Tag Archives: Christian lifestyle

Hearing God speak really difficult when life interferes with listening

Last week a sudden realization walked through my brain:  summer break was over.  Now for many that might really seem like an epiphany, but for me it answered the state of mind I found myself dwelling.

 

Having lived all my life on an academic calendar until I retired from teaching in 2015, my psyche functioned along the year beginning in August, ending in May, and then taking a three-month break.

 

The last three years of serving as a licensed local pastor on a part time basis should have erased that internal time clock, but last week I realized it had not.

 

Stepping out of the pulpit as of July 1, I was mentally thinking I would take the break to refresh myself and return to work.  But, that is not what my internal time clock understood.

 

Last week it occurred to me that my ‘summer break’ was over.  Three months have passed and my year is not resuming as my brain thinks it should.

 

This realization has caused me to stop and reflect on why I feel so scattered, so unorganized, so lost—so to speak.

 

I need to listen more carefully for God to speak to me.

 

Listening for God is not easy.  Our humanness wants to be in control, and all that is going on around us easily distracts us. It interferes.

 

This pushed me to consider all the different factors that seem to deafen my hearing and I propose that this is a common trait that is interfering with our ability to fulfill God’s greatest commandment as Jesus answered the Pharisees:

 

35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

Consider the setting in which the Pharisees were talking with Jesus.  They were the powerful and the ones who thought they knew everything. They were feeling threatened by this newcomer, so by trying to find a flaw in his teachings that would discredit him, they themselves were no longer listening to God.

 

We do the very same thing. We live being in charge of our world. We live without thinking about the Golden Rule.  We live without spending time studying the Bible.  We let . . .

 

There is the problem. We let the world around us step in between God and us.  How in the world can we possibly hear God to speak to us personally when we listen to so many other influences?

 

Just like my personal calendar has long operated on an academic calendar and taking a break from teaching for three-months, I had taken the last three months and refreshed.

 

Or so I thought.

 

Last week I realized that my need to refresh really is defined as a need to listen to God.

 

Listening for/to God is not something that can be done in a pre-packaged time frame, neither is it a singular event.  Listening for God is part of the Christian lifestyle.  My time to refresh must become a time to realign with the practices that refresh my Christian lifestyle and encourages me to listen for God’s direction in my life.

 

John Wesley has a method for improving one’s piety or living as a Christian who is listening for God to direct one’s life.  The United Methodist Church’s website provides a list of Wesley’s works of piety:

 

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

[Accessed on October 10 2018 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

 

I must confess that I know these Wesley’s works of piety, but I do not always center my life on them. I do fair, but I must do better. We must all do better.

 

With no need to prepare a sermon each week, reading scripture is easy to put aside—especially on a daily basis.  My personal discipline needs improving.

 

Admittedly I do read, and since July 1, I have already completed thirteen books—eleven novels and two church-related.  The choices have been fun, and they do lead me into reflecting on how God can be found even in our literature choices.

 

Participating in a small group who reads the Common Lectionary is part of my weekly routine, too. But, I keep thinking of how I could study even more with other small groups.

 

I do try to live healthy especially in terms of food choices and exercise, but I can do better with this too.

Probably the most difficult part of Wesley’s works of piety is fasting.  I am not good with this practice.

 

I have long struggled with dieting and finally realized that fasting can be done differently for instance, eliminating a specific food or an activity for a set time.

 

Time to rethink fasting as a way to step away from the thingsthat interfere with my focus on living as God asks me to live.  I need to think about this, so I can use more time to listen to God.

 

Prayer is certainly one area that I continue to improve.  I have studied prayer.  I have come to realize that prayers fill my thoughts when no one is talking to me. Prayer is thinking aloud with God as the listener.  Now I need to listen for him.

 

Maybe you, too, need to improve your prayers.  I offer this one that may be helpful, tool:

 

Lord, God,

The world around me is so loud that I cannot hear you speaking to me. Guide me in making better choices so that I can silence all the interference that separates me from you. Thank you for the encouragement of others who knew I needed time to refresh; but as the months slide by, help me to hear your next call.  May what I do reflect the work you ask of me now and on into the months and years ahead. –Amen

 

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Perseid Meteor Shower, Satellites and God

This morning, and it is only 5:30 yet, I am outside on the deck watching the sky—well sort of.  Actually it began at 2:30 am when I had to accompany Possum, my dog, outside.

I knew that Perseid’s Meteor Shower was in its best viewing, but our schedule means early bedtime.  We just cannot stay up to watch.  But in that early run outside, which is usually about 2-3 minutes, I saw the meteor, then the second one.

That woke me up, so in we came, turn off the lights, and out to the deck I came with a blanket.  Within another 15 minutes, two more meteors making four in 45 minutes.

Watching the skies after the sun goes down is one of my favorite experiences.  There is so much to see, to hear, and to think about at those times.

Our viewing time seems to get shorter and shorter, but we watch.  We count the planes that we spot and guess from where they might be coming and going.

We study the stars for movement spotting the satellites that keep circling our earth. Some seem to move so slowly while others zip past us.  Some have a strong light that remains strong as it passes over while others seem to brighten or dim as they move across the sky.

