Author Archives: Carol

The Grass is always Greener on the Other Side – Nov. 3, 2019

In 1991, Tonya Harding was one of the most prominent figure skaters to emerge and excel on the ice. Having won the US figure skating Championship, she set her sights on the 1992 Winter Olympics in France.

Tonya was prone to bouts of asthma and illness and even though she was a powerful skater, she often felt inferior to others. In the 1992 Winter Olympics, Tonya Harding finished in a disappointing fourth place.

Even though she was the first woman to complete a triple axel in a short program, was the first woman to complete 2 triple axels in a single competition and was the first woman to ever complete a triple axel combination with a double toe loop, she was never able to perform them at the Olympics.

Then in 1994, Nancy Kerrigan emerged as the United States best female figure skater and a favorite for the Gold. Nancy was tall, beautiful and graceful, everything that Tonya wanted and admired but was not.

On January 6, 1994, skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a metal-baton-wielding assailant as she left practice in Detroit. Highly favored and expected to win big ‘at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway’; she was forced to the sidelines to recover.

In her absence, Tonya Harding captured the spotlight. She won the US title and a spot on the Olympic team. Kerrigan would recover in time to compete in the Olympics and would receive a Silver metal. Harding placed a distant 8th.

Later on, the details of the attack became public. Tonya Harding and her husband had hired a hitman to attack Nancy, so she would have a better chance at the gold medal.

Tonya ‘revealed to the man she hired’ that she wanted Nancy Kerrigan eliminated from the competition because she was envious of her looks and skill.

In 1994, Tonya Harding pled guilty to hindering the prosecution in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. She received 3-years’ probation, 500 hours of community service and a $160 thousand dollar fine. She was then banned for life from the US Figure skating Championships and from all world-wide competitions.

Tonya Harding had great promise but her insecurities, envy and jealousy; took her down the path of ruin. While she was still a talented athlete in many ways, her name will forever be marred in scandal and disgrace.

Envy is defined as wanting what someone else has and resenting them for having it. Envy turned inward leads to jealousy, slander, bitterness and a desire to see others suffer.

To envy is highly selfish and can be self-defeating.

An old Greek saying goes, “As rust corrupts iron, so envy corrupts man.” Over time, envy steals your joy because it leaves you focused on what you do not have, instead of being thankful for what you do have.

Proverbs 14:30 reads, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones”.

In Mark 7:20-22, Jesus said, “What comes out of a man is what makes him unclean. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”

Envy and a desire to know what God knows got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Cain envied Abel’s sacrifice and God’s blessing upon him, that’s why he killed him.

Aaron and Miriam were envious of the position God gave to their brother Moses. Jacob envied Esau, his older brother, and it led him to steal his brothers blessing. Saul was envious of David which led him to pursue and attempt to kill him. Leah was envious of Rachel’s beauty and her husband’s love.

The apostle Peter was envious of John, the disciple Jesus loved. Martha was envious of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. Mordecai was jealous of Haman which led to his death on the gallows.

And finally, Lucifer was jealous of God which led to his downfall from heaven and that only scratches the surface of the stories in the Bible.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Joseph. Joseph was the youngest son of Israel (also known as Jacob) and his father loved him more than his other 11 sons. Clearly, we already have a dilemma. 

Jacob loved Joseph so much, that he had someone make a richly ornamented coat of many colors for his son. Joseph was already arrogant, proud and a dreamer. His fancy coat just pushed the others over the edge they envied it and the love their father showered on him.

Soon, their griping turned to scheming, which lead to anger and hate and to action. They ridiculed him, stole his coat, roughed him up and threw him into a dry cistern. Several of the brothers wanted to kill him, but Reuben forbid it. So instead, they sold him off as a slave. Then they rejoiced at his misfortune.

English crime novelist Dorothy Sayers said, “Envy begins by asking, “Why should I not enjoy what others enjoy? And it ends by demanding, “Why should others enjoy what I may not”.

Envy is a deep resentment that turns friends into enemies, teammates into bitter competitors and lovers into jealous stalkers. As a rule, we envy those most who are like us but seem to have an advantage.

Musicians envy musicians (think Amadeus), parents envy other parents (with or without kids), professors envy other professors (especially when the get published) and Pastors envy other famous pastors.

I must admit, I was a little envious and jealous of Cindy some years ago. When I was working to get ordained, Cindy came to Indiana and was grand-fathered into the system and ordained before me. She was also able to go to the Holy Land. When I was ordained, they no longer did that for new pastors.

Yet, I was very happy for her – and glad she was able to have that opportunity. Envy can lead to rejoicing but also to resentment. It can turn others into rivals and enemies of we allow it to.

What is your response when someone else gets and flaunts what you want? How do you feel when another employee gets the raise or promotion, that you believe you deserve? Or when someone gets pregnant easily after you tried but failed over several years?

