Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2020

“We Walk by Faith” – June 28, 2020

A 16-year-old boy had just received his driver’s license. When he got home, he asked his father, who was a minister, if they could talk about him driving the car. His father took him into his study and said to the boy, “I’ll make a deal with you. If you bring up your grades, study your Bible a little, and get a haircut, then we’ll talk about you using the car.”

After about a month, the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss the use of the car. So, they went to the father’s study and his dad said, “Son, I’ve been so very proud of you. You have brought up your grades, you’ve studied your Bible diligently, but you didn’t get a haircut.”

The young man waited a moment and replied, “Dad, I’ve been thinking about that. You know, Samson had long hair, Moses had long hair, Noah had long hair, and even Jesus had long hair…so, why should I get it cut?”

His father just smiled at that point and said, “Yes son, and they walked everywhere they went!”

When I was young, I walked or rode my bike everywhere. While there were long hikes I dreaded, most of the time, when I went on walks, I recall fond memories associated with them.

I remember walking and talking with friends, walking our dogs and walking in the Children’s zoo with my kids. When Cindy and I started dating, I remember we took long walks and had intimate talks together. We walked hand and hand, in the city, in parks and for exercise through the neighborhoods.

Now, I am the kind of guy that freaks out when my wife says, “We have to have a talk!” 

I immediately think I did something wrong or I’m in trouble. But, if she says to me, “Let’s go for a walk together”, we can have very deep and meaningful talks and I am not at all defensive. Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way.

Scientists, who study human interaction, claim that walking and talking clears the mind, allows us to be more creative, open to suggestions and lowers defenses. Walking, they say is more casual, friendly and relaxing. And it allows for an easier transition to intimate concerns than face to face discussions.

Looking at the life of Jesus, we often see this practice in action. It is probably seen clearest during the walk to Emmaus. Jesus met two people on the road, and they walked and talked together. They discussed disappointments, longings and finally had a revelation.

In fact, you might say that walking and talking with God is a major theme in the Bible. The New Testament breaks down walking like this; we are called to; walk in the Spirit, walk in truth, walk in honesty, walk in love, walk in the light, walk in wisdom and walk in holiness.

And there was one man in the Bible who did this much better than anyone else, except for Jesus. His name was Enoch. We find his short story, in part, in Genesis chapter 5.

Genesis 5 is a very interesting chapter. It is a genealogy of the 10 men, from Adam to Noah, and it covers some 78 hundred years.

It has been called by some, God’s blessing and obituary column. It is an accounting of the years these men have lived prior to having children, giving birth to a first son and other children and finally records accumulated years before they died. 

For instance, Adam had lived 130-years, then had a son named Seth. Then he lived 800-years and had more sons and daughters. Adam lived to be 930 years old, and then he died. (Genesis 5:3-5)

Each overview ends with “and then he died” except for one, Enoch. His story goes like this, “When Enoch lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after that, Enoch walked with God for 300-years and he had other sons and daughters. Altogether Enoch lived for 365-years”.  (Genesis 5:21-23)

Now, this is the interesting part: “Enoch walked faithfully with God; and then he was no more because God took him away.” (v.24)

Why the broken trend? And what does ‘and then he was no more’ mean?  God took him, in Greek, is translated to mean, that God moved him from one place to another or that God took him from earth and placed him in heaven. It literally means he didn’t die he bypassed death and went straight to heaven.

In the entire Bible, there are only 2 men that did not die, according to scripture. Enoch and the other was Elijah. In Second Kings we read, that Elijah was ‘suddenly taken up on a chariot of fire and horses of fire and then he went up to heaven in a whirlwind’. (2 Kings 2:11)

Most of us know Elijah’s story but I’ll bet few of us have ever heard of Enoch. In fact, most of us know more about Enoch’s son, Methuselah. Methuselah is known, mostly, because he was the oldest-living-man in the Bible. He lived to be 969 years old. (Genesis 5:27)

What really draws our attention to Enoch – is that he is mentioned in Hebrews Chapter 11, as a man of great faith. Hebrews records these words, “By faith, Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away.

