A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - September 8

Sunday, September 8 - (9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, September 11  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "In the Hands of the Potter"

Features - 16th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Jeremiah 18:1-6

Theme - The bible uses the image of a potter and clay to describe God's desire for us. God wants to shape and mold us in to the people we were created to be.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Love First (United Methodist Church) Holy Communion Offering - A Story of Hope

Whenever First United Methodist Church celebrates Holy Communion, we invite the congregation to offer a financial gift to the Pastor's Discretionary Fund. This fund is used to help with specific needs of individuals in our community as determined by Information Referral.

Holy Communion is a Sacrament that reminds us of the hope we have through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's a time for us to remember what God has done for us and is doing for us as we receive the bread and the cup. As we experience this hope through Holy Communion, our offering to the Pastor's Discretionary Fund blesses others and offers them renewed hope as well. Stories of hope like the one sent to us below from Information and Referral remind us of just how special it is whenever we receive Holy Communion as a church family.

August 20, 2013

A client walked into our office and needed help with an old Lancaster Utility bill.  There are usually no referrals available for this type of bill.  The client’s name was Traci and she had been staying with someone but today was the last day she could stay there.  Traci was facing homelessness. She was not alone; Traci has a 13 year old daughter.  Traci is employed and was able to save some money to rent a place for herself and her daughter.  When Traci went into Lancaster Utilities to have her utilities setup for her new place she was told that she had an old bill in the amount of $1374.88 and a $150.00 deposit that would need to be paid in order to have her utilities turned on.  Traci explained to Lancaster Utilities that according to her divorce decree her ex-husband was responsible for that bill.  Lancaster Utilities told her that the divorce decree did not matter, the bill was unpaid and in her name and she would have to pay it.  Lancaster Utilities offered her the option of a payment plan.  If she paid $750, she could have her utility service established at her new address.  Traci did not have $750; she had just paid out $900 for rent and deposit on a place for her and her daughter.  Lancaster Utilities told her to come over to our office and see if we could help her.

Traci came to our office and she was visibly upset.  She explained her situation and what she needed.  She came into our office already thinking that she and her daughter were going to sleep in their car for the night and maybe even lose their new apartment.  I sat down and discussed the situation with the Executive Director of Information and Referral, Kristin Ankrom, and she said this was a special circumstance and suggested that I call around and ask various agencies and churches if the could help.  I returned to my desk and started making calls.  My first call was to First United Methodist Church.  First United Methodist has always helped in the past whenever we call with a special case.  Today was no exception, I spoke with Sandy Roberts and she agreed to speak with Deb.  Within minutes they agreed to pledge $200 to help Traci get her utilities on!! Thanks to that first pledge and the wonderful support of various churches in Lancaster, we had managed to find a total of $550, and that combined with the clients $200, gave her enough money to get the utilities set up in her name.  They would have a safe place to sleep for the night thanks, in part, to First United Methodist Church!

Thank you for everything you do for our agency and for our community!

Jeannette Curtis, CIRS
Information and Referral
108 W. Main Street, Suite C
Lancaster, Ohio 43130

(740) 687-0500

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Psalm 71 & Turning 100

The Psalm for this Sunday is Psalm 71:1-6 which is a Psalm of hope. A lot of bible scholars believe that this Psalm was written by someone who was from the older generation reflecting on God's faithfulness over the many years.

One of my church members, Jean Finley, turned the big 100 this week. When I went to visit her in the nursing home to wish her a happy birthday, the thought came to me to read this Psalm since it seemed appropriate for the occasion. Another idea came to me to see if she would like to be video recorded with me reading this Psalm by her side to show during our worship services.

Jean was glad to do this and here is the video of the reading of Psalm 71 from her nursing home room that was shown during our worship services. Happy 100th birthday, Jean!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - August 25

Sunday, August 25 - (9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, August 28  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "License Plate Sightings: HOPE4ME"

Features - 14th Sunday After Pentecost & Holy Baptism (10:30)

Scripture - Luke 13:10-17

Theme - Vanity license plates are popular because they send subtle or not so subtle messages to other motorists. On this Sunday, Jesus is sending us a message that he has come to offer us healing and hope.

Sunday Worship Preview - September 1

Sunday, September 1 - (9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, September 4  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "License Plate Sightings: JESOTHU"

Features - 15th Sunday After Pentecost & Holy Communion

Scripture - Luke 14:1-14

Theme - Vanity license plates are popular because they send subtle or not so subtle messages to other motorists. On this Sunday, Jesus is sending us a message that if we choose to follow him, our priorities will need to be serving him and the people around us.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sermon (August 25) - License Plate Sightings: HOPE4ME


