Tag Archives: Christian

Labor Day & Sabbath

As I listened to the news and considered the benefits of Labor Day in the United States, I found myself comparing it to Sabbath—a day of rest.


One of the biggest concerns I had for this holiday is that it really is not a national holiday in which the stores close and there is a sense of community as everyone steps away from their daily jobs for a day of rest.


The problem is that there are so many who are still working on Labor Day.  The stores, in many cases, remain open, restaurants of all kinds are still serving money.  How does a country honor workers and then still expect them to work?


The twist that this discussion developed in my head then shifted to just what is Labor Day.  If Labor Day is supposed to be a day of rest for the working force, then everything should stop and everybody rest.


That, of course, is not realistic, esp. in terms of the nation’s secular emphasis at this very time. Right now the demand on all workers is to bow down to the bosses and/or the CEOs and keep working the hours deemed necessary to be a financially successful.


These thoughts then started spinning around in my head as I hear Jesus telling me to take a Sabbath:


28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  –Matthew 11:28


Labor Day is not Sabbath, but I wonder how many workers feel a need for a Sabbath even though life demands keep them not only from the rest they physically need, but also from the need to remain in a faithful relationship with God.


Today’s society fails to understand that one day honoring the workers is not a successful way to provide honest rest.


To fully refresh and to fuel one’s life to live out the Christian lifestyle, maintaining Sabbath is a practice that needs encouraging, developing, even promoting.


The prophet Isaiah explained how to honor or to keep a Sabbath:


13 “Keep the Sabbath day holy.
Don’t pursue your own interests on that day,
but enjoy the Sabbath
and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.
Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,
and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.
14 Then the Lord will be your delight.
I will give you great honor
and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”  –Isaiah 58:13-14


Compare that to the instructions Paul had for the Hebrews:


God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. 3 For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said,

“In my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest,’”

even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5 But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:

“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts.”

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. 10 For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. 11 So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.

12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.  –Hebrews 4:1-13


Keeping Sabbath is a discipline that goes much further than honoring workers one day each calendar year. Labor Day is an American invention that does honor all those who work hard to keep our culture running–from farming to manufacturing to transportation and even to all the service industries that are essential to this country’s success.


Yet, keeping a Sabbath on a regular basis is a key factor to how well one manages the daily demands, the weekly workweek, the monthly budgets, and the annual reports.


By practicing a regular Sabbath, God assures us that we will receive the rest we need.  And in Jesus’ words, the rest that we receive will go beyond the earthly work experience.

Keeping a Sabbath day each week is a win-win situation.  It wins on so many different levels in our earthly lives, but it exceed even that with the promise of heavenly rest.


Labor Day needs to remind each one of us the need for weekly Sabbath.  This is one day that all individuals need to stop and evaluate the quality of one’s Sabbath.  All the bosses, the business owners and leaders need to evaluate just how honestly do they value the workers.  Are these industry, business leaders doing all they can to assure workers are provided time for Sabbath.  Rested workers are better equipped to do their best in the work force, too.


Dear Father,

All too easily we rush around in our lives,

     Wearing ourselves way too thin.

As we continue the work week and leave

     Labor Day behind,

Guide us into the practices that grow us

     In Christian fellowship. 

May we find the rest for our daily lives

     As we work to receive heavenly rest with you.

In the name of you, the Father,

      In your son Jesus Christ,

          And in the Holy Spirit, amen.


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The Wonder of Christmas (Week 2)

The advent series this year is based on Ed Robb’s and Rob Renfroe’s publication The Wonder of Christmas available through Abingdon Press.  Many thanks are owed them for making this available.  The opportunity to share their work is a delight.

The Wonder of a Name given on Sunday, December 4, 2016:Week 2 of Advent series based on The Wonder of Christmas by Robb & Renfroe

 Scripture: Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part A)

Did you know that God gave Jesus his name? The Bible tells us that God sent an angel to Mary and to Joseph in two different locations and told them they were going to have a baby and to name him Immanuel meaning “God save us”.

Can you just imagine when Mary and Joseph started talking about having this baby that they were surprised that each of them had been told what name to give the baby by an angel! I bet they got a funny feeling in their tummy as they tried to sort everything out.

