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Fresh Expressions means church anywhere, any time: Live faith out loud to make disciples of Christ anywhere, any time, any way you can.

Yesterday I participated in a webinar that featured Rev. Luke Edwards from Kings Church in Boone County, North Carolina.  Wow!


My brain has thought of so many possible ways to have church, and I have talked about my ideas with others in the church.  But I am a cradle Methodist.


Cradle Methodists are born into the church via their parents, and have attended a Methodist church throughout their life.  I am a product of that.  But I am also a product of John Wesley.


The mantra that runs through my head, through my work, through my faith is the classic Wesley quote:


Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

Rev. Edwards is Methodist. Listening to his talk about Fresh Expressions, how it is implemented, and how it functions echoes that basic Wesleyan thinking.


The key to bringing others to Christ is relationshipswhich Wesley knew.


Being raised Methodist, I was also raised to be quiet about my faith.  Now that seems counterintuitive doesn’t it?  But being raised during the 1950’s through the 1960’s and graduating from high school in 1972, one’s faith was simply one’s business.


Still being quiet about one’s faith does not mean I did not rely on my faith.  Our life centered on the farm, much less our farm was surrounded by cousins living on small family farms.  We all were Methodists and no one argued about going to church on Sunday morning. We lived faith.  Every meal began with a table grace.  We knew to pray.


Fresh Expressionsis a movement and going to the website for the United States, one finds this explanation:


     A Fresh Expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of those who are not yet part of any church.

     Fresh Expressions is an international movement of missionary disciples cultivating new kinds of church alongside existing congregations to more effectively engage our growing post-Christian society.

     Beginning in 2004 as an initiative of the Church of England and the British Methodist Church, the movement has resulted in the birth of thousands of new communities in the UK alone and brought renewal to scores of established churches. The movement has spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Germany. In 2010, the movement began taking shape in the US through the vision and generosity of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and a growing number of partners committed to a new era of missional ecumenism, a unity around the mission of God the Father through the resurrected Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. [Accessed on October 17, 2018 at https://freshexpressionsus.org/about/%5D


Rev. Edwards is passionate about the movement and openly explains that his work is Methodist.  I believe Wesley must be doing handsprings for this movement.


The problem:  I have lived my life as a quiet Methodists, not someone who goes around openly sharing about my faith whenever I run into others. But I should.  I have to some extent for those who know me and that I have been trained as a licensed local pastor or who may know me personally. But I am so accustomed to and comfortable being a quiet Methodist, that I do not automatically testify about my faith.


I know, that is almost diametrically opposite of my professional life:  trained journalist, English teacher, and pastor.  I am good at talking/writing so why shouldn’t I be able to share openly about my faith.


Step in the internet. I am learning to do better.  I do believe that we should live our faith “out loud.”  And over the past ten years, I have.


Serving in the pulpit forces one to be open about one’s faith, but that does not mean we are comfortable outside the church walls.  I am learning, and working to do better and the internet allows me a vehicle to live my faith out loud.  Now I see that Fresh Expressionshas the potential to be a second vehicle.


Rev. Edwards referenced Jesus’ style of ministry:  outdoors, walking with others, talking with others, sharing with others, teaching others about God.  He was establishing relationships: Fresh Expressions encourages that.


We are tasked as Christians, regardless of denomination, to make disciples of Christ.  We are to love God and love one another, as we want to be loved.


Those are foundational principles to being Christian.  Being Methodist, Wesley’s definition of being a servant is foundational, too.  Whether we are quiet Christians or loud Christians, we must do whatever we can to develop positive relationships with people in all types of settings.


I cannot predict what my spiritual journey will move into yet, but I have ideas that I want to work through in an effort to share the value of God in our lives.  Whatever task I am called to do, though, hinges on Jesus’ commandments and his commission.


Today, I am opening up my quiet Christian, Methodist mind to the ideas that Rev. Edwards shared about Fresh Expressions.  I am looking around my community and wondering where and with whom can I be out loud about my faith.


Maybe it is through the internet.

Maybe it is simply through written words.

Maybe it will be back in a traditional church.

Maybe it will be at the local library, restaurant, or beauty shop.


Whatever God calls me to do, I pray I hear him clearly and answer that call to the best of my ability. I may be quiet, yet I still am willing to learn to live my faith out loud.


Please join me in prayer:


Dear loving Father,

I know it is so easy to be quiet,

     But all Christians are called to be loud.

