Monday, December 22, 2014

Wednesday December 24th, 2014----Our Light is Here

Christmas Eve is upon us, and I cannot wait to celebrate the birth of our Savior with you all.

The Scriptures for the service are

Isaiah 52:7-10 
Psalm 98 
Hebrews 1:1-4 
John 1:1-14

These Scriptures announce the coming of Jesus as he brings salvation to us all, as the son of God, as the light of the world.

It is right to celebrate Jesus' birth, as Isaiah exclaims: "Break forth together into singing," and as the psalm encourages us to "Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises." Hebrews tells us that "long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son," who "sustains all things" by his powerful word. This true light, as said in the gospel of John, "enlightens everyone."

These Scriptures guide us, and lead us toward a complete understanding of what God has done in sending us Jesus. God has gathered God's people (you and me), bid them to celebrate the coming of the Son (Jesus), and has promised to be with us always. 

So we come to celebrate all that God has done by sending the Son, light, and Savior to us and for us. And as we celebrate, we are filled with God's presence with us in the world, in our lives, and in every face we see. Jesus is truly "God with us" or "Emmanuel." He has come to us!

See you on Wednesday!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sunday, December 21st, 2014----Advent: Prepare the Way

On this 4th Sunday of Advent, the time is approaching quickly where we celebrate God's giving of his Son, Jesus, and the baby Christ being born into the world.

But....we are still preparing the way for Jesus as this day approaches. We remember Mary and her incredible faith, and are invited to embrace the way she prepared the way for Jesus.

Luke 1: 26-38 tells the story of Mary being approached by the angel Gabriel, and 47-55 is Mary's song.

Mary is assured that the Holy Spirit will be with her, and that nothing is impossible for God. Truth be told, I take this divine truth for granted. I take this story, in which Mary was prepared for what she would do through God's power, for granted each and every Christmas. NOTHING is impossible for God. Not taking this miracle of a story for granted means looking at it, embracing, and taking it in as something that ACTUALLY happened. Friends, a girl named Mary who was not worth anything was told she would have a baby named Jesus that would be the Son of the Most High. This happened; by the power of the Holy Spirit, God made this happen.

And when God makes things happen, God is always there.

Mary, with all of her confusion and doubts and fears, finally says "I am the Lord's servant."

And then Mary praised God: 

 Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
Holy is his name.
     He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
 He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
     just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

May we prepare the way for Jesus like Mary did, remembering that she finally came to faith and praise about this miraculously thing that was going to happen through her.

See you Sunday!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sunday, December 14th, 2014---Advent: Prepare the Way

What a wonderful service led by the Covenant Players on Sunday! I especially enjoyed how thought-provoking their dramas were. I'm still thinking about their closing "Galaxy" piece, which provided me some perspective that I do not naturally embrace all too often.

This week we turn to the gospel of John; the message will center around John 1: 6-8, 19-28.

Verse 8 says "He (John) himself wasn't the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light."

This reminds me that this Advent season, this impending Christmas season, isn't about us, but about who's coming: the son of God, Jesus Christ. All of the decorating, partying, eating, gifting, doing...points to the coming of Jesus. We wait, we celebrate, we anticipate, we do everything in this season because of him, not because of us....

BUT, we have the privilege to "testify concerning the light." The world knows who Jesus is because of us. Our community around us may know what Advent is, what Christmas is, because of us.

We need to do this because the world does not know Jesus like we do (vs.9-11)

In this passage, John continually points to Jesus, the light, the Lord, the someone greater. Can we be like him, and be the "voice crying out in the wilderness, make the Lord's path straight"? That is our task this season, and live and testify to a world that so desperately needs the loving and graceful presence of Jesus Christ.

See you Sunday!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sunday, December 7th, 2014----Advent: Prepare the Way

This Sunday, the Covenant Players will be leading us in worship. I will not be preaching, but we still have an opportunity to reflect on this week's lectionary text: Mark 1:1-8. This will be the text that is read when the 2nd Advent candle is lit, the candle of peace.

Mark 1:3 quotes the prophet Isaiah in saying:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.
He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:
        Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make his paths straight.”

Similar words are used by the prophets Malachi and Moses (Exodus).

So, preparing the way for the Lord has been a prophetic call throughout history. We relive that calling today, in this Advent season.