Well, I know that when I tried to find names for my kids, I spent a long time studying baby names and their meanings. It was no easy task and what I picked had to be agreed upon by their dad. I bet I spent weeks trying to find the right name with the right meaning.

God gave Jesus his name and the mean is “God saves us.” I wondered why he picked that name. In our advent study, The Wonder of Christmas, I learned that the Bible records only a few times that God changed a name but only once did he name a baby and that was Jesus. I also learned that it was the first time that the name Jesus was used.

Ed Robb writes:

When God gave someone a new name, it was because a divine purpose was revealed to and placed within that person. Names connote identity in the biblical context; so a name change signified that God had transformed that persons identity and rerouted the trajectory (path) of his or her life. The name became symbolic of the person’s God-ordained mission to be an ambassador, a representative, and a living vessel for his grace, goodness, love , and hope in the world.

Wow! He goes on to share a few examples of how God changed a few names, but none ever was given the name “Jesus” until he decided that he had to do something to save us.

But now we wonder why the name Jesus? Well Robb explains it:

. . . Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, and that name meant something to Joseph and Mary. In fact, it meant something to every Jew, because it was the name of Moses’ successor, Joshua.

Born into slavery in Egypt, Joshua was given the Hebrew name Hoshea, meaning salvation. Being a slave, his name conveyed a hope, not a reality. . .

Now isn’t that a wonder that God could find a special name that meant so much to the ancient people that they knew why Jesus’ name was so important!

I know that selecting my kids names was a major effort. I wanted names that really meant something special and that connected them to their heritage. God did that with Jesus’ name, too. Isn’t that wonderful!

Mary and Joseph were given the name because it was a special message to all Jewish people. It was a name that connected Jesus directly to God and to all the generations. Robb explains that the connection even goes back to a story of the Hebrew people were saved from slavery in Egypt, all through the wonder of the name.

Even though Joshua was born into slavery, he followed Moses out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness for forty years. He was one of Moses men who ended up leading the people out of the wilderness—he saved them and Robb adds Joshua was really named Hoshea, but God changed it to Joshua.

We read in Numbers 13:16 that, even before sending the spies to explore the land, Moses changed Hoshea’s name. He took two words—Jehova (Yahwey), the proper name of the God of Israel, and Hoseha, meaning salvation—and wove them together to form a new name, Joshua (Yehoshua in Hebrew), meaning “the Lord is salvation,” or God saves. When Moses died, it was Joshua whom God chose as their leader. He is the one who led them out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.

Through Joshua, God saved their people from a life of futility and death in the wilderness and brought them into the land of the living. . .

When the angel announced to Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 NASB), he was clearly communicating the reality of One who brings salvation to God’s people once again—but in a way and manner that no ordinary human being could ever do.

The wonder of Jesus’ name is that is a clear statement to God’s faithful followers that the baby named Jesus/Immanuel is the way to salvation. Follow Jesus and you will be saved and receive life eternal as a follower of God. God gives us the name Christian as evidence that we are saved.

Christmas Story: Luke 1:26-33 (NLT)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings,[a] favored woman! The Lord is with you![b]

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel[c] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part B)

            Learning about the name of Jesus leads to other questions to wonder about. For instance, look at the second question from this weeks study:

How does understanding the meaning of Jesus’ name impact your understanding or appreciation for what he came to do? In what ways has Jesus saved you?

Knowing that God gave the infant baby the name Jesus or Immanuel, becomes a powerful lesson in understanding the significance of Christmas. In fact it really does put wonder into the season.

I can see that God’s presence on earth was instrumental in transforming the world that challenged the faithful. Something had to happen to give them hope. Something had to change if God’s world was going to be saved. So Jesus was born.

Our world challenges us in so many ways that we tire out. We have a way of losing our focus and fail to maintain a God/Christ-centered life. Is it no wonder that our problems can push God out of our lives?

Robb identifies that the problems that separate us from God include simply ignorance of God, brokenness whether physical or mental, relationship problems with others, or poverty making it difficult to meet even our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. Whatever the problem, we lose focus on God and our relationship with him. Robb states:

. . . It is the good news that, no matter what you’ve done, God is not against you but for you. No matter how far you’ve wandered, God wants you back.

. . . Here’s the reality. We all push God out of our lives.