On the surface envy doesn’t seem that bad. It is simply a misguided desire. It might make us work harder to get ahead. Yet for most, envy is just the tip of a deeper iceberg of trouble. It is like a skin cancer, by the time you see it on the surface, it has already run deep and wide.

And envy touches every generation. Elderly folks’ envy and resent those who retire early. Heavy folks sometimes envy those who are thin. Single women envy happily married women and married men and women envy the single. Even the child with a room full of toys envies the one toy’ that another child has that he does not.

            Envy even crosses over to the animal kingdom. Researchers at the National Primate Research Center in Atlanta noted the monkeys were perfectly happy with cucumber slices, until someone started giving out grapes to a preferred monkey, then all heck broke lose.

The Bible warns us in proverbs 23 and 24; not to envy sinners or the wicked because they seem to get away with so much. Envy leads to many others sins when we decide to take what we believe we deserve; for instance, another’s property or spouse.

Envy destroys relationships, hurts innocent people, leaves lives in ruin, judge’s other people’s motives, leads to needless anxiety, and diminishes our happiness and joy.

In essence, it is breaking the 10th commandment.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, servant, ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor,” that’s from Exodus 20:17.

No one is immune from envy, but we can learn to lessen its hold ‘by focusing on thankfulness, encouragement and contentment’. We spend way too much time comparing ourselves to others, and advertisers play on our desires.

Are you content and happy in your life?

It is easier to love others when we are worried less about what they have then who they are. 1 Corinthians 13:4 reminds us ‘Love does not envy’.

Proverbs 19:23 reads, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; When one rests content, untouched by trouble.”

And Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians chapter 4:12, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or in want. I can do anything through God, who gives me strength.”

Have you ever driven by a field and seen a horse with his head through the fence, eating grass on the other side? Chances are, it isn’t that much better, but he thinks it is! Don’t allow yourself to be deceived.

Enjoy what God gives you to the fullest and give him thanks. Believe me, there an awful lot of things ‘we are blessed not to have’ in our lives!

I have known many people, who thought they wanted something that they couldn’t have, and when they got it, they wished they could go back. Don’t let your blessings slip away. Stop giving the devil ammunition!

Enjoy your blessings, count them daily and be kind when others around you get blessed. This one small change, letting go of envy, can brighten your world and help you truly love others.

Your assignment is…Make a list of all the things that you think you really want. Then, give it to God and let it go. Trust in God’s will for your life. Be glad for what you do have and know that he is looking out for what is best for you.

Amen.

“Those Robed in White” – Oct. 27, 2019

In the opening of the James Bond Movie “Live and Let Die”, we see an altered view of a New Orleans Funeral. The mourners are sad – until they dispose of an enemy spy and then they are celebrating.

The New Orleans Jazz Funeral was a major attraction until Hurricane Katrina, after that, the tradition went into limbo and is just in the last few years starting to re-emerge.  Funerals would begin with solemn and sad music and over a short period of time they would blaze into life.

The upbeat music and dancing of the jazz funeral was intended to both help the deceased find their way to heaven and to celebrate the final release from the bounds of earthly life. The call-and-response style of music and chant, coupled with tambourines, drums, horns and dancing were elements of African funeral ceremonies which crossed the seas with captive slaves.

While the Jazz tradition caught on with folks from the deep south, the Catholic Church restricted their people from participating in that kind of funeral service.  Yet over time, the jazz funeral tradition grew to become New Orleans most honored of funeral ceremonies, with horse-drawn hearses and parades for fallen police officers, well-known musicians and other pillars of the community. 

In some of the most elaborate of Jazz funerals, the mourners would be wearing all black robes, only to rip them off, to reveal bright white outfits. Then the musicians would play an upbeat version of ‘When the Saints go Marching In’.

Christian Churches have set aside November 1st or the Sunday before as All Saint’s Day since 835AD. This is the day when we celebrate the lives of those faithful believers and family who have gone ahead of us to heaven.

In some Churches, the names of those who have died in the last year are read and a bell is rung. In other traditions, candles are lit in memory of those who have passed, over the previous years. In some traditions, it is a day where every person attending church and the pastor wear all white or all black.

In the United Methodist Hymnal, you will find music for funerals and Memorial services. But in the official book of worship, there is nothing called a funeral. Instead, it’s called

“A Service of Death and Resurrection”.

In our tradition, there is a tension between mourning and celebration. Death is simply the road to new life in Christ. So, like the Jazz funeral, our mourning becomes cries of Joy in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

One of the regular readings for “All Saint’s Day” comes from Revelation Chapter 7. It is a glorious view of heaven, but let me back up a little and set the stage…

The Apostle John had been preaching the Word, until he was arrested and sent to the Island of Patmos. While there, he was tortured, starved, deprived water, and forced to hard labor in the mines. During his time there, John had a vision.

