Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Faith To Become New

I thought I'd share my sermon from Sunday today.  I hope you are encouraged in walk.

Faith to Become New

Last week we talked about choices, choices that Jesus made for himself and for us.  Today we are faced with choices too.  The choice to believe, to answer, to follow, to love, to grow, to respond and here’s the big one, to trust, to have Faith.  

Would you please pray with me?  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

Can you imagine being Abraham?  To one day, just have God say to you, I want you to leave your home, leave your father, and go where I tell you. What?  First I’d have been like, can’t I take my dad with me?  I was one of those kids who always wanted my parents to be chaperones on trips and such.  Then I’d have said, where?  Where do you want me to go?  Can we be a little more specific? But not Abraham.  That guy had faith, blind faith!  He went not knowing exactly where God was leading him.  He got up and just left the familiar behind to become a new people, a new creation.  God called him forward, to move, to a new adventure!

God is still moving and speaking today and he is inviting us to be on the move too!  But what does that mean?    Abraham followed God, he allowed God to move him, to move through him and did as God asked and was made new!  He was made into a new people. 

Just as God moved and worked through Abraham, He can move and work through us, he can make us new!  He invites us to move forward with Him. I think today, the world is so noisy that it’s hard to hear his voice but he is speaking to us.  We just have to listen, to focus.  

In our reading in John, Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  We are born of the spirit, that happens in our baptism.  We are born again through baptism so this wind, this spirit is moving in us.  It calls to us.  I know this, I know this without a doubt.  I hear it, I feel it, when I’m working on a sermon, or when I’m really thinking about what we need to do to reach our community.  Often, this is when I’m laying down to go sleep, or just waking up and I feel my mind focusing on a particular idea, I begin to pray asking God to fill me with his spirit that I might know what to say or do and slowly ideas or words fill my head and I can feel the spirit leading me.  Sometimes, I think, “You want me to do what?  Are you crazy?  Is that even safe?  Or that takes a lot of time!  Or you want me to say what?”  I need start grabbing a notepad and start writing these things down so I don’t forget them.  Honestly, sometimes I’m afraid if I move to write it down, it will all leave me.  Or maybe I’m just being lazy and don’t want to get out of bed yet.  I prefer to think it’s the first.  But God does still speak to us.  He does, we just have to listen and be open to what he is saying to us, be open to His creativity. 

It can be scary.  Being made new is exciting and scary all at once.  It’s something we want but the getting there can cause anxiety.  How do we do it?  How can we afford it?  I often think of the money involved or the man power involved and feel unsure. 
Did you read the devotion in our Lenten devotional booklet on Thursday?  It was called “Faith In A Time of Financial Need.”  The author was feeling called into ministry but couldn’t afford full time seminary  and didn’t have the time to take it on full time either.  She shared her story of how God provided for her time and her financial need.  God called her to it, she responded and then he saw her through it.

This also made me think of my cousin, Amy.  She and her family have made several trips to Africa to be in mission.  They always start out thinking how in the world we will pay for this?  But every time, the money is there.  They work for it, they have fundraisers (jewelry, salsa, t-shirts etc.) and such but she always shares how amazed she is at God’s providence.  He always provides a way for them do go and do his work.  In fact, I remember the first time they went.  She expressed a little fear.  She was taking her children to a country filled with turmoil and she was nervous.  But now she says that God provided her with the courage to follow his call!  She told me yesterday that God provided more than in just monetary ways. She said, “He provided in ways like courage to do what we need, compassion for people like we have never felt compassion (we visit lots of prostitutes), etc.  Our mission experiences have shown us more of God and grown us in our faith more than anything in our lives!”  He calls and he provides.  I find it interesting that He often calls before he provides.  There is another step in there.  He calls, we respond, and he provides.  In fact, my cousin said God has been so good to provide for them when they have said YES!

I had another example but I don’t have time to share it this morning so be sure you take a minute to ask Shannon to share with you about a Chaplain he had during one of his deployments.  It’s a great story of how God provides in strange and miraculous ways. 

As I was reading some commentary, this week, at The Adventurous Lectionary or Living A Holy Adventure by Bruce Epperly, I really felt that God had led me to it.  I felt that the message I was reading was one that God wanted me to share with you.  In fact, I almost feel as if it was written just for us!  Really!  I’m going to share some of it with you now and you can decide what you think about it.  These are just highlights, and I’m usually quoting verbatim here.  