And always we hope, watch, seek to see meteors—falling stars.  So seldom do we get to see the meteors, so when we do it is a thrill.  If one of us sees it and the other doesn’t, there is a bit of jealousy and the competitive nature seems to stir up as we wait and wait to see another.

I do not understand how anybody can deny the existence of God when sitting outside in the dark watching the sky.  That sky is heavenly.  God must exist.

The enormity of the world in which we live is so evident when sitting in the dark. My existence is such a tiny speck in the universe that is even vaster than our solar system.  God’s kingdom must extend beyond my human world.

Here I sit, on the deck with the night giving way to the morning.  I have a computer on my lap, a hot drink to my side, the birds waking up, a car pulling out of its drive, and the TV quietly telling the world the latest news.  And I know God is real.

How petty it is of any one of us humans to think we can exist independent of any other human.  To think that we can isolate ourselves from the universe in any fashion is absurd.

God’s world is so much more than this planet on which we live.

God’s world reaches far beyond even our solar system.  Just watch the night skies and consider the possibilities.

All the laws humanity has created can neatly be addressed by the one commandment: Love one another as you want to be loved.

Reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the instructions for living are so straightforward.  If you cannot live by loving one another, Paul’s instructions are much more direct:

 

Ephesians 4:25-32

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[d] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[e] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

As I sit and gaze up at the night sky, life becomes so simple.  No one can disrupt my universe at that moment.  Even when the dogs erupt in barking at the slightest noise or unexpected movement, no one can disrupt the sense of peace I experience at those moments.

I challenge anybody to sit out at night and look up to the skies.  Just the peace that can fill the soul at that moment is a moment to praise God for the life we have.

In those moments when I spot the plane or the satellite, I am in awe of the gifts God has given us to use.  The brain is such a complex design and God sat it in motion some how.

We may not completely understand how God exists or how to fully use the complex design of  our brains, but we just must not misuse it.

We must learn to use it to continue expanding the universe, true; but we must also learn to use it to preserve the universe, too.

Paul’s message to the Ephesians emphasizes, too, how we must use God’s gift of life to love one another.  He created us in a manner that we are gifted with a brain and the skills to use it. We just have to accept the responsibility to use it as stewards of this world, as neighbors to one another, and as peacemakers loving one another as we want to be loved.

Doing so, we discover the gifts God has for us whether it be the nighttime fireworks of the Persoid meteor shower, the sparkling stars of universes beyond our own, or even the manmade glories as seen in the tiny lights of planes and satellites constantly traveling around God’s world in which we live.

The morning sun is creeping up behind me.  I no longer see the nighttime stars.  The little hummingbird is chirping at me, and my day begins.

The marvels of this world all find their beginning in the The Word.  God is a presence in my life that feeds me as well as others who believe.  God loves each one of us so much that he was willing to do all he could to assure us that we do live in the Garden of Eden.

When we struggled to remain faithful, he never gave up.  When we kept messing things up, he made the decision to walk with us in the human form of Jesus.

And when Jesus had shown us how to live loving one another, and taught those around him, God took him home.  God had faith in those Jesus taught, and yet there were those who did not accept those teachings.

Even when Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified, God resurrected him.  God demonstrated how to love one another even when others do not.  Yet, God wanted to equip those who believe.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he taught one more lesson.  He explained that those who believed will always have God with them in the form of the Holy Spirit.

As this morning’s sunshine awakens the world around me, I know God’s presence. I believe in the Holy Spirit who keeps me connected to God and to all who believe.  I believe in the Holy Spirit as God’s presence that guides me in living a life loving one another.  I believe that the Holy Spirit fuels the way in which the gifts God gave us make and shape the glories of this universe so we may witness the light whether in the Perseid meteor shower or as seen in the manmade satellites.

God is good.  God is life. God is always present in our lives whether in the middle of the night or in the noon time sunshine of day.

 

A morning prayer:

Dear Loving Father of the Universe and beyond,

Thank you for the light show during the middle of the night.

Thank you for the quiet sounds of owls, bugs, and breezes against the wind chimes.

Thank you for the surprises of foxes prowling the yard, the rabbits eating the backyard clover, of the neighborhood cats climbing over the fence, and the music of the birds.

Thank you for the multitude of gifts you grant to each of us so we may expand our life experiences in so many different ways.

Thank you for the relationships that flourish due to loving one another.

Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ so we could learn how to live side by side peacefully, lovingly.

Guide us in our decisions to preserve this world.

Guide us in the decisions we make in our daily lives.

Guide us in serving as your emissaries of love.

Guide us to find the best ways to tackle the challenges of those who fail to follow your teachings.

May we do all we can in our homes, our communities, and our countries to share you unconditional love.

May we all discover the glory of your kingdom now and do all we can to share it with others.

May we be the light in the darkest of nights so others may find your grace.  In the name of you the Father, your son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Perseid Meteor Shower: 

[Accessed on August 13, 2018 at https://www.space.com/32868-perseid-meteor-shower-guide.html]

 

Earth will pass through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle from July 17 to Aug. 24, with the shower’s peak — when Earth passes through the densest, dustiest area — occurring on Aug. 12. That means you’ll see the most meteors in the shortest amount of time near that peak, but you can still catch some action from the famed meteor shower before or after that point.