I know your call to serve is private,

     But be loud enough for me to hear and follow.

I know there are those who are quiet

     But are seeking answers how to find joy in life.

I know there are leaders who are breaking out

     And I pray that their Fresh Expressionof faith

     Makes new disciples of Christ,

     Filling their lives with joy and hope.

Make me an out loud Christian who joins

     In any movement, any venue, any effort

     That brings the lost to discover Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

given on Sunday, February 26, 2017–final sermon in series based on Ephesians

Scripture connection: Ephesians 4:17-31 (NLT)

Living as Children of Light

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

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

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

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

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

Ephesians 5:6-15 (NLT)

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Living by the Spirit’s Power

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.

Reflection: In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

Paul’s ancient world may seem awfully small compared to today’s world in which communication happens in an instant and one can travel from one side of the globe to the other side in a matter of hours.  Personal relationships could be kept private as the only means of ‘seeing’ the relationship was face-to-face since there were no myriads of cameras or a social media platform to share scuttlebutt instantly. Yet, when Paul began his missionary work, he traveled to share the good news.

Travel was a tedious process and in Paul’s case, he stopped in communities to work as he carried the Word to new communities. No mass media was available, so his very person had to be the witness to a new way of life, the Christian way. Paul’s very life had to be a visible testimony to living a Christian lifestyle.

The scripture from Ephesians talks about the earliest Christians were to live in the ‘light of the Lord’ (Eph 5:8). Literature offers a multitude of analogies that use ‘light’ as goodness, purity, cleanliness among other positive images. The significant meaning even of theatrical costumes pits good versus evil, light versus darkness, the white hat versus the black hat. The cinematographers carefully manipulate light in the scenes to identify the good versus evil themes in the stories. And music aficionados can identify tones that are light versus dark, good versus evil. Paul’s use of light means to live the Christian lifestyle with God at the center.

How does one know what that lifestyle is? Paul outlines the very behaviors God expects from his faithful. They are itemized in the scripture:

  • Eph 4:24—stop telling lies,
  • Eph 4:26—don’t let anger control you.
  • Eph 4:28—quit stealing, do good hard work, give generously,
  • Eph 4:29—don’t use foul or abusive language; be good and helpful; and offer words of encouragement, and
  • Eph 4:31—get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil.

The list applies today as much as it applied during Paul’s lifetime. The same problems and/or evil behaviors continue to thrive in our world now.

Paul’s letter was meant to encourage the young congregation to maintain the very behaviors Jesus had modeled and taught during his lifetime. The list of behaviors changes a bit in the next chapter, but again it is a clear that following God’s commandment binds all believers into one unified church. The letter continues:

  • Eph 5:6—don’t be fooled by those who try to make excuses for sin,
  • Eph 5:7—don’t participate in things sinful people do,
  • Eph 5:8—live as people of light.
  • Eph 5:11—expose evil deed, nor
  • Eph 5:12—do not even talk about the evil deeds.

Living a God-centered, Christ-centered life places one in the light. Following God’s one commandment in all relationships in our lives placed a spotlight on the evil in the world around us, too. Just take a few moments and think about the TV shows, the movies, and even the books that we read for pleasure. The fiction stories are filled with good versus evil; then place yourself into those stories and ask whether you are living in the light or living in the darkness.

Step away from the fiction, now, and look at the news reports and all the social media feeds that we see crossing our screens. Can you spot the darkness? The evil in the world fills our lives in so many different ways, but follow God’s ways to keep the light in your life and in the life of others who surround you—whether in person or in cyberspace. Let God’s light shine in all that you do and say.

In the scriptures from last week, we discussed how to keep God’s lifestyle central in our private relationships—those with our spouses and children, those of children to their parents. Living in the light keeps our relationships healthy. The same rule applies to relationships in all facets of our lives.

One relationship that can challenge a Christian is that found in the work place. Yet, living one’s faith on the job is another means of testifying for God. Treating the fellow worker, the customer and the boss as you want to be treated develops more positive work experiences even work environments. When others are bad mouthing the boss, another worker, or the customer, the setting becomes cancerous. When the work forces one into a position that challenges beliefs, then the resulting conflict sickens the soul and can lead to health problems. What does one do in such cases?

No easy answer, but God wants us to be the light in the world. Stop joining in on idol conversations that promote negative attitudes. Do your best to ask others to stop, too. If the job places you into an ethical dilemma, which does happen, the choice is more complicated.

