Tag Archives: 21st century Christians

How does God’s law fit into our American community?

given on Sunday, July 3, 2026

Scripture references:

According to the Gospel: John 15:11-15, MSG

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

 

Guiding scriptures: (esp. when talking freedom)

 

  • Galatians 3: 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[a] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

  • Galatians 5: 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

 

Guiding scripture: Galatians 6:7-10, NLT

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

 

Reflection:

 

Americans are celebrating this weekend—at least as much as the weather will allow—but the celebration marks the country’s 240th year since its declaration of independence from the British. Consider that time span. What has this country experienced? Why has it survived? What will the future be—another 240 years?

These questions cannot be answered, but reviewing history we can trace the changes that the nation has experienced. Not all the stories are happy, not all turned out as citizens expected, yet the country has existed for 240 years and that is worthy of a celebration.

The question for today’s Christians, though, is challenging: How does God’s law fit into our American community? Certainly this is not a unique or even novel question to ask, but for this 2016 year, the question seems to spring up in the midst of mudslinging, verbal attacks, and sometimes even worse behaviors as the country braces for the election season this fall.

God has seen it all before, I am sure. We have the stories of the Old Testament that share similar human behaviors just not on the global video screens we have sharing every bit of it in real time in full color right in our own homes. There seems no escape from the unethical, un-Christian behaviors playing out before us.

The negative behaviors are exhausting. We add to that the continual news feeds of the horrible atrocities whether nature inflicted or human inflicted. The world needs God as much, if not more, than it ever has needed him, especially since God is love.

God’s creation is losing the battle with evil and Christians cannot give up. God created the Old Law in order to assure that humanity could live in harmony with each other but also with the rest of God’s creation. A set of ten laws was all God thought was needed. He gave them to Moses to implement and the ancient Israelites were to follow them.

For thousands of years, regardless of the geographical location of the Israelites or the political powers that were ruling the lands, the Israelites were held accountable to the Ten Commandments. Still more laws were added to the original ten; judgments were made, punishments metered out, and the Old Law became unmanageable.

To shorten the recap of God’s faithful and the complications that developed during those ancient times, 21st century Christians can jump ahead knowing that God decided to make a change. Out with the Old Law and in with the New Law.

Certainly the Old Law could have worked, but God could not get the message to the faithful that the application of the Old Law became overly complicated. Action was needed and God did act. The answer to the 21st century question was answered over 2000 years ago when God arrived in the form of man, Jesus Christ.

There was no cataclysmic event destroying all the life on earth, rather there was the simple birth of a baby and a span of 33 years as that child grew up, became an adult, and began his ministry that ended in his death and miraculous resurrection. The simple New Law replaced the Old Law—Love one another, as you want to be loved.

How simple. One law. One rule to learn and to follow. One, not ten and not a thousand or more that had been created by the Pharisees trying to make sure the ten were followed.   One law is all God said we needed then and all we still need today.

The question that seems to confuse us is how do we live with just one law today, in the 21st century, in our community, in our nation, in our continent within the global community. The answer seems overly simple and that might be the problem. That one law should evaluate each action of each person. The rubric or the answer key is just one question: Does that action/word/behavior show that you love others as you love yourself?

For instance, driving down the highway and needing to move into another lane does the action show that you have put the others safety first or does the action put self first at the cost of others safety and comfort? Does calling up a friend with the latest scuttlebutt about a neighbor share love for that person or does it hurt that person? When God checks you on how well you are carrying out his law, do you pass the test or do your fail?

The New Law, the Golden Rule, is now over 2000 years old and the news reports are filled with the very behaviors God does not want to see. We are God’s hands on this earth, and we are responsible to apply the New Law in the best way we can. That is how we use God’s law in the 21st century.

Use God’s law daily. Find ways to treat family, friends, and neighbors, even strangers the same way you want to be treated. The more we use the New Law, the more we internalize God’s love.

Paul knew first handed the power of God’s love. It was strong enough to blind the Pharisee Saul persecuting the earliest Christians. God used that same love to heal Saul and to send him as a missionary sharing the message beyond Jesus’ own world.

As the Christian missionary, Paul used any means he could to share the story and he refused to let even the Galatians corrupt the New Law by scolding them and reminding them how to live under the new law. In his letter, he explained how to focus on living the law:

  • Galatians 3: 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[a] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

  • Galatians 5: 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

 

These verses, as well as the entire letter, apply to us right now. The new Christians in Galalea were no different than we Christians here in our own American community nor any other global community.

God’s law frees us from all worldly restraints. Applying God’s law supersedes all laws. Living by the Golden Rule eliminates any risk of breaking any human rule. God’s law answers our question “How does God’s law fit into our American community?”