 “And before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”. (Hebrews 11:5-6)

In different translations you will find two interpretations. One says that Enoch pleased God, and in others, that Enoch walked with God. They essentially mean the same thing. In scripture, we only find two people who please God by being in step with him; Jesus and Enoch. So, that really sets Enoch apart from most men.

Now, let’s look at his short story in more detail. Enoch only lived 65-years before his first son was born. During that time, there is nothing unusual about his life. But that changed with the birth of Methuselah. From that time on, Enoch walked faithfully with God. Isn’t it interesting that something wonderful or tragic can literally change our perspective and our life?  

Research experts tell us, that most people come back to church after ‘a major life change’. Young couples often come back to church after the birth of a child. Others come back after divorce, major health issues or the loss of a loved one.

With the birth of a son, Enoch had a change of heart. Some today, might call that a conversion experience. I can relate; after the birth of my first-born son, I also recognized that I had been a witness to a miracle.

From that time on, scripture says, Enoch walked with God. What exactly does that mean ‘to walk with God’? I would suggest that it is not a literal walk, but figurative walking. God did not come down and walk beside Enoch; instead, they walked together ‘in the Spirit’.

That term ‘walk’ is a very important concept. It implies a step-by-step fellowship or a daily communion with God. It means, putting the things of God first in our lives. Enoch had the same mind as God; he had the same passions and the same desires. He followed God’s direction and was in total agreement with God’s plan.

Amos Chapter 3, verse 3 reads, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” In other words, Enoch fully embraced God and God in turn was pleased with Enoch.

It is easy for us to think, that in Enoch’s day walking with God would have been much simpler. Surely, he didn’t have as many temptations as we do. But that would be an incorrect assumption.

At the time Enoch lived, the world was spiraling out of control. Men lived however they choose to in spite of what God wanted. There was rampant corruption, so much so that God was planning on bringing a flood to wipe out all of mankind.

Everything fell apart quickly after the fall; there were lies, murder, rampant greed, lust and sexual sin, as well as sin almost unimaginable. And at that point, God regretted that he had made mankind in the first place. (Genesis 5:6)

Then came Enoch, a man after God’s own heart and later Noah. Maybe, just maybe, there was hope for God’s people yet. Maybe we could learn to walk with God and to love others, like Enoch did.

But first, we must have total trust and faith in God. Hebrews says that Enoch was commended as righteous because he believed that God existed and that he was earnestly seeking God believing that by doing so, that he would be blessed or rewarded. (Hebrews 11:4-7)

And here is the amazing part, Enoch kept up that faith walk for 300 years! Can you imagine that? Most of us feel lucky if we can make it through one day.

Enoch had an incredible amount of faith and endurance. And here is the thing, it didn’t end there. There is more. He walked with God, had faith in God and…he spoke for God. If we look back to the second to the last chapter of the Bible, we find the book of Jude. In Jude 1 (there is only one Chapter) in verses 14-16 we read these words,

Enoch, the 7th from Adam, prophesied about some evil men, – and here is what he said, 

“Look, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all persons of all the ungodly acts they have committed and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Imagine speaking up for God, when your life could easily be in danger. But Enoch knew God and trusted him completely. Imagine standing up for what you believe in, when everyone else is doing the opposite. Now, imagine walking like that, with God, for 300 years.

The last piece of the puzzle looks like this, God could have destroyed the world with a flood at any time, but he waited. In fact, we waited for 969 years until Methuselah died and until Noah built an ark before he brought the flood. In God’s mercy, he postponed the flood.

It is also interesting to know that Methuselah’s name means, “When he dies, it will come”. And that is when the flood finally came. God always chooses grace and mercy over destruction, until the last good men are gone or saved. That is the kind of God we serve.

