Archive for August, 2016


PerseveranceHow many times have you been told that you couldn’t do something? Told that you weren’t good enough, big enough, strong enough, talented enough, smart enough? I recently watched the movie, “Rudy,” and it is a story where we find a kid who has been told repeatedly just that.

His brothers tell him that he can’t play anything but center during their playground game of football. His father tells him over and over again that he can’t play for Notre Dame, that he won’t get into college, and that he should just be happy with the factory job, like he has.

His high school football coach reminded him that he would never put on a football uniform again. His teacher tells his that there are “dreamers and doers” in this world, and that dreamers never amount to anything. The university of Notre Dame declined his application 3 times, and when he did finally make it into the university, the coach during tryouts let the walk-on players know that they will never dress for an actual game.

Negative thoughts and rejection seemed to follow Rudy wherever he went, He could have easily, at any point in his life, given up his dream and settled. But all the negative talk never stopped him. He continued on his path, doing everything he could to reach his goal, to play football for the university of Notre Dame.

Perseverance, endurance, endless pursuit of a dream, all things that Rudy possessed. But there was another thing he had that pushed him onward towards his goal. He had Pete. Pete was Rudy’s encourager. He was the one who gave him a Notre dame jacket that he wore throughout the movie, and he was about the only one who told him to chase his dreams, to run the race we call life, and to not let anything get in his way. We all need these people in our lives. We need those who encourage us along the way. Maybe it’s our parents, our friends, a pastor, or someone else, but we need to have encouragers, cheerleaders, those who walk along side of us, making sure we reach the final goal.

But in our lives as Christians, what is the goal, what constitutes a life well lived, a race run, and a race won? What’s the gauge to determine if we won, maybe just if we even ran the race? It is not how many people you introduced to Jesus, not how many food pantries you served at, not how many pies you baked for the bake sale. It’s how you lived your life to the glory of God. It is reaching the end of this life and hearing those words that I know I am anticipating; “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Another lesson we learn from Rudy is this. Rudy’s desire is to play football for Notre Dame, but there’s more to it. He is doing everything he can to get inside the university. He is joining school activities, volunteering, and even pleading with the groundskeeper at the stadium for a job. Rudy is persistent. His intention, no doubt is to play football, but in one scene he tells the groundskeeper after being asked why he wants the job so bad; “I just want to be a part of this university.”

I just want to be a part of this university, I want to be a part, not the whole, not the star, the leader, the one everyone looks up to, I just want to be a part of the university. Rudy is willing to accept any role, no matter how small, in fact, a non-paying, non-acknowledged, lowly groundskeeper role. But to Rudy, that position serves the university, that which he desires to belong more than anything in the world.

What would it look like, if each of us had that same desire to be a part of the body of Christ? What would it look like if you or I wanted to be a part so bad, that we would do even the most menial of tasks, because then we would be a part of this greater thing. We could belong to the kingdom of God!

Would we be willing to do anything? Would we be willing to risk everything? Would we be willing to sacrifice everything, all for the sake of the body of Jesus Christ? What if we woke up tomorrow morning with the intention to do anything we could, no matter how menial, for the sake of Jesus?

I believe it would look like love of God and love of neighbor, Christian perfection. It would look like lives changed for the glory of God. It would look like the kingdom of God, right here.

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Life Lessons from a Tree

tree-background_111647470_73Today I was walking down the street, next to the place where once a majestic tree stood. Its trunk was over 2 foot across, signifying not only it’s growth, but also its length of stay along this street. I have no doubt of the long life, one growing stronger every year, reaching toward the sky and the source of its life in the sun. But then I noticed something that I never would have had the tree still been there. I saw a pine tree, maybe a little smaller than the other, but still majestic in its own right. But there was something different about this tree. Around three side I could see the evergreen needles filling in the space, hiding the truck as it grew. But on one side I saw very few needles, few branches, but plenty of openings to see the truck, exposed to world around it. Marks of growth that happened so close to the other tree which blocked the sun and precious space needed for growth. I wondered if this tree would ever grow branches and fill out with needles in this open space now that the other tree was removed. If it does, it will certainly take a lot of time.