     Are you spotting any interesting vanity license plates lately? I was behind a car with Pennsylvania tags that had a vanity license plate that read, “LEAP YR.”  I’m guessing the owner of that car was born on a Leap Year day.
     This car also had a sticker on his back window that said, “Penn State alumni” so it was obvious to me that this person had a very important message to share with the world. It’s been fun looking for these little hidden messages in license plates, because it’s a way for people to express a little of who they are with the rest of us.
     Jesus has been giving us very important messages this summer from the Gospel of Luke.  We are in the sixth part of a seven part sermon series on the things that Jesus wants to tell us, and in today’s scripture, Jesus wants to tell us that there is always hope for you and for me.
     I remember when our family went to our very first Cubs game at Wrigley Field in Chicago.  You want to talk about people who have hope.  Just take a look at Cub fans!  Several years ago our family went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.  It was in the middle of August, hot and humid, the Cubs were in last place in their division, and it was a Tuesday night.  But none of that mattered. The game was sold out.  There seems to be an eternal hope that someday the Cubs will win the World Series.
     But if you really want to find hope, all you need to do is turn to Jesus.  Jesus is our true source of hope.
     Luke tells us of a woman who found hope in church one day.  She experienced the healing touch of Jesus Christ in her life.  Jesus has a way of untying us from things that keep us from having hope.  Luke tells us that Jesus set this woman free.  Later in this passage, Jesus says how this woman was set free from her bondage.
     Luke shows us three things that can prevent us from experiencing the hope of Jesus Christ in our lives.  These are things that can keep us tied up, if you will.
     I’m not very good at untying knots.
     I remember when our daughter was just wee little and we visited my parents.  Penny and I went to a baseball game that night and my mom and dad were in charge of their little grandchild.
     When we got home, my dad said, “We had to put her to bed with her baby shoes on, because we didn’t know how to open up those little white plastic coverings over her shoestrings.  He said how he had tried all night to open up those coverings and he couldn’t do it.”   My dad was really embarrassed when Penny took all but five seconds to take them off and untie her little shoes.
     Sometimes we get tied up in life and we don’t know how to get free.  And sometimes we lose hope, don’t we?  
     Luke gives us three things that can sometimes tie us up in life, but he also shows us how Jesus is more than able to set us free and restore our hope.
     The first thing is this.  Jesus can untie the knot of the forces of evil in this world.  Luke tells us that this woman, who had come into that worship service when Jesus was preaching, had a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.  She was so crippled that Luke tells us that she was bent over and was unable to stand up straight.
     I find it very interesting that Luke just doesn’t tell us that this woman was crippled and bent over, but he tells us that she had a spirit that had crippled her.  This tells me that for the past eighteen years this woman was not just contending with a physical problem, but she was also up against an evil force.
     God’s design is for all people to be healthy and physically whole.  God doesn’t cause people to be sick or to be injured or to suffer from a serious illness.  I believe that these things are the result of our fallen world.
     This text reminds us of the presence of evil in our world.  Even though God created this world and called it good, there are is also an evil force that is at work in the world. In our story this morning, Jesus heals this woman and set her free from the spirit that had been troubling her for all of those years.  Luke tells us that she immediately stood up straight.
     We contend with evil forces all of the time.  Forces that would keep us from having hope in Jesus Christ.  Forces that would keep us from being set free.
     William Wilberforce was a devout Christian and member of the British Parliament from 1780 to 1825.  He felt a calling to serve Jesus Christ through the political arena.  It was William Wilberforce who is mostly responsible for abolishing the slave trade and slavery itself in all British territories. 