This Sunday represents peace. In a world where peace is hard to come by, the Lord brings peace by offering Christ for us, to us, and among us.

And preparing the way for Christ, who renews us by offering us the power of the Holy Spirit, brings us peace.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sunday, November 30th, 2014---Advent: Prepare the Way

This Sunday begins the Advent season!  This is the season of waiting for Christmas, for Christ's birth. 
I must admit, it's not always fun to wait. We seem to want to "jump the gun" to Christmas, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We should be excited for Christmas to come because of what that day means to us!

In our culture, with all the Christmas decorations, Christmas commercials, and holiday shopping deals rolling around as the calendar turns to November and December, we face the temptation to bypass the necessary and hopeful waiting that Advent brings us. 

We are invited to wait with the hopeful anticipation and nervous excitement of a child. We are reminded that in the waiting, God gives us this hope for Christ's birth. Along with it, we receive the peace, joy, and love of God that eventually satisfies our waiting. 

During this Advent season, we will be exploring how we may prepare the way for Christ as we wait, anticipate, and hope for Christmas. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Inherit the Kingdom---Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

As we have marched through this month of "Tough Love," which has included some of Jesus' words of judgment, I have found it rather difficult to dig out some of the more positive, encouraging, loving words of Jesus. Last week, you heard me say that the parable of the talents is not all about judging the third servant for burying his coins, but a story about how generous God really is.

The Scripture for this week is the passage that follows the parable of the talents, Matthew 25: 31-46. It is titled in my Common English Bible "Judgment of the Nations." Friends, this is another tough passage, but we are all challenged to find out who God really is here.

"Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began."

God, through the love of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, wants to share the kingdom with us. We have the ultimate, life-giving opportunity to inherit the kingdom of God by serving the "least of these," our neighbors. 

We need to remember this as we approach the Advent season.

See you Sunday!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Serve Without Fear---Sunday, November 16th, 2014

God has created us uniquely.

It is by God's design that no one is quite like us. (even my twin and I have major differences!) We live, love, and walk with God, all in different ways. 

And we serve God and neighbor in different ways, too. 

No one has ever lived the life you have lived before, and no one ever will. It is this fact that sometimes makes us fearful for doing the wrong thing, making the wrong decisions, and not loving others "correctly." 

If no one has ever been you before, how do you know if you are being you "correctly?"

A hint comes in the parable of the talents, found in Matthew 25: 14-30. The man who gives each of his servants talents (a unit of money equal to about 15 years of earnings by a day laborer) was very upset with the servant who hid his talent out of fear. 

The other servants went out and doubled what the master gave them and then were entrusted with more. They did this instinctively; they were not told what to do, they were just given the money. 

God does a similar thing in us. God has entrusted us with much (gifts, skills, resources, etc.) and we are to faithfully respond to that trust. We need not, and shall not, live in fear of what God has given us, God trusts us too much.

So live into what God has given you, you don't have to be afraid.

See you Sunday!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Be Prepared!---Sunday November 9th, 2014

I think that God loves it when we expect God to show up. Call it a "holy expectancy" of God's presence, if you will.

Matthew 25: 1-13 struggles with this notion, as it portrays ten young bridesmaids as they take their lamps to go and meet the groom. 5 were "foolish" and forgot oil for the lamp, while the other 5 brought oil, thus they were "wise." The groom was late to arrive, but they were all excited when he showed up, and they prepared their lamps. Because the groom was late, the lamps burned oil, so the 5 "foolish" bridesmaids ran out and asked for the "wise" bridesmaids to share theirs. They would not share because then theirs would run out of oil, too. So they suggest that they go buy their own oil. When they did this, the groom came and the 5 "wise" bridesmaids went with him to the wedding without the "foolish"ones. They came later and the groom would not them in, saying "I don't know you."

Then Jesus closes the parable by saying "keep alert."

So this parable is about preparedness and alertness for God. It is not enough to expect God, although that is a necessary first step. Holy expectancy must meet holy preparedness. The result could be a divine encounter, which is what we all strive for.

I admit that I attempt to make nice and neat equations, formulas, and strategies for even such things as this (a divine encounter). Life does not work out to nice and neat formulas, let alone our spiritual life with God. But this helps me see that merely expecting God to show up is not enough, I must be ready, I must be prepared, I must be alert for God. I think expecting God is a declaration of faith in God, but then what happens when you notice that God has shown up? What happens when you notice God moving in some way?