. . . The Bible calls our rejection of God sin, and that’s why Jesus came. God knows that all of us need a Savior.

Recently a new sense of wonder came over me in a conversation with other pastors. God’s chosen people, according to the Bible, was a band of tribes, 12 to be exact, that were slaves. They did everything they could be remain faithful, even while Egyptian slaves. They did the job so well that God lead them out of captivity, stayed with them in the dessert, and lead them forward into a new land.

The story does not end there. The story continued and still continues. When God sent Jesus to save us, he lived the human life experience and through his ministry, death, and resurrection has saved all who believe. The original 12 tribes of slaves has propelled their relationship with God to grow into a global force of Christians doing all they can to continue God’s work.

Jesus’ name is a clue to unlock the wonder of Christian faith. It is open to all who believe in Jesus as the savior. Robb states it:

. . . [God’s] people are those who believe on him and crown him Lord of Lords and Lord of their lives, as Paul so eloquently expresses in Philippians 2:9-11. “His people” is a statement that extends over the boundary line of Judaism to include the wise men who came from afar as well as the shepherds who tended sheep on Bethlehem’s plains.

It includes you as well, if you’ll let it. (emphasis added)

Closing prayer from The Wonder of Christmas:

Jesus, your name is beautiful and special. You are the Lord of salvation—our God who saves. I am so grateful that you entered this hostile world to save us—to save me. You are so much more than a teacher, a healer, a counselor, and a prophet; you are our Savior! And that is good news! May the wonder of your name fill my heart with joy this Christmas and always. In your precious name I pray. Amen.

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part C—to include communion)

Consider this: When God named his son Jesus, he was telling us that those who believe in him are saved. When we accept Jesus as our personal savior we are also given a new name: Christian or Christ-follower.

Are you living up to your name?

Today we share the bread and the cup as our church’s tradition on the first Sunday of the month. The very tradition is designed to renew our relationship with Triune God. Just like we share in the Apostles’ Creed, we do believe in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As you hear the story of Jesus’ birth again this year, discover the wonder of Christmas. Last week we found the wonder of a star that the wise men knew lead to Jesus as an infant, but more importantly they knew that Jesus was God and they left knowing the truth of God’s love. The wonder of the star lead them to the wonder of Christmas. God loved us so much that he sent his son to save us.

Join in today’s communion with all of those whose name includes Christian:

Sharing the bread and the cup                

Parting words: Blessings come when we serve God. Thank you for joining us for this special time together:

May the wonder of Jesus’ name draw you closer to God this holiday season. Remember the words from John 3:16-17:

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Remember your baptism as Christian and receive the wonder of Christmas and go tell it to others so they too may be renamed as Christians.

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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.




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God sent us a lifesaver

given on Sunday, May 15, 2016–Pentecost Sunday

Scripture connection: Romans 8:14-17, NLT

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.[c] So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. . . .

. . . That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life[d] because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.


Surely you have heard the adage, If someone offers you a breath meant, take it.” From our perspective, we may not think we have bad breath, but from those around us, the truth may be different—we may have bad breath.

If you are on a boat, you are expected to wear a life preserver. If someone offers you one, you put it on. You may not need it, but the life preserver protects you from any unfortunate trial while on the boat. The friends who offered you the life preserver are doing whatever possible to protect you.

God sent his son Jesus Christ as our personal lifesaver. How can we possibly ignore this gift? Much less, God went one step farther in assuring that we are never alone—he sent a personal advocate, the Holy Spirit. Once we accept Christ as our redeemer, we also accept the responsibility to live Christ-like lives. We are to offer life preservers to others.

Observing Pentecost in today’s worship service reminds us of the responsibility we have to live Christ-like lives at all times. This is tough work. We do not always anticipate what God wants us to do, but living our faith out loud provides others models of God’s life-saving love for us.

Others also witness how we accept the responsibility to love one another, as we want to be loved. This means we will do whatever we can for whomever we can whenever we can, just like John Wesley asks us to do. This operating system is not simple so thank goodness God sent us the life preserver also known as the Holy Spirit.

The chorus in, Let Them See Me clearly explains that others are watching us and we need to make sure that what others see how God works through us:

Let them see You in me let them hear You when I speak
Let them feel You when I sing
Let them see You, let them see You in me

Each verse in the hymn serves as a reminder of how God want us to live. Even when all the trappings in our lives are removed and we are stripped back to the very core of who we are, others should see God in us.