     The interesting thing about William Wilberforce was that it took him 18 years to get his motion to abolish the slave trade passed.  And then just four days before his death, the English Parliament finally passed a motion to end all slavery in the British territories.  A year after William Wilberforce died, almost one million slaves were set free from the evil force of slavery.
     Eighteen years must be a significant number for us today, because Luke tells us that the woman in our scripture lesson had been crippled for eighteen years.
     We need to realize that sometimes, we are contending against the evil forces of this world.  We are involved in a spiritual struggle.  But thanks to people like William Wilberforce and this woman in our scripture today, we can always have hope in Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ will not fail us.
     The first thing that Jesus wants to untie us from is from the knot of the evil forces of this world.    
     The second thing that Jesus wants to untie in our lives is the knot of spiritual dryness.  When Jesus healed this woman, notice the first thing she did.  Nobody had to tell her to do this.  She just did it.  She began praising God.
     Sometimes, hope can be so low in our lives that we can feel empty and we experience a spiritual dryness. I don’t know of too many people who don’t go through times of spiritual dryness in their spiritual journey.
     I have a friend who about six months ago shared with me over lunch that he was feeling spiritually dry in his life. He was living out his faith and active in his church but inside he was very empty.  Before we left that day, we prayed there in the restaurant and I told him that I would continue to pray for him and check in on him.
     A week later, I called him on the phone just to see how he was doing. And then I sent him a birthday card with a reminder that I was praying for him. Sometimes, I would just send him a text or a facebook message to let him know that I was thinking of him.
     Each time I spoken with him, he seemed like he was doing better. He said that he was learning to not let problems at work get the best of him. He was taking better care of himself by exercising and eating right. He also said that he decided to share what he was going through with his wife and he felt a lot of support from her.
     And then a really wonderful thing happened. He called me out of the blue one day to tell me that a new job opportunity was opening up for him and he was very excited about it. He said that this new job couldn’t have come at a better time.
     I can’t tell you how wonderful it was for me to hear the joy in his voice. In just a couple of months since our lunch together, he was feeling hope again. He was feeling more like his old self. And so I jokingly said to him, “I don’t like to brag, but I think it’s all because of my prayers.”
     But then I said to him, “I just want to cry tears of joy for you right now because I remember vividly how low you were feeling when we were together for lunch just a few months ago.”  And he said to me, “I know. I just want to praise God for these positive changes in my life. God is so good!”
    Now, we all know that not everybody experiences that kind of spiritual transformation in a short amount of time but Jesus is always reaching out to us with healing and hope.
     Jesus unties us from the knot of the forces of evil and from the knot of spiritual dryness.  And last, but not least, sometimes, we need to be untied from ourselves.  Sometimes, the knot that has us tied up isn’t external. It’s internal. It’s something we can choose or not choose to untie.
     I like how Luke contrasts the woman who was healed with the religious leader who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. One was open to hope and the other was closed to receiving hope. The reason the religious leader didn’t choose to receive the hope that Jesus was offering is because of his narrow interpretation of working on the Sabbath.
     Jesus reminds the religious leader that this woman he healed is a daughter of Abraham which means that she is one of them.  This woman is a child of God. The religious leader of the synagogue saw this woman as someone who wasn’t worthy of being healed.
     The story is told about an upscale, conservative church. One Sunday morning, about halfway through the service, a young man entered the church, barefoot, wearing dirty jeans and a wrinkled and torn t-shirt. Because the church was crowded, the visitor couldn't find a seat and the ushers had already seated themselves.