If we are not prepared, our light may burn out.

God is not present in our lives to simply show up, to make appearances. God is not a celebrity, and we are not God's paparazzi. God is here to change lives, and God shows up in our lives so that we can bring about the kingdom of God in this world, in this life.

See you Sunday!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Becoming Humble---Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

This Sunday is All Saints Sunday, as well as Communion Sunday for us. What an important day this is as we recognize those who have gone before us, as well as Christ's sacrifice for us. Our lives are impacted by those family members and friends that have shown us the love of God in real and tangible ways. They lived as representations of the incarnate God, who lives with us through the love of others.

I think of my grandmother when I hear the word "saint." It wasn't because she was perfect, overly pious, but because she showed me that God loved me. She loved me. I hope and expect that many of us have those people in our lives, now gone, that live on through what the taught and showed us. Their love lives on through us. God's love lived through them.

Matthew 23: 1-12 teaches us to be humble, for it is the humble who will be exalted. Those who are proud will be humbled by God. That is not a dull affair, folks. Being humbled by God does not simply mean that God will nicely point out where we fall short of a humble servant's heart. When we "lift ourselves up," (v12) we are setting ourselves up to be "brought back down to earth" by God.

Many of the saints that have gone before us have shown us the humility that this passage is trying to get us to reach or pursue. People of God who make an impact on us do so by showing us that it is not all about them, but about others, about God. Showing God's love is not a proud endeavor in which we can "puff ourselves up" because it always points to God, not ourselves.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less. Humility means not placing yourself too high or too low, but just where you belong. It's OK to be proud of what is happening in your life. The danger is giving ourselves too much credit, and not enough to God and to those around us.

See you on Sunday, where we will remember and celebrate the saints that have gone before us, as well as the humble sacrifice Jesus made for us.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Great Commandment---Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Our sermon series, "The Upside-Down Kingdom" will close this week with one of the most powerful, practical, essential, simple, difficult, and important things that Jesus ever said:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself." 

These commandments are not hard to understand, but they are so difficult to truly follow. It's as if Jesus knows that we will have to spend our life dedicated to this task of love in order to truly follow it. These commandments are not static; it takes an attitude of love each day in order to follow them. For the disciples and those questioning Jesus, these commands replaced the laws of sacrifice in order to appease God. For us today, these commandments shed new light on our practices and beliefs. These commandments become the essence of the Christian life.

These are not laws but rather an invitation to live according to God's grace and love for us, which will bring us joy and purpose in our lives.

The kingdom is upside-down, this is true from these verses as well. The kingdom of heaven represents the truism that we are filled up with God's love not when we absorb it all for ourselves, but give it back to God and to those around us. But we should not forget that Jesus also expects us to love ourselves well, saying "love your neighbor as yourself." We need not give and love so much that we don't know and experience God's love for ourselves.

See you on Sunday!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

This Sunday's sermon will be focused on Matthew 20:1-16, which is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. I debated using this passage back in July during the "Pictures of the Kingdom" series, and it would have fit in well there, too. This parable begins like the ones we have looked at before. Jesus begins telling the parable by saying "The Kingdom of heaven is like..." The punchline at the end of the passage made me think to save it for this series, because the statement is SO upside-down:

"So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”

We are so use to expecting to get "what we deserve" and what is "fair" all the time. When we don't, we like we have been cheated, taken advantage of, and we likely to respond in a way such as those first workers who showed up at the vineyard. Jesus presents another upside-down picture of the kingdom: what you deserve and what is owed to you does not matter. Truth be told, we don't deserve anything from Jesus, yet he is always there. What he has done, is doing, and will do for us is not based on our merit, but on God's love and grace. 

The landowner told those first workers who showed up that they would get a denarian for their work that day, and that was a very generous amount of coin. What he did not tell them is that the "late" workers would also get that amount, for working less. 

Friends, Jesus love and grace is the same amount for all who show up to follow him, no matter how "late" they are. 

See you on Sunday!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Where Two or Three are Gathered...---Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Our Scripture passage for this Sunday in which the sermon is based off of is Matthew 18: 15-20.

