November 17, 2019
Stanley Hauerwas is one of my favorite living (he’s 79 now) theologians. He tends to focus on the difficulties with living the Christian life while here on earth. He was the first to introduce me to the reality that American culture is no longer supportive of the Christian church. To be American does not mean the same as being Christian. The church can find new life as a supportive community in a hostile world. American individualism and Christian community are at odds much of the time. Living the Christian life outside the community of faith is not practical. Stanley says it this way: “Such a task is unfortunately doomed to failure. For finally these relations are not conceptual, but practical. Christian ethics, as a critical and reflective discipline, cannot restore what only a community can hold together. Christian ethics **** is dependent on a community’s wisdom about how certain actions are prohibited or enjoined for the development of a particular kind of people.” Isaiah’s vision requires more than “do no evil,” it requires a community of Christians dedicated to DO………
November 10, 2019
King David’s Family Tree
King David is one of the more well-known figures in the Bible, and for good reason. He’s actually the most developed and complex character in the entire Old Testament. The amount of pages dedicated to telling his story outnumber any other single person in the Bible except for Jesus (who has four entire books in the New Testament!). Unlike Saul, Israel’s first king, David didn’t have height or muscle going for him. He was the forgotten son of the bunch, sent out to watch the sheep. We’re not sure if David was the seventh brother or if he had seven brothers (if his seventh brother is not named in the genealogies, it may be because he died without children), but Elihab was the elder brother and today we bring him into our sanctuary to wrestle with David and his laments from Psalm 17. His details are fictional, David’s story is Biblical!
November 3, 2019
All Hallows Eve…
Like Christmas Eve before Christmas, Halloween (or All Hallows Eve) is the night before All Saints – its likely Christian inspiration. All Saints Day is always November 1st even though we wait until the Sunday after the 1st to commemorate the observance. Therefore, Halloween isn’t the beast some describe, and yet, even though the whole thing might be harmless fun, that’s not how it looks.
Think about it: Even this holiday’s more cartoonish expressions involve skeletons, ghosts, goblins aplenty and constant reminders of death. Whatever is “good,” “pure,” “true,” “lovely,” and “praiseworthy” should look like my grandmother’s “Precious Moments collection” and Halloween just seems like a celebration of evil. But consider that our celebration of the spooky, whatever its origins, happens in the autumn. This is the time when the most evident signs of life all around us wither and fall to the earth. These seasonal foreshadowings of our own impending deaths are impossible to ignore. Indeed, people have noticed them for millennia.
I suspect that the spooky, macabre, and generally Halloween-ish serves as an essential plot element in the story of our redemption—as a cue that the drama in which we are actors hasn’t yet reached its resolution. Even more, these things are a call for us to throw ourselves into that drama, and to win a glory here in time that will never fade in eternity. (adapted from G. Shane Morris on Patheos)
October 27, 2019
Change is defined as the transition from one state to another. We all experience change in every aspect of our lives, whether we want to or not. Some changes can be minor, while some turn your world upside-down.
We get comfortable with what we know and resist change. However, our gospel narrative and Paul’s letter to Ephesus insists on our need for change: “renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit and clothe yourself with the new person” Ephesians 4:23.
Yes, we resist and fear change. But Paul asks us to trust the one who has our best interest at heart. Changing God’s way puts us on a path to our best possible life! Participate in your own growth, work with the Holy Spirit knowing that God always delights over you! Changing ourselves is the first step to changing the world
October 20, 2019
He descended into hell…
In the Apostles’ Creed there is an asterisk (*) in our hymnal (#881) right after “dead and buried.” The asterisk indicates that, after death, the soul of Jesus descended into the realm of the dead. There is a traditional belief in the church that on Holy Saturday, between the time of his Crucifixion and his Resurrection, Jesus descended into hell and brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world (even though the creed does not mention that he liberated the dead). But 1 Peter 4:6 and Ephesians 4:9 (part of our text today) give some believers scriptural support for such an idea. Such “LEAN” amounts of Scripture have given rise to controversy and differing interpretations. Today we’ll consider Ephesians 4:9 “in its context” to better understand what Paul might be saying here.
October 13, 2019
Together We Experience LOVE
Notice that last week we considered “finding” peace (shalom). This week we consider “experiencing” love (agape). Experience is a “firsthand” understanding that requires direct participation. Imagine interviewing a babysitter that you asked, “What experience have you had with children?” And they answer, “Well, I’ve read several books on childcare and I’ve watched The Babysitters Club movie.” Study and observing others are not substitutes for doing the job “hands on.” Experience in LOVE opens many doors. The Greeks have multiple words for love (you can find as many as eight) – [eros, philia, storge, and agape] are the top four. What is YOUR experience? Together we experience love – but can you give back something you’ve never experienced?