Studying the book of Revelation through the insight of N. H. Wright, the connection to the Holy Spirit and God’s expectations for our life mission—singularly and as a community—is inseparable. God hates evil and he commissioned us to do all we can possibly do to eradicate evil. Evil hovers at the edge of our lives just waiting for an opportunity to step in and destroy our God-centered life filled with grace and love and beauty.

As complicated as Revelation’s figurative and symbolic language is to us today, the message never changes. God placed upon his human creation the responsibility to care for the entire world he placed us in. He is not giving up on us; he just equips us for the job. The Holy Spirit, the breathe of God, is the fuel, the skills, the language, and the drive we need to be God’s representative right here, right now:

Let them see You in me let them hear You when I speak
Let them feel You when I sing
Let them see You, let them see You in me

These words echo in our minds as we turn our lives over to God and he breathes on us. God offers us a lifesaver, an Advocate, known as the Holy Spirit. We even recognize him in others regardless of their heritage, their language, or their station in life because the Holy Spirit is love.

Have you accepted Jesus in your life? Maybe you are asking yourself if saying it means it is true. Accepting Jesus means living the Christ-like life God asks you to live. Do you live knowing that you have been given a life preserver? Do you live a life that reflects God’s grace and love so others “can see God in you”? Do your words sound like Jesus’ words of compassion, grace, healing, and love?

The story of Pentecost as described in Acts 2, may defy our human understanding, but the Holy Spirit can make us able to find ways to share God’s message and to do God’s work in ways that others can “see him” in us. The Holy Spirit does not segregate, either. The Holy Spirit erases the differences of gender, age, culture, economics, and education. The Holy Spirit is for everybody who accepts Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.

Accept God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and then depend on it. The gift is not a quick fix for all the struggles we face in our lives, but the Holy Spirit equips us for those struggles. Our responsibility is to be disciplined in our Christian faith. We are to worship, to study the Word, to stay in conversation with God through our prayers, and we are to reach out to others in all the ways that we can. Living our lives so others see God in us will battle evil that threatens to destroy God’s world.

Closing prayer

Dear God,
Thank you for loving us so much you sent Jesus to save us.
May we live so others see you.

Thank you for trusting us to do your work.
May our actions show others your love.

Thank you for equipping us with the Holy Spirit.
May we live so others may experience your saving grace. –Amen

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Theological virtur #3: Love. Love is a Verb

given on Sunday, September 20, 2015–third and final of series

Scripture lesson:             Romans 13:8-14, NLT

Love Fulfills God’s Requirements

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”[a] These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.


Reflection: Theological Virtue #3: Love. Love is a verb.

“But our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself, which is at the very center of the concentric circles. There it “sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul;” it is the love of God and humanity “which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.” –John Wesley via Hal Knight’s article, “Zealous for What? The Choicest Zeal”

Two weeks ago, the weather was dripping-sweat hot, the fair was winding down and Labor Day promised a brief respite before the regular workweek resumed. That Sunday the sermon’s theme was the theological virtue faith and last Sunday it was hope. Today the virtue is love, the third and final one.

Love is a commonly used topic in sermons, so the challenge is how to identify the topic as a habit or a lasting attitude that defines a Christian. Remember, that is how the lectionary commentary defined virtue.  For Christians, love is a habit, but it is a habit of action not simply an emotion.

Love is a verb. Christians establish a relationship with God and can express that relationship as faith. Confessing one’s belief in God, though, is just the beginning of a Christian’s journey with God.

Once in a relationship, one hopes for a deeper relationship. Hope must become a purposeful effort to deepen one’s knowledge and practice of Christian principles. One must dare to hope, to study scripture, to worship in Christian community, and to live that faith daily deepens the relationship with God.

Being able to declare one’s faith and daring to deepen the relationship with God, leads Christians to the third virtue love. Love is the action that Christians demonstrate toward others. Love is a habit that moves the Christian off the sofa and into the community to serve as God’s agent.

Mother Teresa, now declared a saint by the Pope, provided a vivid example of the modern Christian. She demonstrated her faith by doing, by providing hope to the poorest, the sickest, and the lost through her loving actions.