Most of us can finish the statement beginning "where two or three are gathered" with "I am there." Jesus is saying here that he is with us when we gather together. This statement has been generalized and has lost some of its original meaning. We say it to mean that Jesus is present with us when we gather in his name, and this is very true, but I'm afraid that isn't quite what Jesus was getting at in this particular case.

Jesus was concerned about disputes among the disciples, and this is easy to imagine. It has already been noted in the beginning of chapter 18 that they wondered who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God, and they had just been told that they must become like children. The disciples undoubtedly had disputes among themselves and probably got angry with each other as well, possibly quarreling over who was the greatest among them. This is what Jesus is responding to. He tells them how to solve a dispute, and reminds them that he is with them as they attempt to resolve conflict. In the culture of their day, which is informed by Hebrew Scriptures, disputes in the court of law were handled with care. "Where two or three" are gathered actually refers to Deuteronomy 19:15 where a testimony from a single witness is not enough to convict someone of a crime. Evidence from two or three other witnesses is needed.

So, God is with us as we gather together in worship, study, or in God's name in anyway (and God is with us always), but this passage says that we are helped in our disputes by a God who desires for us to deal with conflict with love, understanding, and grace. This is also helps to clear up that what we do alone can be done in God's name; God is with us when we are alone as well, but desires us to solve disputes with the help, witness, and evidence that others bring.

We can learn a lot here, folks. We are not perfect, but God has our backs, even when we are quarreling. It's not wrong to argue or disagree, there is just a proper way to deal with it!

See you Sunday!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Good Shepherd---Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Our sermon series for this month is called "The Upside-Down Kingdom." During the next month, we will return to the gospel according to Matthew. This week, the second half of our passage, which is 18: 6-14, is the parable of the lost sheep.

I usually approach this text through the eyes of the lost sheep. Jesus says quite plainly that someone who owned 100 sheep would leave the 99 to go and search for the lost sheep. How reassuring it feels to know that Christ will always search for his lost, and that he assumes any good shepherd would do the same. We need that word for us. How many times do we feel lost??

But what about the 99 who were left by the shepherd, how would they handle it? This passage is really about what God does, that God searches for his lost children. I think we can get hung up on the fact that the shepherd leaves the 99, but the real focus, I think, is that he searched for the 1 lost sheep. God does not leave us, EVER. 

So this parable might be a bit limited because the shepherd obviously cannot simultaneously search for his 1 lost sheep and remain with the other 99, but God can. 

See you on Sunday!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Glorify God---Sunday, September 28th, 2014

This week's message will focus on Romans 15: 1-13. Here, Paul reminds us that we are to "please each other" because the body of Christ now includes everyone, even Gentiles.

The Gentiles were the last folks that new Christians, a lot of them coming from Jewish backgrounds, thought would be included, or wanted to include, in their "family," the body of Christ. They were the ones who misbehaved, did not follow the rules; they were the "outsiders."

One of the key themes of this passage that makes it so practical and important to me is that it is pointed out that "Jesus did not please himself." Jesus was ridiculed, suffered, and died a sinners death. I'm sure that did not "please" him. But it did, because it glorified God. Jesus treated people like they all had the potential to glorify God, and we should too.

See you Sunday!

Monday, September 15, 2014

God Accepts Us---Sunday, September 21st, 2014

We devote a lot of our effort and energy, I think, to making sure that we love God and neighbor the "right" way. This may disable us from loving in a way that is from the heart; we may over-think the way we love God and neighbor. This may also cause us to judge people in the way they strive to love God and neighbor.

In this week's passage, Romans 14: 1-11, we are reminded that God has accepted everyone in God's unending love and grace. No matter how people worship, love, pray, or spend their week, if it is rooted in love for God and neighbor, it is acceptable in God's sight!

This scripture is a good one because it grounds the way I think about people who love in different ways than I do. For instance, I am not much of a hand-raiser in worship. But that doesn't mean that it's wrong! It's just not the way I typically worship God.

So this passage encourages us not to over-think the way we love or judge others, but it also frees us up to love from our heart and souls, not our minds and our comparisons to others.

Be authentic. Be you. Love God. Love neighbor. Love the way you do it! You are accepted.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wake UP!---Sunday September 14th, 2014

This week's passage, Romans 13: 8-14, begins with a reminder that all the law is summed up in one: you must love your neighbor as yourself. Love fulfills the law. It's interesting to me that Paul does not include "love God with all of your heart, mind, and soul" to his new understanding of the law. Perhaps truly loving your neighbor IS loving God....