You can see the Perseid meteor shower best in the Northern Hemisphere and down to the mid-southern latitudes, and all you need to catch the show is darkness, somewhere comfortable to sit and a bit of patience.

Comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest object known to repeatedly pass by Earth; its nucleus is about 16 miles (26 kilometers) wide. It last passed nearby Earth during its orbit around the sun in 1992, and the next time will be in 2126. But it won’t be forgotten in the meantime, because Earth passes through the dust and debris it leaves behind every year, creating the annual Perseid meteor shower.

When you sit back to watch a meteor shower, you’re actually seeing the pieces of comet debris heat up as they enter the atmosphere and burn up in a bright burst of light, streaking a vivid path across the sky as they travel at 37 miles (59 km) per second. When they’re in space, the pieces of debris are called “meteoroids,” but when they reach Earth’s atmosphere, they’re designated as “meteors.” If a piece makes it all the way down to Earth without burning up, it graduates to “meteorite.” Most of the meteors in the Perseids are much too small for that; they’re about the size of a grain of sand.

 

Just a note:

I missed sharing last week, and that is one of the truths I am finding during this time of recharging:  I do not have a formal schedule.  I have always functioned around a structured week.

Learning to establish a structure apart from a traditional job is a new learning experience for me.  I am setting goals and need to develop a “work schedule” in order to achieve those goals, but the summer schedule seems more erratic than I expected.

I follow another blogger who I admire.  She writes every day—or at least almost every day.  She includes pictures and other links with such ease.  Hopefully I will develop a more fluid approach during the next few months as I work to reach new personal and professional goals.

Thank you for reading and sharing your input, too.

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How does our church interpret Christianity?

Sermon given on Sunday, November 12, 2017:  We lost one of our members at the age of 97 this week, and while preparing for the funeral, I could not get rid of the lessons that she taught our community.  Please understand that the audience knew Ms. Bonnie very well, but any reader may insert those people in your own lives who you know are true Christian models.

 

Spending the week reminiscing about Ms. Bonnie lead me to thinking about her model of Christianity, and that lead me to thinking about how our congregation models or interprets Christianity. Using the term ‘interpret’ may not seem appropriate, but our lives reflect what we believe. Our actions are stronger than our words.

All week long, Ms. Bonnie’s life has been reviewed by most all of us in the church and the community. The fact that she had not lived among us for the past few years did not matter. Ms. Bonnie is entwined with those who make up the Chilhowee community.

The adjectives/descriptions shared about Ms. Bonnie included words that create pictures in our minds of this incredible woman: pioneer spirit, servant, worker, gardener, country, leader, teacher, mother, grandmother, friend, neighbor, selfless, giving, and the list continues to grow. These words are filled with compliments and are worthy qualities for any of us to work towards.

For our congregation, we can add to the list of qualities that she was a 71-year member of our church family. She never missed church unless she was sick or away from home. She was a tireless worker for all the activities in the church, and the only time we witnessed her unhappy was when we tried to surprise her for her birthday—you don’t fool Ms. Bonnie!

Ms. Bonnie lived Christianity boldly, and we were fortunate to have witnessed her demonstration. What better time than today to reflect on how our church models or interprets Christianity too. What stories would others tell of our church? What adjectives, titles or descriptions would others use to tell about our church?

At first I thought maybe we could describe the church as a Mary-style or a Martha-style, but then that might not be too clear. The scripture tells us that Mary was an eager listener to Jesus and would put aside any traditional, female roles in order to sit at his feet and listen to his words. Her sister Martha was more traditional and was concerned with all the appropriate tasks involved in providing for a visitor’s needs whether it was food, rest, comfort, and maybe even overnight arrangements.

[Luke 10:38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” The NLT]

Defining our church as a ‘Mary’ or a ‘Martha’ really is not possible. We are a church and not a person. Therefore, I stopped and considered what other way could the church be identified, and I turned to John Wesley. He grouped certain behaviors into two categories: acts of mercy and acts of piety. I mulled over those two terms and considered whether that would be a reasonable way to evaluate the church.

First, does the church demonstrate acts of mercy. To answer that one has to know what acts of mercy are. The list that Wesley outlined includes:

  • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
  • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor [Accessed on November 10, 2017, at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

This list covers a great deal and has given United Methodist a reputation of being active for social justice.

            Ms. Bonnie certainly did demonstrate acts of mercy. How many in the community learned how to cook and to sew as she taught these skills through 4-H? How many families received the gifts of fresh food from her gardens? How many times did Ms. Bonnie step up to fix clothes or a meal or reach out to others in need?

            Does our church demonstrate grace to others through acts of mercy? Individually is not the question, but as a community do we seek justice, work to end oppression or discrimination, or address the needs of the poor?

            This is a tough question to answer. One way we can answer in the affirmative is that we have diligently paid the district and state apportionments. The United Methodist Church has a connectional approach to working with other congregations to affect change in a range of different areas. Paying the apportionments does demonstrate the church’s efforts to address the needs of others beyond our immediate community. Sadly, the financial health of our church may limit the extent of our connectional works of piety for the first time in the past decade or longer.

The second group of behaviors that Wesley identified was the acts of piety. These behaviors are more closely aligned to the ‘Mary’ style of Christian practices than the ‘Martha’ style. These behaviors are identified on the UMC’s website, too:

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study. [Ibid.]