“Faith in action is love—and love in action is service,” Mother Teresa said. Not only did she say it, she lived it. Faith, hope and love defined Mother Teresa throughout her servant life.

John Wesley certainly would agree with this saint. His focus in ministry became serving one another. He did not care who needed what, if he could find a way to provide it, he did.

Much less, Wesley developed the methods for Christians to use as they developed their relationship with God or faith; and continued to deepen the relationship be expecting accountability to a small group. These practices opened the hearts of the followers to serve one another; to love one another. Love is an action; love is a verb.

Love has one of the strongest meanings as a noun, but love as a verb must be a practice. Of course, love, the noun, certainly creates all types of images of human relationships, but love as a verb puts one’s faith into action.

Hal Knight studies Wesley and is an authority on him. The quote from his recent article in The Missouri Methodist shares Wesley’s viewpoint about being zealous for God: “But our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself. . . “

Knight explains Wesley’s zeal using the image of concentric circles, like when the water’s surface becomes when a fish jumps or a stone is thrown in. He explains:

Wesley asks us to envision a number of concentric circles, each representing something deserving our Christian zeal. The closer to the center of the circle they are, the more they should elicit our zeal.

In the outmost circle is the church. Every Christian should be zealous “for the church universal, praying for it continually,” and especially for his or her own local church.

. . . Even more than the church, Christians should be zealous for praying, “for the Lord’s Supper, for reading, hearing and meditating on his work, and for the much neglected duty of fasting.”

But more than these, the Christian should be zealous for the works of mercy which constitute the next circle.

Any work of mercy is love in action. Love is a verb and Wesley placed the importance of serving in the center of the circles because without works of mercy, God is absent in the community. The UMC website identifies Wesley’s works of mercy:

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

Each decision we make personally and collectively as a church must answer to Wesley’s theology.   Faith in God is daring to hope deepen that relationship while loving one another.

Living one’s faith openly is challenging in this 21st century. As was explained by Jeremiah in Lamentations, we must examine our ways and test them. We must put our ways to the test so Saint Mother Teresa and John Wesley can see that our Christian faith is in action as we serve one another, as we want to be served.

Knowing whether one is living with God in the center of their life is challenging. The world around us seems to through roadblocks at us all the time, but we take courage in God, too. He loves us, as he wants to be loved. The more we practice, the better we become. Wesley does give us one more test to see whether or not love is a verb in our life:

“. . . our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself . . .   it “sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul;” it is the love of God and humanity “which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.”

Faith in God is daring to hope deepen that relationship while loving one another. Stop and examine yourself. Is you relationship with God strong enough that it fills your whole heart and it overflows in loving one another. Is love a verb in your life?

Closing prayer:

Dear Omnipotent God,

Love is a verb that you demonstrate repeatedly.

We dare to hope others see your love through us.

May faith be more than a word but a relationship.

Let us work in community to serve one another.

Let us share our faith with all we meet.

Let us invite others to dare to hope, also.

Thank you for the wisdom of words

Not only in scripture but from others

Who love God enough to share with others.

May we be your love in action today. Amen

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Am I a Gentile?

given on Sunday, July 12, 2015
Scripture base:  Ephesians 1:3-14, NLT

The thought never occurred to me that If we were returning to the past and living in Galilee whether my family would have been Jewish or whether we would have been a Gentile. The question sprung up as I read a statement from the lectionary companion I am using:

From the author’s (Paul’s) point of view, the [book of] Ephesians is written from “us Jews” to you “Gentiles” (Eph. 2:11) He reminds us that prior to Christ we were “aliens” rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promises. [1]

I never considered whether I would have grown up in a Jewish family or a Gentile family. The discussion in the commentary triggered that question: Am I a Gentile?

Asking whether one would consider him/herself a Gentile seems like a foreign question. Maybe the question is broader than that: Am I a Christian? During Paul’s missionary years, he targeted two basic categories–the Jewish people and the Gentiles. God wanted the Jews and the Gentiles united into one church.

This purpose continues today. The various Christian denominations all have specific practices and liturgies but all Christians continue to hold one belief: Christ lived. Christ died. Christ rose again. Believing that Christ died for us so that we might all be redeemed and receive eternal life, unites all into one, regardless of heritage.

