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Traveling with God

given on Sunday, July 23, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening Psalm 139:1-6

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!



Psalm 139:7-12

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.


Genesis 28:10-19

     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!”

     18 The next morning Jacob got up very early. He took the stone he had rested his head against, and he set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it. 19 He named that place Bethel (which means “house of God”), although it was previously called Luz.


Romans 8:26-27, 31

26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers[h] in harmony with God’s own will.


31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?


Reflection: Traveling with God

To begin, this is almost not a sermon. Maybe it could be considered a “how to” article one might find in a travel magazine. Of course, most travel magazines would not consider adding this type of article because it is a spiritual based topic: How to travel with God.

I admit that I have not always packed a Bible with me on a trip, but I knew that I would have to have a worship service ready for today (Sunday morning) and surely I could sneak in some work time during the vacation. Therefore, I packed the Bible and work tote in with my luggage.

This vacation was a road trip and I had a real drive to finish a knitting project and to try a new knitting stitch so planned on making some dishcloths. What a great way to fill the hours in the car and still be doing what I enjoyed—all the way through Missouri and Arkansas. I carried the luggage and the work tote into the hotel, but sleep was the priority then.

Often we talk about our spiritual journey in life, but admittedly it is often just an outcome of believing in God and trusting Sunday morning worship to keep us connected. How many Christians are floating through the week with home life, work, and some evening down time as the primary structure for the week? Where in the weekly schedule does one consciously put God into the daily routines?

I know, you are surely thinking well I do because I am serving as a pastor so reading and studying the Bible is part of the job. That is a given, but as a human it is also easy to put off what you have to do until the last minute—procrastinate as you know, and my mom always told me that I was procrastinating. Undoubtedly she knew one of my weaknesses and because of her ‘nagging’ I am aware that I cannot procrastinate about my faith journey.

Therefore, I woke up the next morning and tackled reading the lectionary. I began with reading the Old Testament scripture from Genesis. The Bible I took was the journaling one, and the key scripture artfully laid out in the wide margin was Genesis 28:15: “I will protect you wherever you go.”

Could there have been a more appropriate verse as I was getting up and getting ready for a major tourist-style day traveling into another state and visiting a site simply because we wanted to see it—The Magnolia Silos that Chip and Joanna Gaines have created in Waco, TX. We were driving into a totally new, unfamiliar area of our country and had no idea what to expect. We did not know the roads and only had our maps, guidebooks, and navigation tools—smart phones.

As I was reading the verse in the margin, I dove into the full scripture from the lectionary: Genesis 28:10-19a. Reading that scripture opened my thoughts to not only the value of God being with me on a vacation, but also the application to the spiritual journey we are all on.

God is with us all the time. We find him in so many different ways and as I read that key verse in a hotel room preparing for a vacation day, I found myself reflecting on the significance of that verse being the one verse to capture my thoughts that particular day. It fit.

And the day? The day was delightful. We had no apprehension so we experienced the day with confidence and excitement. We were able to meet the most fantastic people who demonstrated unbelievable hospitality and customer service. There was pure joy. Yes, it was a long hot day in Texas, but God was with us in all that we did, we had a vacation day that kicked off with God’s words of assurance.

Now how can a second day top the first one? Well, again, I opened up the Bible to look at another lectionary reading, Psalm 139; and the feature verse in the margin was the first one: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.”

As I continued reading the full psalm, I decided this psalm was also filled with wisdom for a vacation day and I read on into the psalm:
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.

God knows everything we do, think and say wherever we are whether we travel or we are at home! The words were written right there for me to read here in the 21st century, and that psalm was written maybe as long ago as 1400 BC, another words 3500 years ago. The scripture applies to our lives right now just as it always has. God is timeless.

This vacation day was special because it included reconnecting with a college friend I had not seen since 1976. In fact, she was one of our dorm group that had disappeared that summer and no one could really figure out where she had gone. Off and on, I tried to learn what happened and learned that maybe she was in Columbia. Still, the years separated us yet somehow I never gave up wanting to know her story. Then suddenly this year she appeared on Facebook living out of state.