     Finally, the young man walked straight down the main aisle and sat on the floor in front of the preacher. As one of the ushers made his way to the young man, an uncomfortable silence settled over the congregation. Most people thought the usher would ask the young man to leave - but much to everyone's surprise, the elderly man sat down beside him and they worshipped together. No one ever forgot the kindness of this usher.

     Sometimes, we are the knot that needs to be untied. Jesus calls us to have open minds to the new way that God is at work in the world.
     If you are here today and you are low on hope, I want you to know that Jesus Christ will not disappoint you.  Regardless of what you are facing or what knot is keeping you tied down, whether it be an evil force, or spiritual dryness, or even ourselves, Jesus is offering all of us his hope so that we can receive healing and be made whole.
     Praise God that there is hope for you and for me!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sermon (August 11) - License Plate Sightings: RED2DN


     While I was stuck behind a long line of traffic in Columbus, I decided to play a game to pass the time.  And the game was, “Find the most creative vanity license plate.”
     And the winner was a car that had “Latte 7” on their plate.  Anybody that would need to let people know how many cups of coffee they need in the morning, scares me.
     Over ten years ago, when we were living in Findlay, Ohio, Penny purchased new plates for her car.  And the people behind the counter at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles wanted to give Penny a license plate that began with the numbers 666.
     And she said, “I’m sorry, but I need different plates.  I’m a pastor’s wife and 666 is not a good message to send.”
     And the person behind the counter said, “You have to take it unless somebody in the line behind you will take it.”  And the guy behind Penny said, “I’ll take it.” 
     Vanity license plates.  Today is the fourth part of a seven part sermon series on what Jesus wants to tell us.  We’ve been reading through the Gospel of Luke for these messages that Jesus has for us.   And we’ve been putting them in the form of what you might see on a vanity license plate.  And today, the message is for us as his followers to be ready to the end.
     I attended a seminar with a group of 30 church leaders and we were asked to write a seven year letter.  The leaders of this seminar asked us to think about our church seven years from now.  And they wanted us to write down what our walk with Christ would look like and what our ministries would look like in seven years.
     And the seminar leader said, “Think about how old you will be in seven years because that will put this in perspective.” And all of the sudden, the woman sitting next to me let out this terrifying yell as she thought about how old she would be in seven years.
     It’s not easy to think about our lives seven years from now or even one year from now.  And the whole point of this seven year letter was to help us to think about where we want to be in the long-term since we usually only think of the short-term.
     In our Gospel reading from St. Luke, this is exactly what Jesus wants us to do.  He wants us to think about our future.  He wants us to think about what our relationship with Christ will look like down the road.  Jesus is reminding us that he will come again and when he comes again, will we be ready for him?  Will we be found faithful when he returns?
     Many of us saw watched the Tour de France a few weeks ago. Cyclists are known to say that the race is won not at the beginning but in who makes it across the finish line in Paris first.  That’s how the race is won.
     Churches also are called to think about the future and where they want to be in order to be faithful to the end. Jesus reminds us from the Gospel of Luke to watch out for complacency because he will return and he wants to find us ready.
     Luke chapter 12 Jesus tells us, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”  Jesus is using two images here for being always ready in our faith.  The first image has to do with clothing.  Be dressed for action he says.
     During Jesus’ day, people usually didn’t wear a belt around their garments because it was more comfortable to wear their clothes loosely around the house.  But they would need to wear a belt if they were to go on a trip.  So a belt was a symbol of being ready to go somewhere.  And Jesus is saying that in a symbolic sense, we are to be dressed for action and always be ready to be faithful in serving Him.
     And Jesus also uses the image of a lamp to make his point about the importance of always being ready.  We are to never be without the light of Christ in our lives.  That’s a great image.  Every Christian is a reflection of the light of Christ for the world to see.  And sometimes we forget to light our lamps or we feel like we can make it through the day without Christ’s light.  But Jesus is saying that we need those lamps lit every single day.
     What does it mean for you and me to be ready to the end?
     First of all, it means that we know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.  We can’t have our lamps lit for the world unless we first receive the light of Jesus Christ in our own loves.
     One of my duties at the house is to be the light bulb changer.   By the way, do you know how many TV evangelists it takes to change a light bulb?  One.  But for the message of light to continue, send in your donation today.
     How many United Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?  “We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb.  However, if in your journey, you have found that a light bulb works for you, that is fine.”
     Once in a while, I go to our closet to find a new light bulb, and find that we’re all out.  That’s why the first thing we need in order to be ready to the end is to have the light of Christ in our lives by knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
     The most significant event of my life was the moment that I accepted Jesus Christ into my life.  The day Penny and I were married, and the days our children were born rank right up there, but there’s no doubt in my mind that from an eternal perspective, the day I accepted the light of the world in my life, is at the very top.
     What does it mean to have our lamps lit?  It first means that we have received the light of the world into our lives.
     The second thing it means is that we grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
     Jesus used to say that about the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day, who he bumped heads with time and time again.  Jesus would tell his disciples, “The teachings of the Pharisees are great.  They say good things.  The problem is – they just don’t practice what they preach.  And because they are not practicing what they preach, they’re not growing in their faith.”