The job is income and meets the need of the family. The job uses your training and natural gifts. Yet even if you like the work and do it well, if the boss asks you to do something unethical you are then asked to go against your standards, your Christian beliefs. The conflict that develops makes it difficult to live in God’s light much less to shine as his light.

I confronted this issue within a year after leaving college with a journalism degree. My goal in life to save the world as a journalist ran into the issue of right and wrong. In journalism, the circulation sets the value of advertising. Circulation is reported to a national database that determines that cost. Self-reporting is done with an affidavit that the figures are accurate. The publisher told me to sign the figures. I knew the figures were inflated and it forced me to make a decision—I quit. I signed it, yes; but I quit and went back to college to get a teaching certificate. I had to make a life changing decision, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

These decisions reflect who we are as Christians. No one wants to be forced into a decision that risks one’s livelihood or forces a change that could be financially devastating. Being trained in one job and then looking for a new job does not always mean the transition is smooth or that you may have to be retrained. Yet, God has give us the instructions on how to live our lives. He sent Jesus to show us, and then Paul tells us in his letters, too.

Our relationships in this world develop the community in which we live. We are not challenged in our country to live a secret life nor are we persecuted for living a Christian life. Our lives are defined by our decisions even in our civic responsibility to vote. As a voter, we create a relationship with elected officials. The election’s outcome, any election, reflects the belief system of the populace. If we vote using God’s viewpoint, we continue to maintain our personal principles. If the outcome does not match what our vote, then we must align ourselves with that decision. That does not mean that we give up our Christian principles, instead the election may place us in a position to be more vocal or active in demonstrating the Christian principles we live.

Living a Christian lifestyle does not simplify our lives in the secular world, but God knows our positions. He does not task us in a way that we cannot manage. He is beside us as we confront the conflicts in our life. He gives us the strength needed to stand firm in our relationships. He provides us the gifts to use and the words to share to make our relationships into beacons of light for others, too.

This February we may face the darkness even in the bright sunshine. The darkness makes us unsettled and causes us to feel heavy as we watch the latest news reports and hear the latest talk in town. Where is the light? The light is our responsibility. Paul tells the Ephesians and us that we are to live as ‘Children of the Light.’

As God’s faithful today, we have as much responsibility of sharing the good news/God’s message as any of the ancient disciples did. There is no excuse for us to act as though we do not know God. There is no excuse for us to casually ignore the evil around us. There is no excuse for us to be passive in a world where evil is aggressive.

Take up God’s commission to share the Word and to make disciples of Christ, but also stand up to evil. If others are sharing dark messages on Facebook, then do not share them. In fact, hit that button and remove them from your own feed. Make a comment on postings that you find offensive so others may see God’s light in your life. Post some positive words so others might see God’s light in them.

As you watch and/or listen to the latest news, use prayer. Do not whine and complain. Do not let the ‘fake’ news pass on to others through words spoken as though you agree. Instead, listen with God’s ears. Is there another viewpoint to consider despite the words presented? Could there be a positive to the report that is being overlooked? Do you need to speak out? Maybe you need to contact your representative or other elected official. Maybe you need to write a letter to the editor. Maybe you need to research an answer on your own, easier to do with the internet offering so many options or a library close to our homes.

Being God’s light is not easy. There is no quick fix to the problems that evil causes. But, in our world, we have a responsibility to live as beacons for God. We must say no to evil in any way that we can at all the times that we can in any way that we can. We must do good in any way that we can in all the ways that we can at any time that we can.

Paul reminded the Ephesians that all who believe in God and who accept Jesus Christ as their savior are also baptized by the Holy Spirit to serve as God’s light in this world. You may not think you can do anything, but the Holy Spirit is alive within you and you can do something. You are a beacon and the light shines in the life you live—as long as you reflect God’s love.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or we can rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.” I chose to see thorn bushes have roses, just like I see the glass as half full not half empty. I chose to see good whenever I can, too. I chose to follow God and pray that he guides me in all relationships to be the light in the darkness for others to see his love.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,


Paul’s letter serves as a beacon of light

in a world darkened by evil.

Guide us in using our own words

to serve as rays of light around us.

Paul’s words encourage us

to strengthen our relationships.

Guide us to see our relationships

in your light and to love one another.