The chances of physically reconnecting with her seemed terribly remote, but the first step was her accepting a friend request and expressing an interest in seeing all of us again. I kept that tucked into my thoughts and when another friend learned we were going in that direction and might check in to seeing her, I felt I should try. Am I ever glad I did!

God’s presence in the day was felt as she and I shared our stories, and also how God was part of our lives, I found prayers answered. I know that God was present at our table as we shared and talked for over two hours. And the next verses of Psalm 139 echoes in my thoughts:

You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

Reading the scripture in the morning prepared me for the meeting with my long, lost friend. I simply must put my full trust in God so that I do not worry and know that whatever words come from my mouth and what I do are Christ-like and will carry me throughout my travels whether on vacation or at home.

Even the next verses in Psalm 139 seemed to echo the conversation between us over that Cajun lunch:

7I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

None of us walk through our earthly journey without challenges. We experience the disappointments and heartaches just as everybody else does. What makes a Christian any different is the mindset one has concerning reliance in God. In our lunch conversation, I heard my friend witness how God has sustained her through her own challenges.

She comfortably shared how God had made it possible for her to continue forward raising her teen children after her husband was murdered. She knew the worst human experience yet she trusted God to do exactly what the psalm: “10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.”
My faith journey was strengthened by the testimony of my friend’s faith.

My vacation is proof that we travel with God. My decision to pack my Bible and read scripture has been reinforced by the experiences of the vacation and how it seemed to be God-driven. Traveling with God is possible and I encourage it. This week’s experience did not end with just the two days of morning reading, it continued. On the final day, I read the Romans selection and found another special verse: “. . . the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. . “

Even on vacation, God is with us through the Holy Spirit. We may be on vacation and be mentally detached from our Christian theology, but because God is with us through the Holy Spirit, he is with us always. He knows what is in our thoughts and will hear prayers we may not even put into words.

Driving through the cities and witnessing the homeless walking along the side of the road in the summer’s excessive heat, I thought how God hears our own pleas for their well-being. As we come up over a hill and are faced by a wreck in the middle of the highway, God hears our pleas for the safety and well being of those in the wreck and those coming to their aid.

As Christians, we are always on call to pray. We can call out to God for intervention whenever our Christ-shaped brains observe something that needs God’s attention. On vacation, we do not take a vacation from being Christian. We do not take a break from talking with God, nor do we take a break from him talking to us.

Vacation time is ideal for us to see God in this world beyond our typical homes. We might see a glorious sunrise, sunset, or a sudden rain shower cool the parched pavement. We might see trees reaching far above us as the sun shines through their boughs. We might taste the most unbelievable lemon lavender cupcake we could ever imagine or feel the delight of an ice cream cone on the hot summer day. We hear the night sounds in a cool breeze or new music that picks up our spirits.             God is with us, around us and in us all the time. God is at home with us. He is on the job with us. And God goes traveling with us, too. Pack your Bible and/or devotionals that you use every day and recognize that your faith journey continues even when on vacation, esp. when you travel with God.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Thank you for traveling with me

     And with all of your children

     Day in and day out,

     Everywhere and anywhere.


Thank you for speaking to me

     And with all of your children

     Through the words of scripture

     And the words of other believers.


Thank you for sharing your world

     So we may experience you in our lives

     Through all our senses:

     sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.


May we grow in our faith

     Through the words of scripture

     Through the touch of friends

     And through our journeys.


Guide us in traveling with you

     As our tour guide,

     As our chauffer,

     And as our protector.


Bless those who journey with us,

     Those who serve us,

     And even the strangers we meet.


May we be your servants

     In our daily lives

     As well as when on vacation

     In your name,

     And your son’s

     And the Holy Spirit. –Amen.

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How to take God on vacation

given on Sunday, July 26, 2015 (I was not in the pulpit on July 19.)