God gave John a heavenly glimpse to sustain him. His journey began as John stood before an open door to heaven. Then, a voice like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place, after this.”

John saw the throne of God, and he saw angels and creatures all around the throne singing. Then John saw the scroll with the words of life and the future written on it but it had 7 seals that no one could open. Finally, he saw the lamb, Jesus. Jesus was the only one who can break the seals. With great wonder and excitement, the seals were broken, and the scroll was opened. If you want more detail about all these events, you will have to read it all later.

Then John gets a worldview; he sees angels start to roll up the earth by its 4 corners. As you may have guessed, Revelation is written in Apocalyptic type literature. It often presents images that symbolize other deeper meanings. In other words, you cannot take everything literally.

Then, John sees the earth rolled up like a scroll. The number of those sealed in the scroll of the world was 144,000. It represents 12,000 people each from the 12 tribes of Israel. Some believe that they are the only ones to be saved. Others believe, those will be all that remain when the world ends.

But as we keep reading, that first interpretation seems limited. John writes, “After this, I looked, and there was a multitude that no one could count. They were from every nation, tribe, people and language, all standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

They were all robed in white and they held palm branches in their hands. And they cried out, “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” and there was singing and waving of the branches in heaven.

Then one of the saintly elders turned to John and asked, “Who are these robed in white, and where did they come from?”

In Biblical times, robes were worn as an honor of distinction. Robes set a person apart. We have similar traditions today. Judges were robes, graduates and teachers wear robes and clergy sometimes wear robes. It signifies accomplishment, character, office, or a level of respect.

Kings and priests wore robes in Biblical times. Kings wore purple robes as a sign of honor, royalty or affluence. Priests might wear brown, black, blue, red or white robes, depending on the occasion. And Joseph wore a coat of many colors, that set him apart. But white, white was a symbol of purity and innocence.  

Today, you see white at weddings, baptisms, or in the spring when things are new again. If a thing reflects no light, it is black. If it reflects part of the light, it has some color. But if an object reflects all the light back, it is white.

White is wholesome and pure, spotless and blameless. That is why good guys used to all wear white. And that is why the multitudes in heaven wear white, to perfectly reflect the glory majesty and purity of God.

Isaiah 1:18 reads, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

So those standing in heaven wearing white robes have been washed and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb. They are blameless and sinless.

Now, the last time I checked, blood has never washed anything clean. In fact, it often leaves a stain that is hard to get out. Again, – this is not meant to be taken literally but symbolically.

In heaven, we will have heavenly bodies. We are not even sure what that means or if we will even need clothes. The point here is; that we are made new in Christ. His death took our burden of sin away and we are new beings in heaven; unburdened and truly free.

In ancient literature, waving palm branches was a sign of victory. Much like the way they waved the palm branches for Jesus as he entered Jerusalem or when soldiers returned victorious from battle.

Now, let’s go back to the question the Elder asked John, “Who are these people and where did they come from?”

John’s response is, “I have no idea. Only you know,”

Then the elder replied, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white again in the blood of the Lamb.”

While some believe the great tribulation means the end times, many interpret this to mean all those who come from our troubled world. Tribulation means; those who come from a place of trouble or suffering – that seems to fit our world quite nicely, don’t you think?

John was inspired by his brief view of heaven. He was inspired to live life to the fullest before he went home to heaven. He wanted to fulfill his reason for being on the earth, first. Once he knew where he was going, there was no hurry to go there. Sadly, Today, some folks get that reversed; all they think about is heaven.

This view of heaven convinced John, that there was still a lot of room for others in heaven. And that there was still much work to be done on earth; to get others home.

Famed preacher D.L. Moody spent decades preaching, teaching, writing, evangelizing and traveling the world non-stop. Then on December 22, 1899, his heart began to fail. Yet, he shared the Good News to the very end.

His children were worried about him and of course, they were afraid for him to die. So, they asked him ‘if he was afraid to die’.  Here was his response,

“Someday you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment, I shall be more alive than I am now.

“I shall have gone up higher, that is all; out of this old clay tenement – into a house that is immortal—to a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; – a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1855.

“That which is born of the flesh may die. But that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.” D. L. Moody loved to quote the first two sentences as a way of shocking his audiences with the truth that death would not be the end of his life but only the beginning.

The truth is, heaven can wait. There is far too much work to be done here and now. There are too many lost souls that need to find their way back home and they need us ‘to help point them toward Jesus.

On this ‘All Saint’s Sunday’, make it your mission, over the next year — to pray for 10 unchurched people, invite 3 to church and to lead at least one to the Lord.

You see, life in America today, doesn’t threaten Christians with death. Jesus conquered the grave! Instead, it entices us away from the church, to pursue other activities. It is time to make first things first again! Bring folks back to church and to Jesus!!!