Enoch’s story was widely known to the Jews and early believers. In fact, there was ‘a Book of Enoch’ that was considered an early sacred scripture. That is where Jude got the quote, in his letter.

Enoch’s writings are considered, by many, to be apocalyptic because they were predicting the end of the world, by the flood. For many years they were lost, but they were found in Ethiopia and some were contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Over time, many of us have lost touch with Enoch’s story. But he will always be remembered as the man who God took right to heaven because of his great faith. Little else seems to stand the test of time. It is our faith and love that people remember.

I have just one final thought… “What if the only legacy you left behind was one like Enoch’s”. What if, the only thing people remembered about you was that you walked faithfully with God, would that be good enough?

The Bible says that we walk by faith, but faith, like walking takes practice, patience and endurance. Are you putting in the time? Are you in constant communion with God?

Your Challenge is…to read Hebrews chapter 11. It is called the great chapter on faith. Chapter 11 ends like this, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us, would they be made perfect.”

Our faith is a bridge to the past and to the future. I believe if we all keep the faith, we will be blessed. Not necessarily in riches but in the riches of God’s Spirit. May the peace of the Lord be with you. 

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

“The Heart of Prayer” – June 21, 2020

In Luke chapter 17, Jesus was teaching the disciples that life changes and disasters come without warning. To the Pharisees he had said, “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation.” (Luke 17:20).  Here, Jesus is not taking about the end times, he is talking about God’s intervention in time.

Then Jesus goes on to explain to the disciples, in the days of Noah, “People were eating, drinking, marrying and given in marriage, when the flood came and destroyed them.” (Luke 17:27)

Likewise, when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus said, “People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, when disaster struck.” (Luke 17:28-29) 

For us, life is a mystery, we do not know what will happen from one day to the next, or for that matter, what will happen in the next hours or even minutes. Scripture reads, “Two people will be in one bed; on that night one will be taken and one left.” (Luke 17:34)

Many people associate this passage with the Rapture, but the truth is, we have no control over our lives. We are living on God’s timetable. I remember my grandfather saying, “Live each day as if it is your last because one day you will be right.”

Apparently, this brought up a conversation about the fragility of life between the disciples and Jesus. We are not privy to the details, but I think we can imagine how the conversation must have continued. What is the use in planning anything if things could end so suddenly? In fact, what is the use in praying if we have no control in what happens? Why not just give up?

Then in Luke chapter 18, Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should pray and never give up. What follows is the story of a widow who goes before an unjust judge. She keeps crying out for justice until the judge grants her request. The moral of the story is – don’t give up. Even when things do not go in your favor, and even when things seem hopeless. Keep on living, moving forward and don’t forget to pray!

This parable strikes me as especially profound in our current situation. Our nation is divided on many issues and some people are losing hope. I have heard people say, ‘What is the use of praying, God’s not listening.’ or, ‘Why pray? It makes no difference anyway.’

The most recent attack on pray comes with the backlash to the phrase, “You are in my thoughts and prayers.” Some politicians say this then use it as an excuse to go on and to do nothing. Many people are screaming out, “I do not want your thoughts and prayers, they are not enough!”

The truth is, I sympathize with these folks. I wish politicians and others with very little faith understanding would drop that expression. The term ‘Thoughts and prayers’ has actually been around for a long time. One of the earliest written forms was in a poem by William Wordsworth back in 1829.

But it began to appear regularly back in the 1990’s, after natural disasters, national tragedies and after gun violence when President Clinton used it. In 1999, after the Columbine shootings, a nearby school hung a banner that read, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

While well meaning, the cliché is no longer clever or helpful. Saying it is safer than taking real action and so it has become meaningless and trite. Pope Francis once said, “Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action towards our brothers and sisters is a fruitless and incomplete prayer.”

You see, prayer should never replace action, in fact, it calls us to it. The problem is, I think, many people have forgotten what real prayer is all about. It is not meaningless or self-hypnotic. Prayer is spiritual and powerful.