Today we hear you speak

in the words of scripture and hymn.

Fill our hearts with love for one another

so our world shines brightly.

Give us the words to build up relationships

that will enrich our lives, our world.

Armor us so we resist evil influences

and lead others to your light. –Amen.

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Paul tells the Ephesians all are one in Christ; same message today

given on Sunday, February 5, 2017  (This will be the first of four in a series based on Ephesians.)


Scripture connections: Ephesians 2:11-22, 4:1-16 (NLT)

Oneness and Peace in Christ

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

A Temple for the Lord

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 4:1-16 (NLT)

Unity in the Body

4 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all, and living through all.

However, he has given each one of us a special gift[a] through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say,

“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]

Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world.[c] 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.



“Life isn’t fair.” Just three words, but how many times have we heard that or even used them as we listen to someone talk about how tough things are. I certainly do not like hearing them thrown at me. In fact I dislike them so much that I try very hard never to use them, especially if someone is telling me how difficult life is for them.

How, then, does a person listen to a friend or a family member when they are complaining or whining about how tough life is for them? For me, I listen, but then I hear God. From the pages of Genesis right through to Revelations, God listens to the complaints of even the most faithful; but he never tells them life isn’t fair, instead he challenges them to love one another.

Granted that is an oversimplification of God’s instructions, but here it is February and our society is flooded with images of hearts, flowers, candy, and love. Just do a search on special events for the month, weeks, and days in February. Suddenly this short month is crowded with reasons to demonstrate love or at least pay attention to life challenges, different groups or organizations, even sweet potatoes—yes, February is Sweet Potato Month, along with November.

Life may seem terribly unfair, but God puts us into a powerful role when he authorized us to love one another, as we want to be loved. Currently our society is bristling over decisions that appear to pit those who have versus those who have not. Forgotten is the fact that the system that placed us in this dilemma is designed to be fair and equitable. If today’s Christians dropped all the whining and complaining and listened to God, I am convinced that the negatives would be smothered by the positives.

God created a world wanting a relationship with us. He did not create a world that was purposefully filled with conflict; we created the conflict. In Ephesians, Paul tells the congregation in Ephesus that living a God-centered life is key to a healthy relationship with God, true; so using the same approach to all relationships can remove the life-isn’t-fair mindset. Living a God-centered life is exactly what our society wants if February’s labels are any clue.

Today our society seems to be screaming, “life isn’t fair” as one decision is made after another. Our culture may compare closely to the one in ancient Ephesus. The city was a leading center of trade. The influences that created it’s profile came from all corners of the world as ships docked in the port and trade routes went inward to land-locked regions. Paul spent three years in Ephesus working to establish the church soundly as a Christian community in the midst of the diverse culture.

Paul’s letter, written while imprisoned, served as a love letter to the congregation. Filled with good wishes, the letter also provides advice how to love on another whether in one’s own home or whether at work or just in the community. Life might not seem fair, but following God’s commandment gives Christians no excuse for complaining. Rather, Christians are challenged to act. The ancient Biblical literature works just as well today.

The complex culture in which we live today developed just like it did in Ephesus.   People all over the world chose to come to North America to establish homes and businesses. The United States evolved from those Atlantic communities, and the history books are full of the challenges. The history is really no different than the history of the ancient world shared in the Bible. Therefore, Paul’s letter is just as appropriate for us in our community this February 2017.

Paul tells us, as he did the Ephesians, that no matter whether you were Jewish or Gentile—a believer or a non-believer—once you accept Jesus as your savior, you are all equal. No matter what your physical makeup, financial status or cultural heritage, as a Christian we are all one. Life is fair when we acknowledge that we are all one in Christ:

12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

Knowing that each one of us sitting in this sanctuary today believes in Christ’s salvation makes us equal. And when we look past our differences and work together as one, the power of the Holy Spirit takes over.

Paul tells the Ephesians how the Holy Spirit works through the church that is unified as one in Christ:

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Each Christian has gifts that God uses. Our task is to stay focused on God’s commandment to love one another right now in February 2017, the heart month, to build relationships that are God-centered.

Invite others, who still see life as unfair, to know God as we know God. We know God through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We know God because we know Jesus as his son sent to take our sins away. We know God because he baptized us with the Holy Spirit that powers our ability to love one another, as we want to be loved.