Then Paul, saying "as you do this" (I love his optimism here), you know what time it is, and it is time to WAKE UP, the day which came from the Light is near. Charles Wesley preached a sermon called "Awake, Thou That Sleepest." What he meant by someone who was "asleep" was someone that was satisfied or content in their sin, ignorant of it and the "cure" for it, or never heard, recognized, or cared about God's invitation to faith and salvation. Whether we are "asleep" right now, or have momentary moments in our lives that we "take a nap," the message here for us is: "wake up to my graceful invitation to faith and love, and go and do likewise." 

Our salvation is at hand, folks, and it is brought forth by loving our neighbor. To be saved is to be freed to love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other obligation, but to love. In a world where we have to earn everything, grace is is un-earn-able.

In a world where we keep tabs of all of our debts and receipts that are owed to each other, God does not. God only requires that we love our neighbor. And that indicates our salvation. It's so earth-shattering to me that loving people shows God that we are indeed saved by God's grace through his son Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lord of All---Sunday September 7th, 2014

Well, this past Sunday's passage and the sermon I preached made me a bit emotional. There is something about the overwhelming sense of love I know and feel from God when I sit back and truly realize that Jesus Christ came to this world to love, live, and die for us. Like Peter, I don't quite grasp this unless I experience it, which he hadn't yet when Jesus told him he had to suffer for the first time. I experienced God's loving grace and the invitation to take up my cross and follow Jesus the past week that led up to that sermon. I found my soul once more.

This next month, I'll be preaching a series called "Love of God, Love of All." You may think of this as a follow up series, one that will explore what loving God means for our lives. It means that we try to love ALL people, because GUESS WHAT? God loves everyone, and sent Jesus for everyone. God is here for everyone, and wants to save, reach, and have a relationship with everyone. That means you, me, that neighbor you can't stand, your stubborn co-worker, that someone that "just doesn't get it," that person who just keeps making mistakes, the wealthy, the poor, the outcast, the popular, the lost, the forgotten, the accepted, the spoiled....ALL PEOPLE.

This was what my last sermon was about, and we will be taking a closer look at this topic through this month. This Sunday's passage is Romans 10: 5-15. The key verses for me right now in this passage is "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him. All who call on the Lord's name will be saved."

I'll see you all on Sunday, where we will  worship the Christ, the son of the living God, because he is Lord of all.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Find Your Life---Sunday, August 31st, 2014

This Sunday, the sermon will be focused on Matthew 16: 21-28. Jesus just praised Peter for his faith, understanding, and his testimony. He handed the "keys" to the kingdom, but in this passage he rebukes him for focusing on "human" things rather than "divine" things. Then Jesus talks about to find your life, you must lose it for his sake. Focusing on Christ is life-giving. You become your best self when you set focus on "things above" (Colossians 3:2).

But it's not about you, it's not about me, it's not about any of that "human" stuff. It's about losing your life for Christ's sake, taking up your cross, and following him. I find a lot of my own personal story wrapped up in these words, this good news for us. My journey to get here meant a lot of change and re-focus.

What about you? Where do you see yourself in these words? When have you sacrificed something because you were following Christ? When have you felt like you were on the right track, like Peter, only to be "set straight" by God? Christ reminds us that he desires a mind set on him. See you Sunday!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Who Do You Say I Am?---Sunday, August 24th, 2014

This Sunday's sermon will come from Matthew 16:13-20.

Jesus asks Peter "who do YOU say I am?" I am putting the emphasis on "you" because I think that often, we have faith because we think it's the right thing to do, or because someone taught us to have it, our community has it, our friends have it, etc.

Are we owning up to what we believe about Jesus? Peter answers saying, "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God" not because he thought it was the right thing to say or someone told him that's who Jesus was. He said it because he knew it, he saw it, and he believed it.

So who do YOU say that Jesus is? Faith confesses, by word and deed, who Jesus is for YOU.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Great Faith---Sunday August 17th, 2014

This Sunday, we will continue to explore examples of faith in the gospel of Matthew.

The faith of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) is one of persistence, and Jesus calls it "great." What's so great about it? This woman seems annoying to me, like someone that just won't leave Jesus alone. There are reasons for this woman to stop persisting after Jesus, but she doesn't...