Living in ancient times, where would you have been? Would you have been one of the Jewish faithful who learned the good news and quickly joined with the other followers of Christ? Or were brought up in a non-Jewish but Gentile home? The Gentiles did not know the prophecies of a Savior. The Gentiles did not live by all the rigid laws that the Jewish people followed. They simply were unaware of a faith-based life just like so many today.

Today, if Paul were writing a letter to one of the churches he established, would he ask if you were a Jew or a Gentile or would he ask whether you were raised in a Christian environment or whether you simply lived in an unchurched environment. This is what today’s churches are doing. They are asking others to come hear the story of Christ for the first time in their lives and to discover what a difference God makes in their lives.

Stop and consider the area around our church. Is it more like the Jewish community living an austere and rigid life waiting for a savior? Or is the community more like a Gentile community where the news of Jesus is just a rumor and has no significance to them?

Paul spent three years in Ephesus starting the brand new churches. His letter to them is believed to be a “circular” letter, one that is to be shared with other churches in the area. And think about what the church was anyway in that first century. No building was built just to house the worship services. Some churches were out on the open hillside in order to accommodate the crowds.

Do we try to share God’s message in a similar way or do we just leave it to the “way it has always been”? Today’s churches must reach out in all kinds of ways in order to share the message and to demonstrate that a Christian faith makes a huge difference in one’s quality of life.

Paul’s mission was to spread the word and establish congregations or communities of faith regardless of whether one was a Jew, a Gentile, or a pagan. God’s love is for everybody. God’s redemption is available to all.

We may have been like Gentiles as we grew up, but that does not make any different from those who grew up as Christians. However we have become Christian, we are to reach out and to share God’s love to each other. Are you still acting like a Gentile or are you a Christian sharing God’s love?

The various selections in this week’s lectionary focus on glorifying Christ and worshiping God. In 2 Samuel, David did not have a temple built, yet he brought the ark or chest of the Old Covenant to Jerusalem. The Jewish people understood the value of the chest as part of their worship. It was important to David, a Jewish king, to keep the chest in reverence of God.

The Book of Psalm shares the hymns, prayers and liturgy of ancient Jewish worship. Jesus was taught them and knew them well. The use of the psalms even in today’s worship settings connects us to the very roots of our faith and illustrates the timeless value of worshiping God.

Are we worshiping God with praises and reverence? Does today’s worship invite the Gentiles in the community or is it exclusive to just the faithful attendees? What do we do that praises God today? Do we share with others how our faith improves the quality of our lives? Do we invite them to join us?

Certainly there is a core of Christian faithful who put away their differences and meet for worship regularly. But is the door open so all are welcomed to come in and to learn about God and to worship together with us?

Look around your homes, drive down the roads, walk the walks, and pray. This community needs God. Are we going to just sit quietly and worship for ourselves; or do we get excited about God and ask others to come experience God’s love?

Summer is a very busy time, especially in a farming community. Summer is when kids are outside running and playing with each other, throwing a stick for the dogs to fetch, or sitting inside watching TV, surfing the internet, or playing video games. This is also the time of year families pack up and leave town for a few days to a couple of weeks trying to relax and to see new places.

In all this activity, where is God? Are we telling others how much we love this world God gave us? Do we use our Christian behaviors when we go to a ball game or sit down in a restaurant? Are we saying grace at a family meal each day? Where are you on Sunday morning? Have you checked on your neighbor or friends who are not sitting beside you at church?

Being Christian is not easy. But being Christian provides a quality of life that defies description. Even with 72% of days filled with clouds and rain, the sun shines in our lives because we know the Son of God. The world certainly looks inviting through the eyes of God and wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody could see the world that way—whether Jewish, Gentile, Christian or unchurched.

Today we worship God, we praise Him, and we share our heartaches and our joys with him. We also gather with our church family to learn more about God’s love and salvation. We work together to find ways to love one another in the community. We are God’s family together; and we are filled with so much peace and joy we need to share it with others all week long.

I guess I would have been in the Jewish community in ancient times. I grew up in a Christian family, lived in the rural community of family farms and other Christian families. I attended Sunday school and church services on Sunday morning, sang in the choirs, and went to youth group. Church is simply a part of my entire life and life is so good.