     I was sitting with a pastor at a Champs restaurant in Columbus deciding on what we should order for dinner that night.  The waitress had dropped off our menus and said she would come back to take our order.  Well guess what?  When you have two preachers in the same booth, it will take about 15 minutes before they will even look at the menu because we talk so much. 
     So this waitress would keep coming back to our booth to see if we were finally ready.  And each time we would say, “No, just give us another two minutes and we’ll be ready then.”  This happened three times.  She would come back and we would say that we weren’t ready.
     We finally decided on what we wanted and we put in our order.  After our waitress left, we continued to talk and got caught up with how each other was doing.
     And then someone from the kitchen brought out our food.  And that’s when my good friend got an idea of how to apply his faith to that moment.
     He said, “Hey, before we pray, let’s include the waitress especially since she has been so patient with us.”  And he flagged down our waitress and he said, “My friend and I pray before meals, and we were wondering if there’s anything that you would want us to pray for and we’ll mention that in our prayer.”
     You should have seen the look on her face.  She was surprised that we would include her in our prayer but then this great big smile came to her face and she said, “Well thank you.  I really feel that it’s time to make a change in my life and I’m not sure what that means.”
     And my friend said, “Sure, we’ll pray for you.”  She said thanks and off she went and we prayed for Amanda, our waitress.
     After the meal, we got the bill.  And this was another high spiritual moment.  He said to me, “Let me pay for this.”  And I said, “You don’t have to…OK.”
     And then he said, what percentage tip should I give her?  And I said, “Well since I’m not paying, I would recommend a really nice tip.” My friend ended up giving her a 30% tip because he wanted to make sure that the waitress knew that we really cared about her and that God really cared about her.
     My friend reminded me of the importance of applying our faith to everyday encounters with people.  When we grow in our relationship with Christ and apply our faith to our everyday lives, it helps us to be people who are ready to the end.
     And last but not least, if we want to be ready to the end, we always need to know where we’re headed.
     Jesus tells us in our scripture reading this morning that we are to be like those who are waiting for their Master to return from a trip, and who open the door for their Master upon his return.
     Our faith begins and ends with Jesus Christ. It’s important that we know where we’re going.
     Billy Graham has been known to tell a story about Albert Einstein.  Albert Einstein was traveling on a train when the conductor of the train was coming around to punch the tickets of the passengers.  When he arrived to Dr. Einstein’s seat he asked for his ticket.  And Dr. Einstein couldn’t find it and frantically began looking for it.
     The conductor said, “That’s OK. Dr. Einstein. We believe you have a ticket. That’s OK.”
     And as the conductor went on to punch the tickets of the next passengers he happened to look back and this time saw Albert Einstein now on his hands and knees of the train searching frantically for his train ticket.
     And the conductor went back to his seat and said, “Dr. Einstein.  Don’t worry about your ticket.  We all know who you are.  It’s really OK.” 
     And Dr. Einstein said, “But I still need that ticket because I don’t know where I’m going.”
     It’s important to know where we’re going as we seek to be ready to the end.
     Rev. Robert Lowry, 38 years old at the time, was the pastor of Hanson Place Baptist Church in NYC during that terrible period in 1864 when the plague was sweeping away multitudes of citizens.  When he wasn’t visiting church members who were ill, he was conducting funerals.
     One hot July day, Lowry himself was near collapse, exhausted, dispirited.  Reaching for a scrap of paper, he began composing a poem; then, at his organ, he composed the music for it.  It spoke of his hope to meet his suffering and dying parishioners in heaven, down by the River of Life.
     Just listen to the words of this hymn of faith:
     Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod?  With its crystal tide forever. Flowing by the throne of God?
     Yes, we’ll gather at the river, the Beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river.  That flows by the throne of God.
     God has promised that there will be a wonderful homecoming for those who have been faithful to Jesus Christ to the end.  For those who have received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, for those who are growing in their relationship with Christ, and for those who know that the Christian faith is a journey that leads to the beautiful river where all of God’s people will gather and rejoice together.
     John Maxwell relates the following experience in his book, Think On These Things.  He writes that he was awakened by a persistent knock on his motel room door at 3:45 A.M. It was the police! They were looking for a lady who had threatened to commit suicide.
     Sure enough, a young lady in a nearby room lay in desperation on a bed crying out to die.  Quickly the police held her down to the bed until her hands and feet were securely handcuffed.  For the next 45 minutes, he listened to her cry over and over again, “Please, let me die!  Let me alone!  Nobody cares! Nobody loves me!”
     The rest of that night John Maxwell thought about the desperation and the agony of that lonely young woman.  Somehow the message “I couldn’t care less” had echoed through the streets of Chicago until she felt compelled to reject life.
     And then he writes, “Just think how beautiful this world would be if this unchristian philosophy were replaced with Christian attitudes until people would begin saying, ‘I couldn’t care more.’”
     This story from John Maxwell motivates me to be ready to the end for Jesus.  Why?  Because I want to be one of those persons who tells others, “I couldn’t care more.”
     When Jesus tells us to keep our lamps burning and to be dressed ready for service, it means that we let the people around us know that, “We couldn’t care more.”
     We couldn’t care more.  That’s why we are collecting school supplies for our neighboring elementary school.
     I couldn’t care more.  That’s why we are throwing a big party with children’s games, free food, and live music for our community next weekend.
     I couldn’t care more.  That’s why our Second Saturday outreach team met yesterday to visit the homebound, spend time with nursing home residents, make blankets for cancer patients at the hospital, pick up trash along the bike trail, and split wood to help people heat their homes this Winter.
     I couldn’t care more.  That’s why we provide meals for people in need three days a week throughout the year.
     We do what we do because we couldn’t care more and we want to be ready to the end.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - July 28