How to take God on Vacation

Summer brings vacation time for most of those in the United States. With school in session for 9-10 months of the year, summer traditions have included going to church camp, vacation Bible school, picnics, family reunions and vacations. Sadly though, vacations have a way of skipping God.

How can Christians skip over God in their lives? Well, vacations take us to new locations and change daily routines. You may only be gone a few days, but typically that includes a Sunday. Away from home, many chose not to attend church on Sunday morning.

In fact, I doubt that many weekly churchgoers know that as a member of a UM church, there is an expectation members should not miss more than four Sundays a year. Church attendance is one of John Wesley’s acts of piety. Yet, on vacation finding a church to visit is typically not on the itinerary and it takes God out of our vacations.

Taking God on vacation means locating a church to visit. Maybe there is tourist information you can check to locate a historically significant church to visit. Another possibility is to visit a different denomination to learn about other churches, or maybe attend a family member’s hometown church. Some campsites even offer a Sunday service that might be on Saturday evening or at a different time on Sunday.

Of course, vacation is for self-renewal and another possibility to take God with you is to design your own worship time. Maybe you need to step away from the family and find a quiet spot to read, to reflect, and to pray privately. If you are camping, nothing compares to a quiet time in God’s world looking at the lake or a river or a mountain or a canyon. God’s world becomes the sanctuary and it can be any place you stop and focus on God.

Speaking of camping, the kids home for summer have options, too. The tradition of going to church camp still continues even if it changes the format. Nothing requires going to church camp, but it provides opportunities to grow in faith as well as provide a break in the summer—for the kids and the parents.

Of course, some kids have other camp opportunities. Maybe it is 4-H camp or a favorite sport camp. These are not necessarily church-related, but God can go along, too. Each time young people learn how to interact with other kids in a Christian manner, they are learning to live their faith. God does not walk away from anybody, young or old, just because they go camping or on vacation.

Young people brought up in church and in a Christian family, learn how to take God with them. God is there to protect them. God is there to give them the strength to try new and different things. And parents, they can let the kids go off by themselves knowing that God is with them.

But what about the grown ups? How come they take off and forget to take God with them? Maybe they don’t, but sometimes their actions do not reflect their Christian standards. Sometimes there is a little too much indulgence in food and alcohol. Entertainment may not follow their beliefs like gambling too much or going to entertainment that is questionable. Why simply overspending while gone could be a problem.

Taking God on vacation is just as important for adults as it is for kids. Maybe there is no church camp, but there are retreats adults can attend to renew or revive their faith journey. During spiritual retreats, the itinerary includes worship times, classes, and quiet reflection time. In these retreats, maybe participants are not taking God with them, but God is taking them.

Probably taking God on vacation is much simpler than one might imagine. Living a Christian lifestyle, God is always present. In this week’s lectionary, the reading from Psalm 14 and Ephesians 3 emphasize how God is always present with us. The readings remind us that it is important to stay connected with God all the time.

On vacation, God’s world is revealed to us in new and different ways. Our country has taken steps to preserve some of the natural wonders and to recreate recreational sites of beauty, too. This is God’s world and vacation time is perfect to thank God for all he created. Maybe the view across the lake takes one’s breath away. God is there and you tell him how awesome he is.

Vacation sites are filled with natural beauty, but some sites are human-made. The gifts God has given humans have created glorious architectural structures. Some gifts are shared through artistic creations that hang in museums; some are heard from a stage; and others are found at a table with tantalizing scents. God is there; God is everywhere.

God is on duty whether you are struggling to locate a specific address or dealing with a flat tire along the roadside. God is there to protect or to send help. Maybe the person pulling up beside you is a stranger; but when they stop to offer help, they are the hands and feet of Jesus.

Of course, you, too, can be the arms of Jesus for someone else, too. Christians treat others, as they want to be treated; and the server at the diner looks to be having a bad day. Take the opportunity to put God into action. A kind word can do wonders; or maybe a question and offering the time to listen to her answer shows God cares.