Our goal should be to fill up heaven, so we can give more praise to Jesus. May it be so.  Amen.

“How is it with your soul” – Oct. 20, 2019

In season 5 of the Simpsons, Homer Simpson sold his soul to the devil for a donut. Not surprisingly, this episode created ca lot of discussion about the nature of one’s soul. Because the discussion continued on social media, they created a 2nd show that dealt with the topic on a deeper level.

In Season 7, Bart got in trouble at church for playing a practical joke, he switched out a hymn for a rock anthem. His best friend Milhouse told on him and they both had to clean out the organ pipes as punishment.

Milhouse admits he told on Bart because he feared losing his soul. That is when Bart declared, “There is no such thing as a soul!”. Milhouse responded, “If you are so sure, why don’t you sell it to me.” Bart did just that for $5. He then wrote on a piece of paper that he turned his soul over to Milhouse.

The rest of the episode dealt with the aftermath of what it means to have no soul. Animals disliked Bart. Automatic doors no longer opened for him. He had no breathe, there was no laughter in his life, and he had no sense of well-being. Bad things happened to him and so Bart was willing to do anything to get his soul back.

Fearing he lost it forever, he got down on his knees and prayed to God for help. The help came from his sister, Lisa, who bought the paper (and his soul) back. Greg Daniels wrote the episode because he claimed he, at one time, had bought the soul of a bully, and frightened the kid until he bought it back.

In 1975, Grammy award winning Bluegrass Fiddler Vassar Carlton Clements wrote a song called ‘Lonesome Fiddle Blues’. Most of us know it by the name that Charlie Daniel’s gave it in 1979. He called it, “The Devil went down to Georgia”.  The lyrics continue, He was looking for a soul to steal.

That prompted ‘Business Insider Magazine’ to ask, “What is the price of a soul?” The winning prize in the Devil went down to Georgia was a gold violin. In 1979, when the song was sung, they averaged the price of a gold violin to $167,000.

In 2017, they updated the price of the gold violin, with inflation, to $660,326.82. All humor and speculation aside, it leaves us with a few questions; Do we have a soul? What is a soul? What is the value in having a soul? And how is a soul different from a spirit?

The Bible has a lot to say about the soul. In the Old Testament, the word ‘soul’ is translated over 780 times in Hebrew, as Nephesh. It most often refers to a living, breathing, conscious person. In the New Testament Greek, ‘soul’ is translated 103 times as psyche. To have a soul, they believed, means you have life.

Life in the sense of physical life and also mental and emotional life. In their case, when the soul was gone, life was over. They did not believe in the afterlife. That become a more common understanding, after the Pharisees believed it and Jesus rose from the dead.

There are passages in the Bible that have been translated, in such a way, that they make the soul and the spirit seem interchangeable, yet they are separate in the Bible. Let me explain…

In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 Paul writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole ‘spirit, soul, and body’ be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Also, in Hebrews 4:12 Paul writes, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” So, if the sword of Scripture divides soul and spirit, doesn’t that make them two separate things?

Here is what I want you to remember, a human is linked in body, soul and spirit. They are separate things but never to be separated in this life. They are like; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, separate but one. But there are differences.

The body is the flesh and bones. The soul is essentially our inner lives and the spirit is the breath of God that gives us life. We need all three to be a fully functional human being. Let’s look at some examples in the Bible.

In Mark 14:32-34, Jesus and his disciples went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus did not seem so upset but something changed. Jesus had finally declared, “My hour has come”. Before, his enemies had threatened him but now, they would do him great harm. As a man, the stress and the weight of the situation caused Jesus to sweat drops of blood.

His inner peace and harmony was waning. He knew his closest friends would abandon him and he would have to face the cross alone. This brought his emotional life and rational life to a point of mixed confusion. He knew what God wanted but his human side knew fear.

At other times, Jesus said, “I am troubled in spirit”. (John 13:21) This meant that his connection between God and others was disrupted. On a deeper level, that joins us with God and others, Jesus felt torn apart. The Bible tells us that we can be Spiritually alive or Spiritually dead. (1 Corinthians 2:10-12) We can be connected or detached.

It is when we are spiritually connected that we have deeper insights, wisdom, and direction from the Holy Spirit. That is the place where we are transformed, renewed and inspired. A person can become disconnected with God and others and still live, but there is something important missing. We need to be at peace with God and one another to fulfill all of our needs as human beings. Ignore the needs of your body, the needs of your soul or the needs of your spirit and You Will suffer.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a strong believer in caring for body, mind (soul) and spirit. He wrote a book on how to stay in good physical health; he encouraged folks to be vegans or vegetarians; in part, because his love for animals.

Wesley encouraged followers to attend to the things of the spirit; by going to worship, bible study, by reading your bible, and engaging in actions that are life-giving. Finally, Wesley had a series of questions that he would ask other believers; the first was, “How is it with your soul?” or “How does your soul prosper?”