As Christians, prayer should be as important to us as breathing. And it should come naturally, right? The truth is, prayer can be hard to do. For many it feels awkward and they worry about what words to say. In fact, it is easier to say you will pray for someone than actually do it. So many people, simply don’t follow through.         

Baptist pastor and evangelist Fredrick B. Meyers once said, “The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but un-offered prayer.” 

Before you get too discouraged, let me say, that it has always been this way. Even Jesus’ disciples were confused about what constituted real prayer. (Luke 11:1)

In Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus began teaching on a mountainside to a large crowd of followers. He began with the be-attitudes and moved on to explain the heart of the Law. By Chapter 6 verse 5, Jesus began teaching on prayer.

 “And when you pray”, he begins. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, if you pray but when. “Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” (Matthew 6:5)

This should bring back in your mind the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14. The pharisee is standing confident and praying boldly for others to hear him. While the poor tax collector is humble, with his head down, beating his chest.

Jesus continues, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6)

Just to be clear, this does not mean we should never pray in public. Jesus is addressing the attitude of personal prayer here. Personal prayer should come from the heart and be directed towards God, it is not meant to be a show for others. 

Notice how Jesus also says, pray to your Father who is unseen. Some versions read, pray to your Father who is in secret. To pray to God who is unseen takes real faith and trust. This is a one on one outpouring of the heart. If you can pray like that in private to God, who you cannot see, you will be blessed.

Then Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

So we wonder, why then should we pray if God already knows what we want and need? Good question. The purpose of pray is intimacy with God and for growth in our relationship with him. We need to ask, and we need time to reflect and listen. Because patience and being open helps us align ourselves with God’s will.

So, now the disciples knew how to prepare for pray, I imagine this is when they asked, “Teach us to pray.” “This then”, Jesus said, “is how you should pray”,

(Matthew 6:9-13)

Our Father in heaven, holy is your name,

(This is about relationship and giving God thanks and glory)

He is Our Father, God of all, and he is set apart in heaven.

 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

(This is about Who is in charge. This is about giving up control)

This is about God, His way and His direction; throughout the universe and beyond. Jesus prayed this in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but yours be done.” (Mark 14:36)

Give us our daily bread.

(We trust God to sustain us. Please give us what we need) Not always what we think we want.

Forgive us our debts, sins, or trespasses. (These burdens are too much for us to bear) We cannot do it ourselves.

As we also forgive our debtors or those who sin or trespass against us. (This is not a suggestion; it is a both/and situation. They go hand in hand.) Once we are forgiven, we are called to forgive others.

This should remind us of the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. A man was forgiven a great debt and then he turned around and would not forgive another with a small debt. In the end, his lack of mercy condemned them both.

Finally, Jesus added, “And do not let us be led into Temptation but deliver us from evil.” (This is about recognizing our need for God because we are weak-willed at the worst times)

I do not believe Jesus gave this as the prayer to always recite but as a model of prayer that pleases God. So, let’s review it,

We pray by recognizing who God is, Lord of all, and we give him the glory, thanks and respect he is due. We acknowledge that His will, not ours is most important. We bring our concerns but trust his direction. We ask him to provide what we need to sustain us. And we ask for forgiveness and in turn forgive others. Amen.

So, Jesus taught us how to approach our prayer time and gave us a model for prayer. Our task is to come to prayer; open, trusting, and honest because God knows our hearts. We cannot hide anything from him. And we build intimacy, by revealing our soul to him. This ‘trust’ is what gets us through the hard times. But honest prayer also calls for honest action.

James Chapter 2 covers this well, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Jesus often went alone to private places to pray. His times in prayer are what gave him the strength to do what needed to be done. This was no accident. Prayer builds faith and then faith moves mountains.

Reinhold Niebuhr gave us this wonderful prayer,

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

When we look around us at the trouble in the word, it is time for some things to change. We start with pray but we move to action. John Wesley had a great insight about prayer, he used to say, ‘we pray ourselves awake’.