Live God’s law and we are free. Just remember that with that freedom comes a responsibility to love one another. Love is the method we use to operate in the home, in the neighborhood, in our country and even around this globe. The freedom we experience living God’s law also calls us to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

You are called to love one another. You are called to serve one another in love. You are commissioned by God to share his love in any way that you can. Use Paul’s words to check yourself.

  • Are you serving one another in love as you want to be served?
  • Are you willing to give up a few minutes or even hours to serve others in some way you might not typically do?
  • Are you able to open a door to someone new?
  • Are you sure that you reflect God’s love to all you meet?

This Independence Day is special for us as American Christians, but it is also a time to review what freedom is. Following God’s law truly frees us from all the worldly restraints and that gives us such joy that it explodes inside us like the fireworks sparkling above us as we celebrate our national American heritage. Let others find God sparkling in your life, lighting others up in love, too.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for the freedom your New Law

gives each and every one of your faithful.

 

We acknowledge that we all too often

fail to serve one another in love.

 

We ask your forgiveness for our flaws,

our closed hearts, doors, and minds.

 

Thank you for the strength of Paul’s words

teaching us how to live by the Golden Rule.

 

We ask you to fill us with the Holy Spirit

so we may share your freedom with others.

 

We ask you to open the hearts, doors and minds

to others in our community so they are free, too.

 

And when our days seem gloomy and dreary,

let your Son shine in our lives so others find the way.

 

In the name of you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

grant us peace, now and forever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Community: Time for a private conversation

given on Sunday, June 26, 2016

We need to talk. Look around you and think when was the last time the seats beside you were filled. Sadly, the pews only seem to fill up when there is a funeral. Why?

Now, think about the community itself. Look around in those memories and name what you see. What happened to the businesses on the main street? Why are so many houses empty? Where are the kids playing? How has the community changed over the past 50 years?

The picture we see before us is not pretty. We are facing a drought not only in the community, but also in the church. We can no longer afford to sit passively waiting for something to change. We must take action or the church will be nothing but an empty shell.

The Church, with a capital letter, is really the people, not the building. This Sunday we must have a private conversation about what we, sitting right here in the pews, can do or must allow to be done. I am not talking about just putting people in the pews but what we must do for our community.

During annual conference, the pastor from Cape Girardeau was one of the featured speakers. He is one of many who are credited with restarting churches or establishing new churches across Missouri. The Methodist Church is struggling here in the United States, but it continues to grow in Korea and Africa at unbelievable rates. The pastors who are filling the pews are the ones who are willing to try something or anything in an effort to share God’s word.

Rev. Ron Watts has a multi-sight church and I visited that church last year for Converge. Rev. Watts’s church continues to evolve. The sanctuary almost feels like a theater, and a smaller area used for other events and large meetings has many features found in almost all Fellowship Halls along with tables and chairs and audio-visual equipment.

One of the unique features in this church is a tremendous tree built into the hallway at the opening of the children’s ministry wing. This area is used all week long with the preschool it offers and the children’s ministry on Sunday. It is awe-inspiring and captures kids imagination.

For the adults in the building, there is even a coffee café not to mention the flexibility of WiFi available to guests of the church. The building reflects the broad range of activities that a church can provide all week long, not just on Sunday morning or during a summer’s vacation Bible school. This church has looked at the community and then decided what was needed to be in ministry to that community.

Rev. Watts took risks. He allowed his members to think a bit differently and the building grew to meet the needs. The building did not dictate to just one style of ministry. No church can continue God’s work if the building is the only reason for someone to walk in the open doors. It is the ministry of the church that opens the doors to others.

Let’s step back a bit, though, and look at our own community. Any church hoping to carry God’s word to others must put people first and the building second. This community is not the community in which the church opened; the 21st century community has an entirely different profile than it did. Yet, the models of the earliest Christian disciples can be studied and reframed for this century’s society.

Our church member has agreed to share her picture of the church within our lifetime. Stop and think how the church ministered to the members and to the community while you listen:

Insert our church member’s reflection. (no text available)

Return to sermon’s text:

The Community UMC that began its work in this community had a very, almost dramatically, different culture than today’s. Many attending were related. Many were brought up in the church and simply expected to attend Sunday school and worship because their parents and their grandparents followed this pattern.

The Christian faith with which many of us grew up began with the church as the method to practice faith. Families tended to see faith as simply part of American life—yes, here we see it as part of our American heritage. Everybody knew attending church was simply part of one’s faith practices. This has changed.

Today learning about faith is almost a complete opposite of what most of us have known. The unchurched individual who has not been raised in the church has no idea why they need to develop a relationship with God. The calling card for them is not finding a place to practice worship but rather to find a place where they are comfortable and accepted.

