Tag Archives: church

Activate prayer any time, any place, anyway you can

Last week, I was fortunate enough (maybe I should say, blessed) to attend a Ruby Payne conference, attend a Passion City Church worship service, and bond with two passionate Christians seeking to learn more about how to make pathways out of poverty—more specifically how our churches can make pathways out of poverty.

 

Certainly that is a great deal to list in the first paragraph of a blog, but I needed to jump in and get started (that helps me when I have departed from a routine).  Please allow me to continue.

 

The Missouri UMC Conference established an initiative for the 2019 year: to increase the church-school partnerships from 10 to 40% in an effort to create “pathways out of poverty.”  This is a lofty goal, indeed; and an educational task force is operating to assist this effort.

 

At least that is the structure that is currently established.

 

Three of us attended the Ruby Payne conference, Addressing the Challenges of Poverty,in Atlanta on September 23-25.  The focus was on how to work with the multiple agencies that provide resources for those in poverty, aka the under-resourced.

 

About 20 years ago, I attended a Ruby Payne conference that introduced me to her framework of poverty.  That experience taught me so much about the hidden rules that exist not only for the socio-economic poverty class, but also for the middle class and the wealthy.

 

The knowledge base made me much more accepting of others who were in different life circumstances than my own.  In fact, I had to reassess my own background and figure out my own hidden rules.

I firmly believe that it made a tremendous difference in my teaching and continues into my ministry.  I have not one doubt that this information is a key to the conference’s initiative, too.

 

But, I am wondering way too far from my blog’s opening title.

 

Our small team was asked to use prayer as we stepped into the conference: Prayer for guidance.  Prayer for understanding.  Prayer for the conference.  Prayer for the churches.  Prayer for the people in our communities.

 

Growing up, prayer meant a formal set of words offered at specific times with specific purposes.  Prayer had a visual appearance of head down and hands folded.  I was a kid, learning.

 

Prayer was given at each meal in our household and even today, I yearn to hear my dad’s words.  I cannot remember them all and my family has tried to rebuild it, but we can’t.

 

Prayer was used in church and we all had to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. The minister, aka pastor or preacher typically offered prayer.  Sometimes lay people prayed, but I never really felt like prayer was used all the time, any time, or anywhere.

 

Then, I grew up.  I begin realizing prayer was a tool, a connection with God.  I participated in a small study group about prayer.  I began hearing about prayer differently.  And even through the discernment process and the training to become a licensed local pastor, I continued to learn about prayer.

 

And I used prayer—officially.

 

And I used prayer—personally.

 

Then this summer I read the book, Talking with God by Adam Weber, and I became comfortable with prayer in an even deeper manner.

 

Prayer is a tool but it is even more.  Prayer is a conversation with God, one that never has to cease, that can change on a whim, that can be tears or laughter.  Prayer is essential in our Christian lives.

 

Prayer is any time.

 

Prayer is any place.

 

Prayer is anything.

 

Throughout the days of travel, conversation, presentations, meals, walking, and more, prayer is all that you do when living as Christians.

 

The Missouri Conference has a dream, and that dream can involve every individual through prayer.

 

The work that Ruby Payne has done is prayer in action as the educators, the agencies, the legislators, and the interested citizens work to address the difficulties in life that come through the barriers created by the hidden rules of socio-economic classes.

 

There is no reason to believe that any church denomination has an answer to the problem, but there is a reason for each Christian—regardless of denomination—to join in prayer that we can do all that we an for all those we can in any way we can wherever we can and whenever we can (yes, John Wesley said it and we should continue to say and do as the same).

 

Prayer is the first and most essential task we all can participate in doing. We can pray regardless of age, gender, or race.  We can pray alone or we can pray in groups.

 

Yes, I did mention attending a worship service while in Atlanta.  I was not familiar with Grace City Church, but when I started learning about it I wanted to go.

 

What an experience!  The church was an old Home Depot store transformed into a worship space.  No stained glass windows.  No pews, just padded chairs.  No alter.  No typical appearance associated with the traditional church in which I grew up or am accustomed attending.

 

But there was Jesus!  There were people—everywhere.  There was music.  There was a sermon.  There was an offering.  There was PRAYER!

 

And I know that God was pleased.

 

I walked away from that setting and discovered that I had witnessed just a miniscule picture of what true Christianity can be.  The congregation was not what I have witnessed before.

 

The people were all one:  No race mattered.  No age mattered.  No gender mattered.  No social class mattered.

 

Only one thing mattered:  God’s unconditional love.  Prayer was alive and witnessed.

 

Dear Loving Father,

 

I am with you always, and I pray always.

Use me in ways I may not understand

So that I can share your kingdom with others.

 

I pray when I struggle, and I know you listen.

May my unconditional love of others

Provide a prayer for them in their struggles, too.

 

I pray in order to hear you, and yet I am unsure.

Let me continue to pray and to do all that I can

In any way, for all, in any way, at any time I can.