Taking God on vacation really is important. Not only do you need God for protection and security; but also others need you to share God with them. Mission trips are another way to vacation with God. It may be hard to offer your vacation time to help others in crisis, but the benefit may be just the prescription your spiritual life needs. The results of the mission trip can be evident at the site, but the lasting results within one’s soul might be more valuable.

Planning a vacation does not mean that everything has to change. Just make sure to look for God’s gifts around you. Offer yourself as God’s servant when opportunities pop up. Pray.

Pray all the time whether it is in thanksgiving, in praise, or in supplication. Just pray. Maybe the prayer is for the drivers along side you on the roads or maybe for that server in the restaurant. Offer prayers for the natural wonders dazzling your eyes. Maybe you continue prayers asking for God’s guidance at the job to which you will return.

God is pleased when his children make decisions that demonstrate their faithfulness. Certainly it is easy to think only how the vacation is going to be just for personal fun, but vacationing with God enriches our lives spiritually and assures God of our desire to be in a right relationship with him. And when your return to work and to your daily life, others, too, will se what a vacation with God can do for one’s quality of Christian life that comes with the promise of eternal life—or eternal vacation.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Summer is half way over for our community.

Many friends and family find ways to vacation

And we know you are with them always.

Thank you for their safety and their fun.

With summer half way yet to go,

Help us strengthen our Christian lives on vacation.

As eyes see your glory in nature and made by humans,

Hear our praises and accept our thanks.

And as summer vacations come to a close,

Let us find the spiritual and physical renewal

Needed to continue along our journeys.

May others see you in our lives and ask why.

May others find vacationing with God a sample

Of life ever lasting along side you and your son. –Amen

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How Do Christians Vacation?

given on Sunday, June 1, 2014


The Word from the NIV . . .

Old Testament: Exodus 20:8-10—Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord our God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”


New Testament: Mark 2:23-28—One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for the priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath”

. . . and Thoughts:  How do Christians vacation?

Summer vacation is here! The schools are closed for the year, the sun shines, the bags are packed, and everybody is ready to leave town.

Just the words ‘summer vacation’ creates those pre-packaged images in our mind. In our culture summer and vacation are almost synonymous; but that really is not the case. Just how does that phrase develop as a paradigm in a community or a culture that has long been based on agriculture?

One would expect that summer vacation would translate into images: sweat running down the face, staining shirts, sun-tanned arms and foreheads (remember the farmer’s cap line), hay bales piled up, tractors pushing through the fields, and that cold, sweating glass of ice tea while standing outside for the one break in the afternoon—anywhere from 2-6 pm. Supper would not be ready until the chores were done.

Nowhere in those images of summer vacation on the farm is the picture of light-heartedness families with suitcases swinging beside them, sunglasses on their face, swimsuits on, and fancy drinks with little umbrellas in them. Summer vacation is an idea, a marketing creation to bring a society together and believe that summer vacation is the common thread among all members of a society.

What a fallacy!   And as a Christian, these images should be alarming as there is no reminder of God or even the lifestyle we develop that shows our relationship with God or the selfless side of service. The mental pictures we create of summer vacation are painted by the media rather than by our Christian principles. So . . . how do Christians vacation?

The starting point is God. With God beside us, everything we do should reflect the Christian lifestyle that we say we follow. There should be no difference in how you live out your faith on any one day of the year. The Christian lifestyle is the very core of who you are. Loving one another whether within your immediate family or whether a stranger met along the road, a Christian operates on unconditional love for all first and foremost.

Granted the decisions of others concerning un-Christian behaviors or decisions forces us to use common sense and caution today. The warnings are everywhere: do not pick up hitchhikers; do not feed the bears; do not stop to help someone along side the road; do not share your drink or food with others; do not share information. The list seems to grow out of control to the point that living a Christian lifestyle seems impossible.