Sunday, July 28 - (9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, July 31  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "License Plate Sightings: NOK2OPN"

Features - 10th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Colossians 2:6-15 & Luke 11:1-13

Theme - Vanity license plates are popular because they send subtel or not so subtel messages to other motorists. On this Sunday, Jesus is sending us a message on the importance of prayer.

Sunday Worship Preview - August 18

Sunday, August 18 - (9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, August 21  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "License Plate Sightings: STAN4ME"

Features - 13th Sunday After Pentecost & Blessing of the Backpacks

Scripture - Luke 12:49-56

Theme - Vanity license plates are popular because they send subtle or not so subtle messages to other motorists. On this Sunday, Jesus is sending us a message that it will cost us something to be one of his disciples.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sermon (August 18) - License Plate Sightings: STAN4ME

     We have been spending the past several Sundays focusing on what Jesus wants to tell us from the Gospel of Luke.  And in today’s scripture reading from Luke chapter 12, Jesus says some unsettling things.  Shocking things.
     Jesus tells us that he has not come to bring peace on earth, but division.  In fact, Jesus even tells us that families will be divided over who he is.
     Jesus says how a father will be against his son and a son will be against his father.  A mother in law will be against her daughter in law and a daughter in law will be against her mother in law.
     Our ultimate goal as Christians is to stand for Jesus.  That’s what the sermon title is all about this morning.  Jesus is telling us, “stand for me.”  I’m a little reluctant to preach on this text because some people have used this text as a license to rub people the wrong way.
     Having convictions and standing for Jesus is not the same thing as being a pain in someone’s backside just to be a pain in someone’s backside.   Having convictions and standing for Jesus means that we will be 100% committed to Jesus Christ no matter what the cost – even if the people around us, people we love, people in our families might not understand.
     Several years ago, I met a Christian who lives in North Carolina with her husband.  She is a neighbor of the famous evangelist, Billy Graham.  She grew up in a Jewish family and she was curious about the New Testament so she began to read it and study it every day.
     She came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is truly the Messiah that the Old Testament, or for her, the Hebrew Scriptures, foretold.  And she said that she accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.
     And I asked her what her family thought of her decision to become a Christian.  And she said that they literally disowned her.  In fact, after she became a Christian, they performed a funeral for her symbolizing, that to them, she was no longer alive.
     And that’s when she decided to move from her home in Florida to live in North Carolina.
     And then she said something very interesting.  She said, that she knows of many Jewish friends who believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah but don’t want to publicly say so because they don’t want to be ostracized from their families.
     The price we sometimes pay when we stand for Jesus. She was simply standing for Jesus and she’s paying the price.
     This woman inspired me to think about my life and my commitment to Jesus Christ.  Compared to her, I had it easy.  I grew up in a small town in south central Pennsylvania where you were expected to attend church.
     My parents took me to church every Sunday.   Even to this day, when our family gets together, we always offer a prayer before we eat.  Even before lunch!  That’s when you’re really getting radical in your faith – when you pray before lunch and not just before dinner.  We were “lunch praying Christians” and proud of it!
     But Christianity is more than saying a prayer before lunch or before dinner.  Christianity is about standing up for Jesus.
     I played on an adult baseball team while I was in college.  And the guys on the team covered a wide age span – anywhere from college age like me at the time, to really old like 39 or 40.  There were some pretty tough guys on my team.
     And one of the players was in his mid 30s, he was one of those old guys on the team.  He was giving me a ride home from one of our games, and I don’t remember what led this guy to tell me this, but he ended up telling me that he was going through a pretty tough divorce with his wife.
     And I could tell that even though he had a tough exterior, he was really hurting inside.  And the whole time he was telling me about his marital problems, I wanted so much to tell him about Jesus Christ and how much Jesus loved him and cared about him.
     But I didn’t.  Why didn’t I tell this guy about Jesus Christ?  Because I was afraid that he would think that I was some religious fanatic or that I wasn’t as tough as him.
     I didn’t stand up for Jesus because I was too afraid.  And the whole time, I kept sensing that God wanted me to share the hope of the gospel with him, and the whole time, I kept thinking that he would think less of me if I did.
     He pulled into my driveway to drop me off and as I stepped out of his pick-up truck, I at least said to him, “Randy, I want you to know that I’m going to pray for you.” I mustered up enough courage to tell him that I would pray for him but I couldn’t find enough confidence to share the gospel with him.
     It’s not easy to stand up for Jesus, is it? Even if we go to church every week and do church things, it’s not easy to stand up for Jesus.
     Maybe that’s why our text from Luke gets our attention.  It’s a sobering reminder to us that Christianity isn’t for the faint of heart.  It’s for people who aren’t afraid to say, “Jesus Christ is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all.”
     In Charles Swindoll’s book, “Living Above Mediocrity” Bruce Larson tells about his time growing up in Chicago.  He writes,
“When I was a small boy, I attended church every Sunday at a big Gothic Presbyterian bastion in Chicago. The preaching was powerful and the music was great. But for me, the most awesome moment in the morning service was the offertory, when twelve solemn, frock-coated ushers marched in lock-step down the main aisle to receive the brass plates for collecting the offering.
These men, so serious about their business of serving the Lord in this magnificent house of worship, were the business and professional leaders of Chicago. One of the twelve ushers was a man named Frank Loesch. He was not a very imposing looking man, but in Chicago he was a living legend, for he was the man who had stood up to Al Capone. In the prohibition years, Capone's rule was absolute.
 The local and state police and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation were afraid to oppose him. But singlehandedly, Frank Loesch, as a Christian layman and without any government support, organized the Chicago Crime Commission, a group of citizens who were determined to take Mr. Capone to court and put him away.