Whether raised in a traditional Christian family or not, share the good news with others not sitting in the pews beside us. Let’s worship God and help others find God in their lives.

Paul certainly stepped out of his comfort zone and we can too. Each time we share God’s grace, we praise God. Each time we manage adversity and others ask how, we share God’s story.

God is good, all the time;

all the time, God is good.

Closing prayer

Dear God of All,

What a delight to be here with you.

What a joy to be in fellowship with your family.

What peace you give us in this holy place.

Show us opportunities to share with others

The grace and love you provide.

Give us the words to tell the story

Of your son, Jesus Christ.

Strengthen our resolve to serve

One another in all kinds of ways.

Thank you for granting us grace.

Thank you for trusting us with your creation.

Thank you for loving us despite all.


[1] (Wilson 2014)

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Meet the Maccabees

given on Sunday, April 28, 2013:  Sometimes we get so involved in the world about us, that we do not see how our Christian lifestyle is slipping away.  Here is my question, are we like the Maccabees or are we succumbing to the secular world?

April’s Apocrypha Lesson:  Meet the Maccabees

         Why in the world do we need to meet the Maccabees?  Reviewing the books in the apocrypha, I could not understand why there are four books of the Maccabees.  True, in the New Testament there are the first, second and third letters of John, but they are letters and each one has a specific purpose.  But the four books of the Maccabees simply do not follow any recognizable style or purpose that connects them.  The connection appears to be found in history.

The Maccabees were a priestly tribe.  As the Greek or Hellenistic Empire grew through the ancient world surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, cultures clashed.  The Maccabees struggled to maintain their Judean culture under the Greek rule.  The Greeks struggled to supersede the Jewish culture.  The story, as outlined in the four books of the apocrypha, is filled with the details of these clashes.

The Greeks outlawed the practice of circumcision.  The Jewish parents continued to practice it.  Defying the Greek law lead to the death of many Jewish parents.  Yet the Maccabees persisted and even when one leader died, the task of maintaining the faith continued:

1 Maccabees 2:49-50:  Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he said to his sons:  “Arrogance and scorn have now become strong; it is a time of ruin and furious anger.  Now, my children, show zeal for the law and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors.”  the NRSV

The apocrypha includes the works written during that time between the prophecy of Malachi and the birth of Jesus.  The stories continue to demonstrate how the Jewish people struggled to maintain their faith in God despite all the cultural challenges to their beliefs.

The first book of Maccabees includes the story of the Greek rulers taking over even the temples.  The Greeks forced themselves into the temples to put their own pagan gods into place.  They defiled the altars by placing the very types of sacrifices forbidden by the Jewish priests.  Greeks demanded taxes from the temple in order to have more money for themselves.  The stories continue to demonstrate how the Hellenistic culture was forced upon the Jewish culture.

Consider this:  How is our Christian faith being challenged by the secular world?  Are we able to demonstrate as much determination as the Maccabees did to protect our standards?  Are we able to withstand the constant pressure to give up our Christian practices?  Are we determined to protect our faith practices over the secular practices swirling around us?

The four books of the Maccabees shares how the faithful fought back.  The Jewish people refused to give in to the Gentiles now practicing the pagan religions or following the Greek culture.  The story turns into one of rebellion as outlined in the second book.

When the Greek leaders decided to enter the temple and confiscate the treasury, the Maccabees resisted.  The story of this family and all the sons who stood up against the Hellenistic demands and influences demonstrates faithfulness to a degree I cannot comprehend.  The brothers were tortured and killed before their mother, but even she defied the authorities encouraging her sons throughout the horrific ordeal and even through her own death.  These are the words she spoke to her seventh son as he was tortured and killed:

2 Maccabees 7: 27-29:  But, leaning close to him [her 7th son], she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant:  “My son have pity on me.  I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you.  I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.  And in the same way the human race came into being.  Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers.  Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.”  the NKJV

I cannot imagine having the strength of faith, of character, to conduct myself so faithfully.

In the testimony of the seven sons and their mother, as recorded in 2 Maccabees, also brings to light two theological points that continue to be discussed today:  (a) the creation of the world from nothing, and (b) the possibility of life after death.  I was not surprised to learn this about the Jewish stand on creation, but I was surprised to hear the reference to eternal life.

