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Season-Such-as-ThisThis past Sunday, we heard from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 which is also where the band “The Byrds” received inspiration for their song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” This is a reminder to all of us that we travel through seasons in our lives. We have moments of celebration as well as deep despair. We have seasons of health and those of sickness. Seasons of life, and seasons of death. We may experience a time of stagnation and then a sudden rebirth.

One of the truths that we can take form this is that we are all on individual journeys, even if we are close to each other. We are facing different issues than our neighbors, maybe even our spouses. While one person may be happy and celebrating where they are in their journey, another might be reaching the lowest point they have been in quite some time. Some people put on a really good face and say that everything is fine, when inside they are falling to pieces. One couple is celebrating a milestone anniversary and another is finalizing a bitter divorce. One person is sharing joyful news of remission and a neighbor is receiving a phone call with test results.

We are all at different places in our lives, different seasons, and we should not assume that everyone else is in the same place as we are. We should be compassionate and understanding about those around us, where we work and play, even where we worship. My constant thought is that if there is one place where we can just be ourselves, it should be the church. The church should be our family and one that we can share all of our hurts, habits, and hangups. It is where we should feel the comfort of God’s Agape (unconditional) love, expressed through all who enter these doors. So, when I ask “How you doin’?” I really want to know, and I hope you can do the same with those around you.

What season are you in right now? Where would you like to be? And how can I help you get there?

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The Words I Would Say

Words-I-Would-Say-Sermon-SlideChange is inevitable. There’s no way of getting around it. They say that nothing is certain except death and taxes, but I think you can add “change” to that list as well. This change has come to Lanark United Methodist Church as I have been appointed to serve Epworth UMC in Elgin, Illinois. It was with a heavy heart that I made this announcement to the family within Lanark’s congregation. But it also with joyful hope because of all that we have been able to accomplish with the Spirit of the Lord guiding us.

This Sunday was the last worship service that I was able to lead for Lanark and we reminisced over the past four years, sharing memories. I thought of first baptisms, improvisational children’s time with possums, vacation bible school water fights, parades, potlucks, and many lessons I had learned while leading here.

We also talked about the teaching that was offered through the Holy Spirit. I shared with them some of the main themes in which God spoke to us. I reminded them that we need to eliminate hurry from our lives. Society tells us that we should run at a breakneck pace all the time and that if we are idle for just a moment, we are failing. But God’s message is always counter-cultural as God says to “be still and know that I am God.” We need our 15 minutes of alone time with God in study and prayer. Here is where we are filled up with the Spirit. Here is where we are able to hear God speak to us, giving us those little nudges for service.

I reminded them that they are loved and that they are forgiven. This is wonderful news, but it means more than just something for them. This also means that since they are loved and forgiven, they too should love and forgive. However, something that gets missed many times is that we need to make sure that we forgive ourselves and that we love ourselves. God calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That won’t look that good if we do a crappy job loving ourselves.

We need to follow those three simple rules as laid out by John Wesley, our founder. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. Simple but profound bits of wisdom.

Finally, I told them that God was not done with them yet. Yes, we have done some really great things during the four years that God had blessed me with this appointment, but God’s not done yet. There is so much more that God wants to do here. There’s so much more that God wants to do all over creation. So, rise up and claim that which God is proclaiming.

This message is for all of you, too! Everything that I said to Lanark UMC this past Sunday goes for all of you too. God loves you and has a plan for your life. Rise up and follow Christ. Yes, it will be a difficult road, but it will be well worth it.

Let me leave all of you with some words from the band “Sidewalk Prophets,”

“Be strong in the Lord, never give up hope. You’re going to do great things, I already know. God’s got his hand on you, so don’t live life in fear. Forgive and forget but don’t forget while you’re here, take your time and pray. These are the words I would say.”

Change has come, but we don’t have to be afraid, we can embrace it and follow Jesus Christ into the future. This might be goodbye, but never for too long, for we shall all be together again, soon.

Juggling-Chaos-TimeDr. Robert Schuller once told a story about a time in his life. It seems like he was on this whirlwind book signing tour which went along with his incredibly busy career as pastor of the “Hour of Power.” There was always something going on, all the time. In fact there was very little time for other things.