I reflected on this tree for a moment, and then thought about so many people that I knew as leaders, pastors, or even friends. I wondered how many of those leaders were like the first tree, standing in the front, soaking up the sunshine, growing stronger and stronger, day by day. But this strength and growth coming at the expense of those they were leading. The others lived in their shadow, growing where they could, but never living a completely fulfilled life. This may have gone unnoticed until the leader was gone and then the scars, the bare spots were finally revealed. Is this the kind of leader and pastor that I want to become, to be known for? The answer comes as an emphatic, no! My hope and prayer is that all of those around me would live to their fullest potential, that place which God has called them in this life. My prayer is that I will not block the Son from anyone, that those who see me as their pastor will see not so much of me as Jesus Christ in me.

I pray for this also for all the world. That our leaders, local, nationally, and globally, will see their position as one of guidance and support and not one of power, discrimination, or oppression. We are all God children and we all deserve to stand in the Son, growing to the potential God has given to us. Even as parents we need to be aware of the raising of our children, that they may not be blocked by any of our lives causing scars of non-growth.

Let us all live our lives so that those around us are not dependent on us. Let us remember a quote from Mrs. Donnelly in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “There’s no such thing as an ending, just a place where you leave the story.” So let us be full trees, strong and mighty, growing in all areas of our lives. But most importantly, allowing all of those around us to do the same.

What Are You Planting?

What-are-you-planting-slideThis past Sunday for our worship service, we focused on a popular movie, as we will next week also. This week we looked at “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and what message it has for our lives. We focused on main themes and quotes from the movie. Here is an excerpt from that message.

“The difference between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash.” One of the many memorable quotes from the movie the second best exotic marigold hotel. Last week we touched on faith and how so many of the great biblical characters accomplished so much “by faith.” But they had to get outside the box, try new things, even if they might be a little scary.

Sometimes it’s the fear that gets in the way of trying new things, of getting outside of our comfort zones, that keep us trapped in the same old thing, day after day. That fear, that as Evelyn from the movie describes, is only the width of an eyelash to what we want.

I think Douglas, another character, sums this up when he says this; “The really frustrating thing is that we could be madly happy. And to not go after that, not to take the risk when it’s so close you could almost reach out and touch it. The great terrible thing about life is just so much bloody potential.” (Read with a British accent…)

The fear and risks keep us from reaching out and accomplishing all the God has in store for us. So I will ask you today, as I asked you last week, what is standing in your way, what fear and risks do you have to overcome to reach out and become madly happy?

I guess we could say that the over-arching theme found in this movie is that of relationships. But not just the relationships between people of the same age. We find one of the most profound relationships building between “Sonny,” the owner of the hotel and “Mrs. Donnelly,” played by Maggie Smith. Mrs. Donnelly is helping Sonny secure funding for a hotel expansion. She knows that Sonny can’t handle all the details of this business, so she offers her guidance and wisdom.

Many of you have raised children into adults, and many others are beginning to raise your own children. I think we can all relate to what Mrs. Donnelly in doing here. We want our kids to succeed so we give them every opportunity we can to make sure they are on the right path, that they have the resources they need, that they have the education to make all the right decisions. Basically, we want them to have a life of happiness, a life of love, a life they enjoy.

In 1st Corinthians chapter 3, we find Paul, writing to the people in the Church at Corinth.  He tells the church that it may be Paul who planted the seeds of the gospel, and it may be Apollos who watered those same seeds by nourishing them through teaching and preaching, but it was God who made them grow in their faith. Even in our lives, we become vessels for God to use. We can plant seeds. We can even water the seeds. But we need God to make the seeds grow.

Mrs. Karvelious was a second grade teacher. She had a way of inspiring her kids to learn, of helping them get excited about school, and made it fun in the process. She would infuse music into all areas of her teaching and instilled in my very young life, a love of music and singing. She was the catalyst which began a life long journey of singing for me.

Mrs. Karvelious planted a seed in my heart, the love of music, which, when watered by others in my life like my church choir director, high school orchestra and choir director, and so many others, guided me through my life. This led to singing in many choirs, special events like sharing the national anthem, singing in church, and even singing with the Alleluia Quartet.

A tiny seed, planted by an elementary school teacher, watered by many others, but given growth and life through the grace of God, has blossomed and grown into the tree of my life.

What about each of you? Did someone plant a seed in your life, in your heart? Did someone plant a seed within your life, that was watered, and by the grace of God, grew into a tree that you call your life? Was it a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, maybe a neighbor, a church member, a pastor, or just someone who lived down the street?

Have you planted any seeds? Have you watered any seeds that may have been planted by someone else? Or maybe you need to look for an opportunity to plant and water. Take the time, spend it wisely, and remember a wonderful quote from this movie; “There’s no present, like the time.”