Life may not be fair, but when we accept God into our life and live by his commandment; life is good. Looking at our lives as God looks at our lives, we see the positives and find ways to manage the negatives. This February we open our hearts to God with thanksgiving, but we also open our hearts to those still hurting. Share God’s love so more and more can become one in Christ.

Paul was a prisoner and he had every reason in the world to say life was not fair, but he did not. He chose to continue using all his gifts to share God’s message of love to all he could:

  • He left a powerful position as a Jew to preach to the Gentiles. He saw no difference between the believers and the non-believers; he saw they were all one in God’s eyes.
  • He left his old life and literally stepped out on a new path that led him around the Mediterranean coast, stopping in communities, working, and sharing the good news—God loved them so much that he gave his only son so that their sins were forgiven and they could have eternal life.
  • He was forced to even leave his mission travels because legal authorities confined him, but he still shared the message that all are one in Christ.

And today, Paul’s letters continue to guide us in living as one in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians reminds us even today that life may not be fair, but living as one in Christ makes a difference in the quality of our lives.

Paul gave us a Valentine’s letter that guides us, encourages us, and fills our hearts with love. This February we will celebrate the love of God and review the lessons that Paul shared with the Ephesians. Tough times take some tough words; and God shares them with us to strengthen us and to show us that life is good when filled with God’s love.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,


Thank you for loving us so much

That you sent your son Jesus Christ

To teach us how to love one another

And to save us from a life that is not fair.


Thank you for your missionary Paul

Who learned that all are one in Christ

And stepped out to share the Word

Even when life was not fair to him.


Thank you for the gifts of the Holy Spirit

That equip us with gifts we need

To love one another in our lives

Doing what we can to make life fair.


Guide us in our lives today and tomorrow

To demonstrate love for one another;

To share your love in as many ways we can

So others learn that love erases differences. –Amen.



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The Wonder of a Promise

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 Promise given on Sunday, December 18, 2016:  Week 4 of Advent series

Sharing the Christmas Story: Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT)

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement[a] quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[b] for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[c]
which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Promise by Rob Renfroe

The very sight of a Christmas gift all wrapped up in pretty paper and wrapped in ribbons and bows triggers our curiosity. What is hidden in the box? The mere box suggests a promise of something very special just for you.

Wrapped gifts surround us in the stores, on the cards in the mail, and under the Christmas trees, and all suggest a promise. They also represents a relationship from one person to another, one family to another, one friend to another friend, and even one co-worker to another. The practice of giving gifts reflects the value we place on maintaining relationships with one another.

God wanted a relationship with us so much that he decided to join us in the package of the baby Jesus, born under the light of a star, announced by the angels, and named Immanuel. But, he was not wrapped up as anything special, rather he was wrapped up in swaddling cloth and laid to rest in a manger. What a wonder that God would go to such an effort to be with us, to do all that he could to establish a relationship with us.

Our very creator desires an intimate relationship with us. For generations God worked through the faithful in an effort to deepen the relationship; but then decided to be with us. Rather than waiting any longer, God joined us as the gift of the baby Jesus to demonstrate how to be in an intimate relationship not only with God but also with each other. What a wonder that God’s gift continues to be unwrapped generation after generation, by one people after another.

Have you unwrapped God’s gift to you?

Have you shared God’s gift with others?

The wonder of Christmas is that sharing gifts with one another is one more opportunity to affirm relationships we have with one another. Yet, God asks us to live our lives in such a loving manner that our relationships with each other reflects the behaviors demonstrated by Jesus Christ.

The wonder of Christmas is that God’s love is infinite and available to all people. For those who accept God’s gift, unwrap it, and use it, the transformation is truly wonderful. The gift of a relationship with God evolves into the one true gift that keeps on giving and gives us a new name—Christian. The wonder of the name Christian transforms our lives.

God’s gift of Jesus Christ wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is the promise that God is always with us. It is a promise that establishes a relationship with God that we demonstrate in all the relationships we experience in our own lives. Accepting God’s gift turns us into a gift too.

Opening up God’s Christmas gift comes with instructions how to give that gift to others. We just have to follow God’s instructions on living in relationships with people rather than live as though we are against each other or above each other or simply living among others. As Christians we are to live with each other just like God did as Jesus.