October 6, 2019
Together We Find Peace
World Communion Sunday is a great opportunity for us to join with other parts of the body of Christ across the country to reflect on and reclaim the true nature of the church. As a church, we are the collective hands and feet of Christ, we reflect the teaching and actions of Jesus to do God’s will and work in the world. And we grow in our relationships - with God and with each other. Not just friends and family within these four walls, but also the church across the street, across town, and on the other side of the world. We are honored to accept the challenge Jesus prayed for us in the garden. How can we BE ONE? How can we know Peace? Come help us, Holy Spirit!
September 29, 2019
Meet Jim Wallis!
As a teenager, Jim Wallis wanted to leave the church for good. An elder in his church took him aside and said, “Son, you have to understand. Christianity has nothing to do with racism. That's political and our faith is personal.” Wallis wasn't satisfied with that answer, so he left the church. “I didn't have words for that elder back then, but I do now. God is personal, but never private.” Wallis is now an ordained evangelical Christian pastor who serves as president of Sojourners, a social justice-oriented magazine and news website. Wallis believes the Bible's prophets and Jesus all say the final test of discipleship is how we treat those who are poor and vulnerable. Sounds like that pesky widow doesn’t it?
September 22, 2019
Alexithymia = “no words for emotion”
Despite the name, the real problem for people with alexithymia isn’t so much that they have no words for their emotions, but that they lack the emotions themselves. Alexithymia is linked to a lack of empathy. If you can’t feel your own emotions in the typical way, it makes sense that you can’t identify with those of others, either.
If God’s will for us is to BE relational – “us to God” and “us to each other” as the 10 commandments reveal, then one powerful form of empathy is to grieve together – in that sense, could we not say that funeral services are one of the healthiest things we do?
September 15, 2019
Surrender, Acceptance, Serenity!
The Serenity Prayer has come to mean a lot to those involved with recovery programs. It was written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It appeared in a sermon of Niebuhr's written for the 1944 A Book of Prayers and Services for the Armed Forces., Niebuhr himself first published the prayer in 1951 as part of a magazine column he wrote. If addiction is characterized by chaos, loss of control, and emotional turmoil, serenity, as the opposite, is a positive state of mind where you are untroubled by life’s ups and downs. It means remaining calm and true to yourself, regardless of what else is going on. Some say that serenity is the goal of recovery. It is my hope that the act of prayer becomes, for each of us, a practice of trust that leads to serenity.
September 8, 2019
"Triskaidekaphobia" - fear of #13
Friday the 13th was a thing long before the movie franchise. A Friday the 13th occurs during any month that begins on a Sunday. The superstition surrounding this day may have arisen in the Middle Ages, "originating from the story of Jesus' last supper and crucifixion" in which there were 13 individuals present in the Upper Room on the 13th of Nisan - Maundy Thursday, the night before his death on Good Friday. But do we not call it “Good Friday?” So help us make this coming Friday the 13th one of the BEST days for our church as we humble ourselves, seek God’s face and worship together THIS Friday the 13th, 7 until 8 p.m. here in the sanctuary. We are not superstitious, we are spiritual! This Friday, September 13th, May God’s spirit guide us as we pray.
September 1, 2019
Fame is a 1980 American teen musical drama film set in New York City about the lives and hardships of students attending the High School of Performing Arts trying to become famous. House of Cards president Frank Underwood declares that power is the true path to both fame and fortune. The author of Ecclesiastes claims to have had all three and regrets life as “a vapor.”
But is Jesus just giving us a rehash of Proverbs 25:6–7: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” No, humility is ONE point to discuss here, but there’s more! So much more!
August 25, 2019
All of us have skills, but none of us have all the skills. Any group like a church depends on all the members offering their abilities for the mission and the ministry of the church. We work best together when we all pull together and offer our skills for God’s work.
Talents are harder to define, but each of us may have talents the church can use.
Gifts are a work of the Holy Spirit that allow us to do so much more for God’s kingdom than skills and talents put together. May God equip us with gifts that enhance our skills and our talents with discernment and wisdom as we move forward together.