This question is a lot tougher than asking ‘how are you?’ and most of us would be at a loss at how to answer. What he was asking was; how is your soul growing? Or how is your inner spiritual life doing? Essentially, he was asking, “Do you have the fruit of the spirit?”

The fruit of the spirit is; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. You see, Jesus promised us an abundant life, even in the midst of trouble.

He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In an article on the internet, a man was talking about his small group. Each time they gathered someone asked, “How is it with your soul?” He said the answers were very different.

He writes,“I remember one week when one of my men started by saying, “My soul is good! God has really given me a sense of peace this week.” And then he went on to describe a terrible week. He had some serious family issues, a rough week in school, and bad medical news for a friend. But it was well with his soul. He talked about the ways that God was carrying him through.”

“On the other hand, another week someone started by saying, “Well, my week has been just fine. Work is good. Things at home are fine. But it’s not well with my soul.” He went on to talk about a general restlessness, distraction from any sort of Christian practices, and he noticed himself being short-tempered with some people.”

John Wesley taught that we are either growing in grace (toward God and others) or we were declining. If we let our inner life slip away, we lose our balance and our direction. If we ignore matters of the heart than we lose our humanity.

That is why Jesus told us to forgive, to be reconciled, to be connected to others, to celebrate with those who celebrate and to grieve with those who grieve. That is also why, we need to continue meeting together at Church and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:25).

That is why John Wesley considered class meetings, ‘think Bible study’, so important. In England and America, class attendance was mandatory. In fact, if you did not have a certificate saying you attended a mid-week class, you were not able to attend worship! His motto was only serious Christians should attend worship. Imagine that!

And the thing was, people begged to get in. Wesley believed we need to discipline our behavior. We need to practice right thinking and genuine pursuit of the Holy Spirit. One of his questions was, “Where do you see God working?” We call that God sightings today.

I STILL believe we need to connect, grow and journey together. Christians do not deepen their faith well in isolation.

So, my question is, “How is it with your soul?” How is your inner life? Do you have the fruits of the spirit? Do you have peace in body, mind and soul? Is God actively a part of your life? And are you at peace with others?

Casting Crowns sings a wonderful song called, ‘Oh My Soul’ listen to the opening lyrics,

Oh, my soul, Oh, how you worry
Oh, how you’re weary, from fearing you lost control
This was the one thing, you didn’t see coming
And no one would blame you, though, If you cried in private
If you tried to hide it away, so no one knows
No one will see, if you stop believing.

And the chorus goes,

Oh, my soul, you are not alone
There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know
One more day, He will make a way
Let Him show you how, you can lay this down
‘Cause you’re not alone

It is easy to feel disconnected, misunderstood, battle weary and lost, but because of Jesus, we are not alone. And when we feel disconnected from him, we have one another. The same way we are to be connected body, mind and soul; we are to be connected to other believers on a regular basis. And honestly, that can be hard because we live messy lives. No one does the right thing all the time. Yet it is our goal to strive for something better; to live as Christ. That is how we know his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. So, finally I will ask, “Is it well with your soul today?”

Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 16:26, “What good is it for a person if they gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Sadly, there are many around us ‘who have given up their soul for power, attention, material wealth and earthly peace’; only to find it is not lasting – but fleeting. Your soul (or Peace of mind) is worth a lot more than that. Hold on to ‘what is eternal’.

Your assignment is…place the words, “How is it with your soul? in a place where you can see it daily. Then, find the places that are lacking and let the Holy Spirit in. Also, let others in. We are many because God’s plan is that we should build one another up.

So, live like Christ, until we meet again. Amen

Serve – Oct. 13, 2019

William Booth was born in England in a town called Nottingham. He was born the 2nd son of 5 children to Samuel Booth, a wealthy man who lost everything and descended into poverty. At the age of 13, William’s father could no longer pay his school fees, so at 13, the boy was hired out as an apprentice to a pawn broker. Less than a year after that, his father died.

Two years into his apprenticeship, Booth was invited to a Methodist Church and it was there that he gave his life to Jesus. At the time he declared that he would give Jesus everything he had. Booth read constantly, wrote and taught himself to speak. Within time, he became a Methodist lay speaker.

He and his best friend Will Sansom preached to the poor in London until Sansom died of Tuberculosis. Then in 1851, Booth became a full-time preacher in the Methodist Reform Church. Eventually, he became known as a prominent Methodist evangelist.

But over time, Booth became frustrated with being assigned new pastorates at Annual Conference and asked to be re-assigned to a special appointment to work with the poor and needy. In 1878, Booth founded “The Volunteer Army” and began reaching out to the needy.

Another Methodist leader who saw the name of his organization crossed out the word volunteer and replaced it with the word Salvation declaring that he was not simply a volunteer, but a person saved by grace, and the name stuck.