It was during this time when his administrative assistant reminded him of one more thing that was added to his already packed schedule. A few weeks prior, there was an auction where people bid on spending dinner with him. The winning bid fetched $500 and the date was coming up. Robert’s assistant cleared his schedule so that he could spend some uninterrupted time with the winner of the auction.

You could imagine his surprise when he found out that the winner of this auction was none other than his teenage daughter. She has bid her entire savings to spend an evening, uninterrupted with her father.

We, as a society, are addicted to hurry. We value it. We celebrate it. In fact, it seems like if you are spending a little time in reflection, you are doing something wrong. We look around us and notice everyone else filling all their time with activity after activity, work, sports, volunteering, and who knows what else. So, when we finally take our 15 minutes of alone time with God, we feel guilty. The fact is, we need to eliminate hurry from our lives. We need to be able to spend some time, every day, focusing our attention on our creator.

When reflecting on our time, there are some questions we should ask ourselves are; what are we missing by being so busy all the time? Who are we missing? And who is missing us when we are running here and there and everywhere?

This past Sunday, we heard again the story of Mary and Martha. Martha was so busy getting things ready for a meal and Mary was spending time listening to Jesus. So many times, I have been like Martha, so busy working all the time that I missed out on many times to spend with family and with God. I shared about a time that my daughter recorded a message on her toy karaoke player. She was playing with her mom when she spoke these words into the microphone. “Daddy, come home. Daddy, come home.”

How often do we get messages like this that tell us we are spending too much time on things that aren’t that important, when we should be spending that time differently? I think we all know what’s important, we just get sidetracked by what we see in society and on social media. After a while it becomes habit and enters our lives as normal, even though it is far from normal and desirable.

God gives us the ability and freedom to make choices in our lives. We can choose to spend time working on the relationship that God desires for us, or we can choose not to. When we choose the latter, it breaks God’s heart, but he doesn’t force us to change our minds. What we see is opportunities that are laid out in front of us for us to return to that relationship, but we have to take the initiative. These situations are moments of grace from God as he makes the first move towards us. Then we respond by our actions.

Where is God calling you to slow down and spend a bit of time to pray, study, and worship? Can you hear God’s voice? Or are the other voices of society too loud that you can’t hear God in your life?

Love-Triangle-Love-YourselfAs a kid, I remember getting up and getting ready for school. I remember thinking that I wasn’t like some of the popular kids, I wasn’t in sports, I didn’t have the “look” that they all had. I wasn’t welcomed in certain circles. I was almost 6 foot, all of 125 pounds, and I wore glasses. I guess you could say I was a part of the “nerd” class. There were many days that I wanted to wake up and be like the rest of what I saw as society, because I was different. But was I really?

Even today, probably even more so today with Photoshop, we are bombarded by images of who we should be, what we should look like, and what we should be doing. From commercials, to sitcoms, to movies, we are able to imagine ourselves in those roles, but there’s one simple but profound problem with it. We can’t live up to it. We used to see people around us and on media and have the possibility of reaching what was being portrayed, because they were not enhanced, or digitally altered. But now, it’s hard to tell what is real and what’s not. This affects the view that we have of ourselves. We, as a society, have an increasingly lower view of ourselves. We want to live the dream, but something seems to be holding us back. Maybe it’s the vision that we see, maybe it’s our backgrounds, or maybe it’s something going on inside our own heads.

Do you love yourself? Do you love who you are, who God created you to be?

We are finishing up this worship series on this spiritual ‘love triangle’ and I want you to really think about this part of it. Hear the great commandment again…

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Once again, there is the love triangle. We are to love God with everything we have and everything we are. And then we are to love our neighbors. Love God, love neighbors. But don’t miss that we are also to love ourselves. You see, we are to love our neighbors, just as we love ourselves. A love triangle, all connected, all important, all needed as we fulfill this great commandment. But how do we love our neighbors if we don’t love ourselves? Worse yet, if we are to love them as ourselves but we don’t love ourselves, does that mean that we don’t love others? Let’s not travel that road today. Let’s focus a little more on how we can love and view ourselves.