August 18, 2019
Humans are social creatures. We possess an innate need for human interaction and we naturally seek to develop close personal relationships. Parent – child (family) is important, but perhaps the most significant relationship we have is the bond we share with a partner or spouse. But how important is romance in this relationship? It seems the vast majority of people find romance to be a vital part of relationships. One way to define romance is the expression of strong affections, a deep and strong emotional desire to intimately connect with someone. So is romance involved in our relationship with God. Love, yes – but romance? I say YES! We need to FEEL the connection as well as act on it in ministry. I believe we are faithful as an act of will (we chose to love) and we are faithful out of emotion. But is that emotion fear? Attraction? Gratitude? How do we understand romance in terms of faith?
August 11, 2019
When does it happen? When do our children no longer trust us parents? "Simple trust" is a state parents enjoy from their children as we provide everything for them every day of their young lives. IF we have never significantly failed them, their instinct is to trust us - what we say and what we do. When does that change, middle school or before? At some point, do they realize that we don’t have all the answers, that we can’t do just anything and everything as adults and quit trusting us? Is this crisis of faith necessary for children to become independent adults?
Trust is akin to faith in God. Do we believe that we have been cared for and provided for by our heavenly Father? How completely am I dependent upon God? Isn’t God wiser and stronger when compared to any child’s parents? Given all of that, shouldn't we possess (and exercise) simple trust -- a childlike faith? I invite you to consider the definition of faith. There are children of God who were so certain of their Father's strong arms and care that they had the faith to let go. Will we hear the challenge to do the same?
August 4, 2019
United Methodists Talk Funny!
Every institution has its lingo, its phraseology, and we United Methodists have a funny way of talking as well – we have General Conferences, Central Conferences, Jurisdictions, and Districts. We have LS&D committees, SPR committees, we use words like apportionments, and episcopacy, and itinerancy. Under the episcopacy (a hierarchical style of organization), we have bishops with cabinets (no, not oak or pine), and we also have elders (that’s ME), deacons (that used to be ME), and laity (that’s most of YOU). I won’t take you through an entire confirmation lesson on how the UM church is organized, but each bishop of an annual conference (we are North Georgia – right?) has a geographic area broken into districts (ours is Atlanta-Marietta) and each district has an overseer – a district superintendent (DS) – a pastor to the many pastors of each UM church in that district. Our DS is Rev. Dr. Terry Walton. We should get to know him and seek his advice and leadership for our church. He knows this district and our place in it. I hope you enjoy him in worship today as much as I’ve enjoyed serving with him in this district!
July 21, 2019
It’s expensive to be poor!
This week, Amos goes from criticism of the government of Israel and hangs God’s plumb line in front of the Israelite business community. We middle class folks think it’s hard – but it’s expensive to be poor. I had a man drop by on us last Sunday after VBS set-up. He was in trouble because his family was staying in an extended stay facility and payment was due. The cost per week in that facility was just under $500 a week! That’s a decent house payment (IF you have the credit and down payment – which the poor don’t have). Having back-up, having resources for the bad times is necessary and important. And the stories I hear from the folks at the bottom of the ladder are sad to say the least!
OK, Amos – what do we do? Well, Amos is big on criticism but short on advice. Amos can’t know what we should do here in Woodstock to be really useful to our community. That’s our job! What can we do? What are we willing to do? God bless our Thrift Store – I like our way of doing something much better than the world’s way of doing nothing!
July 14, 2019
You Can’t Mean Me!
You can’t mean me, God? Can you? I’m not anybody special, or particularly different?
You can’t mean me. Chosen last for every team! Left at the back of the queue, a wallflower in the dance of life, edged out by brighter blooms. You can’t mean me!
So Moses grumbled – ‘I cannot speak’ You can’t mean me!
So Gideon exclaimed – ‘from the least of the tribes’ You can’t mean me!
So Isaiah lamented – ‘Unclean lips’ You can’t mean me!
So Jeremiah argued – ‘only a youth’ You can’t mean me!
So Amos explained – ‘a trimmer of sycamore trees’ You can’t mean me!
So Mary said – ‘how can this be?’ You can’t mean me!
But you do, don’t you? You do mean me. All my gifts and graces outweighed at times with all my faults and failings. You want them all, to be woven together and shaped for your use. You do mean me. You mean US – like bread to be taken, blessed and broken, to be named, ‘this is my body’, and given to a hungry world.
July 7, 2019
NOW - Year Three!
I said last Sunday that today begins year three for me as your pastor here at Bascomb. I am excited to begin this phase of ministry. It takes this long to even BEGIN to know the membership and leadership of a local church. Consider (if you will) one new model available to us for Bascomb to organize ministry. This efficient way to empower our laity is called the N.O.W. model: Nurture (worship, Christian formation, membership care, small groups and stewardship), Outreach (mission ministries of compassion, justice, and advocacy + evangelism and other communications), and Witness (programs for equipping lay speakers and lay service + exploring God’s call on members – evangelism could be a part of this group as well). The Discipline requires a Council Chair who partners with Finance, SPRC, and Trustees (Administration). The new concept would task the Lay Leader and Lay Delegate, who are also Discipline required, to partner with three church officers who coordinate N.O.W. – the mission/ministry subcommittees and their chairs – all who serve on the Administrative Council. This idea developed from medium-size churches seeking efficient ways to operate, avoiding duplication in meetings. What do you think? And what will you DO?