Stop and consider the importance of that one small word ‘with.’ The Old Testament stories tell us how the ancient faithful understood the relationship of God to man. In the Advent study, The Wonder of Christmas, Rob Renfroe explains:

The Old Testament reveals that God’s people ‘believed in God.’ First and foremost, they believed in God above us. When they sinned, they believed in God against us. And when they thought they were doing everything right, they were able to believe in God for us. But they did not believe in God with us—at least not in the ways we need most. Not with us as a mother or father is with a child. Not with us as a person who understands what it is like to be human—a tiny being in a monstrously large universe. Not with us as one who knows what it’s like to give your best and see it do no good, to give your heart only to be rejected, or to cry at night because those you love are hurting and you can’t take their pain away.


Even today we can know those same perceptions. We can understand how the Israelites and even so many today still express those same beliefs that God is above us, against us, and even for us. Yet, God made a promise through the prophet Isaiah:

The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). [NLT]


In that promise, there is that small word with. In the wonder of a name, God promises that in the birth of a baby, God is with us not above, not against, and not simply for us. God promises to be with us.

Unwrapping God’s gift at Christmas we must read the instructions in order to make sure that Isaiah’s prophecy is a reality. We find the instructions in the scripture, especially in the New Testament that records Jesus’ ministry, the teachings, and the modeling of God being with us. The instructions are quite simple: Love one another, as you want to be loved.

First to live in a Christian relationship with God, we must understand the people with whom we live—not only just our own families but in our community.   We cannot be in a positive relationship unless we live with others. We cannot live as though we are above, against or for others. Maybe we do not co-exist in the same circumstances, but as Christians we have the capacity to with others through empathy.

Secondly, remember that we, too, had to accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ. There are times in our lives that we allow something or someone to separate us from our intimate relationship with God. Once we are separated from God, we slip into the mindset that God is above us or against us. We might be able to say that God is for us; but at those times we are separated from God, it may be difficult to even see that. The wonder of God’s promise is God is with us at all times.

Even as Christians, there are times in our lives that we become separated from God: God does not separate from us, but we make decisions that do separate us from God. Remembering our own human stories gives us the compassion to relate to others who have not accepted God’s gift.

The third set of instructions that comes with God’s gift is that we are to care about others. God knew that living with us as Jesus Christ establishes the intimate relationship that creates a bond of trust. Renfroe states:

When we tell people that God is with them and they can trust their lives to Jesus, we are asking them to trust us. Essentially we are telling them that we can show them how to create a different ending to their story. We are saying and promising, “Trust us with your lives; trust us with your stories. We will take you to the One who loves you. Trust us; we will not disappoint you.”

You don’t earn that kind of trust by telling people how badly they have lived or by acting superior. You earn that kind of trust by caring enough about their stories that you want their hopes and dreams to be redeemed. You earn that kind of trust by demonstrating humility and compassion as Jesus did—who was willing to leave the comforts of heaven and be born in a manger, disappointed by friends, rejected by the masses, and crucified on a cross—so that you can make the lives of others better.

. . . What enables people to trust us is our genuine care for their lives and their stories. And most often, what changes people is love. Most people are not argued into the Kingdom, lectured into the Kingdom, or guilted into the Kingdom. Most people are loved into the Kingdom.


The wonder of Christmas is as exciting as all the pretty packages sitting under the tree promising new and wonderful things. As Advent season begins, we experience the hope of God’s promise. Then we get busy in all the preparations and we seek relief from the hustle and bustle of the holiday, and ask for peace in our hearts and in our world. In the third week of Advent, we practice love in all that we do with one another. Each week of Advent we sense the joy of the season as we wait to unwrap God’s ultimate gift—a son to show us how to be in an intimate relationship with one another and ultimately with God forever.

Closing Advent prayer:

Lord Jesus,

Today I stand in awe with a heart full of gratitude at the wonder of your promise to be Immanuel—God with us today, tomorrow, and forever.

You are a God who truly understands our struggles, because you lived in our world and experienced life in the same ways that we do. You have compassion on us, recognizing that we are sheep in need of a tender shepherd.

Help me to have that same compassion for others, reaching out to love them just as you have loved me. With your help, I will seek to “keep” the promise of Christmas—not only this season but all of my days. Amen







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Thanking God for God’s Giving

Sermon for Sunday, November 20, 2016.  (No sermon was published for last week as it was a vacation Sunday.)

Opening scripture: Philippians 4:1, NLT

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters,[a] stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.

Scripture connection: Philippians 4:2-7, NLT

     2 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner,[b] to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.

