Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2021

The Word of God – Feb. 21, 2021

How many of you remember a television show that premiered back in 1981 called “The Greatest American Hero”? William Katt played a substitute teacher named Ralph Hinkley, who took his students on a field trip in the desert. Somehow, he got separated from the them, and found himself face to face with aliens from another planet.

Because they were worried about the direction the world was headed, the aliens gave Ralph a box with a superhero suit inside. There were also instructions included telling him how to use the suit. Ralph was supposed to use the suit to bring some level of order to our world, which was spinning out of control. 

Frightened, Ralph quickly loaded the box in his car but failed to notice as the instructions fell out and disappeared. By the time Ralph got home and put on the suit, he had no idea how to use it. If you have seen the show, Ralph discovers he has many superhero abilities; for instance, he learns he can fly but he has no idea how to land.

By trial and error, over the next 3 seasons, Ralph becomes the Greatest American Hero, but he never gets everything figured out because he never read the instructions. When I looked it up online, I found the series still has a huge following.

I could give you many examples of folks I know, that tried to cook or build things without following the directions. Heaven knows, I have done it myself. But after the job gets to complicated, most of us go back to the instructions.

Some years ago, someone coined the phrase, that the word Bible stands for ‘Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth’. Maybe you have heard that before. The word Bible means book. You have probably heard it called the Holy Bible. Holy in this sense means set apart. It is really a collection of writings.

The Bible, many people agree, is composed of 66 books by 40 different writers over 1,500 years. Of course, when I say that, I am referring to the protestant Bible. The Catholic Bible includes extra books, and there were some other writings excluded, from the final closed canon.  While the Bible was written by men, we believe they were inspired by God.

The reason we can say that is because this book is amazing. Imagine writing a book over 15 hundred years and then having it come together perfectly. It proofs itself and is complete from beginning to end. While it is a book about our faith journey, it covers many different writing styles.

For a real disciple of Jesus, knowing God’s word is life-giving, life-affirming and life-fulfilling. You cannot be an affective disciple without spending time in God’s word. In Jesus’ day, they were taught to memorize the early teachings of the Torah and prophetic writings. While it is still helpful to memorize scripture, most of us have a Bible close by.

In 2017, it was reported by the American Bible Society, that almost nine out of 10 households (87 percent) own a Bible and the average household has three. But over half those who own a Bible, seldom open it. While the Bible is the world’s best-selling book, only about 20% of Americans have read it through completely. So, the Bible has acquired the nickname “The book almost nobody reads”.

The flipside of that information is, that there are more discussions and arguments about what the Bible says, means or includes then, any other book yet it is often done by people who have never read it.

Vince Lombardi died in 1970, but he is still considered by many to be one of the greatest football coaches to ever live. At the beginning of every season, and often several times throughout, he would tell his players they must return to the basics. Then he would grab a game ball, hold it up and proclaim, “Gentlemen, this is a Football!”

He wasn’t doing it to speak down to them, he was doing it to remind them of what’s important. He would say, “Keep your eye on the ball. Never lose sight of it. Without a football, you are just a bunch of guys, standing in a field. The football helps define you. It gives you purpose. Always know where it is.”

As Christians, the same thing could be said of the Bible. ‘This is a Bible’. Read it, study it, refer to it, master it. The Bible is your guide for life. It gives you purpose. Scripture even tells us to ingest it or make it part of us. Jeremiah 15:16 reads, “When Your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear Your name, LORD God Almighty.”

Some folks pick up their Bible and say, “Its huge!” I have heard is said that there are 773,692 words in the average Bible. But don’t get discouraged, it is divided up in many sections. As I said earlier, there are 66 parts. 39 chapters in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.

Please pick up your Bible and open it to the first Chapter, Genesis. Most Bibles are clearly divided between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament begins with Genesis and ends with Malachi. It was written a long time before Jesus was born; It took 6 to 7 hundred years to write and was completed about 950 years before Jesus was born.

Genesis begins by answering a few simple questions; How did everything come into being? How did God’s relationship to man and the world begin? And where did the nation of Israel and the people if God come from? By the way, Genesis is the most read book in the Old Testament.

The question, “How did everything come into being?” is answered in the first sentence. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” From there you can read the creation story in Macro and Micro view. Read about the first people, Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel, the first sibling rivalry. Noah and the Ark. The story of Abraham, God’s first friend. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph with his coat of many colors. That is just a quick overview.

Genesis is part of what is called the Torah or Pentateuch, it includes the first 5 books of the Bible, recorded by Moses. It is often called the Books of the Law.

Exodus covers the life of Moses. It tells how God delivers the Hebrews or Israelites from slavery and enters into a special relationship with the Jewish Nation. Just to clarify, the words Hebrew, Israelites and Jews are often switched in and out. But they do have slightly different meanings.

Hebrews were often defined as the descendants of Abraham. The Israelites are the descendants of Jacob, who was named Israel later on. And the Jews are the people who live in and around Judah.