During the months that the Crime Commission met, Frank Loesch's life was in constant danger. There were threats on the lives of his family and friends. But he never wavered. Ultimately he won the case against Capone and was the instrument for removing this blight from the city of Chicago. Frank Loesch had risked his life to live out his faith.
Each Sunday at this point of the service, my father, a Chicago businessman himself, never failed to poke me and silently point to Frank Loesch with pride. Sometime I'd catch a tear in my father's eye. For my dad and for all of us this was and is what authentic living is all about.”
     In our Luke passage this morning, Jesus is telling us to stand up for him.
     What do we need in order to stand up for Jesus and be faithful to Him?
     The first thing that we need is the right expectations.   Jesus is telling us what to expect if we follow him.  There will be divisions.  Not everybody will see your total commitment to Jesus Christ as a good thing.  Some people will think that you are taking things too far in your faith.  Are you willing to live with that? 
     Jesus is telling us up front that following him will not be easy.  Jesus is giving us the right expectations. 
     The second thing that we need in order to stand up for Jesus is conviction of our beliefs.
     Jesus tells the crowd in our scripture reading that they should realize that he is the Savior of the world.  Based on his own teachings, his miracles, and his healings, they should understand that he is the Son of God who has come to bring salvation.
     Jesus calls the crowds “hypocrites” because they can tell by looking at a cloud that it will rain or by looking at a south wind that it will be hot, and yet when they look at Jesus, they don’t realize that God’s salvation had come. We need to make up our minds about who Jesus Christ is.  Our understanding of who Jesus is has a great impact upon whether or not we will stand up for Jesus.
     In order to stand up for Jesus, we need to have the right expectations, a conviction of our beliefs, and last but not least.  We need to help the church to be intentional about making disciples.  Disciple making churches are churches that help people stand up for Jesus.
     Many churches are not disciple making churches.  They are social clubs that use religious language.  We are called to be a disciple making church. A disciple making church is intentional about helping people move from being spectators to being faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
     Think of five concentric circles.  The outer circle is called, “The community.”  For our church, this would mean the greater Lancaster area.  And next to that concentric circle, the question becomes, how can we let the people of the greater Lancaster area know that God loves them and we love them?
     There are many ways that we reach out to our community.  Every Second Saturday of each month, we hold our Second Saturday Outreach where volunteers from our church are sent into our community to be a blessing to others. We go to nursing homes to play bingo with residents, we clean up parks, we provide firewood for people who are on a limited income, we help people with simple home repairs, we give out quarters to people at Laundromats, and we do many other things to let our community know that we are a church that cares. We are a church that also provides meals at Foundation Dinners, Lutheran Social Services, and right here in our own kitchen three days a week.
     The next circle or the fourth concentric circle is called “the Crowd.”  For our church, the crowd would be the people that we attract from the community who want to check out our church.  A church that is committed to disciple making will find ways to draw people from the larger community into the presence of the church.
    Disciple making churches are aware of their community, the outside concentric circle, they are aware of the need to attract a crowd, which is the next circle.  This afternoon, our church is hosting the West End Wing Ding at our Crossroads facility.  The reason we’re doing this is that we want to attract a crowd. It’s an opportunity for our congregation and our community to get to know each other at a fun event. We host other large events to attract a crowd like our Easter Eggstravaganza and our Halloween Festival.
     It just might be our words of welcome or our smile while serving food or our mixing and mingling in the crowd that might lead someone to say, “This is the kind of church that I want to attend.” Who knows how many people we decide to be part of our church because of this fun event.
     The next circle is the congregation.  The congregation would be those who regularly attend worship and the ministries of our church.  Certainly, worship is a big part of what it means to be a congregation.
     The next circle after the congregation is the committed.  The committed would be persons who in addition to coming to worship are regularly attending some kind of small group or bible study.
     And the last circle that’s in the middle is called the Core.  These are the core people who not only worship regularly and attend some type of spiritual support group, but they also are tithing their money to the church, they are serving in mission projects, and they are vigorously committed to being true disciples of Jesus Christ.
     And so, you have these five circles.  Notice that as each circle gets closer to the middle circle, to the core circle, they get smaller and smaller.  And that’s because, the smaller the circle; the greater the commitment.
     Churches that have strategies in place for people to move from being in the community to becoming part of the core life of the church are churches that help people stand up for Jesus.
     What do we need in order to stand up for Jesus?  We need the right expectations and Jesus gives us those expectations.  He tells us that following Him won’t be easy.  We need conviction of our beliefs.  We need to put Jesus Christ first in all that we do.  And thirdly, we need to be part of a church that is committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ.
     During 1857-1858 revival broke out in Philadelphia, PA. A young preacher, Dudley Tyng, one day preached to 5000 men using Exodus 10:11 as his text: “Go now ye that are men and serve the Lord.” About 1000 responded to his invitation that evening. On the following Wednesday he was out checking his corn-shelling machine when his arm accidentally got pulled into the machine and was severed off. The doctors did not believe he would live. While Tyng lay in great pain, he entreated his doctor to accept Christ. With a room filled with other preachers he asked them to “Sing, sing, Can you not sing.” His last admonition to his friends was to “Tell the people to stand up for Jesus.” George Duffield witnessed his friend’s death that day and heard his dying words. That week he wrote the words to the hymn, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.”
     Let’s be intentional in becoming totally committed followers of Jesus Christ who move closer and closer toward that inner circle where we are truly standing up for Jesus at all costs.