June 23, 2019
God created humanity in God’s own image,
...In the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.
There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day. Genesis 1:27-31 (CEB).
The whole point here is the order of creation – humanity is at the pinnacle of God’s acts of creation. We are created in God’s divine image! Is that a reason to be arrogant or be humble? Is the earth ours to abuse or to appreciate? Psalm 8 strikes a good balance, I think.
June 16, 2019
On Trinity Sunday, Christians remember and honor the eternal God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost, and lasts only one day, which is symbolic of the unity of the Trinity. Eastern Churches have no tradition of Trinity Sunday, arguing that they celebrate the Trinity every Sunday. Westerners also commemorate the Trinity at every communion (it’s in the liturgy).
There are many ways we describe the Trinity to children – a hardboiled egg reveals three parts: the shell, the egg white, and the egg yolk. Three parts but one egg. Or one apple: the skin, the meat, and the seeds. Common wisdom is that if you discuss the Trinity for longer than a few minutes, you will slip into heresy, because you are probing the depths of God too deeply. Maybe it’s best to appreciate that our God is not a human imagination because our God cannot be explained. Just know that we are invited into the community that is the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
June 9, 2019
The Person of the Holy Spirit
We Christians have a nuanced understanding of the God we worship. God “in Three Persons” is difficult to discuss because we know of no other entity that exists as a community within itself. It’s easier to talk about God in terms of function: as creator, or savior/redeemer, or as sustainer. The Holy Spirit is also very nuanced.
My commentators for this Pentecost Sunday recommended that I choose ONE characteristic of the Holy Spirit as my preaching emphasis. There are too many ways to think about it: Luke/Acts describes the power of the Holy Spirit (signs, wonders, visions, miracles, and languages), John speaks about a Companion, Advocate, or Comforter that reminds us of everything Jesus said and did and gives us peace. But Paul (my choice this week) emphasizes the transformation possible because of the Holy Spirit. We can and should allow this transformation into the likeness of our brother Jesus – we are now doing the work of Jesus – are you in the family?
June 2, 2019
1830–2019 = 189 years!
The first Sunday in June is designated as the unofficial birthday of Bascomb UMC. This time next year we will celebrate 190 years serving God and Cherokee County. Except the county didn’t even exist until December of 1831 – so we are older than the county. We started at a local mill owned and operated by William K. McCanless on the Noonday Creek (Pam and I walk that trail at least 2 times each week), but then we moved church meetings to our present location (actually, the parking lot across the street) in a log cabin that doubled as a schoolhouse during the week. Later on, they built a log cabin (where the cemetery is now) that was just for church use. By 1883 we moved from a log cabin into the present-day Chapel (which has been renovated/upgraded several times since).
Think about the year 2030 – when we are 200 years old. What will the church look like then? Just like the disciples in today’s text, we can stare up into space or heed the words of the angels – Jesus will return folks, so keep building God’s kingdom here while he’s gone. Fill this place with souls that worship our God. What will souls look like in the year 2030? Well, that’s where we need the Advocate – the Holy Spirit to guide us – we can be sure they won’t do church in exactly the same way we do!
May 26, 2019
For the Healing of the Nations…
On each side of the river is the tree of life, which produces twelve crops of fruit, bearing its fruit each month. The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:2 (CEB).
Memorial Day attests to the fact that nations need healing. We dedicate tomorrow as a memorial because lives were cut short – ended because countries called them to defend their nation and they answered “YES” and they did not walk back into their homes again. Their courage is what we celebrate, their sacrifice for us is what we celebrate, their deaths are what we mourn. We need the tree of life to come down out of heaven so that its leaves can “heal the nations.”
For the healing of the nations, Lord, we pray with one accord, for a just and equal sharing of the things that earth affords. To a life of love in action help us rise and pledge our word. Lead us forward into freedom, from despair your world release, that, redeemed from war and hatred, all may come and go in peace. Hymn #428 UMH.
May 19, 2019
I grew up in a family that had no college graduates – I was the first in my family to go to college (barely got in). So, my family was not acquainted with the world of academics. What changed my life in high school was music. The Arts can reach some students when nothing else can. I feel like I am proof of that.