Leviticus gives us direction on how to worship God, honor him and live in peace with one another. It is one of the least read books because people don’t like to get bogged down with rules and laws.

Numbers categorizes the clans and families and records the Israelites’ journey and rebellion in the wilderness. It has Balaam’s talking donkey, and an overview of how to celebrate the holy holidays. It ends with, the setting up of cities of refuge for those in need.

In Deuteronomy, Moses climbs a mountain to get God’s 10 Commandments. From there, more laws, rules, and ways of dealing with legal issues come up. One of the most important chapters is 30, when God tells the people to choose between life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life, he says. That completes the Torah.

The next section is the history of the former leaders. It includes Joshua, who led God’s people into the Promised Land; Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Esther. In these books you can read about the success and failures of the early leaders of the nation of Israel. Also, the way they were oppressed. The Life of Deborah, judge and ruler, and King David are contained in them.

Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are classified as the poetic or wisdom writings. Job deals with the issue of Good and Evil in relation to God. Psalms were believed to have been sung. And the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs are credited to King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live.

The next section is the writings of the prophets, there are 4 major, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Jeremiah is also believed to have written Lamentations. Daniel slips in with his story. You might remember Daniel in the Lion’s Den. He was a faithful follower during the exile. Then you will find the writing of the last 12 minor prophets. That’s the Old Testament!

The New Testament begins with the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each tells about the life of Jesus from their own perspective and cultural setting. Matthew addresses Jesus from the perspective of the Jews. He is the Messiah and King.

Mark is the most often read Gospel because it was first, shortest, and gives a clear picture of Jesus. It explains his purpose, work, and suffering.

Luke is the Gospel that reaches out most to the Gentiles. Jesus is Lord to all. It gives order and a fuller account to Jesus’ life and Journey. The Acts of the Apostles is the follow up to Luke that fills in the life, ministry and challenges of the Disciples after Jesus ascended.

Finally, John is rich in detail and imagery. He uses flowery language and metaphor to give a deeper significance to Jesus’ life. The Gospel of John is many people’s favorite because of the images such as, I am the bread of life, I am the Gate, the light of the world and I am the Good Shepherd. Also, People love John 3:16 and the washing of the feet of the disciples.

After the Acts of the Apostles, we have the 14 letters (called Epistles) of Paul and 7 General letters by others. Some letters are to churches and others are to individuals. In them, Paul defends the faith and many others deal with issues or questions of the day. They are filled with pastoral advice and wisdom.

Finally, there is the last book of the Bible, Revelation. It is the most feared and generally the most misunderstood book in the Bible. It is rich in apocryphal language and images. John is on the Island of Patmos doing hard labor when he writes it. Revelation means God is taking away the veil or uncovering and revealing the truth.

It is a letter to the churches encouraging them to keep the faith in times of trouble and persecution. Some believe it was written in a way to confuse anyone outside the church from understanding it. It truly proclaims divine judgement and power. In the end, God wins, and Jesus is on the throne. And there is a new heaven and a new earth.

   Finally, Revelation 22:18-19 gives us this last piece of instruction; “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take from him his share in the tree of life and in the Holy city, which are described in this book.”  We call that God’s copyright!

That is a quick tour through the Bible. When you read it, the stories come alive. Every time I return to it, I see things I never saw before. It has mystery, intrigue, wonder, adventure, mountaintop views and stories of heartbreak. It has heroes and villains, but just as often, you will see the flaws in all of them. They were real, just like you and me.

The Bible has it all. It will make you laugh and cry. But you must spend time in it. Don’t try to read it from beginning to the end, unless you have spent ‘many years studying it. Just pick it up and begin with one of the Gospels or read Genesis.

When you begin to explore deeper chapters, it is best to do it in a small group. Some passages of the Bible are hard to understand without the right context or historical perspective. It is also good to know their social customs and values. But be warned, once you really start reading it, it is often hard to put down.

There is a reason while it is called, “The greatest true story ever told”.

Episcopal Pastor Phillip Brooks once said, “The Bible is like a telescope. If a man looks through his telescope, he sees worlds beyond; but if he looks at his telescope, he does not see anything but that. The Bible is a thing to be looked through to see that which is beyond; but most people only look at it and so they see only the dead letter.” 

Your assignment is…to read a portion of your Bible this week. Take notes if you have questions. God blesses his people when they read His book. Inside you will find the most amazing stories, poetry, songs, and reflections. If you do that, I will be praying that God’s words will fully come alive in your heart and life.

May it be so.

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”

Prayer is Where the Action Is – Feb. 14, 2021

Rev. J. Kirk Johnston wrote in his book “Why Christians Sin”, this true story;

“A tale is told about a small town that had historically been “dry,” but then a local businessman decided to build a tavern. A group of Christians from a local church were concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. It just so happened that shortly thereafter lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.

The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue ‘in court’ that they were not responsible. The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated that “no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer – and the Christians do not.”

The great Theologian Martin Luther once said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

Prayer is mentioned over 350 times in the Bible. One commentary records that there are 650 different prayers in the Bible, I’ll have to take his word for it unless someone wishes to count them. And prayer fills the Bible from Genesis through to Revelation.