You have value in God’s eyes. Why wouldn’t this translate into the value that you have in your own eyes? The Psalmist writes that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made!” God loves you just the way you are, not as you should be, because none of us are as we should be. Just the way you are.

When you look in the mirror in the morning, what do you see? Do you see that face of a person who has been worn down by society, trying to live up to expectations of what a good person is, what a good mother does, or a good father? Does it look like the face of someone who is tired of always missing the mark placed before us by the media?

Does the face you see want to run and hide from the issues of weight loss, hair loss, aging skin, or the overall sense of exhaustion? Do you see someone facing difficulties in relationships, problems with motivation, struggles with addictions, or a lack of faith? Do you see someone who is battling depression or other mental illnesses? What do you see? Who do you see?

Psalm 139 gives us this image of being fearfully and wonderfully made and that God’s thoughts about us are more than the grains of sand. How beautiful is that? God loves us, just the way we are, because that’s how God created us.

This is great news, especially for those of us who struggle with their own self-image. I know that it is hard, but what really matters is not what the world thinks about you, but what God thinks.

I would love for you to for once, leave behind all of those things that society tells you that you should be and just be who God has created you to be. Drop the preconceived notions that you should be the perfect mother or father, brother or sister, forget about being the perfect employee or boss. Forget about fitting into whatever size clothes you think you should be in. Stop trying to live the perfect life, and just live the one God is planning for you.

Love yourself! Love all the little things about yourself. You are unique. You are special. And you are needed in God’s kingdom.

Love-Triangle-Love-OthersWhat do you think of when you hear the term ‘love triangle?’ What images come to mind, relationships, thoughts? I know that I initially thought of a marriage struggling through an affair. A once happy couple begins to have difficulties and then one partner introduces someone else into the picture by falling “in love” with them. Now, they are at the center of this weird love triangle, and it’s not healthy.

It’s like a country song straight off the charts. Sylvia’s “Nobody,” Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls,” or Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” are all filled with these images. Hollywood has made a living off stories like these, and Hallmark tells stories that get right up to the line without crossing it. We are fascinated with these love triangles, and that’s dangerous. In fact, love triangles can be more dangerous than another famous triangle, Bermuda.

But then, I got a different vision as I heard the great commandment. Hear it again…

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Did you hear the love triangle in this verse? We are to love God with everything we have and everything we are. And then we are to love our neighbors. Love God, love neighbors. But don’t miss that we are also to love ourselves. You see, we are to love our neighbors, just as we love ourselves. A love triangle, all connected, all important, all needed as we fulfill this great commandment.

Today, we focus on loving others. What does it mean to love others? Are we just supposed to love those that we like, or are we called to love those we don’t know or worse yet, the ones we don’t like? These are questions we need to have answers to, we need to know.

If we look to scripture, we get a good picture of who is included in this command to love neighbors as ourselves, it’s everybody. Jesus loved everyone, even those he didn’t agree with. It should be the same with us. We should love everyone, even if we don’t agree with them, even if we don’t look like them. We are all children of God, loved by God, so why shouldn’t we love each other. I know, it’s tough to do, but that is our calling.

So, how do we love each other, even the ones we don’t know? Well, this past week I was blessed to be able to spend a week with youth from four different churches as we traveled to Camp Courageous in Iowa. This is a camp for developmentally disabled kids and adults who would never get a chance to go camping or do things that many of us take for granted when we camp like cooking over an open fire, enjoying s’mores, arts and crafts, and so much more. We travel there too perform maintenance and other building projects so they can continue to minister to the people.

This is a big way of showing God’s love to others, by doing things for them. We cleaned, split logs, skimmed a pond, sorted items for a resale shop, mowed, pressure washed, and stained a wooden stage. These were just a few of the projects we have worked on over the years and as we look back over the many years we have been there, we can point to major projects that have helped Camp Courageous in their ministry.