Another point to consider is timing. Christians are expected to maintain a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. For the faithful, even during Moses’ time, that means maintaining healthy diet, healthy practices from hygiene to monogamy, and to observe a time of rest. The ancient Jewish traditions around the Sabbath forced all to take a break and to make a priority of worshiping God. That same structure is expected today from all Christians even though some adjustments have been made.

During the earlier agrarian cultures, Sabbath—now our Sundays—meant that the tools of farming were put down and not picked up until Monday morning. The only exception was for the care of the livestock. Cows still had to be milked, chickens fed, pigs watered. The principle of being good stewards of God’s world did force some flexibility on Sundays.

Still, the question is how do Christians vacation? The habits we live 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year should reflect God at all times. There is no vacation from being Christian, the question is what choices do we make as we vacation. Remember that our behaviors should always reflect our beliefs. The activities we choose for vacation do not excuse us from our Christian principles. The amount of food and types of drinks do not excuse us from what we believe. Our relationships must preserve the very commitments we made in our marriage vows, our children’s baptism, and even the friendships we maintain.

Vacation should not be a break any of our Christian principles—ever! Vacation is a form of Sabbath away from our work world and a time of rest for our bodies and minds.   Vacations allow us to step away from our own environment and explore what else is available in God’s world. We can meet new people, we can taste different foods, and we can see sites unfamiliar around our own communities.

And what does one do come Sunday morning? A vacation does not mean step away from God. Vacation offers opportunities that are not typically available in our hometown. If vacation time includes that typical time you are attending worship, why not look for different worship options. Maybe you take time to read a devotional privately at the ocean’s side with sand between your toes and waves creating the music for your ears.

Look around you and consider what worship opportunities are available. Maybe there is a Methodist church close by you could attend. Vacation may offer an opportunity to visit a different denomination, maybe even experience a Catholic or Greek Orthodox service. Even visiting a Jewish synagogue on Saturday evening would be worship.   Check out different styles of worship or different times even. Vacation does not mean vacate church on vacation Sundays.

During John Wesley’s lifetime, he worked hard to establish solid Christian lifestyles in his parishes. He asked for commitment and accountability. He would insist that members be part of a covenant group that had rigid practices of studying scripture, sharing concerns, and holding each other accountable to God.

From Wesley’s class meetings, a covenant format was established that has returned in many Methodist churches over the past 20 years. Some churches even hold an annual covenant Sunday to reconnect members with their commitment to God and to the church while asking members to be accountable. From this practice, the church’s discipline has outlined the standard that a church member in good standing would honor their commitment of attendance by not being absent more than four Sundays a year.

Four Sundays a year! Just how many of us could honestly report that our Sunday attendance—or worship attendance—is that good or better. One of the ways to maintain that commitment over summer vacation is to visit other churches. Share in the worship of other Christians wherever you may be. Maybe even try visiting a different church during the summer while at home. Bring back new ideas to your home church. Share your worship experiences with your family and friends.

Summer vacation is all about renewal. Certainly we love the sunshine, the warm temperatures, and the fun times that accompany vacations, but as Christians we never, never must step away from our God-based principles. Christians can vacation and do all that they can for renewing their own lives, but vacation with God, not away from God.


Closing prayer

Dear God,

Our summer has arrived and we are ready for vacation time.

Sometimes temptation creeps in,

and we give in to the world’s decadence.

Sometimes we make decisions

that demonstrate our human weaknesses.

Sometimes we fail,

and our Christian foundations shake.

Thank you for your grace

when we splurge with food and drink.

Thank you for your forgiveness

when we make mistakes.

Thank you for Christians’ unconditional love

welcoming us home.

May we learn from our mistakes,

from our harmful indulgences,

from our poor performances.

Let us vacation as you would have us vacation,

whether it be for personal renewal,

for new experiences,

for learning new ideas, or

for strengthening our faith foundations.

Guide us as summer begins,

vacations are taken,

and we follow Jesus’ example

wherever we are. –Amen

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