I also learned that people develop in stages and those stages come at different times of life. I had to take freshman music theory courses in my late forties so I could succeed in master’s level music theory. I may have been older than many of my teachers! But I wanted something and that’s what it took to get it. I had to grow into school and let school grow into me. That’s why I believe in life-long learning. Churches are one of the best places to foster adult learning. Anyone here interested in growing adult life courses within our church? I say all this to caution and encourage students of every age – DON’T EVER GRADUATE! Move from level to level, yes, but don’t ever stop learning!
May 12, 2019
Hear my voice!
Our middle child was adopted at around two years old. We learned very quickly that we had to watch her like a hawk because she had no deep attachment to us as yet. She could wander away with anyone in a store and not respond to our voice and obey us. We were not yet imprinted on her as parents, we had not yet developed that deep a relationship—scary.
When Jesus says the sheep hear his voice it means more than recognition, it means obedience. When the opposition ask Jesus to come out with it—are you the Messiah? Jesus is put out with their inability to perceive that God’s presence had arrived and was doing kingdom work right there in their midst! If Jesus is obedient to God’s will being done on earth (healing, reconciliation, abundance of resources) it means that we must be obedient to the voice of OUR shepherd. Sheep or goat is more dependent on whose voice you respond to than to your DNA—we are all God’s creation—we are all capable of being God’s children, but will we follow his voice, will we duplicate God’s will on earth as it is in heaven?
May 5, 2019
That’s what Revelation keeps coming back to—worship. Yes, I know there’s a lot of blood and suffering and consequences in Revelation. My “best take” on a holy and yet loving God is to understand consequences. For instance, a parent may hold onto a child’s hand when approaching a busy intersection. A parent can warn the child of the danger present in the intersection and a parent may even tell the child a story (like the visions God gives us in Revelation) about a rebellious child that bolted away from safety and ran into the street (oh, the horror), but at some point, the child must choose whom to serve. Either serve the will of the one who loves them or serve their own (or someone else’s) will. There are consequences to our choices. Can we really blame God for creating bricks so hard because we chose to run headlong into a brick wall?
Now at the end of each vision of judgement (where God’s will is NOT done) we cycle back up into heaven where God’s will is already being done. What we get to see is worship! The birds sing, the fish sing, the stars and the planets all sing God’s praise. Want to join them? I do!
April 28, 2019
My second full-time church job was at First UMC in Chatsworth, Georgia. As youth minister, I got a phone call from one of my seniors in a faith crisis. Friends at school were talking about their church and their faith. One of her friends was VERY vocal about her beliefs and her commitment to her church and it bothered MY youth member that she was not so certain about her beliefs and her membership in our church.
That set me off on a mission to provide a quality confirmation experience for my youth. Too often, confirmation gets downgraded to little more than a checkpoint along the faith journey. I have always been dedicated to reclaiming confirmation as the FIRST STEP on a journey toward a mature faith for our students. Our classroom time is just the beginning of a conversation about what it means to be a Christian, living out your faith, your commitment, and God’s call. I now give these students BACK to the Bascomb community to continue their faith development. God is still counting on us!
April 14, 2019
Peace be with You?
Hosanna! means “save us!” – “deliver us!” But who will deliver Jesus? Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts. We hear it in the words we sing, happy triumph AND coming crucifixion. We see it in Jesus, as the RULER OF THE UNIVERSE chooses to ride a borrowed colt. The contrast is clear in the destination, the city he claims for himself and loves deeply is going to scream crucify in a few days. The greatest hope for peace will still be hidden from those looking in all the wrong places.
Don’t we have our own contradictions? Nations tell us the best way to create peace is by force, by violence. “The war to end all wars!” Did it? The strong are strengthened by holding off the weak. Parents confront fear by buying a handgun for the dresser drawer. Schools encourage competition over cooperation. Governments and businesses seek to win at all costs, even if it bankrupts them. Today Jesus rides his lowly farm animal through all of it.
April 7, 2019
Women of the New Testament
I hope next year for Holy Week we can present “The Other 12 Disciples” based on the women in the life of Jesus. Mary and Martha (along with their brother Lazarus) were among the closest of Jesus’ friends. What would that be like? And I believe that Mary looked at her relationship with Jesus as more than friends.
J. Ellsworth Kalas was one of Asbury’s great preachers. Here is a portion of what he wrote about Mary: “Now this perfume-pouring would of itself have been enough, but Mary had only begun. When I say she was extravagant, I hope you realize I’m speaking of far more than money. Money, if you have it, is the least form of extravagance because, as they say, there’s always more where that came from. But when you give yourself away, that’s quite another matter. ….Mary’s gift of perfume was large, but not to be compared with the gift of herself.”