By Faith

By-FaithHebrews chapter 11 speaks of faith throughout history. This chapter gives us witness after witness of those from the Old Testament who accomplished things “by faith.” Abel, Abraham, Moses, and so many others. This was our lectionary reading for this past Sunday.

Now, through past chapel times, you might know how much I love dictionaries and the definitions that they express. Well, Merriam-Webster defines faith as “a belief in the existence of God,” even “strong religious feelings or beliefs.” Once again, I believe Merriam-Webster sells the word “faith” short. To just say that faith is a feeling or a simple belief, does not describe this incredibly important word.

What does faith mean to you? I mean, if someone were to ask you right now what faith means to you, what would your definition be? Belief in God, belief in something that you can’t see. I am reminded of the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Indy is in search of the Holy Grail and during his travels, he encounters many obstacles. One of those was a great chasm that he needed to cross. The notes from his journal told him that only a leap from the lion’s head would a man prove his worth. It was a leap of faith. He couldn’t see the path until he took the first step. But there is so much more to it than that.

We can have a belief in many things, but it is the action we take that completes our faith. I can believe that God exists, but if I don’t act like he exists, what good is it? I can say with my lips that I believe in God, but if I live my life like he doesn’t exist, I am, like Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians, a clanging cymbal, a noisy gong. I am nothing.

There is a second part to this question of faith. It is the action part of the equation and it is required when it comes to faith in God. This second part is trust.

Indiana Jones believed in the leap of faith, he believed there was something there that he couldn’t see. But that wasn’t enough, he needed to act on that belief, he needed to take a step, a leap of faith. He needed to trust that there was something there. If we believe that when we take the first step there will be a path there, but never take the step, our faith is dead.

You may recognize the name of Florence Chadwick. In 1952, Florence was the first woman to attempt to swim the 26 miles between Catalina Island and the California coastline. As she began this historical journey, she was flanked by small boats that watched for sharks and were prepared to help her if she got hurt or grew tired.

Hour after hour Florence swam, but after about 15 hours, a thick, heavy fog set in. Florence began to doubt her ability, and she told her mother, who was in one of the boats, that she didn’t think she could make it. She swam for one more hour before asking to be pulled out. As she sat in the boat, Florence found out she had stopped swimming just one mile away from the California shoreline, her destination. Florence explained that she quit because she could no longer see the coastline-there was too much fog. She couldn’t see her goal. The fog got in the way of her faith.

If we only believe that God will provide, but do nothing but sit and wait, if we do nothing but tread water, we are in essence, not trusting that God is going to provide. We are not trusting that we will reach the other shore. Faith needs both parts, belief and trust.

So as we look at today’s passage from Hebrews, and as we hear the story of Florence Chadwick, or we think of Indiana Jones and his leap of faith, or maybe we are reflecting on our own lives, we notice some of the barriers to our faith. So I will ask you this morning; what is standing in the way of your faith, your belief and most importantly, your trust in God’s plan for your life?

What is keeping us from reaching for the plan that God has for all of us? What is it that is stopping you from accomplishing all that God has destined for you?

Brothers and sisters, by faith we can accomplish this and so much more, through Jesus Christ who gives us strength!

Love of God

Christian-Perfection-Sermon-Part-2-SlideChristian perfection as defined by our founder John Wesley; “Anyone having nothing but the love of God and love of neighbor in their hearts.”

Last week I talked about the love of neighbor, who our neighbors are and how we are called to love them. This might have seemed a little challenging, I know it was for me. As I said, we find it much easier sometimes to jump on the bandwagon and demean our neighbors, speak hurtful words about them, and basically not act like Christians.

Well this week we look at the first part of John Wesley’s idea of Christian perfection, the love of God. So how do we love God, how do we show our love for God in our lives, and what do you feel like you are being called to do to show that love of God today?

I think about growing up in my family and what it meant to love my parents. I guess I would usually combine loving them and honoring them in the same boat. I would love them by first of all telling them that I loved them, but also by the things I did. I listened to them, most of the time. I would obey them, most of the time. And I would try to live my life and do the things they would want for me, most of the time.

Our heavenly Father must feel love the same way; the love he must feel when we listen to him and obey his commands. In turn, we show our love for God when we use the gifts he has given to us and we do what he has called us to do. So we can certainly show our love of God by listening, hearing his call on our lives, and then live into that very calling.