It is time Christians woke up and began living like Jesus. We find our strength in prayer and from there take our power out into the world. Faith in action is love.

Your assignment is…spend some serious time in prayer this week. Set aside 10 minutes at first. Then, work to lengthen your time in prayer each day. Start by making a list of things to pray about. Over time, you probably won’t need the list, but it may help at first. Go to a place where you can be alone with no distractions. Then focus on God. Finally, spend some time in silence, listening. 

That is how we learn about the heart of prayer.

                        May you be blessed when, not if, you do it.

“And all God’s people said, Amen”

“How Long, O Lord?” – June 14, 2020

I remember it like it was yesterday, it was March 3, 1991. On the television were scenes, playing repeatedly, of a black man being brutally beaten by police officers. His name was Rodney King. I remember how sickening it was, and I remember the riots afterward.

To be honest, I have known racial unrest almost since the day I was born. I was 5 when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. I only have a vague memory of the riots. The riots and shooting at Kent State, when I was 7, was my first real memory and it has always stuck with me.

Growing up in Ft Wayne, I remember the push for desegregation in the late 60’s. We lived downtown when the city began buying homes and moving African American families into our neighborhood. My sister and I didn’t care, we played with all the kids black and white. But after all the neighborhood changed, we moved away too.

They call that ‘white flight’, but we didn’t really have a name for it back then. We moved for a few years to the country but later moved back into town. As a little boy, I sang in an all-black choir at a church we visited as my dad designed a new church building for them.

In 1971, several schools were closed, and kids were bussed to new schools to integrate us. We didn’t understand why we couldn’t just walk to our old school, and no one really talked much about it. At least, not in the open. We only heard whispers. I am not sure why they didn’t better prepare us for the move, but both African Americans and white kids, I think, resented this.

During 1973 to 1976, I remember the unrest and even the race riots in the schools. I remember being locked in our classroom and hearing about the violence in other schools around the city. I was even attacked by a white kid for having a black friend. It seemed like the whole world had gone crazy.

After I graduated, I remember the Miami riots in 1982. Then for many years, the issue of race faded into the background for me. I raised a family and went to college. Later I attended seminary.

Throughout all those years, I had African American friends who I worked with and we had in our home regularly. We played softball and soccer together. I have to say, I was color blind. Race seemed like someone else’s problem, not mine.

Later, I invited African American groups to sing in my churches and regularly worked with African American pastors. I did pulpit swaps to preach in African American churches on a few occasions and worked regularly with people of color in the community.

I guess I never noticed or understood that things were not right until I opened my eyes. I remember being at a gas station, where you had to pay to pump the gas. It was new back then. As I reached for the gas pump, I saw the sign and so I started inside to pay. But the attendant saw me and waved me back.

A few minutes later, an African American man drove up and also tried to pump gas. The attendant saw him and waved for him to go inside and pay first. I was shocked, I had never seen racism like that before. It made me question many things. Clearly, we were living in two different worlds.

That is when I began to ask questions and listen to my African American friends. I asked them why they never mentioned things like that before, they said they thought I wouldn’t want to hear about it. That is when I realized that color matters and I should not be color blind.

I think for many people, helping elect Barack Obama as the first African American president seemed like a way to help heal our differences. Unfortunately, I think it just brought unspoken tensions and race issues back to the surface. Hate speeches against President Obama shook me to the core. How could people be so cruel?

But it was the shootings in 2014 in Ferguson and Oakland that seemed to make everything blow up again. I heard people say, “Why can’t we just get along?” But I knew it wasn’t that easy. In sermons, I shared my disgust and talked about all people being equal in God’s sight. The truth was though, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I made it my mission early on to have women and people of color in worship as much as possible. I wanted to live up to Revelation 5:9 where it says that people from every tribe, language, nation, and background will be together in heaven. In our last Church, I interviewed, and we hired a Hispanic man to come and play for our new second service.