     4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.[c]

     6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

*Closing scripture: Philippians 4:8-9, NLT

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. 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.


Reflection: Thanking God for God’s Giving


“Thanks for giving” is the commercial’s message. Young children sharing that simple thank you has captured my heart yet I cannot even tell you what the business is that runs the commercial. “Thanks for giving” is part of the Christian lifestyle.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is filled with guidelines for living the God-centered lifestyle. He challenged the members to put aside their differences and to work on maintaining Christ-like relationships in order to remain thankful for all the blessings God provides.

These reminders are as appropriate today as they were when the Philippian church struggled to establish itself and to maintain the very values that Jesus Christ modeled and Paul taught. We must ask ourselves to consider the very same problem: Are we allowing problems with personal relationships to interfere with the work Jesus commissioned us?

This week is filled with traditions, and filled with thanks for all the blessings we have received. The holiday traditions bring families together, provide opportunities to renew memories, and of course, fill our tummies with all those carefully prepared meals that families have cooked for generations. Thanksgiving is designed to thank God for all that has been given to us.

Yet in the midst of all the holiday business, do we offer thanks for the giving? Do we follow Paul’s advice to put aside disagreements, to resolve relationship issues, and to refocus on the joy of God’s giving to us? Are we thanking God for all we have been given?

Paul had heard of the problems between two women who were devoted workers for the church, and he admonished them and the others in the church to resolve the problems in order to keep the church centered on its responsibility to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s words are as applicable today as it was 2,000 years ago. The internal relationships within the church can interfere with the work of the church. Thanksgiving in our church should be a time to thank each other for the blessings that they provide through service to our community—locally and globally. Thanksgiving is part of our Christian lifestyle:

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.


Right now, right here, we must ask ourselves if we are maintaining the very Christ-like relationships that Paul tells the Philippians to do in order to be the Christians God asks us to be. Are we serving as God’s agents? Are we willing to accept one another with grace as God accepts us? Are we able to do whatever we can to serve one another in love? Are we sharing the good news with others?

Part of the Thanksgiving tradition is acknowledging the blessings that we experience. For some, the meal begins with a blessing that thanks God for all that he has provided. The families do give thanks for giving. In some homes, the thanks for God’s blessing are silent.

The commercial’s message, “Thanks for giving,” is a reminder that we are called to share God’s grace with others. Paul even goes on to remind the Philippian church to pray:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.


This Thanksgiving we are called to thank God for the blessings given us. This Thanksgiving we need to pray that the unity of our own church is healed and the work God asks of us is renewed.

Tuesday will mark the 53rd anniversary since the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Every Thanksgiving reminds us of how this country handles challenges, and JFK’s words are ones to guide us as Americans, but also as Christians:

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.


Paul’s words continue to teach us how to live lives that model Jesus Christ. The words “Love one another” is how we give thanks for all the blessings we receive. There is no reason to close minds or doors to one another. Closing minds and doors results in hardening hearts.

Return to Paul’s words to remember how to experience the joy of giving blessings to others. Pray. Pray for the church. Pray for the community, the country, and the world. Pray that we can do all we can in our community to see that God’s love blesses all, not just a select few. Pray that Advent will bring a sense of joy and renewal as we share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to review our blessings, and it is the perfect time to review just what each one of us does:   sharing the story of how God blessed us with the birth of Jesus Christ so that we may do all that we can do to bless others with God’s grace.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and giving God,

Thank you for loving us so much that you sent Jesus Christ

who showed us how to love one another

who had to suffer ridicule, harassment, and death

so we may might receive the ultimate gift of life everlasting.


Thank you for your grace granted without expectations.

Thank you for the gift of forgiveness when we ask.

Thank you for the freedom that comes with loving one another.


This holiday weekend, open our hearts and minds

to how we can provide blessings of your love

to others so they can experience the joy of Christian living.


Thank you for the community that we call home.

Thank you for the families that join us at the table.

Thank you for the blessings we experience daily.


We pray for the healing of relationships.

We pray for the healing of bodies broken with illness.

We pray for the healing of communities worldwide.


Thank you, God, for giving

us your Son, Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit.

May we serve one another in love

as thanks for your gifts. –Amen

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Getting along with God

given on Human Relations Sunday, January 17, 2016:

Scripture base: Psalm 36, esp. v. 5-9, NLT


Get along with God. It sounds so simple, so why don’t we do it. Get along with God! Today is Human Relations Sunday according to the UMC calendar, but nationally it is also the weekend that is designated to honor Martin Luther King’s work in civil rights. Can you imagine what our world would be if everybody simply used “get along with God” as a guiding principle.