            Again, Ms. Bonnie demonstrated an understanding of the individual practices of piety, but does the church do so. On the surface(pardon the cliché) , the answer is yes. The sacrament of communion is available on a regular basis, and baptism is offered upon request. But no one inside or outside the church’s congregation can judge whether the church as a group fully incorporate the acts of piety honestly. Only God, Jesus his son, and the Holy Spirit—the Triune God—can judge the integrity of the church’s acts of piety.

            The individual acts of piety include a personal list of practices that may be available through Sunday School and Ladies Aid, but is that adequate. Should the church provide more opportunities or assistance for the practices of these acts of piety? A ‘Mary’ style church would place the priority on these acts of piety, often referred to as discipleship when in district or conference meetings.

The church year is winding down, so considering how our church interprets Christianity is a timely task. Review what the mission is for the church and the goals for the upcoming year. Maybe we should ask ourselves “What would Ms. Bonnie do?” We can honor her by exemplifying the stewardship and the acts of mercy and piety she modeled.

[Titus 3:Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.[a] He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.

Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees[b] or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. 10 If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. 11 For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them. The NLT]

Closing prayer

Dear God, Father Almighty,

 

We mourn the loss of one of our family,

But let us remember her

By following the model of faith

She exhibited in all that she did.

 

Help us to demonstrate

The Christian qualities

That Paul listed in his letters

To the early churches and disciples.

 

Help us to follow Wesley’s practices

Both the acts of piety

and the acts of mercy

as we work together in your name.

 

May we recognize your presence

Through the power of the Holy Spirit

As we make decisions individually

And communally to love one another.

 

In your name, the Father, the Son,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Paul’s tools will work

Sermon given on Sunday, November 5, 2017.  After completing the letters of Paul to the early churches, this sermon focuses on the letters he wrote to the pastors he appointed to two of the churches, Timothy and Titus.  

For two months I have been totally consumed with the fallout from the chaos that followed our baptismal service. I have questioned my calling. I have tried to apologize. I have tried to sort out the details of what happened. And I have kept moving forward. All the time, I have not been able to shed the immense sorrow that I feel as a result of that day’s events.

I continued reading Paul’s letters to the early churches and asked what would the message be for our congregation. There is truth in each letter that applies as much to today’s church as it does to the earliest churches. Sadly, I do not think the lessons made an impact.

During these weeks, I have sought council. I have heard opinions. I have experienced shunning. And I have had to answer to the district superintendent. All the while, only one source continues providing Christ-like advice and that is the Bible. After exhausting all the various sources I could, I turned again to Paul. This time I found the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, two of the pastors he placed in churches.

Last week, I shared a brief scripture from Titus, so this week I decided to focus on reading the two letters to Timothy. I discovered that Titus was actually written between the two letters to Timothy and 2 Timothy was written by Paul while he was under arrest and trying to prepare for his final trial that in historical perspective turned out to end in his execution. Therefore, 2 Timothy was his last letter to the earliest Christians.

This week, searching for answers and direction, Paul’s advice to Timothy may provide needed guidance. Let’s begin with today’s opening verses (2 Timothy 2:10-14):

10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.

11 This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
12 If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

These words written as Paul sat in a Roman prison alone, about AD 66 or 67, are words that pastors need to hear. These are words of encouragement, almost like a mantra to develop one’s self-confidence. But these words are for all faithful followers, not just pastors. As long as we remain faithful to God, he will continue to be with us.

The rumor mill that has churned out stories in our community have caused damage. Words have divided us in ways we may not even realize. But Paul wants us to remember to stay faithful. To remain loyal. To endure hardships. And in verse 14:

 

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

Those words mean the same thing regardless of the translation:

 

  • KJV: 14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
  • NRSV: 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God[a]that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.
  • NIV: 14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
  • MSG: 14-18 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.
  • CEB: 14 Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them.

 

Today, these words must be the very basic principle that is the foundation of a healthy congregation. When one is hurt by the words that are being spoken, healing is difficult. But with God, anything is possible as long as all words spoken whether by myself, the pastor, or by any of us need to be Christ-like at all times.

This is a tremendous order that Paul has sent to Timothy, and it is a tremendous one for each of us. I do the best that I can, and I apologize for any words that may be hurtful. What I must do now is stay focused on the words Paul shares and all the words of the scripture. I must turn over my hurt feelings and my self-doubt in order to move forward and continue sharing the Good News.

Reading on through the second chapter of 2 Timothy, there is a metaphor that applies to us:

 

20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

 

We must continue developing the tools that work for us each and every day whether a special day or an ordinary day. The tools will assure that we work as a team to carry out the various ministries of our church. The tools will demonstrate our skills to live our faith visibly in the community. The tools are defined and refined in the words of the scripture, from the first book of Genesis, through the last book of Revelations. Are we using the best materials to develop our tools, or are we failing to use the tools?

Last week while reviewing the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, the verse from Titus 2:12 was shared:

 

12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God . . .

 

Paul continues this instruction with the second letter to Timothy in 2:22:

 

22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

 

Sadly, I do not believe we have achieved this level of Christian fellowship. Our tools are not sharpened and honed to perfection as a congregation. Instead, there is a split that continues to divide and destroy the effectiveness of the sharing the Good News God has commissioned us to do.