I marched in Anderson for Martin Luther King Jr day, with others across the Memorial bridge. I was feeling pretty good about myself. I have always wanted to work with inner city churches, although I have been assigned mostly to small-town and country churches.

Then on June 17, 2015, a young man named Dylann Roof walked into a Charleston Church and murdered 9 and injured one. He said he did it in hopes of starting a race war. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one asking, “Where do people like this come from?

Here we are in 2020. The Corona Virus has forced us into our homes. Tensions are up and people have lost jobs. People are frustrated ‘then the sickening’ by the horrible killing of George Floyd. Again, this set our nation on fire. Truthfully, there have been many other killings, this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I think people were sick of being inside and the opportunity to protest was almost a release; but it is far more than that. Over the years I have prayed, “How long, O Lord?” “How long will people hate each other over the color of their skin?” “How long can prejudice and fear prevail?”

While some say, “All lives matter” and they do, don’t miss the point. Keep your eye on the ball, Black Lives Matter. The treatment people of color receive; the hate, fear, abuse, being pushed down and murdered is intolerable. We cannot stand by when such injustice continues.

Desmond Tutu said, “If I diminish you, I diminish myself.”

Martin Luther King Jr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

And James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Here in America and the world, racism is not only a disease but a sin before God. We are called to love all our earthly brothers and sisters. Mark 12:30-31 records Jesus’ words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

As I was preparing to talk about race, I am reminded of Micah 6:8, “He (God) has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

We can never live as God has called us to live, if we tolerate so much injustice. Where is the compassion? Where is the mercy? Why are we ‘too proud or afraid’ to speak out? How can we remain silent when so many others suffer? Their loss is not our gain, we all are diminished when others lose their rights and their lives.

In our main scripture passage today, Jesus has been healing others on the Sabbath and the Pharisees are outraged. So much so, they want Jesus dead. (Matthew 12:14) The pharisees, looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, said, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:10)

Jesus responded, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, it IS lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12)

Then, Jesus had the man stretch out his shriveled hand and Jesus healed him. THIS IS what outraged the Pharisees because it challenged their way of life. To them, the law was more important than a human life, or quality of life. Caring for others would require more sacrifice on their part. And so, they missed Jesus’ point entirely!

Following this story, Matthew quotes from Isaiah 42:1-4, he states, “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, – till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name, the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21)

The Hope of the world is Jesus. He was willing to take a stand against sin, corruption, suffering and injustice. As Christians, we are called to take ‘the same stand’.

When we are baptized into a Christian church and community, we take these vows,

“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?” And “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression – in whatever forms they present themselves?” We respond, “I do”.

Prior to the story of the Good Samaritan, the question is asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Jesus tells the story of a hated Samaritan who has more love, compassion and respect for life than the 2 religious leaders who passed by. Not only did he help the man, he bandaged his wounds, covered him with his clothing, put the man on his donkey where he took him to an Inn – and finally paid for the man’s stay. And offered to pay extra if needed. (Luke 10:30-35)

Notice, he never asked what nationality the injured man was or what he had done to be attacked. No one deserves or could provoke such a beating.

This Samaritan simply looked past race, religion, and bias to help a fellow human being in despair. Then Jesus asks, “Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” We know the answer, the Samaritan. (Luke 10:36-37)

My question I must ask myself is, “What Kind of neighbor am I?” You will have to ask yourself the same question. Do we seek justice, show no bias – and seek to love as God loves?

Deuteronomy 10:17-20 reads, “For the Lord your God is – God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord, your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name.”

And Psalm 97:2 reminds us that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.”

As my good friend Rev. Dr. Aleze Fulbright explains, it is time to look within. Have I been complicit? Have I spoken up, out, and often enough? Have I spoken up about the worth of others, about reconciliation and privilege? Have I been willing to seek justice for others no matter who they are?

Black lives matter. This injustice will not end until we all stand together and speak out.