 

Thank you, too, Father, for all those who join

In prayer to do the same wherever they are

Comments Off on Activate prayer any time, any place, anyway you can

Filed under Education, Religion

Teaming for God, with God

Sermon for Sunday, August 13, 2017

Scripture connections:

 

Opening: Psalm 105:1-5, NLT

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
his miracles, and the rulings he has given,

 

Sermon: I Corinthians 12:4-11, 29-31, NLT

    4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord.God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

     A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[a]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[b] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[c] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

     29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

 

Reflection: Teaming for God, with God

What a week this has been! As Missouri residents, we have watched just about every kind of teaming effort one can imagine. The week began with the horrible news of the murder of Clinton’s young police officer Gary Michael.

As the days unfolded in the search for the suspect, we witnessed, even first hand, how the law enforcement community worked as a team to search all the area even in our own town. Frightening, yes, but the end result was successful as the professionals and the local citizens worked together to a successful conclusion and the search ended.

On a much lighter note, the week was filled with the Interstate Series between the KC Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royal fans have been sorely disappointed, but the Cardinals are thrilled. In the midst of it even a bold kitten joined in the competition, now nicknamed Rally Cat, he stole the show from the disappointment of the Royals and to the thrill of the Cardinals.

All the events of the week, though, exemplified teamwork. We all live in community one way or another, and when one lives in community, teamwork is essential in order to keep order in our lives and to meet the wide range of needs that develop in almost every facet of our lives.

Consider the need for a team of healthcare providers when we are challenged with an illness or injury. Think about how a broken down car needs some teamwork to get back into working order. Consider the grocery stores and all the other retail stores that demand a team to fill the shelves, maintain the business, and then even to check out the customers and get them on with their lives.

Why should we not realize the value of teamwork in our spiritual journey as well? As Paul wrote his letters to the young churches throughout the region, he was emphasizing the need for teamwork even then. His letters are filled with encouraging members to work together to fix problems and to keep their focus on the final outcome—lasting faith in Jesus Christ.

Do we, right here in this church family, really work as a team? Do we capitalize on each other’s various strengths and gifts to carry out the commission God has given us? Do we work as a team to keep our own faith strong and growing?

Paul’s first letter to Corinthians is filled with advice on how to live and to work as a team in order to develop one’s faith, to carry God’s message out to others, and to withstand the challenges of living among non-believers. His message is just as important today as it was 2,000 years ago. We must pay attention to his words as we struggle to survive in our own community today.

Paul’s chapter 12 in I Corinthians begins with a caution:

Now, dear brothers and sisters,[a] regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this.You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

 

Paul was answering their question and it was obvious they were struggling with leadership. He knows that to begin the conversation, he must establish the ground rules and to remind them how each one has special skills. He goes on to outline how each one’s spiritual gifts are important and that each gift has an important role in the life of the church.

All organizations can fall into disarray when one or more individuals try to do everything whether or not they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to do it all. We live in community with each other, so it stands to reason that we must learn to use all of the strengths of each other to provide the successful outcomes that are desired.

Paul outlines the various gifts that are found among the community. Yes, he was focusing on the needs of the church itself, but the point is that all types of gifts are needed and all have been given special gifts:

 

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.

 

The list of skills needed to make any community perform at its maximum potential certainly goes beyond what Paul was listing, but the principle remains the same: each person is given special skills, talents, energy, and insights that can be teamed up with others to create the most successful team in any setting.

If Paul were writing to our church today, would he be so concerned that we were failing to team together that we are losing sight of the ultimate goal to share God’s love with others in any way that we can? Would Paul write to our church to encourage us to stop and reassess what our purpose is and then to revamp our methods to continue serving the community in love, demonstrating how faith in God can defend us from the evils that surround us?

In today’s culture that emphasizes success at all cost, the faith community struggles. Faith communities that are showing growth are those who focus on prayer, service, and teaming in the name of God. Every organization that finds itself in a downward spiral must stop and review the matter. Churches are no different.

Paul’s letter to our church might sound very much like his letter to the Corinthians. He might want us to stop and review whether or not we are using each other’s strengths in a loving manner. He might want us to resist the urge to establish blame in one way or another. He might want us to look beyond our own doors and find others with skills to keep God’s work moving forward.

In this first letter to Corinth, Paul ends chapter 12 with a key statement: But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

And with that statement he begins the 13th chapter that is known as the love chapter. In the context of the letter, he takes the reader from thinking about each person’s special gifts into how to apply those gifts in the way Jesus Christ demonstrated—through love.

The words are so familiar; yet remember that the lesson Paul is sharing with the Corinthians is about the work of the church:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels. . . . If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

Those words reveal the glue that makes everything work: but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

The words of chapter 13 continue to develop what love really is: patient and kind. And he continues to share that love is not jealous nor boastful nor proud nor rude. Love is not demanding nor makes one irritable. Love wins over all negative attitudes as long as one never gives up loving one another as one wants to be loved themselves.

Our church is no different than so many other churches. We struggle to fulfill God’s commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the reformation of the world. This is no small task. We are a small church, so it is important that we read Paul’s letters and hear the message he shares of how to live in a world filled with evil. And when the job seems overwhelming, then it is critical that we evaluate how we are using our strengths, skills and talents in a loving manner.