Here in Lanark, there is a group that has begun a ‘workation’ which helps people around the community with little projects around their homes. This is a way for those in our community to experience the same thing with loving others. This small community becomes it’s own mission field as groups from not only the churches, but also community groups, pitch in and help all over.

Loving others doesn’t have to mean completing projects, however. It can be as simple as having a cup of coffee and sharing some of your time listening to someone about some issues they are having. It can be giving someone a hug when they need it the most. It may be telling them that you really care about them. Showing our love for others comes in many different forms. I wonder how you can show your love to someone else today? What would that look like? How can you participate in the Kingdom of God right where you are by loving someone else?

Love-Triangle-Love-GodWhat do you think of when you hear the term ‘love triangle?’ What images come to mind, relationships, thoughts? I know that I initially thought of a marriage struggling through an affair. A once happy couple begins to have difficulties and then one partner introduces someone else into the picture by falling “in love” with them. Now, they are at the center of this weird love triangle, and it’s not healthy.

It’s like a country song straight off the charts. Sylvia’s “Nobody,” Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls,” or Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” are all filled with these images. Hollywood has made a living off stories like these, and Hallmark tells stories that get right up to the line without crossing it. We are fascinated with these love triangles, and that’s dangerous. In fact, love triangles can be more dangerous than another famous triangle, Bermuda.

But then, I got a different vision as I heard the great commandment. Hear it again…

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Did you hear the love triangle in this verse? We are to love God with everything we have and everything we are. And then we are to love our neighbors. Love God, love neighbors. But don’t miss that we are also to love ourselves. You see, we are to love our neighbors, just as we love ourselves. A love triangle, all connected, all important, all needed as we fulfill this great commandment.

So, let’s ask a basic question. How do you show someone you love them? How do you express your love for people or things? Love is an action, it is a decision. We all make the decision to either love someone or something, how do we express that love?

First, let me be clear, before we go to far, that when we talk about our love of God, that you don’t get the wrong impression about needing to do something to prove your love for God. We are saved by the grace of God through faith, not works. We don’t necessarily have to do anything to receive this free gift from God, it is freely given to us. We express our love in works because we love God, not the other way around. It’s a difference in attitude.

So, who or what do you love? I know that I love a good banana split, some homemade beef stew, and a good cup of coffee. I also love the Chicago Cubs, now that they made it through the opening few weeks. I love music, I love singing. I love being outside, around the water, fishing and campfires. I love my kids, my family, and especially I love my wife. I love this community and the friends that I have made here. But most importantly, I love God. I love my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the power that comes with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the graciousness of God the Father.

What and whom do you love? Do you love God? Do you love God all the time, or just when things are good? Do you still love God when things are difficult, troublesome, or maybe when you don’t understand what’s going on around you? We are called to love God at all times. We can love God when everything seems right, things are well, we are healthy, we are comfortable, it’s all good. It’s easy to love God when everything is going right. But what about in the valleys, because we are called to love God then, too. Maybe our health is failing, we are in the middle of a broken relationship, we’re struggling with depression, anger, or addictions. Maybe we’re just facing doubt and fear of what the future holds. Even in these times we are called to love God, to trust God.

Last year, I shared a series about the 3 simple rules from John Wesley. They were “Do no harm. Do good. And stay in love with God.” During this series we talked about how we can express our love for God. One of the main ways was by participating in the means of grace. This is done through worship, prayer, holy conversations, bible study, celebrating the sacraments, as well as other means of grace.

So, how do you show God that you love Him? Do you make sure that worship is a priority? Do you share your faith in God with others? Do you spend 15 minutes alone with God? Do you put your full trust in God, knowing that regardless of the situation, God will take care of you?

I know that we are entering into a difficult time here and a time full of uncertainty. I know that it will be easy to fall back to what we might have known, but I encourage you to center yourself in your love and trust in God. Stay in love with God because he will never leave you. God walks with us all the time.

The Language of Lament

storm“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1) Jesus, as he is hanging on the cross, offers up this cry of lament. The pain must have been great. The agony of those close to him, deserting him. The loss of friends and family, and the loss of life must have been so overbearing that only words of lament could possibly come out. These words of lament are spoken throughout scripture. We find a collection of them in the Psalms, Lamentations, Job, and even in the words of Jesus. These are examples of how we can face those difficult times in our lives.