Throughout the Bible we are instructed to; pray without ceasing, to pray simply and humbly, to pray in secret as well as in worship, to pray faithfully, to pray and never lose heart and to pray to God about all things. We are also told there is power in prayer and that no prayer goes unheard.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14 we get some insight into God’s thoughts, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear them from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

I find it interesting that the first step to pray is to humble ourselves. One pastor explains, “Humility is an act of spiritual warfare that confesses human limitations. It is not self-deprecation; instead, humility is simple honesty. We are created in God’s image, but we are not God. We need Him. Every time we embrace humility, we turn our back on sin and open the door for grace.”

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodists, said prayer is the grand means of drawing near to God. He also said, “God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it.” Finally, he was famous for saying, “Prayer is where the action is.”

Episcopal Pastor Edwin Harvey once said, “A day without prayer is a day without blessing, and a life without prayer is a life without power.” I agree wholeheartedly.

In just a moment, I will go over some basics of prayer, but first I want to stress what prayer is not about. There are so many misconceptions about prayer, that many folks get confused. Most of these will probably sound familiar.

First, prayer is not a list of demands that God must fill. It is not a wish list that if God fails to meet, we refuse to pray. While I believe God answers prayer, he may not answer it right away or in the way we hope he will. Prayer is communion with God. It is a relationship where we speak but also listen.

Second, prayer has no guarantee that if we do it, we are free from all harm or suffering. Most of us have heard or said, “Lord, place a hedge of protection around me and my family” right? It sounds good, until you see where it comes from in scripture.

In Job chapter one, Satan is addressing God because he wants to see if he can turn Job against God. Satan says, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has; and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11) We know what happened next!

God does not guarantee that we will be free from all harm. Certainly, Job saw his share of trouble. So did Jesus. He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup (of suffering) from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Finally, while pray draws us closer to God, it can still leave us feeling alone and empty. I wish I could say that pray fills every need I have but it doesn’t. Sometimes when I pray, I still leave wanting more. I may even still wonder if God hears me. But there is no magic to praying the right words or perfectly memorized passages of scripture.

So, if that is true, you ask, why pray? Because prayer isn’t about changing God, it is about changing us. It is about moving us closer to his good and perfect will. Jesus prayed to be renewed and to be filled with God’s power and presence. It was food for his soul.

Prayer was so important; it was one of the first things a teacher taught his disciples. We see how this plays out in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 11:1-4.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

“He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father, Hallowed be Your Name, Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

This is a model prayer; it gives us an overview of what can or could be included in a prayer. It includes, but is not limited to; Adoration (being in awe of God), petitions (our requests), intercessory (praying for others), Thanksgiving, confession, worship & praise, and abandonment (by saying, ‘Your will be done’).  

Prayer can be private, public (like in worship) or pastoral (corporate, praying for all believers). We pray through liturgy (regular practice, rote, and phrases), meditation (images – like the windows, candles, or pictures), through silent deep listening called contemplation – and we can use scripture to center us on God.

Prayer can be spoken, sung, read (Like through the Psalms), or silent and approached through thought. We can pray on our knees, standing, sitting, or prone (on the ground on our faces) and with open or closed eyes.

John Wesley said the best prayer comes when we do it humbly, in faith, – in accordance with God’s will, when it is ‘other focused’ – and when it is done in the name of Jesus. God ‘invites us into prayer’ and prayer helps us clarify and refocus our minds.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is a spiritual transaction with the creator of Heaven and Earth.”

Finally, Corrie Ten Boom asks this question, “How important is prayer to you?” she adds, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” That is how you know how important it is.

Now, I have shared a lot of information – but information alone is not enough. One of the top question’s pastors hear is, “How do I pray?” It is the same question the disciples asked Jesus. The answer is, you learn to pray, by praying! That is why Jesus gave them a model; so they could get started.

So, let’s now get started. I will lead you through a series of opportunities, where you can offer personal prayer. I know it may seem awkward at first, but I promise you, if you stick with it, it is just like breathing. Prayer starts to happen regularly in your life, once you do it.

Let’s begin with adoration. God is good, in fact God is awesome and amazing. The Bible says, He is Love. Let’s take some time now and just reveal in God’s amazing love, mercy, and grace. So, Let’s pray…

 Next, let’s each of us bring our own petitions or requests to God. It can be for good health, hope, peace, personal concerns, direction, or anything you want to take to Jesus. Let’s pray…

Now let’s offer up prayers of intercession or prayers for others. It may be family, friends, strangers, our leaders, health care workers, -other nations, you fill in the blank. Let’s pray…

Isn’t God incredible? Let’s thank him. We give thanks for all we have and all we do not have to deal with. Thanks for our church, for safety, for family, for peace and hope. We can thank him for Jesus, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. There is so much to thank God for, Let’s pray…

Now is the time to offer up anything we are holding back. It is time for confession. God already knows everything, but we must own up to it. We have to be humble and honest before the throne of God. We can never forget that Sin is real, and sin destroys. Give it to God and turn from your sinful ways. Let’s Pray…

We are getting there…I am going to ask for help on this next part. We want to pray and thank God for Praise and worship. But I want to do it in heartfelt singing. I want us to sing with all of our heart and soul. Holding up Holy Hands. The praise team will lead us in a song… Let’s pray / singing ‘Sanctuary’.