A team focuses on the a clearly defined goal, using all the spiritual gifts God provides, and then begins its operation with prayer calling for God’s help in carrying out the job he asks us to do for the transformation of the world. We are God’s team right here in our community and we must lead with love for each other and love for all in our area. If we are going to team for God, we must team with God.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You are all-knowing and loving.

You task us to make disciples of Jesus Christ

In order to transform this world.

 

You provide the leaders, the prophets,

The teachers, the physicians, and the workers

To serve as a team for you.

 

You provide the knowledge and skills

To be a spirit-driven team

fueled with love in your name.

 

Give us the wisdom to discern

What Paul’s ancient words tell us

As we work to team with you.

 

May the words of this prayer

And the work of our hands

Show we team for you, with you.

–Amen

 

Closing: I Corinthians 13:11-13, NLT

     11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[a] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

     13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

GAME DAY: Are you ready?

given on Sunday, August 30, 2015

Game Time: Are you ready?

Scripture lesson: using the NLT

Psalm 72:4-7, 12-14

Help him to defend the poor,
to rescue the children of the needy,
and to crush their oppressors.
May they fear you[a] as long as the sun shines,
as long as the moon remains in the sky.
Yes, forever! . . .

. . . 12He will rescue the poor when they cry to him;
he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
13 He feels pity for the weak and the needy,
and he will rescue them.
14 He will redeem them from oppression and violence,
for their lives are precious to him.

Philippians 4:8-14

   8 . . . Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

   10 How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ,[a] who gives me strength.

James 1:17-21

   17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[a] He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.[b] 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.[c]

   19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger[d] does not produce the righteousness[e] God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

 

 

 

 

Reflection:

Have you noticed that football preseason is wrapping up this weekend and the 2015 season begins next weekend—Labor Day Weekend? Baseball season has a couple more months and the anticipation locally is high that the Royals make it to the final World Series game. Kansas City football and baseball fans are energized.

Are we, as Christians, energized like the sports fans on game day? Do we live our faith like jerseys with our favorite player’s number or the team’s name or logo? When we are in conversation at lunch or on breaks, do we sit around and discuss our faith with the same enthusiasm as we do the various sports news?

Living our Christian faith should be as obvious as our sports loyalty, yet many of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers cannot name what church you attend or even if you attend a church. If no one can identify whether or not we are Christians, then we are failing the team. Each day is game day, are we ready?

Pretend that next Sunday is the opening game of the season. We have reviewed the playbook, talked about different plays, practiced a few key points, and prepared. The pre-season ends Saturday, but the game is Sunday morning.

Paul certainly was a highly visible Jew known as Saul. He was a leader in the persecution of the newest faith team, Christianity. He used the old playbook, knew the laws extremely well, and led others to join in the persecution of the Christians. But God had a different plan for Saul.

An unexplained injury, so to speak, struck Saul. For a few days it was touch and go as to what his future would be, but God is in charge and he changed Saul’s position. His conversion successfully led the Christians to develop into a winning team.

The game plan is so simple—love one another. In fact, the success of that play propelled the church to move from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea on around to the north and the west under Paul’s direction. God’s plan can be repeated in community after community, country on to other countries, even across oceans. Yet, the simple and successful play has hit a snag.

The churches are at a plateau. For some reason, Paul’s successful game plan is not working. For about 50-65 years, the stadium—I mean churches–are no longer filled. The fans are worn out and tired from doing everything that does get done, and even their families seem to need a vacation more than an hour or two at church.

Paul clearly understood the challenges of maintaining a church’s growth. His letters are filled with advice and encouragement. He was quick to compliment, but also quick to scold the young church leaders in the efforts to keep their faith and to grow so others may learn the good news.

Over the past few weeks, the worldwide team followed the same advice in the common lectionary as provided the Ephesians. The rule is unchanging: love one another. The opponents are no different. The difference is the world itself. The cultures are so focused on business and technology and on international politics that the churches are no longer the first priority.

The Bible is our playbook, and the leaders’ stories provide the historical experience and timeless examples of how Christians can live in a complicated life using the simplest rule possible. The formula is fool proof so why are the churches failing?

Beginning today, reaffirm your commitment to God. As part of the game plan, check the Bible. The use of the three scripture readings today detail the very behaviors needed to keep each one of us healthy Christians:

  • Psalms 72—Help defend the poor, rescue the children, and crush oppressors. Even the faithful Jews knew these rules in ancient times.
  • Philippians 4—Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable. Praise. Practice. And then Paul adds a very personal statement:

11 . . . for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

 

  • James 1—Get rid of filth and evil. Accept the word God planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

 

Following the lectionary is one major practice that keeps each Christian player focused and prepared for all life dishes out.

Reading scripture is critical yet so easy to overlook.   Worship services can highlight scripture like coaches do when they tell players to go back to the game book, but fewer and fewer people are attending. As part of our covenant with God, we need to be inviting and encouraging others to attend church. Are we asking family, friends and co-workers to join us in our churches?