Right now, today, we must consciously turn to Paul’s instruction and ask for God to forgive us and to ask each other for forgiveness, too. I know that the heart of this church is for the transformation of the community. The truth is that no transformation has any chance if the church itself is battling “foolish, ignorant arguments” as Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:22: 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.

Still, Paul does not give up on making his point. He continues stating:

 

24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

 

Paul’s letter was to the pastor Timothy. The words may serve to remind today’s pastors also, but the words are true for all Christians. The Wesley Study Bible’s notes for 2 Timothy 2:25-26 states:

“Gracious and theologically sound instruction results in salvation. Wesley persistently argued Paul’s point: Scripture rightly interpreted saves sinners from “the snare of the devil” (v. 26).”

 

Personally, I will do all that I can to provide “gracious and theologically sound instruction” through the reading and study of scripture. I expect each of you follow the same set of instructions that Paul gave Timothy to develop the tools that can assure you live the Christian lifestyle that the scripture defines for us.

I apologize for any of my words or actions that may have been misunderstood or hurtful, and I expect each of you to honestly evaluate your own use of words and actions. Together we can continue to serve God by living our faith out loud—boldly demonstrating the value of loving one another.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

We come to worship,

     Yet there is pain in our hearts.

We come to hear your words

     But our hearing is often blocked.

Open our hearts to your words

     So we can heal the pain.

Open our minds to learn

     The lessons so we can heal.

Forgive us of our closed hearts

     And our closed minds.

Forgive us of our actions

     That keeps doors closed.

Let us come to the table

     Unified in Christ.

Let us experience pure joy

     Knowing your grace.

Send us out the doors

     With renewed conviction.

Send us out to live boldly

     As faithful servants

     Loving one another.

In your name, God the Father,

     The Son, Jesus Chirst,

     And the Holy Spirit, amen.

           

[The prayer transitions the service to the sacrament of Communion.]

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Have you noticed the changes?

Special note:  Thank you for the patience needed before this posting.  We have had a vacation, a guest speaker, and a funeral all in the last three weeks–not to mention our church’s annual fair concession over the weekend.  Thank you, too, for following the blog.  I appreciate your notes and hope that it speaks to you.

 

given on Sunday, September 3, 2017

Scripture connections: 

Opening: Galatians 1:15-20, NLT

     15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him 16 to reveal his Son to me[e] so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.

When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being.[f]17 Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus.

     18 Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter,[g] and I stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I declare before God that what I am writing to you is not a lie. 

Sermon support: Galatians 3:23-29, NLT

23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

26 For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[b] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[c] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[d] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Closing: Galatians 3:29, NLT

29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[p] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Reflection: Have you noticed the change?

Driving back and forth into town this week, the seasonal changes have become evident. Monday on the way to Peters Market, we noticed the super dark caterpillars were crossing the roads not just one at a time, but several at a time. The folklore says that super dark color means we are in for a severe winter—the first reminder of the seasonal change.

Additional reminders that the seasons are changing include the temperatures and the color of the trees. With the cooler evenings and all the excess moisture from this summer, the evenings are damp and cool. The trees have lost the glossy look of summer. I even notice some of the leaves are curling and actually changing color. Summer is winding down,

This brings the season discussion to today, the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, the cultural mark that summer is over. In our community, even the fair is over and everybody is worn out. The summer push is done and now it is time to move into harvest and prepare for the winter.

Seasonal shifts are just part of the life cycle and it is easy to forget that all lives develop a pattern of changes. This week we lost one of church’s matriarchs. Her 92 years were filled with seasons of change, yet her faith supported each phase of her life. She heard God’s voice in music, and she spoke God’s love through the music she played. Her special gifts shared God’s message with all who listened.

Yet, her earthly season ended and she moved to the next season with God. She never doubted that the season would change and she never seemed to fear that change. We know that life seasons are going to change; yet we may dread those changes. What we do not know can cause us to freeze up and refuse to prepare.

But let’s go back to understanding the folklore behind the caterpillars. An internet search can provide some insight into the legends:

  • The color of the “woolly bear” caterpillars develops along 15 segments of the body. The color develops through molting and on how well it feeds during the summer. The better the food source, the browner the segments.
  • The darker the color, the older and more prepared the caterpillar is to cool down in preparation for the winter hibernation. (I had no idea they hibernated.) As the temperatures drop, the body freezes bit by bit. The fur called setae allows for the slow production of antifreeze known as glycerol. They can literally survive in temperatures as low as -90 degrees F.
  • Caterpillars’ crossing the roads is an indication that they are looking for a good place to hibernate for the winter. Good places include under bark, a rock, or a fallen log. [Accessed on September 2, 2017 at https://www.weather.gov/arx/woollybear]

 

Maybe the folklore of the caterpillar seems disconnected to our faith, but I suggest that it is once again evidence of how our cultures look at living our faith. Our church also has seasons and as we struggle to continue sharing God’s message. We can retreat into behavior patterns that follow growth cycles that inevitably end in death.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatian church, the church was retreating to the customs and traditions of the Jewish law rather than openly accepting all people (Gentiles) regardless of their understanding of the old law. Paul had heard of the conflict developing in the church over the necessity of following the old law for those who were not of the Jewish heritage:

23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Paul was showing the Galatians that the season had changed with the life and death of Jesus Christ. The old law was replaced:

24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

Churches today are facing the shift in seasons. We can look at the how things have always been done, and we can try to force fit them into today’s culture. The result often creates dissension, frustration, and ultimately death. Today’s churches are struggling to understand how to adapt their old law to a new season in God’s church.