What keeps us from having faith like the Canaanite woman? Are we afraid of annoying Jesus, who is the very one who invites us to come to him? Are we afraid that our needs will not be met by God, who continues to provide for us? I hesitate to bring things to Jesus because I'm afraid that Jesus and I don't agree about what I want and need. If I bring something to him, I will just be disappointed in myself; God will tell me that I'm wrong. Even though I know that God will take care of me, my own lack of confidence gets in the way of my faith. That is what keeps me from persisting after Jesus, what is it for you?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Stormy Seas----Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Metaphorically, life can be compared to a sea, can't it? Whether the water is warm, cool, calm, or stormy depends on the seasons, the winds, the weather....Matthew 14:22-33 tells a story where Jesus and the disciples are on the water, and the sea is raging. This causes fear, maybe even confusion. It may have overwhelmed Peter to be out on the water that day, let alone try to walk on it. Jesus' call for Peter to join him on the stormy sea beckons him to step out onto the water. But that does't last long, he sinks because he doubts and loses faith. Jesus calls him out, saying "you of little faith!" This seems harsh; like Jesus was scolding Peter, and perhaps he was. But Jesus also encourages the disciples, saying "do not be afraid." 

I wish it were that easy...We know that we aren't supposed to be afraid; our faith and trust in Jesus is supposed to prevail over doubt and fear. But can you blame Peter? Life is scary, tragic, chaotic...we doubt, we sink...It's not easy to let our faith and trust prevail, but pursuing Christ isn't supposed to easy. Jesus calls Peter out on the stormy sea, not the calm sea, knowing that it's stormy...Jesus calls us towards himself, towards faith, towards a sure trust and confidence in him, no matter what we are facing. Praise God for that, because that's when we need Jesus the most....

See you Sunday!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Give Them Something to Eat---Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

This Sunday I'll begin a new series called "Faith: Pursuing Christ." I think a lot of the time, we think about faith as the stuff that we believe. Although that is true, I think faith has more to do with believing that a pen will drop from our hand and hit the ground when we let it go. Faith should impact the way we live, should it not? Can faith be a verb? Can it be something that we do, or show?

The crowds who followed Jesus in "The Feeding of the 5000" had faith. When they heard Jesus was near, they found him and followed him. Jesus had compassion for them, healed them, and fed them...Here's the thing though: Jesus told his disciples to feed the crowds. They responded with how little they had. They gave it to Jesus, he blessed it, and then it fed everyone. I think that's a picture of what faith is like, knowing that when we give what we have to Jesus, we can answer his call to "give them something to eat."

In this series, I hope to retell some old gospel series about what it means to have faith and pursue Jesus. We will look at this feeding of the 5000, the walking on the water, the faith of a Canaanite woman, Peter's confession of Christ, and the cost/reward of faith. I look forward to this journey with you all.

See you Sunday!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Have You Understood These Things?---Sunday July 27th, 2014

Sunday we conclude with the rest of Jesus' "Kingdom Parables" with the parable of the mustard seed, yeast, treasure, merchant, and net in Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52. These are all short parables, where Jesus wishes to uncover the truth about the hidden Kingdom of God.

These parables seem simple; they have to do with everyday life. But still Jesus asks the crowd, and asks us, "Have you understood these things?" The Kingdom is present in our daily lives, if we have eyes to see it and the heart to understand it. 

Through Jesus' parables, I come to understand the "here but not yet" aspect of the Kingdom. I understand what Jesus is saying, but in my daily life, I soon forget them. My eyes become blind again. 

But Jesus reminds us all: the Kingdom is near. Praise God! 

Sunday, I might just play around with what other "daily things" present us an opportunity to glimpse the Kingdom. See you Sunday!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pulling Weeds---Sunday July 20th, 2014

This past Sunday we started our trek through the parables. Jesus taught by way of these stories that he told. The piece that was not preached on last Sunday was Matthew 13: 10-17, where Jesus told the disciples why he speaks in parables:

10 Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?”
11 Jesus replied, “Because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but you have. 12 For those who have will receive more and they will have more than enough. But as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them. 13 This is why I speak to the crowds in parables: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand. 14 What Isaiah prophesied has become completely true for them:
You will hear, to be sure, but never understand; 
        and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing.
15     For this people’s senses have become calloused, 
        and they’ve become hard of hearing, 
        and they’ve shut their eyes 
            so that they won’t see with their eyes 
            or hear with their ears 
            or understand with their minds, 
                and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them.[a]
16 “Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear. 17 I assure you that many prophets and righteous people wanted to see what you see and hear what you hear, but they didn’t.