Worship is something like a game practice session or even a huddle before lining up on the field. It gives us an opportunity to review, to praise another player, and to ask questions. Worship interrupts the week and reminds us to stay faithful, to refresh our commitment to God, and to rally each other so we are strong enough to handle all the challenges thrown at us during the week.

And, each day practice. Be conscious of how you are living your faith. Read a daily devotional. Maybe read a piece of the lectionary or a small devotional book like The Upper Room, Guidepost, or Daily Word. When you check your emails, maybe you find a daily scripture you have signed up to receive. Another way is to listen to Christian music like on K-Love, your personal playlist or CD’s. Pick up a hymnal and read through one of the hymns. Practice. Practice.   Practice.

Game day is every day. Make sure you are ready. Over the week, practice, then when the opportunity to invite others to join the team, you are ready to win one for God.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

We know the rule.

We have the game book.

We listen to the coaches.

Help us to stay in the game.

Guide us in our practice.

Praise us when we do well.

Strengthen us when we tire.

Scold us when we make mistakes.

As your team player,

We strive to do our best.

We promise to practice.

We thank you for your gifts

We thank you for the coaches.

We thank you for playing time.

We thank you for the joy of winning

Life eternal now and forever. –Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Early Christians adapted: Can today’s

given on Sunday, May 3, 2015:

Fads come and go: a new look, a new food, a new toy, a new technique, a new design, or a new hobby. As much as we do not want to admit it, we all go through the experience of trying out a fad. Looking at the big picture of our lives, the fads usually do not damage our lives, so we tend to shrug our shoulders and look past different fads.

One of the more recent fads that might baffle some of us is the trend of wearing two different colored socks—one on one foot and the other color on the opposite foot. When I first started seeing it, I would quietly go up to a student and mention it and ask if they had a difficult morning. They all thought I was nuts.

The origin of fashion fads may not be very clear, but some fads do have a base in a scientific study or an observation that became noteworthy and thus publicized as the newest way to improve or to do something. I wonder if the earliest Christians were perceived as a fad.

Consider this: the Jewish people were well entrenched in their way of life. The structure for the week had worked as well as anything else for them. The successful businessmen would not need to see anything change because it might upset the profitable work they had created.

Everybody knew what was expected of him or her. Men ran the business or the farm. Women had to maintain the house; kids even understood they had a role in the culture, and the rhythm of life preserved the standards they knew.

Oddly the Jewish culture was centered on the faith that waited for a new leader. The leaders of that faith kept the story well taught, but when Jesus was born and grew into the adult minister that our generation now identifies as the leader, the Jewish culture could not accept it as anything more than a fad.

Today is a first Sunday of the month, and we celebrate communion. We certainly do not see this ritual as a fad, but did the ancient Jewish families just see it as a fad or did they quickly embrace the practice as evidence of their commitment to God?

Have you ever wondered if you would have said Christianity was just a fad and ignored it; or would you have joined the movement committed to its mission?

As the weeks after the crucifixion continued, the earliest believers dealt with an enormous set of challenges. First, the leader was gone after only three years of ministry. Who, if anybody, would take over?

Then, if Jesus was executed, was it even safe to be Christian? How would they live what they believed if they feared for their lives? Do they hide? Do they run away from their homes? Do they think that it was just a fad and return to the old ways?

Today’s scripture gives us insight into the transition early followers made into a new Christian lifestyle. First, some did return to the old ways of the Jewish faith. Some gave up all their possessions and joined into communal living arrangements, many located on the northern coast of Africa.   These newest Christians were expecting the second coming of Jesus any moment. And then there were others who openly lived the new beliefs regardless of their future.

For those who continued openly living their beliefs, Christianity was no fad. The old ways were re-evaluated under the lessons Jesus taught. The new leaders were Jesus’ handpicked and trained disciples. They did not run away and hide, they began the work Jesus commissioned them after Jesus’ resurrection:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The earliest Christians quickly had to adapt to the change they had witnessed. The work started and the ‘fad’ of Christianity became a solid faith system that has transformed the world.

The earliest Christians had to face persecution, to demonstrate God’s new covenant: Love one another. The crucifixion could not shut down the simplicity of living the Christian lifestyle. The results were fruitful and the ‘fad’ was no longer just the latest crazy idea.

The love that is defined in today’s scripture from 1 John 4 and even included in the gospel of John so dramatically changed the faith practices that it made a difference to every culture. Loving one another supersedes all other laws. It is adaptable to all cultures. It can be flexible and it can tackle enormous disasters or the smallest of paper cuts.

These qualities have caused the earliest Christians to spread the word about how much God loves us, and how that love is demonstrated in all the different ways we love one another. Christianity has never been a fad, and the adaptability has made it grow exponentially around the earth.

Today, we are locked into a routine that has boxed us in as Christians much less as a Christian community.   The small rural churches are struggling to meet the ever-changing culture around them. Are we able to adapt God’s law to the daily world in which we live today?

Are we able to be honest about the changes in the community? Are we able to identify the needs within the community? Are we clear about what the church is doing or can do or should be doing to demonstrate love in action? Are we able to share the story in ways that all neighbors young and old can understand?