Finally, one last time. You are doing great! Really! We need to pray in total abandonment. We need to pray, “Your will be done.” We offer up our lives, all that we are, to help live out the will of God here on earth. This is hard, I know. But it is all about trust.

Do you trust God to be in control? To send his Holy Spirit to direct our lives.

Do you trust Jesus, especially after he gave his life for you? The Bible says, you are not your own. Invite God in and make room for him now. Let’s pray…

You did it! We did it!

                        I want to end with Philippians 4:5-7, listen…

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That is your assignment…in all situations, return to the Lord in prayer. Do it in the name of Jesus, trusting in him and relying on his grace and mercy. If you do, you will be a disciple, not just a follower.

May it be so.

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength – You Got This – Feb. 7, 2021

It was obvious the old pastor was having trouble keeping everything in order mentally. One Sunday he told the story of Jesus feeding 5 people with 2 loaves and 5000 fish. The next Sunday, forgetting what he had preached on the week before, he told the story of Jesus feeding 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Little Johnnie jumped up in the back of the church and proudly proclaimed, “That shouldn’t be a problem. He had enough left over from last week.”

PB’s sermon series is about discipleship, and I believe this story can teach us something about it.  Hopefully you listened to the scripture reading this morning, and you can clear away the confusion of this silly story.

Instead of the miracles, Let’s begin with the disciple’s behavior at day’s end.  After a great day of preaching, healing, sunshine, and crowds, why did they tell Jesus to send the people away? Well, in their day, that would be expected…..every family for itself. They just needed Jesus to wrap it up. I’m guessing like any of us, the disciple were just plain tired after another long day of crowds. But Jesus has been preaching about God’s love for everyone, loving one another, and caring for the needy. He had healed common people today and has been preaching counterculture ideas everywhere he went. He saw an opportunity.

Step back for a moment to consider the crowd. and the religious teaching of the day. First, the crowd: They were probably all there. A mix of mostly Jews, some gentiles, and even religious leaders. Perhaps Jesus understood that this crowd needed to see the religious teaching of the day in action.  Perhaps he needed his disciples to live up to their calling. Remember that pastor Bill talked last week about followers, disciples, and skeptics of Jesus?

So, what was being taught by the religious leaders. Jesus and all Jews would have learned The Great Commandment written in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 from an early age.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” 

The second commandment found in Lev 19:18b was “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Even today, these words are placed in a leather box, or tefillin, and literally bound to the foreheads and arms of devout Jews during morning prayers.

The crowd knew (point to head) these instructions, but Jesus saw that they and even the teachers were not heeding them. If he and the disciples did not model how to live it out, who would? Jesus loved his Father with all he had, and he was teaching the disciples to do the same. Sometimes, as in this case, they did not get it. If you really love God so completely, you must also love your neighbor. This crowd was all neighbors!

So, Jesus did the right thing, and commanded the disciples to serve their needs with food. Instead of jumping in with obedience, their mistake was to become what I call red-lighters. They list all the reasons it just can’t be done! They forget that Jesus sent them out the first time with power to heal the sick and preach the word! Jesus knows already that they can do it through his power. Perhaps they had an aha moment as Jesus prayed.

Once Jesus blesses the food, they jump in and serve. And to make the point of God’s power and abundant compassion working through them, he arranges to have leftovers. Ah….. takeout for their journey home, perhaps? Such awesome power can only work through disciples then and now when we are loving God with ALL our heart, soul, mind, and strength AND loving our neighbor as well.

Perhaps I can bring this closer to home and to Corinth. You’ve seen and heard parts of this story about our church garden…. Most likely the hundreds of pounds of food grown and delivered in Muncie. What if you could benefit from some insight into the struggles of some disciples behind the scenes?  

Chapter 1;  We’ll start with this disciple – (point to self).  When we moved here to join our Corinth family, I was without a job or specific ministry purpose. I knew God needed me to connect our congregation with service to our community, but I needed to know the people and the need. I spent more time than ever in scripture and prayer…. Listening for guidance.  No answer. I continued this with my focus on God – heart, soul, mind, strength. No answer. This went on for roughly a year. I shared this frustration with my mentor who asked me, “So what are you passionate about?” “Growing things,” I answered, “youth ministry, feeding people on Muncie’s south side.”  “There you have it.” she replied with a smile.

I didn’t have it all figured out in advance, and planting time was already upon us. How and what seeds? Where is the food needed? How do we distribute it? I just started, and people began stepping up to help. And questions were soon answered. The whole adventure was God – led and powered. I was clueless except in the how to pray, listen, and grow stuff departments!