— J. Ellsworth Kalas. Strong Was Her Faith: Women of the New Testament. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 2007. 41.
March 31, 2019
Repentance is a major word in LENT. Maybe we first react in guilt by thinking “I should stop doing that bad thing I am doing!” But repentance means “to turn” like, return or change your direction (and your thinking). Why does Jesus side-step the disciples’ issues to focus on repentance? They are troubled by bad things happening to good people – Galileans like themselves were killed at worship and working folk died in a tower collapse (sounds familiar – right?). Is Jesus harsh here? These difficult words “repent or perish” are not about a onetime repentance or a onetime perishing - it is ongoing - from their day to our day. We must always check ourselves and repent knowing that, down through the centuries, we continue to die.
This should not come as a surprise. Repentance checks our hubris, our illusions that we’re in control gets shattered when bad things happen to good people and we have no good explanation (like they deserved it). Does Jesus give us an answer? Does a parable about a fig tree count? Jesus constantly invites us into confession, invites us to turn, to repent and stay utterly dependent on the promises of God. We are not in control.
March 24, 2019
The Elder Brother
Most interpretations of the Elder Brother in this parable point to the Pharisees. Notice that we read THREE verses of chapter 15 and then jump down to the third parable - The Prodigal Son - skipping “The Lost Sheep” and “The Lost Coin” so we can get to “The Lost Son.” Those first three verses aim these parables at the Pharisees - lessons for the Pharisees.
In preaching class my professor took me to task for being so hard on the Pharisees. These were deeply religious people. My professor went so far as to say they are us! Anyone in the church trying to be a Christian. That makes us the Elder Brother. The reality is that both brothers live inside of us, the responsible (religious) one and the prodigal one. It is an uneasy coexistence made worse by the reality that neither is perfect, and that both make real mistakes. Of all the places in our life, church should be the one place where we can all admit failing. In Lent we get honest about the fact that we sometimes disappoint. The good news in the parable? God is waiting to welcome us back. We are loved and God can't wait for us to come home or come join the party. Will you?
March 17, 2019
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!
Check out the real story of Saint Patrick. There are many times in his life he trusted God and God came through in a mighty way. Today we are using all the scriptures in the lectionary and there is a theme of trust in God throughout. Philippians repeats “Stand firm in the Lord,” and Psalm 27 keeps asking “Whom shall I fear if I trust in the Lord?” God tells Abram, “Don’t be afraid, I’ve got this!” And Jesus pleads with Jerusalem to change course.
We all have our security – our good looks, our talent, our money, our country, even our family provide some semblance of security. Today can we ask, “Do I really trust in the Lord?” How do I live that out? Of course, none of us have a lock on this – that’s why we still need to gather here and seek God’s face: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” And we will be invited to pray, “God, we want to believe your promises, but the here-and-now problems of daily life consume our focus and erode our faith. Speak to us today, O God.”
March 10, 2019
The Devil Made Me Do It!
The word “devil” is lowercase in today’s text – meaning – not a personal counterpart to God, but simply a “slanderer;” not God’s enemy, but OUR enemy. In this text – the devil is actually serving God by allowing us a choice. We must experience opposition to love (like selfish lust), opposition to health (like cheeseburgers?), opposition to wholeness (inconsistent hypocrisy and prejudice), and opposition to peace (a destructive lust for power and violent oppression). If we say we are committed to the way of God here in the world we must understand the other choice and we must struggle to make the right choice – it’s the price of freedom. Those who are most engaged in real Christian ministry seem to experience opposition more intensely. If Jesus struggled, who is exempt?
March 3rd, 2019
Ash Wednesday—in the Chapel
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are some of my favorite services in the Christian year. The culture (like Hallmark, Lifeway, and Coke or Pepsi) can’t figure out a way to make money off Ash Wednesday. There are no bunnies or eggs or peeps intruding into Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. And why should they? Even within the church, it’s a small minority of church members that give these two observances the high rank they deserve. Otherwise, we’d have to move the service back into the sanctuary to accommodate the crowd!
I challenge you this year to attend Ash Wednesday. Is Ash Wednesday “depressing” or “morbid” with talk of sin and death? NO - I see it as life affirming. The upcoming Lenten season can be a celebration of cultivation (as spring approaches) for growth. Embrace who you are as a child of God. Trust that God wants an abundant life for you in mission and ministry. If we acknowledge our brokenness, if we face our mortality with courage, then faith is revealed as the only TRUE source of strength. Of course, humans are broken - we sin and fall short. But we believe in a Holy Spirit that intends to make us perfect in love.