This past weekend, we celebrated Memorial Day. This is a day when we are able to remember those within the military who have given their life in service of their country. We are grateful for them, but we feel a loss, we experience grief when we are faced with death like this.

I think we can benefit from this lost language of lament. Lamenting can bring about healing in times when we feel lost and abandoned. We feel like God has left us alone and it hurts. It’s days like this that we remember loved ones who have died, but we can also remember other losses like jobs or relationships. I think we’ve all had a time or two, or three or four, when we’ve experienced pain and loss. Maybe you can think of a time that you faced this, maybe you’re walking through it right now. Can you see your way around it, through it, or over it? What would that look like? What do you think will help you in those times?

Does screaming at everyone help? Does secluding yourself away from everybody and everything? Maybe you like to be angry, or bitter towards everything around you? Or maybe, you just ignore it, hoping that it will go away? Do you feel like you are in a hole and just can’t find your way out? Do you try to bargain with God, telling him if God would only do this, you would come to church more, pray more, do more in mission? Or have you accepted the loss?

They talk about the stages of grief and what we journey through during these times of loss. I think you need to know that we all travel journeys at our own pace. So, it’s really hard to gauge someone else’s journey. And we must be sure to never push them through. They will get to the stage they need to be in, when they are ready.

The first stage of grief is denial. Here’s where people will try to ignore that anything ever happened. Denial ain’t just  river in Egypt! We get news that we don’t want to hear and we feel like it can’t possible be true. How could it be happening? We go numb from feeling and everything seems meaningless. The feeling of shock triggers our autopilot and we just go through the motions, unsure of what will happen next.

Then we experience anger as the next stage. And while many will just try to gloss over this, I know that I have, anger is a necessary component to the healing process and a vital stage of grief. The next stage of grief is one that I think I’m a pro at. I used to love to bargain with God and with myself. This is also the time we ask all of those “what if” questions. Then we get to the  stage of depression. It feels like being in a hole with no way to get out, even if you could. This is where not only does everything seem hopeless, but then you begin to think this will last forever.

Sometimes the loss, whether it’s a loved one, a relationship, or just a life circumstance, brings something new into our lives, and it actually turns out better than before. We need to trust God, that he will bring everything together for his plan. Many of the Psalms begin with the language of lament, of crying out to God. But they end with verses of hope and promise that God will take care of us. “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)

There is always hope, there is always promise, there is always the presence of God with us, Emmanuel.

When this realization really sets in, we begin to feel the last stage of grief and that is acceptance. It doesn’t mean that everything that happened was alright and that it goes back to “normal.” It means that we have accepted where we are right now, and that things will be ok. That we will be ok. This is the hope and promise that God gives us, all throughout scripture. “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” Regardless of what is going on around you, God is always with you. He will never leave you or forsake you, even if you might think differently at certain times. God’s promise is true and faithful.

Forgivign-Yourself-Sermon-SlideForgiveness is not easy, but it is necessary. Last week we talked about forgiveness for others. We talked about forgiving those who have done or said something to hurt us. We mentioned that if we don’t, we end up carrying those burdens with us, like rocks in a backpack. They’re heavy and get in the way of us living our lives in the freedom that God desires for us. We need to forgive so that we can release them from our lives. You don’t really want to carry them around with you all the time, do you?

Well, this week we are looking at a different forgiveness. I want to talk a little bit about forgiving yourself. This is crucial when we talk about the relationship we have with God. It’s the vertical relationship. Last weeks topic was focused on the horizontal relationship, that which we have with each other. But both are needed.

Let me begin by asking you a question; “Do you feel forgiven?” Really, do you feel that you are forgiven? Do you believe you are forgiven? This is foundational in our relationship with God. God spared no expense to forgive you. Jesus died on a cross so that you and I could be forgiven and reconciled back to God. You are forgiven!