God sent John first, offering to plow and bring donated manure for Corinth’s first garden. My own tiller and my strength were not sufficient for this task. Next, we received donated seeds from Minnetrista, John, and Alan.

The youth group planted, June grew tomato plants, Judy donated bean poles, Bill chose scriptural garden art to inspire us. Rhonda and Judy pulled weeds and harvested as did Heidi. John and Alan cultivated to keep the weeds at under control. Tony donated a scale to aid record-keeping. I delivered food to A Better Way Shelter, Muncie Mission, The Bridge, the library food box, and Covenant Partners.

Collaborating with my AmeriCorps friend to teach canning was not successful as a community outreach. Neither was publicity handed out with Corinth’s food distribution at school.  Our weed crop was unsightly.  From this, we learned what not to do!  Still, it was a fruitful and joy filled undertaking. We distributed almost 600 lbs. of food in our first year! The veggies available on Sundays brought in over $200 in donations to missions.

Chapter 2;  I was exhausted by year’s end. Was I really up to this task again? I hadn’t even been able to plant the entire plowed space.  During my winter rest, I prayed and told God this was too much. My selfish and rebellious self (just ask Bill) was stomping my foot at God. (cartoon about man seeing sight saying no juggling machetes and he says, “For some reason, I have a desire to juggle Machetes.”)

God had plans …. again, but this time I would have to rely more on others, trust and obey.  Year two had us planting more space and variety. Distribution became a larger challenge. God nudged Richard, Susan, Judy, Emma, Karee, Kyrie, Missinda, and Rick to help meet this need.

Midsummer, I was in the garden every day, but my energy started to wane. When I couldn’t keep up, new helpers came out to encourage, rototill, weed, harvest, and distribute. I leaned on God’s strength to persevere, but I needed more and more help.  People were hungry and we had the food to share – roughly 900 lbs. this time. And how do you count the value of flowers shared with the women at A Better Way, or the joy of the preschool children when they dug their own potatoes and carrots?

As many of you know, I became very ill soon after the harvest ended. I was physically unable to plant or tend the garden. Fortunately, God must have been growing the passion to serve and feed people, because other Corinth disciples just couldn’t say no to God. John plowed and planted a simple crop of green beans our third year. Pickers strained their backs over and over to keep up. All I could do was weigh beans and delegate deliveries. In the end, that small piece of fertile land produced roughly 300 lbs. of beans!

Corinth’s garden experience parallels that of the disciples who helped Jesus feed people.  Those who would grow and serve as disciples need to:

– Dwell with God giving him space to speak – listen and obey

– Say yes when not all figured out

– Push past rebellious and selfish tendencies

– Know you are not alone

– Persevere with a singular passion for God… many forms of service

– Embrace the learning from failures

– Practice humility

We remember that the feeding, growing, healing are not from our will or strength.   All are gifts from God when his disciples faithfully act.

Thanks be to God. Amen

                                                          Preached by Rev. Cindy Garver

The Kind of Person God Uses – Jan. 31, 2021

In Ancient Judaism, back in Jesus’ day, discipleship was taken very seriously. At the age of 5, young boys were taught to memorize scripture passages. By the age of 10, they were speaking entire passages of the Torah. Jesus, we are told, in Luke Chapter 2 excelled at this.

By the time he was 12, Jesus’ parents found him in the Temple, listening to the Rabbis and scripture says he was asking them hard questions. “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers,” it says in Luke 2:47. Then, chapter 2 ends like this, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and Men.” (Luke 2:52)

From an early age, Jesus had a real hunger, or we might say a passion for the things of God. His desire to grow in the Spirit and seek guidance were a hallmark to his life. Jesus regularly spent time in prayer, reading the Torah, attending worship at the local synagogue, and studying, by way of asking hard questions, to build his faith. We might say, he had an inquisitive mind.

Jesus wanted to be closer to God, but he understood the way to do that was through prayer and study. As I said previously, discipleship was taken very seriously back in Jesus’ day. Young men would find an established rabbi, one they called the teacher, and they would follow him and model everything he did.

Their classroom was the world. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere he went, they would follow. How he lived his real life was the test of a faithful Rabbi. They watched how he treated his family, how he used money, how he ate, prayed and even how he treated others.

According to the Torah, one disciple was so eager to learn from his master, he would follow him to the bathroom and try to hide under his bed when he slept. When he was asked, “why he did this?” His response was, “This too is Torah, and I need to know to learn.”

Thank heavens we aren’t that fanatical today! The problem is, we have gone too far on the other end of the spectrum. In a Pew research poll taken of Christians back in 2007, the number one reason for attending church was for spiritual growth and guidance for life. The goal was to become more Christ-like. Bible studies and small groups were still going strong.

By 2017, the number one answer for going to worship was to become closer not God. Which is a great goal but seeking spiritual growth and guidance dropped off the top ten chart. Being a disciple and learning God’s word to live an active, transformed life was no longer a major priority.

Instead, Christians took a different approach; Not only were people wanting to move closer to God to get his peace, they wanted their children to have a good moral foundation, they wanted to feel like they were better people, they were seeking comfort in troubled times, they liked being part of a community of believers and finally, they liked the music and the preaching.  