“God is still moving and speaking, and faithfulness to God invites us to be on the move too! The Story of Abraham’s call celebrates forward movement.”  The author says this passage invites us to ask, “Where do we need to move forward beyond our current - even positive - past?  What adventures await us if we explore new ways of mission and worship?  Where will our spiritual walk take us?”  He continues to say that, “We must leave the familiar and adapt to a new landscape - or seascape - of possibilities.  Divine movement builds on the past but lures us toward untraveled futures, personally and institutionally.”  I love this part... “God takes the initiative in our adventures.  We travel forth, not to earn God’s love but to faithfully respond to the love we have already received.”  Wow.  

I love looking at life as an adventure and I really love looking at ministry as a grand adventure.  How exciting is it that God is calling us as a church to go on an adventure with Him!  He is calling us as a church!  You know how I know?  Because you all are still here.  Because I’ve had some of you come to me and say, help us, what can we do to reach more people? A few of you have even shared ideas with me and we are working on them! You hear him calling you too!  You do or we wouldn’t still be here, you wouldn’t be asking me what we can we do.  

Now, back to the commentary, the author says, “God calls, we respond, and our response leads to new manifestations of divine creativity.  Faith involves trusting that God will make a way where there is no way and that possibilities can emerge where we see only dead ends for ourselves, our congregations or our nation.”

I know that our little church seems to be struggling right now.  We live in fear of costly repairs.  We even sometimes worry about being able to pay regular bills.  We worry about having the man power to hold certain events.  I understand these worries.  I feel these worries too.  But I do believe that God still has a plan for us.  God still loves this congregation and wants us to continue to spread his love to the world.  The commentary reminds us that, “The words of John 3:16 describe the divine intentionality and universality.  God wants to save everyone.  Salvation touches all creation, embracing our cells as well as our souls.  There are no limits, outsides, or impediments to the graceful providence of God.”  Did you hear that?  No limits!  No limits to God’s love, no limits to his providence.  The author continues to say, “God’s love is on the move and it invites us to construct larger and larger circles of love, moving from our individual salvation to saving the world.”  We are to build a larger circle of love!  Think about it for a minute, that’s what Abraham did.  The circle he built included us as he became a new creation, a new people.

We can become a new creation, a new people.  I feel the spirit moving freely around us, through us, moving us, leading us.  Do you feel it?  This week, take time to be quiet, to feel the spirit flowing through you.  Be still and listen for the whispers in your mind of God’s own creativity.  What does he have in store for us?  What is he calling us to do?  What ideas come to mind?  No matter how crazy or big or even how little they may seem, (little ideas can bring great things too) write them down, email them to me and to each other. What if you have an idea that you think is crazy and don’t share with anyone but what you didn’t know is that someone else had the very same idea that they were afraid to share because it seemed too crazy or too big, or little, or like it wouldn’t matter.  Share your ideas!  No matter what. Let’s talk about them and pray about them and listen some more until we see a clear way forward down the path God has set before us.  

God is calling us, yes, this little church is still on God’s radar and he is calling us!  He believes in us!  I’m not saying he’s going to grow us in numbers or even financially.  But I do believe he is calling us to great work in our community and if we respond to his call ready to love, ready to serve no matter what, he will provide the means for us to follow him, we might have to work a little for it and give a little for it but in the end he knows our hearts and he will do his part to provide for us to do his work.  We just have to say YES.  ~  Amen.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Here is last Sunday's sermon.  I was kind of afraid to share it but I decided that if I could share it in worship with my churches, then I could share it here too.  I follow the lectionary readings for my scriptures.  Here ya go...



This week’s scriptures are all about temptation.  We are all tempted at times in our lives, for some of us who are trying to eat healthy it seems like every minute of every day!  Temptation can be hard!  We talk about the Temptation of Christ today because it is the first Sunday in Lent, 40 days before Easter and Jesus was tempted while he spent 40 days in the wilderness where he fasted for these 40 days.  He was led to the wilderness by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  We are being led into the this 40 day wilderness by the Holy Spirit today too.  We are to fast, or participate in self-denial, or practice temperance.  This time is a time of spiritual growth and maybe even a little growth in self-awareness.  I think this time for Jesus was a time for him to truly see what he was made of, what could endure, and a time to decide if he really wanted to take on this ministry he was called to.  He had a lot of thinking to do, a lot of soul-searching to do, a lot of praying to do.  

Would you please pray with me?  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

I think that often times people don’t like to think much about the humanness of Christ but honestly, I think that’s one of the things that draws me to him.  He was human, he walked this earth just as we do.  He went through human things, parents getting on your nerves, puberty, anger, sadness, joy and yes, temptation.  He was human and I think these 40 days and these temptations were him dealing with his humanness.  I believe that even Jesus had free-will.  I believe that he made choices and he chose to be in ministry and he chose to love us enough to pay that price he paid.