The scripture in 1 John 4 is very clear:

  • 7“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another; for love comes from God.
  • 10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
  • 12God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 13And God has given us his spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.
  • 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

This is the foundation for the Christian faith. No matter what rules or organizational structure is placed upon a church or a denomination, God’s gift of love as demonstrated through the life and death and resurrection of his son. Are we satisfied to leave the story just like that or are we going to do whatever we can to share the story but maybe more importantly show God’s love?

The scripture from 1 John 4 continues with a few more clear directives:

  • 19We love each other because he loved us first.
  • 20 . . . if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?

The truth about what we are doing can be painful and it can make us feel as though we are guilty of not fulfilling our promise to God. Christianity was no fad, and the thousands of years since the crucifixion the church has continued to adapt to the cultural changes.

Regrettably, I am afraid that many of the suggested changes for today’s churches are being ignored as though they are just a fad. We must evaluate what the church is doing, what it represents, and then design the best practices the church can do to keep Christianity meeting the needs of the community right now in 2015 and into the future, not the past.

As May scurries past us, we need to equip ourselves for making disciples of Christ. Can this church adapt to the culture around it in order to share God’s love?

The gospel of John 15 explains the proper way to prune a grapevine in order to provide the best fruit. We have heard that message year after year, but are we being honest about how strong our vine is here? That fourth verse spells it out:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The needs of the community provides for the direction of the church’s ministry. The outreach of the church is our personal responsibility. This month is one to evaluate and to plan for a new year. We must remember the eighth verse, too: When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

We are tasked to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world and we know this world has many needs. The Christian faith was no fad, but it takes adaptability in order to continue the work God assigned to each and every one of us.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for the gift of your son

And even the meaningful ritual of communion.

At these times, may we reflect that love

Right here in our community

So others may come to know your love, too.

Guide us in looking for ways to share the word.

Guide us in working together to help others.

Guide us in the decisions as to what is best

For the community and for the church

As we work to adapt in ways to share your love.

May all that we do show others the love

That transpires all struggles in our lives. –Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Time to Remodel

given on Sunday, February 15, 2015

[This sermon was given after a series on “Building Ones Christian Foundation” and focused on hymns we sing and are now beginning to add to our services.  At the end of the sermon is a list of the hymns we used during the service.]

Driving through any community, one notices how the houses in one area seem to match those around it. Go a few more blocks away, and the designs of the houses and the yards tend to tell their own age. We can even look at our personal house history and realize how the style of our homes seem to reflect the different times in our own lives. And we all seem to reach a time when we are so comfortable that we do not think it is necessary to do any more on our homes. They are the way we like it and we are too tired to do anything about it anyway.

Sometimes remodeling becomes necessary because a problem develops that must be addressed. Possibly the foundation has developed cracks that water seeps into the basement. Maybe the window frames are rotting out. A major appliance breaks down and with a deep sign we resign ourselves to replacing it. A good home must be maintained and a home that retains value must show that it is being maintained despite the age it is.

Our churches, too, say the same thing not only to those attending, but to those who are not attending. We are commissioned to share the message and to make new Christians. Naturally the best way is a one-on-one conversation with another individual when you can see that lost look in the eyes and the droop of the shoulders as life beats a person down.

Serving as God’s arms and legs does mean serving as God’s ears, too. Meeting someone who struggles with life and/or has no purpose in life should trigger an immediate trigger to act in God’s behalf. Stepping up to that person and offering them a shoulder or some other form of grace is the first step, but the next step is to invite them to join you in church.

Today’s culture is filled with warnings about reaching out to strangers and inviting them to join you in one fashion or another. As parents we start telling the kids of “stranger danger” tactics and model it by not picking up hitchhikers or bringing strangers into our homes for a meal. The culture has made it very difficult to find ways to invite others into our lives and that is one reason the church is struggling, too.

The culture in which Jesus was born and in which Paul began his missionary work was filled with dangers, too. Yet, the people of faith did attend synagogue, they did invite visitors into their homes for a meal, they were able to share the message of how God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that we may have eternal life (John 3:16 from memory).

Why, then, are churches and its members having so much trouble inviting others to join them? Look at the culture:

  • How do our students learn any more?
  • How do we decide which restaurant to go to?
  • How do we select the houses we want to purchase?
  • How do we choose our cars?
  • How do we determine which outfit to put on each morning?

 

The answers are probably closely related to the images we see on the televisions, in the store windows, and in the magazines we read. Businesses spend big dollars (bucks) on how to catch the buyers’ attention, and they are successful.

When an appeal begins to fail, what happens? A new approach is created, a new look, and a new set of campaigns are created and the market begins to move once again. Another words, even businesses know when it is time to remodel. Are we, as Christian disciples, able to remodel, too?

Today’s churches are changing. The newest church structures may not look anything like the traditional church that began being built even in the ancient days. The Jewish tabernacle no longer needed to have the Holy of Holy placed behind a screen/curtain to which only the high priest could have access. As the Roman Catholic Church began building cathedrals, the structures turned into dramatic art works still worthy of preservation.