When asked why they were not reading their Bibles or attending Bible study, people responded, for the most part, they didn’t have the time. 38% of the people indicated, they learn better on their own, not in a group. In the last several years, we have seen that number increase. Some 60% of Christians feel no need to meet to talk about or study scripture.

These statistics are staggering. It is no wonder many Christians are described as lukewarm or a mile wide but only an inch deep. One man wrote on the internet, “I was a good person, I gave money to the needy, I didn’t cuss much, I wasn’t sleeping around, I attended church at least once a month and I was kind most of the time. He explained, “I knew I must be a Christian because I was doing better than other Christians around me.”

Isaiah 29:8 gives a little insight, it reads, “As when a hungry man dreams that he is eating, but awakens, and his hunger remains; as when a thirsty man dreams that he is drinking, but he awakens faint, with his thirst unquenched, so it will be with the hordes of the nations that fight against Mount Zion.”

Mount Zion was the place they believed God lived and remained. To fight against God meant you ignored his teaching and word and lived as you so desired. Scripture tells us that there is no fulfilment or peace when we do that.

We see the coming disaster of how that looks by reading the last line of the book of judges. At this point, the people had rejected their judges and laws. Judges 21:25 reads, “In those days, Israel had no king; and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

That is ultimately what happens when the truth of God is discarded or ignored. “What is truth?” Pilate asked Jesus in John 8:38. Who defines it? More and more, the truth of God is taking a backseat to our own personal idea of truth.

God’s absolute truth has not changed. The problem is, the culture around us has changed considerably. Disciples used to ask questions to understand God’s word. Now we ask questions, hoping to find ‘our own truth’ in God’s word. What we don’t like, we discard.

For those who hear the word of God and disagree with it, they see other Christians as being judgmental or hypocritical. And instead of listening and trying to understand one other, there are divisions in the house of God. Clergy used to be the authority, even though we should be pointing to God and His Word, but even clergy are discounted today.

Don’t get me wrong, even clergy can become misguided in times like these. It is hard to take a stand when you know it upsets others. But if we are faithful, we will keep pointing to Jesus and the Word of God.

In Deuteronomy 12:8, the Israelites are camped just outside the Promised Land and they are hesitant to move forward. They have some peace and comfort; and they know hard times are ahead. Moses has challenged them by saying,

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God – and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” (Deut. 11:26-28)

Then he adds these final thoughts, “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit, since we have not reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deut. 12:8)

Back in 1749, Charles Wesley looked out at the church with concern. He saw a church that was becoming more and more complacent. In response, he wrote the hymn, “And are we yet alive?” I shared with is hymn with you, not long ago. We often sing it at Annual Conference.

In 1786, John Wesley was in his 80’s and he wrote an article called “Thoughts on Methodism”. In it he said these words, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist ‘as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power’. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast – both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

He, like Moses, saw a time when we would be confronted with blessings or curses. A time when we hold true to the truth of the word of God and follow his lead or do our own thing. Today more than ever, we must embrace God and study his word. And we cannot dismiss it when we do not like what it says.

Studying the Bible is not easy. We have to put it in the current cultural climate of that day and ask honest questions. Understanding the intent of the writers is important and we must see it in light of other scripture passages.

I know this is ‘hard news’ but, just because you follow Jesus, it doesn’t make you a disciple. When Jesus spoke, crowds appeared but we must look inside those crowds to see their make-up and motives. People had very different reasons for being there.

For instance, when you watch a football game, there are the players, the fans, the crowd, those who sell food who are indifferent to the game, and possible hecklers. They all have different levels of interest and different reasons for being at a game.

When Jesus spoke, there were the 12 disciples who hung on Jesus’ every word, other followers who were less interested, some who came only to see miracles or healings, some who came tagging along with friends and then the trouble-makers and fault-finders (Generally thought of as the Teachers of the Law, and the Pharisees).

Mark 1:16-18 reads, “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men”. At once they left their nets and followed him.”

They were men of faith, probably also followers of John the Baptist. But they were, at this point, not deeply committed. They were back at their old job, fishing, not following John. But Jesus saw potential in them, so he asked them to follow him.

As they followed him, he invited them to be his disciples. A disciple is a pupil, student, learner, or apprentice. It is a deeper step beyond simply following. It is being committed to the teaching of the master. It is about real sacrifice into learning to live as Jesus lives. It includes the idea of imitation.

A disciple has a hunger for God but so much more. It means being transformed into the image of that person, in this case, transformed into the image of God in Christ Jesus.

The truth is Today, we have plenty of loosely connected followers of Jesus, who may walk away when the going gets tough; but we have far too few real disciples.

Now, I am not talking about people who become pastors or missionaries here, I am talking about people who desire to become more like Jesus.

John Wesley said that there are 2 kinds of believers. Those who live out an innocent life, avoiding sin as much as possible, doing some good works, they attend to church somewhat regularly and attempt to follow and study God’s word.