The Salvation Army has spread too many parts of the world and is known for being one of the largest distributors of humanitarian aid. In 2002, William Booth was named as one of the 100 greatest Brits in history; all because he knew how to serve.

Mark 10:45 reads, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In John 13 we find Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. This was the job of a servant or a slave, yet Jesus embraced it. In verses 14-15 Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

What Jesus was proclaiming in his teaching and practice was that as his followers, we are all called to serve sacrificially. And the service we are called to is; one where we are humble, obedient and honoring others above ourselves, just as he modeled.

Now, just to be clear, being called to serve does not mean we have to be as rigid as one in the army or be as humiliated as a slave that would be missing the point. The truth is, we are called to serve one another in love.

In John 13:34-35 Jesus proclaims, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

If you look in your Bible you will find over 12 hundred references to serving others or being a servant. That includes wrong ways to serve as well as the right ways. We do not serve out of pride (as if we look down on others) or begrudgingly (as if we have no choice).

Jesus fully submitted to the Father out of love. He said, “Father, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).   

At any point, Jesus could have tossed in the towel but he chose not to, out of love. You see, love goes the extra mile. (Matt. 5:41)

1 Peter 4:8-11 reminds us, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” We know that that is true because it covered all of our sins, right?

“Offer hospitality (think love) to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful servants of God’s grace in its various forms.”

Finally, he says, “If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” In other words, we do it in love for Jesus so that we serve, as he served. And we do this so that hearts and lives may be transformed.

So now, let me tell you about Grace Callwood. Grace attends Ames United Methodist Church in Bel Air, Maryland. At the age of 7, on her birthday, she was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer.

At the age of 7 this little girl said, “I think cancer changed me because now I pray more. There was also a lot of pain and I would pray for the pain to go away. All I knew is that I didn’t like it, so I decided to help others take away their pain.”

At just the age of 7, Grace decided it would help her feel better and forget her pain if she was serving others. So, she with the help of her parents and church started the organization, “WE Canserve”. (They combined the words cancer and serve)

Here are the results, after just 2 years; they have raised money for a billboard (announcing their work); made and gave gift bags to the homeless, sick and foster children; delivered packets to hospitals to help kids who get transfusions; delivered toys, beauty supplies and have created social events for local organizations and Grace raised around $600 from her lemonade stand and $5,000 for the children’s hospital.

Her mother said, “Grace is one of the greatest leaders we have, who is going to say no to a 9 year-old? That is why so many people call her ‘Amazing Grace’”. He mother continued, “I think sometimes we forget that our children and young people are the next movers and shakers, if we just empower them”.

Grace was declared cancer-free in 2014. This year, she started 9th grade, but she still heads up her organization. Let me update you on her work; She has helped over 14,000 children, raised over $65,000 in donations for 9 hospitals, 10 homeless shelters, several local food banks, 3 foster care groups and 3 orphanages in Africa.

Her organization has also started several outreach programs; Camp happy for kids with cancer, Breakfast bag Bonanzas (to feed hungry kids), programs like Beach in a bucket, books and Buddies and Transfunders Kits (a program that helps kids get used to seeing and be less afraid of transfusion bags). She has done all that in just 8 years!

This year, Grace won the 2019 youth award for helping children of the world. Grace said, “I live my life thinking that things are going to work out well.” She said that is because she believes that God loves her. And because she is loved, Grace said she just wanted to be someone who could serve others and make a difference. She gets it, and she did it!

The Bible tells us that we are not to serve in fear, what we are to serve God only, that we should serve freely, that we should serve God and mankind daily in our strength and that we should serve with our whole heart.

Romans 7:6 tells us, that we are not to serve, as if out of some written code or obligation, but to serve in the new way of the Spirit. What does that mean?

While some say this means that the laws and the commands in the Bible are made obsolete by Jesus, his words say the opposite.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “I did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but instead, I came to fulfill it.”

What Paul is saying, is this; we are not serving by obligation or to earn our way into heaven. Instead, we serve as those who are set free, like newly born, free from sin.

Instead of serving in fear or to measure up, we serve from real compassion, hope, love and mercy. We serve, in other words, with a glad and thankful heart.

To serve in the new way is to say, we serve with nothing to loss and also with nothing to gain. It is simply an act of love and grace, giving the Glory to God. So, we give in the same way we were given. Freely, you have received, freely, give!

As you may know, that is the pledge or covenant taken by a Deacon in the United Methodist Church. They take an oath of service to God, the church and to others. Deacons, like Cindy, are called into loving acts of kindness and service.

They do not seek fame, honor, recognition or glory, but instead they choose to point to Jesus. Most get paid very little, but they are not in it for the money (now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be recognized or paid) but that is not their goal.