Let’s look at the temptations he faced.  First, these forty days in the wilderness were spent fasting.  He didn’t eat for forty days. 40 days!  I can’t imagine not eating for more than day let alone 40.  He was hungry!  He was famished! He was starving!  So what does the ol’ devil do?  He tempts Jesus.  Hey, I know you’re hungry and I know you are the son of God so why don’t you just turn these stones in loaves of bread?  Satisfy yourself.  

Now, I’m going to tell you a little something about myself here... I don’t really believe in the devil.  I don’t think there is a little red guy with a pitch fork running around trying to make the world evil. I don’t believe that the devil makes us do things.  I don’t really even think that the devil tempts us. 

I do think that there is evil in the world, but I think that’s by choice by free will.  I think that maybe, just maybe, Jesus was wrestling with himself here.  Jesus knows who he is, he knows that he is the son of God, he knows he has power and he’s hungry!  He’s starving and he knows that if he really wanted to, he could eat whatever he wanted.  He could turn stones into bread.  But he chooses not to do so.  He chooses to continue his fast as he works to understand what his ministry is and what it means.  He uses scripture to help him, to feed him.  "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God."

Next he is tempted with a different kind of power. I think this one is kind of two fold, it has a little foreshadowing to it.  The ‘devil’ takes Jesus to the tip top of the temple and tells him to throw himself down from it to test God, because God would call the angels to save him.  

If we are continuing to remove the devil from this because like I said, I don’t believe in the devil, then we can say that Jesus is thinking of testing God here, to see if he does truly love him, if he would save him.  And then there’s that, save him, that’s the foreshadowing here.  Jesus could save himself if he wanted.  But he doesn’t and chooses not to test God either for scripture says,  "you shall not put the Lord, your God to the test."

And then next, the devil shows him all the kingdoms of earth and tells him he can have it all, the power and glory if he will just bow down and worship him.  Now, isn’t it interesting though that if we take the ‘devil’ out of this equation then Jesus is considering power, glory, wealth, and so on but as he does he recognizes them as gods, as something we need to be careful not to worship, not to put them first.  "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."  He recognizes how easy it could be to become a slave to these little gods of power, glory and wealth.

This is where I really like to think of the humanness of Jesus.  Jesus could do all kinds of things to make his life easier.  He could have said, “No, I don’t want to die on a cross, I’ll just take my ministry elsewhere.”  He could have just performed miracle after miracle, turned rocks into jewels to buy people’s belief, he could have just chosen to not rock the boat.  But he didn’t.  He chose to follow God’s plan.  He chose to worship only the one true God.  He chose to go and spread the good news of God’s love.  He chose to love.  He chose to be in ministry helping those others cared little for and often even not all.  

Jesus could have given up and said, I’m hungry, and turned the stones into bread.  He could have said, I’m tired of people not getting it, make me King and I’ll force it on them.  He could have said, let the angels come down and save me I don’t want to die!

But he didn’t.  During these 40 days he grew through his fasting, he grew through his struggles, he became stronger.  He used scripture to do this.  He used scripture to help him in his decision making.  See I think this time, this 40 days in the wilderness is when Jesus came to terms with his ministry, his vocation.  I think this is when he discerned the heart of God’s vision for him.

We can take these 40 days and do the same, both as individuals and as a church.  We can spend time in prayer asking God to lead us in our ministry as a church.  How can we do more of this as a church?  as individuals?  Think about it, pray about it.

We can spend time letting go of things that are holding us back, that is blocking our vision.  Jesus fasted from food to help him see what God was calling him to do.  This is a form of self-denial and we can practice it as a church to see what God is calling us to do.  What is blocking our vision?  What should we abstain from for a while so that we can see what God is really calling us to do?  Is the same o‘ same o’?  Is it the status quo?  Are there things we are doing, just because we’ve always done them that maybe we should give up for 40 days?  Is there something that we can let go of, even if just a little while, so that we can better see God’s vision for us?  

This makes me wonder too what we can add to help us.  What can we do that we aren’t already doing to help us focus on God’s vision for us?  More mission?  More worship?  More study?

We can definitely spend more time in the scriptures.  We have the Bible study, we have the devotions.  How else can we spend more time in the scriptures so that we rely on his word to guide us?  Can more of us get involved?  Can we have discussions about them?  Can we share scriptures with one another as we delve into them?  What more can we do?

Jesus took 40 days in the wilderness to spend time with the Spirit, to discover who he was and what his ministry should be.  Let us take these 40 days to do the same.  Let us take these days to pray, to listen, to let the spirit work in and through us to help us find our way in ministry.