Pray with me for a moment, Heavenly Father, I have failed to see my neighbor and love as you would love. I have been blind, help me to see. No more can we protest or speak ‘once on this matter and think we are finished’ and believe we have done our duty. As long as racism exists, we have work to be done and an enemy to be fought.

Help me to listen without being defensive, to be engaged and enraged for the right reasons, but to use my power in love and in compassion. Help me and others finally say, enough is enough and to be able to stand by our convictions. And help us to live the hope we profess, in the name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Your assignment is…to examine your own life in respect to race. What have you experienced and how did you react? It is easy to remain silent, when we should speak – or speak, when we should listen. How have you grown over your life?

What steps can you take to help break down barriers? You can begin by simply meeting and befriending others who do not look like you. How many people of color, specifically African Americans, do you know? We often pass one another without a word spoken. Speak first and share some good greetings and words.

Until we actively work to engage one another and break down barriers, the suffering will continue. Hold others, accountable. This will never end until we all take a stand together. No one deserves what our African American brothers and sisters have had to put up with. It is time for this affliction to end.

Please do your part, it is the right thing to do. We must follow Jesus’ example. Then, others will know us by our love.

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

“Bounce Back” – June 7, 2020

When our three kids were little, they all had their favorite characters or stories that inspired them. Our youngest, Kayla, loved Tweety Bird. Tweety was smart, persistent and knew how to stay one step ahead of Sylvester the cat.

Paige, our middle child, was a fan of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. She loved Dorothy, the girl who endured all kinds of trouble, until she could get back home. And of course, she was an animal lover, who couldn’t love Toto?

Finally, our oldest, Todd, was drawn to two characters of strength. First, he loved The Tasmanian Devil. He is an animal who spins and brings on chaos, but he is a survivor. But he also loved Tigger. Tigger first appeared in the book “The House at Pooh Corner”.

Most people will remember him from one of the Walt Disney movies. He even had his own movie, The Tigger Movie. As he sings in the movies, he’s got a top made of rubber and a bottom made of springs. And he loves to bounce. Tigger bounces for fun, to help others and he also tries to bounce away from his troubles and problems.

While he has a few missteps, he usually ends up on his feet. No matter what happens, he has a positive attitude and he recovers quickly. In all three of those characters my kids liked, there was persistence, endurance and resilience.

Resilience is defined as having the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. In Latin, it translates as; having the ability to spring-back into shape, to be elastic, adaptable and to bounce back quickly. To be resilient is having the mindset that when you are knocked down by the adversities of life, – you just keep getting back up again as strong or stronger than before. 

In 2002, a band called Chumbawamba had a hit song, and the chorus went, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you are never gonna keep me down.” He kind of sounds like a persistent boxer. In fact, that is why we love movies like Rocky, because the hero just won’t quit.

The truth is, we probably know people around us, that we admire, because they seem to bounce back, no matter what happens. They may experience an illness, a family tragedy, or a case of bad luck but it never seems to keep them down. Life can stretch them to their breaking point, but like a rubber band they always seem to snap back to their original shape.

On the flip side, most of us also know people like Eeyore, who always see the negative side of things.  Hope evades them and good luck is never good enough.

Not only do they fall down but it’s almost impossible to help them back up. As Eeyore would say, “What’s the use, I’ll probably just fall down again, anyway.”

Some might say it’s all due to our personality; some folks see the glass as half full, others as half empty. While that may be somewhat true, we all have the ability to adapt and change. We were created that way by God.

Philippians 4:8 reads, “Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

And Romans 12:2 reads, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

While the world may tell us to stay down when we are beaten, God promises us good things and a brighter future, if we just hold on to him. (Jeremiah 29:11-14a) And even amid struggle, Jesus tells us in John 10:10, that he came to give us life abundant.

In other words, we were created to hold on, to believe in the promises of God, and to bounce back. The Bible is filled with stories of people who did just that.