Accepting God in our lives and acknowledging that Christ was born, lived and died for us, we accept the responsibility to get along with God. God asks us to use grace each day to maintain loving human relationships, yet we continue to fail.

Each day we depend on God to guide us and to protect us. As Christians, God expects us to guide and to protect one another. God depends on us to be his representative in our communities. If we model God’s grace and unconditional love, we will get along with God as well as make a difference in our own world.

Consider the word ‘depend.’ Mental health practitioners analyze human relationships and see patterns of behaviors that are reactions to how people treat each other. As the world shrinks and boundaries blur, human relationships depend on unconditional love. A breakdown in a relationship can even lead to a diagnosis of codependency:

of or relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way. [Accessed on January 14, 2016 at dictionary.reference.com.]


Sadly codependency becomes a systemic cancer as it leads to repetitive behaviors between generations and also has a magnetic quality as codependents gravitate to one another.

Following God’s law, offering grace and loving one another unconditionally can prevent codependency. Relationships based on the non-judgmental, unconditional love God demonstrated through Christ’s ministry lead to an interdependent peaceful community within one’s own home, neighborhood, country and even globally.

How, then, do we live in a challenging world that seems filled with judgmental, hateful and faithless people? The Golden Rule may be ringing in our ears, but applying it can be difficult. Yet, God has provided the prescription and sent Jesus to demonstrate how to use this perfect form of love. All we need to do is get along with God by getting along with one another.

In Psalm 36, King David outlined the benefits of getting along with one another. We depend on God’s grace and love:

Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
    How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
in the shadow of your wings.
You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
letting them drink from your river of delights.
For you are the fountain of life,
the light by which we see.


Even in David’s ancient times, long before Jesus was born, the prescription for healthy human relations is explained:

Because I love Zion [God],
I will not keep still.
Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem,
I cannot remain silent.
I will not stop praying for her
until her righteousness shines like the dawn,
and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.

–Isaiah 62:1 (NLT)


Do not stop praying for her or him or for a country or a neighbor or a family member. Dependency on God will keep unhealthy relationships from developing and getting along with one another is also getting along with God.

Depending on God leads to healthy independence from the unhealthy human relations whether it is between family members, friends, neighbors, strangers, or even cultures. Turning over negative relationships to God through prayer frees us to develop our healthy relationships. So . . .

  • Practice dependency on God. Turn the hurt over to God in prayer.
  • Practice independence from people who trigger negative behaviors.
  • Practice interdependence with Christians who work together to share God’s love.


The outcome of a non-judgmental, faithful, and loving lifestyle is a world that radiates freedom. Getting along with one another is getting along with God.

This Sunday may be Human Relations Sunday, but every day should be. God created a world that was designed to meet our every need. He created us with free will, too, but we fail to use God’s law and a healthy relationship with him—we get along with God.

As we continue into this new year, remember to offer grace to others who may not yet know God’s grace and unconditional love. Each person you meet needs your unconditional love, too. Get along with one another.

When something gets your ire up, stop and think. How do you want to be treated? Treat others the way you want to be treated. Do not use cross words in reply, pray for God to guide you. When a driver cuts you off on the road, take a deep breath and cry out to God for help.

If you react negatively, others react negatively towards you. God will be missing in your life. God’s grace is your fuel, so use or offer grace in all your relationships with others. That is how you get along with God, but it is also the way you get along in a diverse world of believers and non-believers, too.

Today may just be 1/365th of an entire year, but in all your relations on each day of the year, practice God’s law. Let others see what dependence on God does in your life so they will find the blessing of God in their lives. Getting along with God makes getting along with others positive not negative. And the ultimate outcome is salvation and joining with others getting along with God throughout eternity.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Daily we are challenged by relationships

That hurt our feelings or even our bodies.

We struggle to offer grace to those who hurt us.

We struggle to love unconditionally when filled with pain.


Guide us to follow your son’s example.

Guide us to love one another

even when we do not love the behaviors.

Guide us to offer grace

even if others do not.

Guide us to get along.


Thank you for your grace and unconditional love.

Thank you for your son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for the promise of everlasting life

When we get along with you, God. –Amen

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