In between the parable of the weeds and its explanation, Jesus says:

35b I’ll speak in parables; 
        I’ll declare what has been hidden since the beginning of the world.

Jesus speaks in parables to reveal some secrets of the Kingdom of God; to open people's eyes so that they may see; so that the people may understand.

This week, we turn to the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Matthew 13: 24:30 and 36-43.

I admit, I get a little queezy when I think about God's punishment. Although this parable tells us that the weeds should remain growing with the wheat, ultimately the weeds are burned up. This is a difficult word for me to hear.

I remember picking weeds as a kid. It was one of the most daunting chores that I had to do. But Jesus doesn't tell us to pick the weeds.....

Last summer, I heard our Bishop, Ken Carter, speak at my home church (St. Luke's UMC in Orlando). I remember something that he said, stemming from an interpretation of this parable:

"In the gospels, a vivid portrait of patience is found in Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares. We are sometimes tempted to see the vineyard as more holy or just if those with whom we have conflict are no longer present. In the beautiful image of Jesus' parable, we grow together, wheat and tares, in the church. In this way, the church is a kind of “greenhouse” where we are planted, pruned and thus transformed.   To live together (even in our differences) is a gift of grace, and is essential in our maturing as disciples until the harvest where God is judge."

See you Sunday!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Instant Christian---Sunday July 13th, 2014

Well, yesterday was quite the conclusion to what I dubbed "Welcome Week" for me. It was a great day! I'm very excited to begin this journey of ministry with all of you at Gray.

This week, we turn to one of Jesus' famous parable, that of the soils/farmer/sower. It comes in Matthew 13:1-9, and the interpretation that Jesus tells to the disciples follows in verses 18-23.

It seems to me that people expect and desire things that can be attained quickly and easy. A lot of the time, we treat the Christian life like that. In a world that is full of ads that try to sell products and services that will get results "instantly," Jesus offers us a life that is built on fertile ground and thorough roots. Jesus calls us to consider where we are "planting" our lives. The Christian life may not be attained "instantly," but the work we put in will yield a strong "harvest."

John Wesley talked about sanctification as being a process that unfolds throughout your life. Yes, justification occurs at a moment where your faith justifies you, but the process of sanctification begins at that moment as well. There is something to be said about the power that a moment, an instant can have on you, but what it sparks is really the point. Why be justified from your sins if it does not lead to a holy, fruitful Christian life?

"As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce"

Monday, June 30, 2014

Come to Me---Sunday July 6th, 2014

So, the day has come! I am finally here at Gray, and could not be more honored and thrilled to be your pastor. It is with great joy and excitement that I begin my time here at Gray.

This day has not come easily. For me, it has meant a lot of waiting, form filling, interviewing, meetings, phone short: transitioning. There has been worry, anxiety, and fear during this time. Although those feelings have been accompanied by immense joy and excitement, they have been burdensome.  I sense that the congregation here at Gray, even if it has been experienced it in a different way, has felt the weight of this time of transition as well. I imagine that this time of transition from a beloved pastor to a new one has been hard, sad, and downright painful at times for the congregation as well. Even if we accept was is to come, that doesn't mean the road will be easy. The congregation has been welcoming, hospitable, and accepting of me already, but I know that it does not come without a price. The price is a is losing a person that you loved, respected, leaned on, and enjoyed. There is a burden with this new excitement. 

It is with these burdens and difficulties that we may come to Jesus. Matthew 11: 28-30 says this:

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

The process of coming to Gray was made much easier, light, joyful, and exciting for me because I knew Jesus was there for me to lean on and go to with my anxieties and fears. This has prompted me to come here with open arms. You all know that Jesus is here for you too, and I imagine that the trust and reliance has made this transition easier and lighter.

Jesus makes himself available to us even, perhaps especially, in the hardest of times where our burdens seem too much to bear. When we go to Jesus, the joy and excitement of living life with him can re-surface, unearth, and we can move forward, especially in times of transition...

See you Sunday!