Probably the story that comes into most people’s minds, is the life of Job. It is the epic story of extreme sorrow and suffering. Despite his faithfulness to God, Job goes through disaster after disaster including the loss of his children. Finally, his own health begins to fail. (Job Ch. 1&2)

That is when his wife said to him, “Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) But he refuses to give up. Friends blame and dismiss him, but he still holds on. Finally, he gets into a discussion with God and God puts him in his place.

Job’s final words are these, “My ears have heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6) It sounds sad and hopeless…

Yet, in spite of everything that came before, Job prays for his friends and he never gives up. Chapter 42:10 finally reads, “The Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.”

Now, this story is not a prescription telling us that if we just hold on long enough, we will become happy and wealthy. Instead, it is about having the right frame of mind, no matter what happens. We do that, by putting our trust fully in God.

Another example of a person who understood how to bounce back is reflected in the life of Paul. As Saul, he had persecuted Christians and even stood by as they were martyred. On the road to Damascus, that all changed. Paul was knocked from his horse and he had a vision of Jesus asking, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)

Following this incident, for 3 days, Saul was blind, and he refused to eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:9) Then a man called Ananias, who was called by the Lord, came to him, laid hands on him and his vision was healed. (Acts 9:17-18) After all he had been through, how could Saul go on? No one would ever forget his past. Most of us would just want to go off and hide but not Him.

Saul, who would later be re-named Paul, had a fire in his belly. In spite of everything, he believed in God’s greater good. That is how he was able to write, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

“Therefore”, he writes, “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Now, I would not want to be Paul with all that baggage, but you must admire his resilience. No matter the circumstances, he was going to thrive.

At one point, Paul boasts about his suffering; he explains, “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) But I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the 40 lashes minus one. 

“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I even spent a night and a day in the open sea, and I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; and I have been cold and naked.”

Mind you, he calls these ‘light and momentary troubles’.

James, the brother of Jesus writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Let me just say here, I am not trying to dismiss anyone’s pain and suffering. We were created, in the image of God, with all our emotions and feelings. Repeatedly, the Bible tells us just how God feels. He suffers, he mourns, he becomes angry and he is described as jealous. But above all he goes through, he forgives and loves.

In the 2006 movie Click, Adam Sandler plays Michael Newman, an overworked architect that neglects his family. An eccentric stranger gives him a magical remote control that can ‘fast forward’ him through all unpleasant and bad moments in his life.

At first, he thinks it is a wonderful gift until it moves him far ahead in an attempt to avoid every difficult moment in his life. Before long, a good portion of his life has passed, and he has missed many important events and experiences. In the end, he learns to enjoy every moment, good or bad.

An old Jewish proverb reads, “A person who falls and gets back up is much stronger than a person who never fell.

And Babe Ruth once said, “It is hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

In our world today, with the Corona Virus and the racial tension that is tearing us apart, it is easy to just give up and hide. So more than ever, we need folks who remain resilient. We need Christians who see God’s Promises and live with the hope we are called to profess. God is greater than the problems we see today. Jesus has gone ahead, and he has promised us life abundant, but we must hold fast.

Avoid self-pity, look beyond disappointment, give up resentments and refuse to be indecisive. Live the Resurrected Life, because of Jesus, the future has promise. He has overcome, so we can overcome. Believe it and live it.

Your assignment is…to make a list of the things that you feel hold you back. Then, pray over them, shred them and leave them with God forever. Refuse to live in the past, because today, we thrive!

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

It Only Takes a Spark of Love – May 31, 2020

As a reminder, the worship service was provided by Bishop Trimble and the Cabinet.  Go to Corinth’s Facebook page for the link https://www.facebook.com/MuncieCorinthUMC/.

The scriptures were: Psalm 130; 2 Peter 1:3-4; and Mark 12:27-34a.  This is an Aldersgate/Pentecost service.  Aldersgate is when John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed in worship, and he came to faith. It is about new birth and coming alive in faith.