Once the relationship is established the previously unchurched learn what faith is and what a difference it makes in their lives. Professing one’s faith in God is not the first step into church for the previously unchurched rather it is last step.

What does this mean for us in our community? Our guest came to Chilhowee before I did and she has witnessed the change in the community’s profile. Our church member’s view is what most of us have experienced as life time residents in and around this town, but now it is time to consider what has happened since the end of the 20th century:

 

Insert our guest’s comments about the changes since 2000 and what she witnessed during her time with the homeless.

From her notes:

Our community has changed. When I came here is was all about neighbors, kids, helping one another, having a built in neighborhood watch, so to speak. Today, Chilhowee is transient. We don’t know many people, we don’t great new people, we see drugs and alcohol at work and witness poor parenting. This leads to judgment on our part, unfortunately. My friends, this ought not to be so. These that need us should be the ones we great, pay the most attention to and show Christ’s love. NO JUDGEMENT. We ourselves are a very long way from perfect. Be genuine; and be genuine in love.

Paul told the Galatians:

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in ANY trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

 

Return to sermon’s text:

This community is no different than the small towns across the state even the country. The economic changes fuel most of the changes in the small communities. Sadly, just like the inner cities who are fighting to renew their value in urban centers, the smallest communities buried in the farmlands must honestly face the same issues that the inner cities have: poverty, split families, drugs and alcohol, no or at least limited commerce.

This community cannot grow if its history and a resistance to change trap it. Rev. Watts spoke to this problem at annual conference:

Are you willing to set aside your preferences so the younger or next generations can feel comfortable here and continue coming to church? [Can you] put up with other stuff so other generations can be reached. . . . for it is you, not your culture that reaches younger [people and it is] not to save institutions but to share something with them.”

 

These thoughts are painful to hear. No one wants to change what he/she finds safety and comfort in. It is much like how one decorates her/his home. The same pictures hang In the same spots for decades. The big recliner sits in the same place year after year. Opening the door to family and friends brings a familiar whiff and sometimes even a sound or two that is recognized as native to the setting.

Is it possible to make the changes that may open the doors to those who are not comfortable with the century old traditions that have long identified this community’s Methodist church or does the church remain as it is?

Our guest’s thoughts from Matthew’s reading.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;”

 

And I thought to myself, ‘What does this mean?’ Let me look at this portion again because I’m getting a new and deeper meaning in this scripture.

“bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father”

 

I’m looking at these words “that you may be sons of your Father” and seeing into the spirit. We ignore God often, don’t we? We use Him when it’s convenient, don’t we…praying when we are in trouble. We pray when we have time. We serve Him when we can fit it into our otherwise busy schedule. But does He stop loving us? Of course not. And what about those that don’t live a Christian life? Those that make fun of God or don’t believe in Him at all? What about those who do not pursue a life with Him? Does He give up on them? Will He ignore them? Will He say ‘No’ should they come to Him and want to change their lives? Of course not.

We are to be sons (or daughters) of God. Neither should we be turning our backs on those who need us the most. Neither should we be judging or choosing, but serving lovingly to ALL.

that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect just as your father in heaven is perfect.”

 

There it is in Jesus own words. ‘The Word’. Reach out to the lost, the sick, the addicted, the lonely or mourning, those in prison, those in the streets. That’s the name of the game, right there. What game? Christianity. And it’s no game. It’s our calling. It’s our duty. It’s what Christ came here to show us how to do. We hurt God’s feelings all the time. We forget and get lost in earthy cares. We are ALL sinners and we must ALL ban together and hold those up who need us the most. Do we really believe we’re better than any of these?

Return to the sermon’s text:

Paul was worried about the church in Galatia. The struggles from daily living caused the new Christians to begin sliding backward in their practices. His letter reminded them that the Holy Spirit would guide them and help them manage the challenges. He shares:

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

Today’s private conversation is much like Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We are tasked with sharing the value of a relationship with God in as many ways as we can. As we develop the open doors, the open hearts, and the open minds that our denomination declares we have, then we will help all those who are unchurched or who turned away from God and/or the church at some point in their lives.

May we use Paul’s words, the guiding words from all of the Bible, and the Holy Spirit’s whisper to support our next few months of change. Allow the freedom to try something different with your prayers and all that you feel you can do. The months ahead will be filled with trials and errors, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the efforts of the weary, God’s word will go into action in an effort to transform our little corner of the world.

Closing prayer: The Serenity Prayer

[Accessed on June 25, 2016 at http://www.lords-prayer-words.com/famous_prayers/god_grant_me_the_serenity.html#ixzz4CaoGGItJ]

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

 

 

 

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