February 24th, 2019
Churches that practice Extravagant Generosity should be comfortable talking about money as it relates to the Christian practice of giving and cultivating a generous spirit. The Christian practice of giving makes a huge difference in two major ways: the mission of Christ and in abundant life of the GIVER. Christians give for more reasons than just the church’s need to pay power bills, repair work and salaries. We are on a mission. We have a purpose that offers life-changing results. We view “giving beyond the walls” as indispensable to Christian discipleship and the vitality of our community.
Churches that grow in generosity seek to celebrate giving because participation in ministry and community deepen the core ministries of worship, small group learning, and our mission here in Woodstock. So let us teach giving, let us model generosity and cultivate generosity among our members of all ages. Growing our giving is vital to each person’s spiritual maturity. Tithing is an indispensable practice of Christian integrity.
February 10th, 2019
Intentional Faith Development
Today Paul is writing to a church without the gospels (they hadn’t been written yet), a church without any of the New Testament (save a few letters Paul was just beginning to write). This church was a mix of Jews brought up on the Old Testament (what Paul means when he says “…according to the scriptures”). Paul is offering this church CORE CHRISTIANITY. So we need to remind ourselves what that looks like.
Our transformation into Disciples comes through learning in community. Churches that practice Intentional Faith Development carefully consider the full life-cycle of members and look for the best methods that faith is formed in us at every age. Gaps, unmet needs, and detours into secondary side-trails just waste time and hinder our growth. Which methods are best? Small groups, Bible studies, support groups, affiliation groups (like grief and divorce recovery, substance abuse, parenting), blogs, chat rooms, e-mail Bible studies, downloadable materials? May we be intentional in our task to make disciples!
February 3rd, 2019
What is your passion? Passion can be described as intense motivation and emotion. In passionate worship, people are honest before God and one another, and they are open to God’s presence and will for their lives. Now imagine designing the components that make room for God to work - the preaching, the music, the other content and techniques required.
The motivation for enhancing the quality of worship is not only about deepening our own faith, but also about allowing God to use us and our congregations to offer hope, life and love to others. Do we, as God’s people, desire such worship? Will we even reorder our lives to engage passionate worship? Does our worship come alive? Is it fresh each Sunday? Worship is a sacred trust that requires our utmost and highest.
January 27th, 2019
Risk-Taking Mission and Service
This involves work that stretches people, causing them to do something for the good of others that they would never have considered doing if it were not for their relationship with Christ and their desire to continue the earthly mission of Jesus.
Such churches collaborate outside the church with civic organizations, social agencies, and non-profit groups. They actively invite and welcome newcomers, visitors, and the unchurched to help them in making a difference in the lives of others. Can our people move beyond their comfort zones and follow Christ into more adventurous encounters with people? Can God’s Spirit change us from fear of failure to continue the risk-taking mission of Jesus? Who Are You?
January 20th, 2019
The Seven Signs
Epiphany is the last of our “seasons of light” (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany). Here we focus on light as “revelation” of the person: Jesus. John’s gospel gives great meaning to numbers - especially “three” and “seven.” The first of seven “signs” Jesus gives us in this gospel is turning water into wine. We might consider this a trivial miracle, but remember, John is just getting started. John’s gospel gives us a crescendo of seven “signs” about Jesus; moving from “water into wine” all the way to “raising Lazarus.”
Scripture has no single word that is translated “miracle.” There are four primary Greek words: works (ergon), wonders (teras), powers (dunamis), and signs (semeion). “SIGN” is John’s choice because he wants to distinguish Jesus from any other. Signs get your attention for a purpose. A 'sign' is a miracle: it can strengthen a person's faith, be prophetic, and point you to God; however, a sign can be deliberately ignored. Don’t ignore this sign just because the context (a wedding party) seems trivial.
January 13th, 2019
Officers of the Church
As a pastor, I am so grateful to the laity who stand up and take responsibility for the mission and Ministry of our church. One of my professors once said, “the greatest mistake of the church was to separate the people into clergy and laity” and I agree. We do not do ministry as clergy and laity but as Disciples of Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Baptism is our celebration of the work of the holy spirit in us. I hope today that you can stand with us and fully participate in this celebration!
January 6th 2019
A Tale of Two Kings
There is a great contrast offered us when three Magi come from the east looking for “The King of the Jews” because they stop in to see the current King Herod to ask: “where is this newborn king?” Uh Oh! How wise is it to stop and ask the present king where the new king is located?