During the Reformation, the Protestant Churches began stepping away from the majestic cathedral structures. John Wesley, brought up in the Church of England’s style of cathedral, soon felt a building was not even necessary meeting with people even at the coal mines. He established classes or societies that focused on the works of piety and mercy. The church design met the needs of those meetings. The church is the people, not the structure.

After weeks looking at our Christian foundations, the next step is to determine if this church or The Church needs to remodel. Certainly, there are two or three different ways to consider that question. First, is the building’s condition safe and functional; then does the church have eye appeal or does it turn others away in one method or another?

Jesus took the church to the people. He walked along the paths and met them where they were. Do we do that? He used the side of the mountain or hill to talk with the followers? Do we go outside of the church’s door? Paul certainly stepped out of the temple, he traveled hundreds of miles even crossing the boundaries from one culture to the next. Do we?

There are ways to answer those questions affirmatively, but in many cases the negative answers have filled conversations for well over 50 years. The shifting in the culture has not created a shift in most churches since World War II. The churches, whether inside or outside, are in need of remodeling.

Today, we have shared the hymns found in our copies of the United Methodist Hymnal, (copyrighted 1989). But even in my lifetime, now 60 years, I have seen the updates in the hymnal three times before these being used here in this sanctuary. The hymns we have sung today show three different ‘remodels:’

  1. The earliest, written in 1826, is “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and echoes our communion liturgy.
  2. “They Word Is a Lamp” was written by Amy Grant in 1984. This is one of the most contemporary hymns that were selected for the 1989 hymnal we currently use. Most of my generation learned this from the radio broadcasts.
  3. Another hymn now included in this hymnal is “Lord, I Want to be a Christian.” My first recollection of this was through UMPYF, the youth group I attended when we would sing it on camp outs and at meetings. I was surprised to learn that it is adapted from an Afro-American spiritual but adapted to the music now printed in the hymnal in 1986—well after my high school youth group.
  4. The gospel hymn, “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” shows a shift in the culture along history’s timeline. It developed from the slaves’ gospel as they secretly worshiped and even sang their hymns working in the fields. The music for the current version was adapted in 1986, but I know that I was singing this long before then and it has been included in at least three United Methodist Hymnals I have used.

 

John and Charles Wesley are credited with creating a remodeled church during their lifetimes over 400 years ago. The United Methodist Church has continued revising how it uses music.

The appeal of music is evident in our culture, but we also have to acknowledge that the style of music changes constantly. Those brought up in the church hear comfort in the music they heard as kids. But the music for those who are just learning about God has incorporated the types of music the contemporary generations hear on their radios—excuse me, electronic devises.

Music is only one method of sharing God’s word. We have been listening to new hymns today, and we have heard different translations of the Bible over these past several years. The remodeling is just beginning; but if we can continue to remodel successfully, we will share the message with new generations. We will see how strong, Christian foundations can be remodeled to meet the dangers in today’s culture and the years to come.

Closing prayer:

Dear God of All Ages,

Thank you for all the talents of Christians

Who have shared the message in so many ways.

Thank you for the durability of your message

To love one another as we want to be loved.

Thank you for the freedom to find ways

To reach all your children any way possible.

Guide us to make the best choices to share your Word.

Guide us to allow for change even if we make mistakes.

Guide us to work together despite our differences.

May our efforts to remodel for today

Take your word to all those outside our walls

So they may experience your love and grace. –Amen

Hymns & scripture:

Reading the hymn’s scripture:

Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—
the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”

Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), 10 the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

11 “You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
and they exist because you created what you pleased.”

*Hymn 64: Holy, Holy, Holy (Rev. 48-11)

Today’s new hymn: Because He Lives (Amen)” (performed by Matt Maher)

Hymn 402: Lord, I Want to be a Christian (no scriptural reference)

*Hymn 601: Thy Word Is a Lamp (Ps. 119:105)

Reading the hymn’s scripture:

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
and a light for my path.

 Today’s new hymn: Here I Am to Worship (performed by Craig & Dean Phillips)

Reading the hymn’s scripture:

Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” 17 But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

*Hymn 418: We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder (Gen. 28:10-17)

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Building Our Christian Foundation Series: 3. Defining church

given on Sunday, January 25, 2015

Defining church usually seems a textbook issue, but church is a word that takes on several different meanings considering the context of the situation. For instance, this morning we woke up knowing that we were going to have a little breakfast and go to church. In this reference the word means a structure located in a specific place in our community.

Yet as we read in the scriptures, church is not just a building. The scripture challenges us to decide how literal God wants us to read the words or understand the metaphor the writers used. The first foundation of our faith is scripture and we need to remember that the scripture is literature, written in all types of situations and in all types of literary forms.

John Wesley lived well over 300 years ago, and he insisted that all Christians read and study the scripture. This is one of the works of piety and a church can be the setting for that work. Scripture provides an allegorical meaning to church. Certainly a building provides a structure to meet for study and worship, but defining church according to scripture becomes a practical task but adds to the importance of defining church.

Beginning with the question of who is the church, the scripture in Matthew establishes the very first stone, brick, or concrete footing of the church—Jesus. The church when Jesus was growing up was the Jewish tabernacle and was the site of worship each Saturday, which was the Sabbath day for the Jewish.