Scripture tells us that God will cast our sins as far as the east is from the west, that’s a long way. Scripture tells us that God will remember our sins no more. He forgets them! But I guess that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is that we have a hard time forgetting when we do or say the wrong things. I mean really, you can tell me all day long that I’m forgiven, but I can’t seem to let go of that thing that I did or said. I can’t seem to get past it. Does this sound familiar?

The problem comes in when we carry our past sins around with us. We begin to see ourselves as those sins, and then this is where we begin to find our identity. It’s like we are looking into a mirror that is clouded over and not giving a clear reflection. We look in the mirror and see those names of the sins we have committed. And that’s all we see. We don’t see ourselves that way God does.

What we need is an industrial size jug of window cleaner. We want to remove all those names, but how? How do we find ourselves in the middle of all this junk in our lives?

Jesus, as he was hanging from that cross so long ago, looked down and prayed for those who were nailing him to the cross. He said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” But I can see something additional. I see Jesus looking down, through the years to you and me, praying for us. Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.

The best news is that God does forgive us. Through the power of the cross, the mirror is washed clean so that we can see ourselves the way God sees us, loved. But notice that this cleaning was not something that we did because we can’t. It was all done for us through the grace offered in Jesus Christ.

We are forgiven. We are freed. We are loved. Maybe it’s time to truly believe that and cast our sins off our shoulders so that we can live into God’s plan for us. Stop looking into that clouded mirror, not being able to see clearly. Drop the sins that God has already forgiven you for and see yourself just how God does. You are a beloved child of God.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made, in the image of your creator. Amen.

Baccalaureate 2019I was blessed to be able to deliver the address at my daughter’s Baccalaureate celebration this year. Some have asked about a recording of this message and since I have not been able to find it, I provide it for you here.

“Good evening and welcome, superintendent Hansen, principal Burkholder, faculty, staff, parents, students, and most of all, all of you graduating seniors, class of 2019! It’s ok, you can get excited, let us hear it!

High school is a time that you will all remember. Some good things, some maybe not so good. Either way, you will look back on this as the time of your life. “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end its right, I hope you had the time of your life.” Wise words from Green Day. Unpredictable, absolutely. But certainly, as you reach the end of this chapter, it is right, it’s right just for you.

You are probably sick and tired of hearing this, if not you will be soon. But it’s true, the world is laid out in front of you, your future is yet unwritten and like a good book, you are writing new and exciting pages every day.

I guess the better question becomes, how are you feeling? This is such a big step in your life. For some of you, this means leaving the house and heading off to college to be on your own, for the first time. Some of you are looking into a college closer to home so that you don’t have to move out. Or maybe you’re beginning your first full-time job, and your parents are looking forward to you moving out.

How does this make you feel? Excited – Happy – Uncertain – Worried – or maybe Scared out of your mind! What can I say that will ease your mind a bit? What words can I say that will remove the worry and fear about the future for you? What does God want you to hear? As you prepare to leave this, all of this, behind you? I believe there are a few things God has placed on my heart for you today.

Jeremiah 29:11 tells us “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (NLT) God’s desire is full of hope, full of promise, full of the future.

This is God’s desire for all of us, and it’s all good. God doesn’t want any of us to fail. I know that there are times that you really question this. You wonder how good can God be. Trust me, God is good, all the time! And God desires to give you the good stuff. The gospel of Matthew tells us in the 7th chapter, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. .…how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”

Ask, seek, and knock. This is God’s request of you.

You’ve reached this stage of your life when things look so much different than in the past. You feel like you’ve stepped out on this edge, looking out over the landscape and wonder how can it be? How did I finally make it here? And what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?

The scripture passage I read at the beginning, was from the story of Moses and Joshua. Joshua was facing something like you are tonight. Moses, Joshua’s father, has been leading the Israelites for many years, wandering in the desert, and Moses now knows that the promised land is close. This is the place they were promised 40 years earlier as they left Egypt. But Moses knows something else. He will not make it to that land.

God has promised that Joshua will lead them over. Here is where we find Moses calling Joshua up in front of all the people to tell him that it will be him that leads them into the land they’ve been dreaming of. I can image Joshua feeling a bit nervous, anxious, maybe even scared about leading all of the people. But Moses gives him these words, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Can I tell you that tonight? Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be dismayed!