Truth is, the conflict serves God’s plan well in Matthew’s gospel. For us, the contrast can serve to symbolize the internal contrast between our will and God’s will in each of us. As disciples, we willingly and joyfully desire the Lordship of Christ our king but there is the darker side of the self which firmly and persistently rejects God’s place at the center of our hearts. Herod’s sin looks like our sin. Can we acknowledge the Herod in ourselves!
December 30th, 2018
The 12 Days of Christmas
Christmas is not a day. There are 12 days of Christmas - the period between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi, the three wise men. It begins on December 25 (Christmas) and runs through January 6 (the Epiphany, sometimes also called Three Kings' Day). The song begins with 1 of the first gift (a partridge in a pear tree) all the way up to 12 drummers drumming - the last gift. The earliest known version of this lyric appeared in a 1780 children's book. The song most of us are familiar with today is from 1909 and comes from an English composer named Frederic Austin. He set the melody and lyrics adding as his own flourish the drawn-out cadence of "five go-old rings." Regardless of whether you love or hate the song, Christmas is a Season of 12 days – ENJOY!
December 23rd, 2018
The Dove of Peace?
Why are doves associated with peace? Well, it’s not that way in all cultures. Doves are also symbolic of love (when presented in pairs). And, like sheep, they are associated with innocence and were used as sacrifices: gentle, pure, non-offensive creatures. But for us in Western Judeo-Christian cultures, we remember the dove released by Noah (after the flood) came back carrying a freshly plucked olive leaf! Great, now we have to research why olive leaves represent peace! Rabbis compared the olive leaf to "the young shoots of the Land of Israel." So, there you are! Just remember – for Christians – the Dove represents the Holy Spirt. Peace and the Holy Spirit - now that’ll PREACH!
December 16th, 2018
Gaudete[gawˈ dee teh] in Latin means "rejoice." In Europe, churches on Gaudete Sunday use a rose-color (pink) instead of (the winter Lenten color) purple. So Gaudete Sunday was also known as "Rose Sunday."
In churches that use an Advent wreath, the rose-colored candle #3 (joy) is lit in addition to the #1 (hope) & #2 (love or peace) purple candles, which represent the first two Sundays of Advent. The somber readings of Advent in Europe had a secondary theme of penitence, but the readings on the third Sunday would emphasize the joyous anticipation of the Lord's coming.
Why blue in our sanctuary? We still use purple in the Chapel. Since ADVENT is characterized by Christmas celebration -- in contrast to the repentance theme of LENT -- the color for the season should not be solemn royal purple color of LENT, but, instead, the royal blue of celebration. This IS a subjective choice: linking colors with certain moods. But since American culture is crazy with Christmas from Halloween on …well blue seems the more appropriate color. More on that in worship this morning!
December 9th, 2018
Expressions of Love
How many of you are finished with all your Christmas shopping? How many of you haven’t even started? How many of you plan to just skip the whole shopping thing and go straight to the Christmas dinner? Wherever you stand on Christmas gift shopping and giving, Americans spend a lot of money on Christmas. Retail sales for Christmas 2017 were projected to be $1 trillion!1
But while that number is a bit mind-blowing, here is another fun number for you: $60 billion. That’s how much Americans spent on their pets - $60 billion.2Do we put our money where our heart is… or do we fill empty places in our hearts by spending money? Is a gift an expression of love? How do you perceive God’s love for you? Do you feel you need to earn it? Do you wonder if God’s love is meant for you?
1Bryan Pearson, “Holiday Spending to Exceed $1 Trillion—And 11 Other Surprising Data Points of Christmas,” Forbes.com, December 22, 2016
2Michelle Castillo, “Americans Will Spend More Than $60 Billion on Their Pets This Year,” NBCNews.com, July 12, 2015
December 2nd, 2018
The Waiting Room!
Does anybody enjoy the doctor’s waiting room? The Hospital Waiting Area? Not the best of days. In my Chaplin training we were reminded that we see people in some of the worst days of their lives – not just the sick, but the entire family that is affected by the events of the day.
Who likes waiting? Does anyone like waiting? Yet we live in a culture that does everything possible to reduce the amount of time we spend waiting! 2ndday delivery anyone? To shape your talents and inborn abilities into real achievements, you must have patience. To master any art or to enhance your talent, you need to make continuous effort for a long time. To achieve spiritual maturity, you must wait at times. The power to overcome roadblocks comes only from patience.
Advent is a time of waiting. While it feels unnatural, there is great benefit in embracing this season as we anticipate the coming of Jesus. The waiting reminds us of where our HOPE is set.