But as Jesus began his ministry and was calling the Apostles to join him in building the Christian church, the building was not the church–it was the people. The who of the church was Jesus, his apostles, and all the people who began following him, listening to his message and sharing it. The church today is not the building in which we meet, it is the people sitting beside you, in the church next door or in the community. It is all Christian people, not the denomination—not United Methodist only, but also the Baptists, the Catholics, and all the many, many protestant Christians, even the Orthodox Christians.

What is the church then? The church is the people who have accepted Jesus as their savior. The church grows each time a person is baptized and declares his/her belief that Christ lived, Christ died, and Christ lived again so that we might have salvation or eternal life right along his and God’s side.

The ‘what’ of church really is a common belief in the power of God’s love. God created us. God loves us and grants grace to all, even those who do not believe. Since God is love, the church is love. For those who follow the Methodist doctrine, that love is shown by doing all we can for all the people we can in as many different ways as we can so that others may experience God’s love and grace. The church is believers living as Jesus taught through the sacred words of the Bible.

Defining church as those with a common belief in God and his son, does lead to another set of characteristics: when and where. Certainly the common belief is a unifying quality of the church, and that means the questions of when and where is the church can be as simple as saying wherever a professing Christian stands, the church stands.

Yet, the church strengthens as the believers join together to meet for worship, study and fellowship. The when and where of the church becomes a time and a location where the believers meet. In our community we know that there is a church building located at a specific place a few feet or a few miles from us at any one time. The church building we does have designated times for services and various other Christian activities. At times the buildings change, the times change, but the purpose of Christians coming together does not.

The purpose of the church answers why is it important to have a church. Certainly God’s expectation that we worship him is why we have a church building. Even Jesus went to the temple to worship. Attending church is a discipline demonstrated by Jesus and his disciples we follow today.

Wesley asked his followers to attend worship as an act of piety, also. Worship strengthens and renews our resolve to live Christian lives. But worship is also when we join together to thank God for his grace and forgiveness. We share our stories of how God works in our lives and how he blesses us. We join together at church to plan and to do whatever we can for others—believers and non-believers—because we are the church.

How can we be the church? The words of scripture tell us to love one another. The lyrics found in the hymns guide us. The prayers written and shared keep us connected to God. Quiet time by ourselves open us to hear God talk to us.

How to be a church is living the Christian lifestyle. A church building is built with that purpose in mind. The church identifies what it can do in a community and uses the building to reach out to others. The doors are opened so others may seek answers in their lives. The people inside are there to welcome others so they may experience the greatest love ever, the love of God. The Church’s space is God’s space. It provides sanctuary to the weary. It serves as a holy place for worship, for baptisms, for weddings, and for funerals.

The challenge in defining church is being the church. Paul, the missionary, knew that church was the people, but he also pushed the boundaries of the church to reach beyond those miles Jesus traveled. He walked and walked, he sat in foreign prisons, he wrote letters, he took ships, and he witnessed how the church carried God’s love to others.

In Luke’s writing, Acts 20:28, the instructions are clear:

 

28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood[a]—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.[b]

 

We are the church right here in our communities. The who, what, when, where, why and how of church is only answered by who we are and what we do. We are the church; we are the ones who show others God’s love and grace. We define church by defining ourselves as Christians. God asks us to be the church and we are. We build our church by building our own foundation as Christians right here, right now.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father, founder of our church,

Lead us in building our Christian foundation

So we may continue building your church

Guide the church in helping one another.

May we do all we can to grow in faith,

To thank you for all your blessings,

Sharing the Word with others.

Thank you for loving us so much

You gave your son to be the foundation

In our lives and in our church.

Thank you for the leaders like Paul

Who built the church

Reaching around this world. –Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

It’s Fathers Day: Whom are you honoring?

given on Sunday, June 17, 2011–Father’s Day

 

 

It’s Father’s Day:  Whom are you honoring?

 

            The question developed while discussing sermons and Father’s Day at Annual Conference.  I mentioned that I was beginning to see some sermon ideas that I could use and how I needed to set them up on my planning calendar.  Offhandedly I noted that Father’s Day was this weekend so I knew I would wait at least a week before getting started on the list of ideas.

“We don’t do Mother’s Day and Father’s Day sermons,” was the response I received.

I was startled.  How could any church simply ignore such long-held traditions!  How would the congregation feel if the preacher simply overlooked the holiday!

But the explanation and discussion made sense because it shared one more horrible truthes about our 21st century society.  When honoring Father’s Day publically, you are risking triggering major pain in those who . . .

  • do not have a father that they ever knew,
  • do not have a father due to death or divorce or deployment,
  • do not have a father to honor due to abuse or sexual misconduct or imprisonment,
  • do not have a father but a step-father who may or may not provide a parental role in their lives,
  • do not have a father who lived to be the grandfather of one’s children
  • do not have a father who provided time and attention and guidance worthy of honoring.

Who is to decide which individual sitting in the pews is going to feel hurt, anger, jealousy, or envy if the entire service is focused on glorifying all the traits we praise in good parents.  So, some churches simply do not focus on Father’s Day.

