagogue Friday night and spend the rest of the time praying, meditating, and simply being with your family.


But today, even for many of our Jewish friends, Sabbath has lost its original meaning. Yes, Friday night is still the time to worship in the Synagogue, but then Saturday morning its back to the regular schedule.

In Luke, Jesus is not telling us to not observe the Sabbath. He is telling us to use common sense regarding the Sabbath. The reason Jesus tells us this is, the meaning of the Sabbath had been overtaken by rules established by the priests over many years. The priests or Pharisees taught that all you could do was rest or sleep on the Sabbath. Jesus is telling us that yes, rest on the Sabbath ,but if your animals or a loved one is in need or in danger, don’t let them suffer, help them.

 

The way I understand the Sabbath is this: whatever you normally do during the week for work, hobbies, or pleasure, don’t do that one day during the week. If you are a teacher, don’t prepare for class one day, if you are retired, do something other than what you normally do during the week. And here’s a tricky one. I have no idea what it is like to be a farmer, but if you can try to schedule some time during the week when you cannot work on the farm, it may require piling your family in your pick up and going to the mountains for an afternoon, just to relax. But try to find some time to not be a farmer.

Let me be clear, I am not naive; I know that it is very difficult to take a full day off, but try to spend time with your family, with your friends and with God sometime during the week or on the weekend. And to let you off the hook, yes, watching football with family and friends can count as part of your Sabbath.

In today’s world we can get so busy, being busy, that we never seem to get caught up. This leads to frustration and stress. We spend most of our days putting out other people’s fires that we forget to take time for ourselves.


So what is the solution? We need to take charge of our lives by setting aside time during the week to spend with God, family or friends. And to be more specific, we need to make the Sabbath a priority. Spending time with God and with our family without distractions is no longer a priority.

Taking a Sabbath is vital for our bodies and our soul. It’s so important a principle, that God made a command for a day of rest.


Mother Teresa shared this observation, "God rarely is found in the midst of noise and restlessness; instead, He is the friend of silence."


The Psalmist Is Clear in Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God."


Every generation thought they were busy; every generation has work, families, chores, duties, and responsibilities. However, every generation finds a way to take a Sabbath; whether it’s a half day or a full day. Find some time during your week to just be alone with God and be alone with your family and or friends, away from all the modern distractions, away from all the self-imposed busy work, and just be.

 

I will leave you with this:


It was a century or more ago in the deep jungles of Africa; a traveler was making a long trek.

Natives of the area were hired to carry the provisions. The first day they marched rapidly and went a great distance. The traveler had high hopes of a speedy journey. But the second morning these tribesmen refused to move. For some reason they just sat, and rested. When asked about this strange behavior, the traveler was informed that they had gone too fast the first day. And that they were waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies. 


Amen

















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