The old timers know that there is some base of truth to the folklore of predicting weather, but it is not always scientifically sound. Sometimes it is necessary to let go of the well-seasoned practices and look for new practices that can be successful. The science behind the folklore of the caterpillars reminds me that good feeding and healthy living creates the woolly bear caterpillar with a dark coat of fur that can weather the worst winter conditions.

Today’s churches must consider what makes God’s message more than folklore and really the most successful lifestyle to manage the stressful seasons of earthly living. The Bible provides the timeless messages of how faith sustains us in all the challenges of life. Paul personally experienced the shift from the old law to the new law and became passionate about sharing the message. We need his wise words to guide us in the seasons of our own lives as well as the life of our church.

Reading Galatians is like an internet search. As Paul heard of the church’s problems, he wrote the letter with a loving but firm scolding. He wanted the message Jesus Christ demonstrated to become the guiding principle that moved the Jewish faithful to be the loving, flexible, openly accepting Christians. He wanted them to remember that the old law could prevent others, Gentiles especially, from God’s all inclusive love:

26 For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[b] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[c] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[d] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

By writing to the Galatians, Paul was assuring the young church that loving one another was the only law needed as the season changed from the old timers’ culture to the post-Jesus Christ culture. Today’s churches need that honest reprimand, too. The only law that matters is that we love one another as we want to be loved.

The old ways may be how we developed in our faith journey, but the seasonal change means we need to re-evaluate our personal faith journeys and make sure that we are not clinging to the old ways so tightly that we are failing to prepare for the seasonal changes of the future.

Christianity is not folklore, it is a lifestyle that survives the challenges of cultures, of lifestyle fads, of drought years, of flooding, of boiling hot summers, and frigid winter nights. Christianity is a lifestyle that places God above all the other challenges in our lives and keeps us grounded, always preparing for the next storm, and ultimately life everlasting alongside of Jesus Christ who prepared the path for us.

Having been raised on the farm, I know that as summer moves into fall and the harvest is completed, there is a need for rest and renewal. The winter months become a time to hibernate in one sense, but also to prepare. As a church, we need the same—a time to rest, renew and prepare. Let’s continue to listen to Paul’s words and find the message of how to keep the church truly open minded, open hearted and opened doors.

Closing prayer:

Dear Loving God,

As we come in your sanctuary with weary bodies,

Help us to hear your words of guidance.

Guide us to accept the reality of life’s seasons

But teach us the ways to share the reality of your love.

Be with us as we step into a new season

Seeking rest and renewal to prepare for the next season.

Let us keep our minds open, our hearts open, and our doors open

As we work together in loving one another as we want to be loved.

In your name, your son’s name and with the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Why is simple complicated?

given on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 5:10-11, NLT

10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 Sermon scriptures:

Romans 11:3-6, NLT

Elijah the prophet complained to God about the people of Israel and said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”[a]

And do you remember God’s reply? He said, “No, I have 7,000 others who have never bowed down to Baal!”[b]

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel[c] have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved.

Romans 12:1-2, NLT

And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.[b] Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:9-18, NLT

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.[b]12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Closing: Romans 16:17-20, NLT

17 And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. 18 Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. 19 But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus[a] be with you.

 Reflection: Why is simple complicated?

One of my favorite cookies is a ‘no-bake’ cookie. Not only does it have all the chocolate one could possibly want, but also it does not include the extra work of baking them, especially on hot summer days. The no-bake cookie is simple, right? Well, the name of the cookie may be somewhat misleading.

In a similar manner being a Christian is really simple, too. How difficult is it to remember the new law versus the Ten Commandments of the old law? Surely being Christian is simple. Love God. Love one another.

When God decided to send Jesus with a much less complicated law, those who were faithful may have understood the Ten Commandments; but religious leaders had continued to add layers of rules to their lifestyle that complicated faithful living and could have lead one to breaking a law that they may not have even known existed.

Being faithful was not simple.

Jesus delivered a simple way to be faithful: Love God first, then love one another as you want to be loved. How simple can it get? Yet we tend to complicate even the new law. Paul knew the complicated law of the Jewish faith, so when he began his work sharing the new law delivered by Jesus, he wrote letters to keep encouraging the young churches.

Paul referred back to the ancient prophet Elijah about how God had not forgotten his people even though it may have felt like it. God does not forget the faithful Jewish people; he just tried to simplify their laws by sending Jesus to demonstrate how to live a faithful life. Paul’s letter goes into detail about the personal responsibility of all new disciples—whether Jew or Gentile:

  • 12:1 give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.
  • 12:2 let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
  • 12:3 Don’t think you are better than you really are.

 

Being a Christian should be simple, but we tend to complicate lives by what we do and do not do.