Then there are those who follow ‘the more excellent way’. These folks who seek to deepen their faith, avoid even the appearance of evil, are zealous to do good works, attend Church as often as possible and never fail to take communion, and are diligent to attain all the knowledge they can, so they can have the mind of Christ. Because they want to walk and imitate Christ to the fullest of their ability.

There is a true story about the journalist turned trash novelist Hunter S. Thompson. At one point in his life, he decided he wanted to be a great writer. He was obsessed by author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Especially his masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby”.

Thompson explained he wanted to learn the secrets to writing a great novel so badly, he began typing out the entire book, word for word. That is dedication. Sadly, his passion dwindled, and he soon gave up. Maybe he could have learned more from F. Scott Fitzgerald himself, we will never know.

Real disciples know they must dig into scripture, prayer and walk the walk and talk the talk. It cannot be done in isolation but must be done in the presence of others because we need accountability.

And discipleship is about more than taking a few classes, it is about living the life. It means taking ownership and choosing to put in the time with God, his word and in study with others. The transformation happens in the process of engagement.

Think about Jesus’ final words to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. It reads, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Disciples do not just appear. We are called to go and make disciples, baptize them, and teach others the ways of Jesus. The only way we can do that, is if we take the time to become, not just followers, but real disciples of Jesus first.

If you want to be the kind of person Jesus uses, you must begin by being a disciple. Over the next several weeks, I will be diving into this in a lot more depth. But next week, Cindy is going to share with you, her passion for outreach.

Your assignment is…to pray, share your desires with another and be willing to step up your faith journey by immersing yourself in God and his word. The first step is making the commitment to watch worship every week without fail. And then put your full trust in God.

May it be so,

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

Even Demons Believe – Jan. 24, 2021

The Chicago World’s Fair opened to the public on May 1, 1983. The theme for the fair was the 400-year anniversary celebration since Christopher Columbus arrival in the New World. Two main attractions were the centerpiece of the Fair, held in Jackson Park. The first was a large pool of water representing the voyage Columbus took to the New World. The 2nd was a huge Ferris Wheel that stood 264-feet-high and rotated, like the earth on its axis.

The giant Ferris wheel was an engineering marvel and it was built in record time. Despite their hard work, the Ferris wheel did not premier until 45 days after the fair opened. It stood as high as a 23-story building and the fair directors were skeptical it would even work.

The day it was ready to be tested, Chicago suffered a terrible windstorm. The Ferris wheel could accommodate up to 60 people, 40 sitting and 20 standing; but on that first day, no one wanted to ride it. So, George Ferris, his wife and a newspaper reporter took the inaugural ride.

The reporter later wrote, “As the mad storm swept round the cars, the blast was deafening. It screamed through the thin spider-like girders and shook the windows with savage fury. … (he wrote) The inventor had faith in his wheel, Mrs. Ferris in her husband. But … at that moment, I believed neither in God nor man.” In the end, he stated that George Ferris had made him a believer in the new attraction. He wrote, “What a ride!”

The truth is, no one’s faith is real until it is tested. Many people claim to believe in God, but they fall away when hard times come. They cry out, “How could God do this to me?” or “Where is God when tragedy strikes?” But those who hold on tight, find depth in their faith and peace with God.

“It is not enough to say you believe or say that you have faith”, James writes, “this faith will not save you. Faith requires action. Without engagement, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Many have heard that we are saved by faith alone. Paul writes about this in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” 

Paul is talking to unbelievers who think they can earn their way to heaven. There is no practice, bribe or promise you can pay for forgiveness for our transgressions, that was Paul’s point. But James is dealing with a different issue. He is speaking to believers who say they are waiting, without action, for the return of Christ.

Faith, James explains, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Faith is a two-step process. The first step is believing and the second is acting on those beliefs. They are like a two-sided coin; one cannot exist without the other.

William Booth was an Englishman and a United Methodist preacher, who founded the Salvation Army. He explained, “Faith and works should travel side-by-side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.”

 Another preacher described how faith and works go together like; “Peas and carrots”, “Catsup and Mustard”, “Salt and Pepper” or “peanut butter and Jelly”.

I prefer, “Chocolate and peanut butter” myself. Where you find one, the other must follow. Now, I know those are simple terms that may not follow exactly, but I think you get the point.

James is not in conflict with Paul’s writing, he has simply taken it to the next step. In fact, he is in sync with Jesus’ own teaching. Matthew 7:16-21 records this illustration, (he is referring to false prophets – but it also applies to all of us)

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Faith leads to action and that is what transforms our lives. That is exactly why going on a mission trip or doing mission work changes us. It contributes to a change in heart because we are engaged with God’s people. We can have the same-type changes in our heart when we pray or read God’s word.

Years ago, I took a creative writing class. I remember something the teacher said, that has stuck with me. He said, “You can call yourself anything you want. You can claim to be a doctor and know nothing about it. But to be a real doctor, you must not only learn but practice your skill. The same is true of being a writer. Writers write. So, if you want to be a writer, there must be some fruit, some evidence.”