You may have things come up, and you may be afraid, nervous, or anxious about. Be strong and courageous and do not fear.

I want you to remember something for me, alright? Remember 7, 2, 45.

As exciting as this next week is going to be, as you spend your last week in classrooms that hold so many memories, as you share lunches with friends who you have known for most of your life, as you have important and meaningful conversations with teachers who are trying to impart some final words of wisdom and knowledge into your brains, you need to be aware that it will not always be sunshine and roses. I know, you don’t want to hear about how the “real” world is, especially from someone older than you, much less a pastor.

But you need to know that your parents, teachers, and even your pastors, have once been in your shoes, in your caps and gowns. We also had that vision of how things were going to be.

I was going to be this big music star, recording contemporary Christian music. I was going to be the next Micheal W. Smith, the next Danny Gokey, part of the next Skillet. Ok, maybe not Skillet, but you get the point. I had this wild and crazy dream of what was going to happen. For me, it didn’t quite work out that way. Now, for you, it just might.

Here’s what I found out along the way. God’s plan always comes through. My dream of making it big in music took me to Greenville College where I learned a number of things that I needed for God’s plan, even if I didn’t realize it. My vision of singing with a gospel quartet placed me in front of large groups of people, raising my comfort in speaking in public.

All of this is why I am standing in front of you today. Everything that I have experienced in my life has brought me to this place in time, to this vocation, for such a time as this.

Many years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed that I would be here, as a pastor. In fact, the class that I despised the most during my college years, was speech. Standing up on a stage like this, talking to you, was so far out of my plans. But God had a plan for me, just as God has a plan for all of you. What is it? I don’t know, but I know that God will work in and through your lives to bring that plan to fulfillment.

Remember the number? 7, 2, 45? Good.

Right now, you have a dream. You have a vision of who you want to be, what you want to be doing. Go for it! Reach for the stars and run after that dream. Live your life in the hope and joy that is burning in your souls tonight. This week is a milestone in your life, but it is just a stepping stone on the path that you will journey on.

And let me remind you of a graduation speech that was given by Winston Churchill at Oxford University. His speech was only six words long. I know, you’re probably wondering why Pastor Jarrod doesn’t give us that kind of message? Churchill said this, only this: “Don’t give up, don’t give up!”

Incredible words, challenging words, inspiring words for all of us in this room. Don’t ever give up. When things aren’t going as good as they are this week, don’t give up. When you run into a closed door, don’t give up. When friends or family let you down, don’t give up. When you sense your dreams changing or a new vision is starting to form, don’t give up.

And when you hear words that seem to attack you, remember something Winnie the Pooh said; “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” And don’t give up.

7, 2, 45!

Jesus’ disciples faced trials, persecutions, doubts, failures, but they kept going forward. Peter was probably the most boisterous disciple and many times he just didn’t understand. He would speak sometimes without thinking, act without regard of the consequences, but Jesus loved him through all of it, even in Peter’s denial of Jesus.

In the end, Jesus told Peter, who was the first “Rock” (sorry Dwayne Johnson), that upon this rock he would build his church. Even in the bad times, Peter was never out of it.

So, if Peter was never out of it, I don’t want you to ever count yourself out. You are always in it, always in the running, don’t give up!

You still remember the number? 7, 2, 45. You’re probably asking yourself, what does it mean. What meaning is there behind 7, 2, 45?

Down by 7 points, with 2 minutes and 45 second left to play, our Lady Cougars climbed what seemed like an impossible mountain. It was 58 to 51 as Erin Henze shot from beyond the arch to begin closing the impressive gap. A couple more shots and another three gave them the lead, only to watch it vanish with a couple of free throws by Tri-County. But, with 5.1 seconds to play, Dani Rush is fouled and goes to the free throw line. Game on the line, down by one point, Dani sinks both. Our Cougars were on their way to the championship game for the first time.

They could have resigned themselves to a loss when they were down by so much with so little time remaining, but they didn’t give up. They never gave up.