We also love God when we love our neighbor. When we do good, seek justice, and look to eliminate oppression. Commands that we hear from Isaiah 1:16-17.

John Wesley talked about a few rules or guidelines to follow in loving God. Do no harm, do good, and attending all of the ordinances of God. Loving our neighbor calls for us to do no harm and to do good. We won’t talk much about that because we touched on this last week.

These three rules come from John Wesley’s general rules for societies. The last rule listed was to attend all of the ordinances of God. What exactly does that mean? We get the whole love your neighbor thing, at least I think we do, but what are these ordinances?

Another term used to describe them is this; “the means of grace.” And by participating in these means of grace, we once again show our love of God. But what are they?

They are things that we do as individuals as well as a community of faith. They include things like reading scripture, prayer, worship, fasting, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, seeking justice, ending oppression, and participating in the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism.

When we participate in any or all of these means of grace, we show our love of God. The means of grace offers us a time to experience God in our everyday lives, to help us to grow closer in our relationship with God, convict us of our sins, and to grow in our love of God and our neighbor. To help us arrive at Christian Perfection.

As we strive for Christian Perfection, and as we have heard about Wesley’s definition of “having nothing but love of God and love of neighbor in our hearts,” I wonder what has spoken to your hearts. How is God calling you to live your life differently? What have you heard over these past two weeks that have encouraged you to change, or maybe encouraged you to stay on a path that you are on?

Christian-Perfection-Sermon-SlideThe greatest commandment, given to us by Jesus Christ himself, comes from Matthew 22:36-39. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Christian living in just a few verses of scripture; love of God and love of neighbor. This is what John Wesley was talking about when he would explain Christian perfection. Nothing but the love of God and love of neighbor in your hearts.

But who is our neighbor?

If we look at Merriam-Webster for our definition, we could be quite short-sighted. The definition listed here is this; “a person who lives next to or near another person.”

This would mean that the definition of loving our neighbor would be geographically limited. I would not need to love the people in the next town.  I certainly would not need to love those who live in another state and especially those who live in England, Pakistan, Africa, or China. According to the dictionary, these are not my neighbors and therefore, would not need to be loved by me, according to God’s word.

But our definition of neighbor is not God’s definition of neighbor. So who is our neighbor, according to God? Jesus showed love to his neighbor many times. He showed love and mercy to the woman at the well, the centurion, Mary Magdalene, widows, those who were homeless, disabled, lost, forgotten by society. All of these were his neighbors.

Now, God calls us to love our neighbor, as ourselves. So now that we have defined who our neighbors are, everybody, how do we love them? Better yet, what gets in the way of loving our neighbors and in effect, keeps us from being better neighbors ourselves?

Colossians 3:8-9 says this; “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.”

Anger, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouths. Put all of these things away, forget that they were ever a part of your life. None of these things should be part of us if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. How could they?

God has called us all here to live in unity with one another, with all of our neighbors; regardless of differences, regardless of age, race, economic status, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Love everyone, pray for everyone. How hard can that be?

Now, this whole love your neighbor thing, really gets put to the test every four years, and usually during summer and early fall. You know what I’m talking about, it’s election year. And with election year comes the ugliness of conversations, of Facebook posts, and an enormous dividing line runs through our friendships. I’m surprised sometimes, how friendships even last around this time of year.

Now, I’m not going to get into who I could possibly be voting for this year, probably because I haven’t made up my mind yet. But the anger, malice, slander, and obscene talk is over the top. Wait, we just heard this in Colossians 3:8. Now don’t even get me started on verse 9, “Do not lie to one another…”

Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen a visual image of what this passage is telling us to stay away from. And I believe this all starts at the top.

But you see, all of these things that we are talking about today get into the cracks and crevices of our lives and separates us. Divisions begin to form and it becomes all to easy to jump on the bandwagon and join in. Join in the anger, slander, and obscene talk. But this is not God’s plan for us, it is not his will for us, it is not his desire for us. God’s desire is not division, but unity.

I am not naïve, I don’t think that any or all of the presidential candidates will get together and start singing Kum Ba Yah. It’s not going to happen, but I do believe that we can change our ways, that we can live the way God intended us to, that we can have nothing but the love of God and the love of neighbor in our hearts.

As the election approaches, I would like to remind you of a quote from John Wesley as found in his journal from October 6, 1774. “I met those from our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy: 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: and 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.” Live in unity with each other.