Sunday Worship Preview - August 11

Sunday, August 11 - (9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, August 14  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "License Plate Sightings:  REDE2DN"

Features - 12th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Luke 12:32-40

Theme - Vanity license plates are popular because they send subtle or not so subtle messages to other motorists. On this Sunday, Jesus is sending us a message for us to stay alert and focused on Him.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sermon by Pastor Cheryl Foulk (August 4) - License Plate Sightings: ENUF

A father and his children were driving  outside town. They passed a landfill and the children asked “What was all that stuff piled up?”  The father answered them that this is what eventually happens to all our things: birthday presents, Christmas gifts,cars, furniture,bikes, everyday items that wear out or we get tired of.  They all were amazed at the amount of  possessions in our lives.

There is a  spiritual question that we continually have to answer concerning our things:
“What do we do with all that we have/ How much is enough? “ 
That leads to our license plate sighting for today: ENUF.

Our Gospel story from Luke  is one of Jesus most powerful images because of the finality of the message.  We picture here a man who is very comfortable in his lifestyle. All of his needs and his wants are being met. He looks forward to acquiring even more for his own enjoyment. God calls this man a fool because this will be his last day of life. He will have no more opportunities  to enjoy himself. Also he will have no more opportunities to respond to the needs of others. Spiritually, he dies a poor man.

The point is not that it was sinful for him to be a  wealthy productive person who prospered.  The  problem is that he  was  self- centered and he hoarded all that he had. Did you  notice how many times he speaks of me, myself and mine ?  His selfish perspective smothered his soul.

Jesus said:“Watch out – be on guard against all kinds of greed. Life does not consist of abundance of possessions.”

This story does make me feel uncomfortable.
I believe it is not meant to make us feel guilty about all the resources that we may have; this story was told to help us see the opportunities we have to give and to be generous people.  To feel grateful towards God and then bless others with the abundance that we have. To not wait to give because the opportunity is now.

Arthur Simon, founder of Bread for the World said that  we can become so “ preoccupied with keeping what we have or getting what we do not have, the needs of others fade from our thoughts.”
Let's think about the opposite of the rich fool, and call the imaginary character Generous George.
George look at his life as being like a full basket.
-He realizes that he has enough, more than enough. He has extra in his life.  More than enough things, more than enough money, more than enough time.  He has something to draw from.

-He considers his possessions as being  not just for him. He is always looking towards the needs of others. and for ways to give. He likes to challenge himself to give more than he planned, to give more than he thinks that he can.

-He is listening to see if he can help meet a need of a neighbor, a friend, or even someone around the world.  Giving is not a burden to George but a joy.
 In Lafayette Indiana,  St. John's Episcopal Church hosts what they call Jubilee Christmas. The folks of the church collect toys and clothes so that in December  parents in need can shop to get presents  for their children. Some parishioners look for items year round for this mission.

 On the  pastor's blog he told about the family of Jean Jones. They brought in the toys that their mom had collected so far. ( see in picture) Jean died unexpectedly  this summer. At Jean's funeral the stack of presents were a visible reminder of what Jean treasured: the children of her community.  Obvious reminder that  what survives us is what we have done for others.
When Jeff and Andre Shinabarger moved into their  Atlanta neighborhood, they did not know how their lives would be changed by a homeless man named Clarence who rang their doorbell and welcomed them to the neighborhood. His perspective on things gave new insights to this young couple.  Their friendship with him changed they way they regarded their possessions.

To him, their small house was a palace. I highly recommend their book More or Less  for private study or in a group.  In so many ways they tried to grapple with what God wanted them to do with their stuff, their money, their time, their daily routine.  In creative ways  they chose to have less so others could have more.

One activity in their book is to take an simple inventory of your closet and ask:

How much do I have?  How much do I need? What can I do with the excess?  When?

You can do this same inventory concerning anything that you own. What all do I have and what do I need? What will happen with the extra?

When we moved two years ago, I found out again how attached I am to things, my possessions.
Over and over I had to answer“What am I hanging on to that God wanted me to give away?   What do I have sitting around that is needed by someone else  and would make a difference in their lives?”

Stephen King is the master author of scary stories and he has chillingly scared  movie audiences and readers. Some years ago he was the commencement speaker for Vassar College. On that day he tried not to scare the young graduates but challenge them to see that they had a window in their lives when they had the power to do good. Two years prior to this speech, King had been severely injured in an accident where he was hit by a car as he walked on roadside. He refers to this accident in his speech:

“ A couple of years ago I  found out what “you can't take it with you” means. I found out while I was lying in a ditch at the side of a country road...on that particular day and in the months that followed, I got a painful but extremely valuable look at life's simple backstage truths. We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we're just as broke. Warren Buffet?  Going to go out broke. Bill Gates? Going out broke... All the money you earn, all the stocks you buy.. all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors...So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan, anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on... A life of giving-not just money, but time and spirit- repays. It helps us remember that we may be going out broke, but right now we're doing o.k. Right now we have the power to do great good for others and for ourselves. So I ask you to begin giving..  Only yours to give for a short while.” Stephen King's words were to Ivy League graduates who will probably earn lots of money.  His plea is applicable for all of us as we consider our possessions and their purposes.
Gary Moore is a financial consultant that helps Christians manage their finances.  He is asked often “How much should I give? What should be the percentage/ perimeters? “
He likes to smile and answer: “Well, that depends. How happy to you want to be?”

What abundant treasures we have been given by God!  What joy we will experience when in the end we give an account to God for what we did with all our blessings!