Paul continues to explain to the Roman church that God has given us each gifts to use: prophecy to speak out with faith; gift of serving; the gift of teaching, gifts of encouraging, giving, and showing kindness. The list is not complete, it simply lists a few of the skills God gives us to use in our lives, but we tend to complicate our lives with some very negative behaviors as Paul goes on to explain:

  • 12:9 Don’t just pretend to love others.. . . Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
  • 12:10 Love. . with genuine affection and . . .honor each other.
  • 12:11 Never be lazy. . .
  • 12:12 . . . be ready to help . . . eager to practice hospitality.

 

The list details the simple law of loving one another. Sadly, though we can be criticized for what we do, but living simply means ignoring those who “persecute you” and as Paul says in 12:16-17:

 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

 

Just like no-bake cookies. The name makes the cookie sound easy, but the instructions do not always include the difficult tweaks that good cooks know make the cookie so scrumptious or how to make them extra special with secret ingredients.

Paul listed the special instructions so the Gentiles could live in community with the Jews who had generations of instruction in living faithfully. The Jewish faithful had to have the special instructions so they could adjust to a simpler lifestyle and not judge the Gentiles. We, too, need to read through Paul’s letters to remember how to live faithfully, also.

Ask the best cooks you know what the secret is to their no-bake cookies and you will get a list of suggestions just as Paul’s letters provide a range of suggestions to the various churches. In Romans, he begins wrapping up his letters with a few other points:

  • Chapter 13: “Respect for authority”
  • Chapter 14: “The Danger of Criticism”
  • Chapter 15: “Living to Please Others

 

And then he concludes the letter with personal notes and plans. These last chapters are like the special notes the experienced cooks write in the margins of their recipes—some even dating when they made the recipe and for whom it was made.

My no-bake cookies are seldom the same any two times. Why? I tweak the recipe based on what ingredients I have available, who the eaters are, and even the time I spend on making them. And what are the notes along my recipe card? The most critical one is to let it boil at least 3 minutes. My favorite tweak is peanut butter added to the recipe. I have even changed it to a non-chocolate no-bake cookie, but it is not greeted as favorably as a dark chocolate version is.

Being a faithful Christian should be easy with God’s new law delivered by Jesus Christ. Why, then, do we seem to make it so difficult? Paul knew personally the extent of the law’s change, and he did whatever he could to encourage the new church to live simply. In our personal lives, we must spend some time evaluating our own practices. Are we living faithfully? Are we respecting each other? Are we demonstrating our gifts in all the ways that we can to love one another?

The recipe may sound easy since it says “no-bake cookies,” but the more we develop our discipleship as Christians, we learn how to tweak the law to make the best Christians we can of ourselves. We need to work to be better. We also need to work together to be the church God asks us to be. When we fail, then we need to reread the recipe and try again. The result will be worth the reward.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You have delivered us a message, a recipe for faithfulness.

Generations have preserved the simple instructions,

But we look for ways to make them even easier to follow.

 

Just like excellent cooks know, the simplest recipes

Need practice to reach perfection.

Guide us in following your words so we too may reach perfection.

 

Help us to toss out what has not worked

And to try again to find the best ways to love one another

And to carry your message to others in our community.

 

Open our hearts so we can love freely.

Open our minds so we can learn from our mistakes.

Open our doors to all your children who seek

life now and life eternal

with you, our father,

with Jesus Christ your son,

and with the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

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Jew or Gentile?

sermon given on Sunday, July 9, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 9:21-24, NLT

21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.

 

Sermon: Romans 9:25, 31-32, NLT

25 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,

“Those who were not my people,
I will now call my people.
And I will love those
whom I did not love before.”

 

31 But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. 32 Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law[a] instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.

 

Closing: Romans 10:9-13, 16-18a, NLT

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[a] 12 Jew and Gentile[b] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” . . .

 

. . . 16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[a] 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. 18 But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? . . .

 

Reflection: Jew or Gentile?

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a different time? Over the holiday weekend Ancestry.com offered free access to certain records and I started looking at them. Of course I could not remember my sign in but I did discover a World War I draft notice for my grandfather was listed. I was surprised and really should have gotten up to investigate more closely, but did not because I know he never served in the military. But now I want to know more.

Then another question came to mind: If I were living in Jesus’ time, would I have been a Jew or a Gentile? I suppose I could even ask if I would have been a pagan, but that seems a bit too unlikely. This question started my mind spinning and I started putting my thoughts together:

  • Was I born into a religious family?
  • Did I grow up following the religious law or the civil law?
  • Was my dad or my mom the driving force?
  • Was my church strictly structured around The Law?
  • Did church come first or did civil matters?
  • Was my community centered around the church or on business?

 

As you can tell, deciding whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile lead to many other considerations other than just my personal faith.

Reading Romans, one can get a different perspective of the cultural shift that must have occurred for Paul, but also for other new Christians.   Paul certainly was Jewish before his conversion. Raised in the Jewish faith, having served in the Jewish leadership, his life was immersed in The Law. He knew it so well, he was actively involved in administering justice—or at least that was the Saul of Tarsus as he was first introduced in Biblical literature.

Paul prosecuted the earliest disciples of Christ. Paul was a Jew and the first Christians who were Jewish must have felt confused as they believed Jesus Christ was simply the fulfillment of their own religious foundation. How difficult it must have been to be firmly rooted in a faith and then be prosecuted by your own religious leaders for believing the prophecies had indeed been fulfilled!