You may find yourself down the road a bit struggling with school, family, or work. I want to you remember 7, 2, 45. I want you to remember your cougars. I want you to remember that you are never out of it.

And I want you to remember Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

You can do whatever you set your mind to. You can overcome every obstacle. You are a child of the most high God, and you are destined to do great things!”

 

Forgiving-Others-Sermon-SlideFor two decades, Wayne Messmer, was the announcer and singer for sports teams in Chicago. After singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at a Chicago Blackhawks game in 1994, Messmer was shot by two teenage boys. The bullet passed through the singer’s throat, so doctors weren’t sure if Messmer would sing again. Amazingly, six months later, Messmer returned to the microphone.

Physical healing was one thing; emotional release of the hatred and resentment he felt was another. For that, Messmer had to trust Jesus Christ, his Savior, to help him reach the point where he could forgive his shooters. When he did, he found freedom. As he says in The Voice of Victory, “Over a period of contemplative and reflective prayer and meditation, I was confident I had set myself free from the chains that had connected me to the incident.”

Although one of the boys had been released on a plea deal, the other, James Hampton, was still in jail. To prove that he truly had forgiven his would-be killers, Messmer drove 225 miles to Galesburg Correctional Center and asked to see Hampton.

Several years had passed, but Messmer found grace to say, “James, I’m here to see how you are doing.” After a two-hour emotional visit, Messmer turned to leave. Reaching out and touching Hampton’s forearm, he offered a benediction: “James, I bid you peace.”

“As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

Forgiveness is not an easy topic and I think we all struggle with this one. We carry around bitterness towards others and even towards ourselves. We get so hung up on carrying these burdens, that they begin to become part of our identity. We live our lives with past hurts in the center, never truly freed from them.

Forgiveness is not easy. If it were, I think this world would be a much different place. It takes courage. It takes effort. And it takes grace. But we need to see that we aren’t the only ones who have a hard time with forgiving. Peter had a hard time with this too. Jesus had just been teaching about what we would call the “Rule of Christ” as he shares the steps in forgiving a brother or sister in the church. First go to the person and try to reconcile. If that doesn’t work, take someone with you. And if that doesn’t work, take it to the whole church. If you have to go to the final step, you are to treat them like a Gentile or tax collector. But remember that Jesus hung out with tax collectors and all of those who people in the church would consider Gentiles, or outsiders.

But Peter asks an interesting question. He asks; “Lord, how many times must I forgive?” Jesus’ response was one of hyperbole, an exaggeration. He says seventy-seven times, or seventy time seven, either way Jesus is saying that there is no number which limits the times we should forgive others. There are times however, that we need to be careful about the circumstances we put ourselves in. Abuse, whether it’s physical or emotional, is not ok. And while you can forgive, until the next time, it’s best to remove yourself from that situation altogether. We need to be smart about things and not just become a doormat for others to walk all over.

Please know that forgiveness does not mean that you forget what has been done, it is not excusing the behavior. Forgiveness is releasing the other person from the grip they unknowingly have on your life. If you bear a grudge or unforgiving attitude towards anyone, they are inextricably linked to you, whether they know it or not. In order for you to truly gain freedom from the past hurts, you need to release them, because they are not going to release themselves. You need to forgive them.

Too often, we find ourselves in the place of saying that we can’t forgive this person. What they did to us is just too much to forgive. But God reminds us that “we’re not stuck because we can’t, we’re stuck because we won’t”

Maybe we find comfort in carrying those burdens. Maybe we think that we will lose certain memories if we forgive. Whatever it is, we need to understand that we are carrying this huge weight on our backs. And we want to get rid of them, but how?

By trusting that God will take care of things. By trusting that God’s plans are far better than our plans, and that if there is grace enough for us, maybe there’s grace enough for them too.

Bring these situations, hurts, pains, and losses to the cross. Offer them up to God and let them go. Trust in God. Trust in God’s ways. Trust that God will do the hard work of redeeming them, you don’t have to. But you do have to release them from your life.

God doesn’t want you carrying around all of those burdens with you and neither do I. Let them go so that you can live into the joy and fulfillment that God truly wants for you.