    Today, because of their deep commitment to Christ and outstanding work, Deacons are considered clergy but they did not seek the position to be lifted up, it was bestowed on them. At their core, they have a servant’s heart the same heart as Christ himself.

Deacons often serve in music ministry, educational ministry, youth ministry, nursing homes, community outreach programs and in hospital ministry (that is to only name a few).

Some are associate pastors in Churches – and a few are the sole pastor in small struggling churches.

When I grew up, learning to serve others was just part of life. Full-service gas stations filled your gas, washed your windshield, checked your fluids and they also changed tires. Sure, they were paid for some of it, but part of it was free.

Boy and Girl Scouts used to help older folks walk across busy and dangerous streets. They used to help neighbors in need and search for lost dogs and cats. Part of their oath was to give back.

Neighbors used to watch each other’s homes. Husbands served their sick wives’ breakfast in bed. Farmers helped other farmers when they couldn’t bring in their crops. Now, don’t get me wrong, some of that still happens today but not to the same degree.

So, as a church that takes meals to the sick, sends cards to those who are sick, serves at Habitat, Muncie Mission, Gideon’s, 2nd Harvest’s ‘Forward Steps’, Bridges, makes prayer blankets, calls and visits the sick, visiting and sharing testimony at the jail, you prays for folks in need and offer help to the needy. Thank you in the name of Jesus, our Lord.

Keep giving in love. Now matter what those in the world around us say and do, live as Christ and give as Christ. That includes not only our life’s gifts and time but also our tithes.

I want to end with this final illustration;

Toward the end of his life, the Salvation Army was holding an international convention and they wanted to honor their founder, Gen. William Booth. But he was very sick and weak and could not attend. So, they send him a telegraph note and asked him how would he like to be remembered. And what words of advice would he like to share.

In other words, they were asking what should be the focus of the celebration for him. He cabled back his message to them. It was one word, — “Others”.

One of our highest marks as Christians and as United Methodists is this; – John Wesley challenged his followers to get out of the pews and go into the neighborhoods and the world. He said we should use all of our God given gifts and skills at our disposal.

He called us all to make a difference for Jesus wherever we were. To live for others, to fight for what is right and to point the entire time to Jesus, so…

Your assignment is…to talk to Jena Ashby about what options are available to you, if you are not already involved in some kind of service. If you are already busy, tell your story. What are you doing for God’s glory here in Muncie and around the world?

Then, may we all go and do likewise, Amen.

A Fire from Within – Oct. 6, 2019

In October 1958, NASA advertised that they were looking for 7 test pilots to begin a program called Project Mercury. 500 men applied and by January of 1959, NASA shortened the list to just 110. After rigorous physical and psychological tests, the number quickly dropped to 18.

The candidates had to be less than 6-foot-tall, weigh no more than 180 pounds, be under the age of 40, have a bachelor’s degree and ‘had to have flown’ over 1,500 hours in jets. On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced the first 7 astronauts that would help launch the leap to space.

Author Tom Wolfe wrote about these amazing men in his novel “The Right Stuff”. He writes, part of what made these men faithful and strong was their belief in or embracing of God. And while some of the astronauts had weak or inactive faith, their time in space changed everything.

One of the original 7, John Glenn told reporters, “To Look out at earth and see this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible”.

On Christmas Eve in 1968, the astronauts on Apollo 8 all read from the book of Genesis. Later, Buzz Aldrin would be the first astronaut to celebrate communion on Apollo 11. And James Irwin, on Apollo 15, had a personal encounter with Jesus while on the moon and it changed his life so much, when he returned, he became a missionary for Jesus to other nations.

Many of these men admitted to having faith in God but said that only their pilot light was engaged. Yet once they saw God’s universe from a different perspective, it was like they were set on fire for the Lord. A spark from God; set them ablaze again.

I believe the same thing must have happened to Moses.

As you might recall, Moses fled Egypt and went to live in the desert with the Midianites. He married one of the daughters of Reu-el and settled in to become a shepherd. He was 40 when he arrived and had a lot to learn; it was a very different lifestyle.

Scripture doesn’t highlight the details of those years but it does record Moses’ first words about his change of location. He said, “I have become an alien in a foreign land.”

Being a United Methodist pastor, I understand exactly what he is talking about. We are Itinerant (that means we move at the will of God and the Bishop and cabinet). Moving is stressful. It takes a while to settle in, to get to know folks and to feel at home again. But after several years, a regular routine takes shape.

I am sure Moses had had a rough start but after 40 years, the desert probably felt like home to him. He was confident and at peace. At the age of 80, he was no longer the brash, hot-headed, leader he once was. Moses had learned humility, patience and responsibility.

While his priorities had shifted and his work and family took all his time, I think his passion for justice and the things of God were still alive in him. But I am also sure the flame was running much lower.

Singer John Waite began his career in the mid 70’s with a rock group called ‘The Babys’. They had some success with songs like ‘Everytime I think of you’ and ‘Isn’t it time?”