True faith leaves evidence. Others see it and know who you are. Jesus said, “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

A few years ago, the Evangelical Church came out and made a striking statement. They said, “We spent so much time, just saving as many people as possible that we ultimately dropped the ball. We completed the hand-off, but we realized we were losing the game if we didn’t teach people how to run with it.” Handing someone a ball doesn’t make them a team player if they don’t know what’s expected from that point on.

Saving faith must become lived-out faith. Here is the perfect illustration,

A wise Scottish ferry man owned a rowboat that took people across the lake. One oar in his boat was labeled “Faith” and the other was labeled “Works”. When people inquired why he named his oars, he explained by showing them.

He would begin by sticking the oar named “Faith” in the water and attempt to steer the boat, only to go in circles. But when he added the second oar marked “Works”, the rowboat would get them across the lake. It takes both faith and works to move ahead.

James 2:15-17 reads, “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.”

Then James goes on to give a few examples.

Abraham was a great believer in God. When God called for him to leave his home and travel to a new place, Abraham obeyed. Later, when God told him to offer up his son, Abraham didn’t hesitate. James writes, “You see, that his faith and actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”

Then, James mentions Rehab, someone who is on the opposite end of the social spectrum. Rehab was a lady of the night; whose actions ultimately exposed her faith. She trusted and obeyed God to the point of risking everything to welcome and hide spies in her house. Even though she was not an Israelite or believer at first. Her actions pointed to her change of heart. (Joshua 2)

Rehab could have said anything to get some help, but her actions shed light on the truth.

In our nation today, many people claim to be believers, but their lives indicate otherwise. They never attend church, and they fail to read their Bible or volunteer to help others. They may think they are successfully covering up the truth, but God knows and so do others.

James 2:19 reads, “You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shutter.” Ouch! Is that true?

You might recall the man that Jesus healed in the synagogue in Capernaum. You will find it in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 4, verses 33-34. Jesus began teaching there and the people were amazed at his teaching because his message had authority. Then, in wanders a man who was possessed by a demon. The spirit in him cried out at the top of his voice, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know you, the Holy One of God!”

We find a similar situation in Mark 5, when Jesus confronts a man on a hillside who is possessed. There, the evil spirits recognize Jesus, and then Jesus sends them ‘the legion of demons’ into some pigs, who then rush off a bank and drowned in a lake.

Demons have no allegiance, no loyalty to Jesus. But they know him and when he is near, they are afraid. The Bible talks about having a healthy fear of God, but this type of fear is not what it is talking about. God, Jesus, and the angels tell us to ‘fear not’. To fear God is to have respect for, or to be in awe of, God’s greatness.

Yet I have talked to many Christians who live in real fear of God. They seem to have a disconnect. And often, after a few minutes of discussion, it all makes sense. We have far too many people who claim the name of Christ but fail to live into the life of Jesus. Obedience or a life of action, is the true mark of a Christian.

Jesus said in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” He wasn’t just here to speak about God, he also came to live faithful and to do the work of transformation on the cross. Jesus is an example for all of us to witness and model.

Read John 13:4-5,12-17. Jesus was at the Passover Feast with his disciples. As the meal was being served, it reads, “He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his robe and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

I want you to really hear that last part. If we have faith and live it out, Jesus says that we will be blessed by our actions. Living out our faith gives us fulfilment and joy, even when it is difficult. Sometimes more so when it is difficult.

Some people claim that Christians only do things for the good feelings we get out of it. I would argue, we do good works, because it is the right thing to do. The blessings are just a benefit. In fact, we should do good things, even if we get nothing at all back from it.

I like what Paul says to the church at Thessalonica. He writes to them in the names of Paul, Silas and Timothy, He says, “We continually remember before our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 1:3)

Our faith and Love in Jesus help us endure and inspire us to continue to do good. And why would we stop if we could do more?

Martin Luther once said, “The True, living faith, which the Holy Spirit instills into my heart, simply cannot be idle.” In other words, true faith compels us to live as Christ in this world. If you do not feel the drive of the Holy Spirit, you may be missing your calling.

I want to end with this humorous, but insightful illustration. A man fell off a cliff but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down. The following conversation took place:

“O God, Is anyone up there?”

“I am here. And I am the Lord. Do you believe me?”

“Yes, Lord, I believe, I really believe, but I can’t hang on much longer.”

“That’s all right, if you really believe, you have nothing to worry about. I will save you.

Just let go of the branch.”

A moment passed, then the man said, “Is anyone else up there?”

So, my question for you is, “Do you really believe in Jesus? And if so, “What are you willing to do, to live out your faith?” We are called to be disciples, students who seek to live out our faith, like our teacher. What does that look in your life?

Your assignment is…to begin a journal that records your faith journey. Where has Jesus called you to act? Where have you met or tried to steer clear of that call? How can you turn that faith into action in the future? We cannot be Christian in name only. Ours is a living faith that grows. I hope you and others can see the evidence.

May it be so.

“And all God’s People said, Amen”