Yet, the Maccabees’ stories continue.  After the death of the Priest Eleazar and his family, the next Jewish leader Judas, also called Maccabeus, continues the story further.  He becomes a strategic leader, gathering up the faithful secretly, creating an army that takes back the temple and purifies it for the Jewish people.  The historical record of Judas is considered proof that God listened to the Jewish faithful and guided them through the conflict successfully.

So why should we meet the Maccabees?  Today, as we find ourselves challenged to protect our own Christian beliefs and practices, the stories can give us models.  Hopefully no one will ever have to endure the horrendous forms of torture and death as Eleazar’s family, but we need to identify the challenges to our faith and find ways to strengthen our faith.

Humanity sees behaviors repeated in cultures worldwide, in all the different time periods, and yet today.  Just in the course of the last decade, stop and consider what secular changes challenge the Christian practices.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the simply the attitude to maintaining a day of worship, a day of rest.  First blue laws were written, then loop holes developed (such as how alcohol can be sold on Sundays).

A second one which is much more recent, that is filling up Sundays with athletic competitions.  Even if one is accustomed to practicing worship each Sunday, now kids athletic competitions are schedule throughout the day.  The importance of worship is lost.

In reading through the various study materials concerning the Maccabees, I stumbled across this little piece of history:  When the Greek were trying to instill their culture, after capturing the temple, they built an arena for athletic competition.  It was built in a position that placed it above the temple.  This clearly demonstrated the attitude the Greeks held toward the Jewish faith—athletics first, faith comes lower in the priority list.

I could not help but see the parallel in today’s secular world.  Athletic competition and even the practices for it seem to have more value in our society than our faith does.  Consider how much players are paid versus how much the religious leaders are paid.  Figure out how much money fans spend on tickets, parking passes, clothing and even food in order to attend a sporting event and compare that to what happens tithing in our churches.

Meeting the Maccabees in the first two books is different from meeting them in the third and fourth book.  The last two books have entirely different writing styles and purposes.  The third book is a novel.  This is surprising since it is published as though it were part of the historical narrative.

Another reason including a novel is surprising is that today typically novels would not be considered a reading for faith development.   Yet, when I read through Father Tim’s stories from Mitford, I found lessons in faith.  In fact, his favorite verse was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.”  the NKJV.  This is a verse that guides me through each and every day, and it was the basis for an entire series of novels.

Finally, there is the fourth book of Maccabees.  Another entirely different style of literature, this book is a series of biographical sketches on various martyrs or heroes in the Jewish culture.  In fact the New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha indicates that these stories are “part moral treatise, part funeral oration.”  Another words, they are like eulogies in today’s culture.

“The value?” you might ask.  Every culture has historical personalities that have led the people to understand how to live.  We have legends in our American culture like Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jane Adams, and the list goes on.  There are legends from other countries and cultures like Gandhi or Dr. Schweitzer.  And think of all the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestants who died during World War II, all have stories that guide us in our daily lives.

This week was the day to remember the holocaust victims.  Having just finished the movie and discussion over Schindler’s List, the examples of all the people who died helping one another explains one more time why providing literature like the fourth book of Maccabees can be inspirational.

Meeting the Maccabees may seem more like a history lesson, but knowing history helps us to prevent repeating the tragedies of the past and to encourage us to maintain our faith, our principles, and our Christian lifestyle.  Knowing the history of the Maccabees and the many other faith-based cultures can develop our personal resolve to live a God-centered, faith-disciplined life despite all the secular pressures in our culture today.  The stories provide us hope, too.  Hope that our lives serve as models for future generations wanting to transform the world into a Christian community where God’s grace reigns forever and ever.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Day after day we struggle.

We find ourselves challenged

by demands at work, at play and at home.

Sometimes we feel weak and tired

unable to fend off the secular influences.


Day after day we resolve to put our faith in you.

We wake up to grey skies

yet we know the sun still shines.

We feel so tired as the day fades,

but we know night’s rest renews.


Day after day we begin anew.

Thank you for your grace

when we tire or make mistakes.

Thank you for inspiring words

written generation after generation.


Guide us each and every day.

Be with us as we battle

challenges to our faith.

Help us to be models of faith

transformed by your love.         –Amen


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