In 1982, Waite released his first solo album. The big hit on that record was called ‘Change’, listen to the chorus;

Some things ain’t ever gonna change
It doesn’t matter who you are
It’s all the same
What’s in your heart will never change

The Bible says that God looks at the heart and he knows what’s in it. God knew what Moses was capable of and what he needed to get to the place where God could use him. After 40 years in the desert, without one word from God, on an ordinary day, everything would change.

Moses led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. Horeb is defined as a barren place or a place of solitude. It may have been were Moses liked to go and pray while he watched the sheep graze.

But on this day, out of the corner of his eye, Moses saw a thorn-bush burst into flame. While this occurred once in a while in the desert, the flames usually turned the bush to ash quickly and then extinguished itself.

But on this occasion, Moses noticed that the bush was burning yet it remained intact. Curiosity got the best of him and he decided to have a look. In this passage, we have Moses thoughts recorded. He thinks, “I will go over and see this strange sight, and see why the bush doesn’t burn up.”  

Now, scripture records these happenings, “There, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flames of fire within the bush. Then God called to Moses, from within the bush.

Many scholars have different takes on what is going on. Is it the bush that is on fire or the angel in the bush that is blazing? Is this really a fire or a brilliant light? And finally, is this really an angel or is this God?

Some scholars believe that there is both an angel and God’s presence in that burning bush. We know that an angel of the Lord is also called a messenger. Yet Moses never really claims to see an angel just a burning bush.

Here is my take on this passage; I think Moses saw the burning bush and he recognized that it is a message from God. A theophany is the appearance of God ‘in a form that is visible to humans’. In other words, Moses knows he is seeing a miracle.

That is why Moses reacted the way he did, when God spoke to him. As Moses approached the burning bush, God called out, “Moses, Moses”. God repeats his name, so we understand the urgency and importance of this conversation.

Moses responded, “I am right here”.

Rev. Chuck Swindoll writes, “When Moses saw the burning bush he thought to himself, “How strange that is!”  If it had been me, maybe I would have been hearing the theme for ‘The Twilight Zone’ playing in my brain.

Yet, we notice, when God calls out to Moses, Moses quickly responds with “Here I am”. If I were Moses, I imagine that the burning bush would have surprised me but it would have been the ‘talking bush’ that made me feel like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone!

But not Moses; he recognizes this as a miracle and that this unusual incident is of God. He believes that God has a message for him. We can almost hear Moses say, “I am right hear God, speak to me.”

“Don’t come any closer,” God said. In other words, that’s far enough. “And take off your sandals, your standing on Holy Ground”. This was now a sacred place, ‘holy means’ set apart.

To take off one’s shoes, in Jewish culture, is a sign of respect and submission. It is like taking off your hat in worship or in the presence of a lady. It is an outward sign of an inward reverence.

In the Bible, God is described as putting his foot down on the necks of his enemy. We might say, he walked all over them. To throw a shoe at someone is still considered a sign of disrespect. So to surrender and transfer power, Moses took off his shoes and knelt down.

Now, you can go on to read how God describes himself, how he gave Moses a task and then see how Moses reacted. I have preached on that topic before, but here is the thing I want you to remember…This burning bush incident, eventually turned Moses’ tiny flame – back into a roaring fire.

At the burning bush, God revealed his holiness in a way it had never been revealed before. And Moses was so awe struck by the encounter, it radiated in his heart, mind and soul.

Later in his victory song, recorded in Exodus 15:11 Moses would write, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”

That burning bush gave Moses a new perspective. 

The same way the astronauts got a new perspective of God’s universe by seeing it from space.  And that new perspective turned his flickering light into a roaring flame.

Irish priest Thomas Connellan once wrote, “One person with passion is better than 40 who are merely interested.”

The Hebrew word for ‘flames of fire’ (lavah) is very similar to the word for ‘hearts of fire’ (lev). I think the message from within the burning bush, was a reflection of Moses burning heart within. It just took God’s spark to set Moses in motion again.

I want to end with one final illustration from scripture.

The disciples encountered Jesus walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had less than 7 miles to talk with him. If they walked a slow 20-minute mile or less, that means they had approximately 2 hours to be with him.

Yet the Bible says they did not recognize him or his power and glory until he broke bread with them. That is when they saw Jesus. But their final words tell us the real story…

One of the disciples said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?”

While there may be nothing we can do to change our own hearts, God can ‘if we let him in’. So, if your pilot light feels low, imagine what Jesus can do if you let him in today.

Your assignment is…to open your hearts, minds and ears ‘to see and hear’ the Lord who is always near. And then, let him set your heart ablaze for His kingdom work.

Now, as we prepare for communion, open yourself also, to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Join me in saying, “Come Holy Spirit.”

Come Holy Spirit! Amen.