With that thought, I wonder again whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile during those ancient times. I think it is possible to compare my own upbringing and belief system to the Jewish culture. As I look over my history I can see the similarities:

  • I was born into a faith-centered home environment.
  • We attended Sunday school and worship every Sunday.
  • We actively participated in all the age-appropriate activities—choir being the most obvious other than Sunday school.
  • We offered a table grace at all three meals in our home.
  • Dad appeared to be the faith leader because he said the grace.
  • Mom was in charge of the household including the education both after school and for Sunday school.
  • Dad served on the various Administrative Board committees and even as a lay leader.
  • Mom was a soloist and even evolved into the closest thing in our community to an activist for social justice.
  • We attended the carry-in dinners and social functions at church but seldom social events outside of the church.

 

Certainly, in my 20th century life, I was following the social profile that would have been a Jew during Christ’s lifetime.

Now, though, for comparison purposes consider the ancient Gentile. Here was an individual whose life hinged around the daily grind of life. Making a living, providing for the family, and managing to live in the ruling culture of the time. Reading Romans, the first century after Jesus was born, the Roman Empire dominated the Euro-Asian region. No state religion, but the Greek and Latin gods were worshiped. The pagan laws were not as severe as the Law of Moses was in the Jewish culture. For Roman citizens, the law was the ruling emperor’s law.

Today’s Gentiles may be more difficult to identify. Or maybe not because I suspect that today’s Gentiles profile might be like so many of our friends and neighbors, even family members. I believe the Gentiles are all those who have been raised with much of the same expectations as those in church-attending, church-centered families. The difference is they may not see a connection to living one’s faith in relation to their role in today’s world.

Consider how many in our community, maybe even in our church, who live a “good” life, not breaking any laws, working hard to make a living, and doing all the things our society deems appropriate—raising kids, going to sporting events, taking vacations, staying in style, and the list just keeps growing. There may be some curiosity about God and faith, but their lives are ok, maybe even extremely successful by all outward signs. Maybe they go to church occasionally, at least on Christmas and Easter, because they say they believe.

In today’s culture, I believe it is more difficult to see a distinction between the Jews and the Gentile labels that were evident during ancient days of Christ. Yet I believe it is also evident that there is a defined line between those who are living a faith-filled, Christ-centered life and those who are simply living in a spiritual void with all the outward appearances but no conviction of their faith in God.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was a logical argument for Christianity, written to an audience with whom he was not personally connected. Today we can read the letters Paul wrote and evaluate them against the experiences of Christians for over 2,000 years. We can even check ourselves to determine whether we are living the very principles Jesus demonstrated and Paul reinforced in his letters.

Romans is an introduction to Christian living whether one was raised a Jew or a Gentile; whether one was raised in a religious setting or not; or even if one has never had any simply unchurched. Paul assures us that salvation is available to any one who accepts that Jesus Christ lived, died and arose so that we are saved by the grace of God.

Paul’s letter goes on to explain that God genuinely loves us and that we are all equipped with spiritual gifts. We are to use those gifts living as good citizens in our communities. We are to accept all those who believe in Christ regardless of their previous beliefs—another words whether they were Jew, Gentile or pagan. We are to live in Christian unity with one another because God’s mercy is available to everyone.

Again, though, I find myself wondering whether I would have been living as a Jew or a Gentile or as a Christian? As much as my faith is the faith that I was born and raised in—a cradle Methodist as we say, I wonder if I could have been the Jew openly accepted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in those ancient days?

Today I am fortunate to have the 2,000 years of Christian history to support the arguments for Christ. I am fortunate to live in a society that allows freedom of religion. Yet, in truth I wonder whether I am a Jew or a Gentile in behavior. Am I too caught up in the legalistic structure of our faith to open my heart, my mind and my doors to others regardless of their personal history? Am I afraid I cannot preserve the church in which I am so comfortable that I fight any change? Am I able to live in unity with others regardless of where they are in their faith journey?

If I did not have my faith in God, I would not see the value in this life I do have. If I did not follow the one commandment to love others as I want to be loved, I would be hiding within my own home fearing the unknowns. If I did not believe that God has given me gifts to use in this world, I would not be able to do what all I try to do.

My challenge to each of us here is to consider just what role do you have personally or we as a full church have in reaching out to the other Jews, Gentiles, pagans or unchurched. Do we honestly open our hearts, minds and doors to all in hopes that they too can discover God’s grace and salvation through his son Jesus Christ? Do we live the very example of a Christian right here in our own community?

Our responsibility is to find ways to demonstrate the motto that the United Methodist Church adopted in 2004: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. Let us truly be remarkable with our efforts to make sure that our church is being Christ-centered in this community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Open our hearts so they may be filled

With love for one another as Jesus taught.

 

Open our hearts so we may see

those in our community in need of your love.

 

Open our minds so they may be filled

With the methods and means to share your love.

 

Open our minds so we may grow

our spiritual gifts to serve and love others.

 

Open our doors so we may see

The lost, the lonely, the sick, and the hungry.

 

Open our doors so we may serve

To welcome those needing your love.

 

Only with you can we be

the Christians you call us to be.

 

In your name, dear God,

And in the name of Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

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