And thus sat in the quandary.   In our small congregations, parenting is really grand-parenting or even great-grand-parenting.  A few of us are still working through the process, and some of us are ones without fathers to honor.  Still, if our culture decides to ignore Father’s Day are we guilty of not encouraging such roles.  Are we ignoring those men in our lives who have guided us whether they are blood-related or just a positive influence in our lives.

Today is Father’s Day as noted on the calendar and in the stores all around us.  Yet no one has said we have to honor only one male, blood-kin parent.  Let’s look beyond that definition.

To begin, consider who you do call ‘Father.’  We all have one Father we talk to all the time.  We call him “Our Father, who art in heaven” every time we use the Lord’s Prayer.  We refer to him as our Father in many of the hymns, in our private prayers, and more.  We envision his qualities as those of our parent.  Yet, do we send God a card or buy him a gift.  No.

As Methodists, we often identify John Wesley as the father of our denomination.  We study his historical influence, we read his sermons, we study his expectations for our behaviors, and we sing his and his brother’s hymns.  He has been a father to us and continues to be a major influence in our service-oriented faith.  We work to demonstrate God’s grace to others along the same manner that Wesley did.  Yet, do we do something in his honor or buy him a gift.  No.

Throughout the Annual Conference, we watch and listen to the leaders in our church.   There is the Bishop, who has asked to stay in Missouri for another term.  There are the district superintendents, and there are all the clergy whether ordained or licensed or retired.  And that is not all, the laity is there, too.  The models and the guardians of our church are like our parents.  They are there to make sure we do not stray, that we live our faith honestly, that we are good Methodists—by God’s standards through Wesley’s church.

Whom do we celebrate as our fathers?  I can see a list of them in my own life and I know that each of you have your own list.  This Father’s Day open up the definition from the traditional, biological one to the definition of God, of our faith’s fathers, and our own living role models in our church.

In the process of surfing around the internet, I stumbled onto the image of Monk Bryan.  He was a bishop who was a pastor in one of the churches I attended in college.  He is also the grandfather of another pastor I had while attending First Church in Warrensburg.

I read through one of his obituaries.  Did you know he was one of seven generations of Methodist ministers?  He was a father in our church’s lineage and worthy of recognition.  I googled him and the second listing was from a familiar blog, Enter the Rainbow.  Rev. Andy Bryan, his grandson, wrote about his grandfather:

My relationship with my grandfather as a member of his family is nearly indistinguishable from my relationship with him as a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  That says more about him than it does about me.

Nobody loved the church more than Daddy Monk, and nobody since the Wesley brothers has been more Methodist than he was.  John Wesley’s “The Character of a Methodist” reads like a biography of Monk Bryan.

“He is therefore happy in God, yea, always happy . . . He cannot but rejoice.”

Andy goes on to outline the memories and the behaviors his grandfather practiced.  He lived the eight practices outlined by Wesley.  Consider his morning devotion:

Every morning, Daddy Monk did the Upper Room devotion with my Nana, then with Twila (his second wife during his widower stage of life), and always including anyone who was a guest and joined them for breakfast.  Reading the devotion’s title, the scripture passage, the devotion itself, and then the prayer was only half of the morning devotion time, though.  After the Upper Room was done, he got out his hymnal and found the bookmark he had left in it the previous morning.  Opening to the hymn, he would read (or invite someone else to) the hymn title and author, tune name and composer, along with the dates of both.  And then we would read the hymn aloud.

Andy referenced this practice with another quote from Wesley’s “The Character of a Methodist”:

“. . .his heart is ever lifted up to God, at all times and in all places.  In this he is never hindered, much less interrupted, by any person or thing.  In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord.  Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually, having the loving eye of his mind still fixed upon him and everywhere ’seeing Him that is invisible.’”

The blog continues and anybody reading it can see the value that Andy placed in his grandfather’s leadership as a Christian, a Methodist Christian.  Every personal connection was a direct connection to Wesley and therefore to God.

Here it is Father’s Day and I know that even Monk Bryan and Andy Bryan are two individuals to honor.  We have no reason to ignore Father’s Day; we just have to identify our personal fathers.

My dad lives day-by-day waiting to join God and all his faithful, but I cannot share the day like so many do.  I can’t take him to a ballgame or go fishing or even eat a dinner out.  Yet my dad is one of the special people who have demonstrated faith to me and to so many others.  Honoring our fathers includes honoring the fathers of our very own faith whether living or not, whether related or not.  This Father’s Day is for all those who have helped us in our faith journey.

Dear God, our heavenly Father,

Thank you for your grace, your love, and your words.

Help us to see those who have modeled them for us.

Let us strive to be fathers and mothers for others in need.

Help us to keep the lessons taught us by the generations

so we may see this world through your eyes.

Let us shine as a guiding light to others, too.

Help us to serve one another so others may learn of your love.

Let fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and enemies

find the value of loving one another despite their differences.

Thank you for letting us count so many fathers in our lives

who help us develop a faith to join in your own eternal home.

–Amen.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion