FOR THE LEAST OF THESE

Matt 25: The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

It is a beautiful winter day in Little Rock and we just finished serving breakfast to around 40 people under the Broadway Bridge. How cold was it? Hot chocolate spilled on the table froze and coffee droplets turned into crystals on more than one man’s beard.

My church is 16th Section UMC near Cabot AR and we have joined with Fishnet Ministries in Jacksonville for the past several years to bring a hot breakfast, a smile, and a kind word to “the least of these.” I am the pastor appointed to fill the vacancy left when the previous pastor died.

I have worked in this type of ministry for several years, serving food when it is Arkansas hot. But on the 8th of January, 2015 we could only hope for heat. The 22 degree temperature next to the Arkansas River pierced our down coats, sweats, and long underwear. This is not the coldest I have ever been, not even close. But as I stood at the end of the serving line watching one man’s runny nose freeze, God’s love warmed my heart. I realized I was catching a glimpse of the daily lives of some of God’s children.

One thing that stands out to me whenever I am blessed to be able to minister to folks who need a helping hand is their attitude. Many are cheerful and they receive “God bless you” with enthusiasm. And inevitably, instead of me blessing them, it us I who receives the greater blessing knowing that for one brief hour I showed love to God’s people.

Prayer: May we never become so comfortable with God’s blessings that we fail to share them with others.

You are my Hiding Place

(NRSV) PSALM 119:114 You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in your word.

When I was a child I loved to hide. There was a cupboard in a duplex where we lived when I was four and I relished the coziness of that small spot. But as we grow older it becomes harder to find a good hiding place.

God has promised to shelter us under His wings (Ps. 94) or in the cleft of the rock (Ex. 33), to hide us to keep us safe. Safe from bodily harm? Not always, for as Jesus said in Matt 27, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

If we hope in His word, then we can trust in Him to hide us safely away from spiritual harm. Isn’t that the best kind of hiding place there is?

Prayer: Dear Father, thank you for your word, and thank you that just as we hide your word in our hearts, you will hide us in your heart.

Resuming the Journey

After several years of not posting, I have decided to renew my interest in writing about scripture that I am reading and meditating upon. Many changes have occurred, including my becoming a licensed pastor in the United Methodist Church. Beginning Nov. 1, 2014 I was appointed as pastor of a two point charge, Ward UMC in Ward, AR and 16th Section UMC in Austin, AR. 

For those of you unfamiliar with circuit riders, we are pastors who continue the great tradition of serving more than one church. In my case, I preach at Ward at 9:30 on Sunday and preach as 16th Section, a few miles down the road, at 11:00. Such an arrangement makes it difficult to manage the Sunday School hour in either church, so for now I am focusing on delivering messages that are God inspired and that will teach folks the importance of discipleship.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says “(NRSV)

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.Icy Road with Rays of Light
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

I love this scripture, because it reminds me that I can do nothing in and of myself.  If I want to lead people in the path of righteousness, I must be directed to the pathway by God.  If I want to remain on the pathway called holy, I must continue to acknowledge the one, true and the living God.

Today, the first day of 2015, I invite you to join me in my journey of “Seeking Holiness.”

The way of the Cross–Sin

Romans 5:6-11 (NRSV)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

His name was Aldo Rubio. He left the house that morning to go play with his friends, having no idea how the day would end. His friend slipped and fell into a water canal. Because of recent rains the waters were swollen and rushing. Young Aldo, just 7 years old, jumped in to help his 11 year old friend. The friend escaped the waters, Aldo did not.

Contrast Aldo with Jesus. When Jesus left his home in glory to come to this earth, he knew fully well the outcome of his life. He knew he was being born into a world where he would die–not of old age but rather he would be the sacrificial lamb for sinners slain. He looked down from heaven and saw humanity drowning in a sea of sin, and He jumped in.

Aldo lost his life in the hope that his friend would be saved. Jesus gave His life for those who were dead in their sins in the assurance that his death would bring new life to all of humanity.

Last week the Way of the Cross led us to suffering. We saw that saints and sinners alike must endure suffering because, as Jesus says in Matt 5, the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

This week the way of the Cross leads us to confront sin, face to face. In the simplest terms, sin means we have missed the mark, we have fallen short of God’s purpose.

In Judaism there are 613 laws, but when Jesus came He spent a good part of His ministry telling the religious leaders, you have it wrong. You think by keeping to the letter of the law you are free from sin, but you are missing the spirit of the law and thereby sinning all the while.

I don’t intend to speak to you today about specific sins, or to assure you there are minor and major sins. Sin is sin– it is not the name of the sin that matters, nor is it the nature of the sin. God intends for us to be set apart for his purposes, but instead sin serves to set us apart from God.

Sin is not a subject we talk about much anymore. When I was growing up, sermons showing the wages of sin are death were much more prevalent than sermons about grace and love.

A couple of weeks ago I was visiting a lovely lady in a nursing home and I heard shouting coming from down the hall. Curious, I went to see what was happening. As I drew nearer I began to hear the familiar strains of hellfire and damnation preaching–in a nursing home.

First of all, I do not think there is a right setting or even a right time to preach God’s wrath. I was called to preach the Good News, not the bad news. Isaiah 61:1(NRSV)
The Good News of Deliverance
Chapter 61
1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

Secondly, trying to scare people away from sin is just not effective in the long run. And I do not believe God wants us to turn to Him out of fear, but rather out of love.

John Wesley understood that we are each born into sin, but God placed a divine spark of grace into each soul and it us that spark that grows into a grace that will ultimately draw us to God. It is that grace, when paired with faith that is also God-given, that brings us into salvation.

Did you ever consider that when man was exiled from the Garden of Eden, it was not as much an act of punishment as it was an act of mercy. Man had sinned against God. Had man been allowed to stay in the Garden, he would have eaten from the Tree of Life and lived forever in his sin.

But God had a plan. God looked across the ages and our Scripture today says, “at the right time Christ died for our sins.” Isn’t that interesting? Four thousand years of human history as recorded in the Bible had already been played out. But Jesus came when the time was right.

Jesus still comes to us today when the time is right. John Wesley worked for God for years, building hospitals, schools, all the while wondering if he was doing enough to gain salvation. It was not until, as he put it, his heart was strangely warmed, that his work became a product of salvation rather than a method to try to gain salvation.

The truth is we could not be good enough, we could not work hard enough, we were helpless to save ourselves. But God said I am holy, you be holy, too. Yet, he knew he was asking something we were incapable of doing.

So he said I love you so much, I will do for you what you cannot do. I will send my son, he will take on your humanity, he will be nailed to a cross and your sins will be nailed to that cross with him, and he will be raised from death and from sin into new life, and you, if you believe, will be raised into everlasting life.

2 Corinth 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[b] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; … We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The story of Aldo touches our hearts, because we see the ultimate cost of love. Few of us will ever pay that price, the price of our life for another’s.
Yet, 2000 years ago Jesus jumped into the waters of the rushing canal for us. We were drowning in our sin, and Jesus knew we could not escape the hold sin had on us on our own.

So he became sin for our sakes, yours and mine.
The way of the cross does not detour around sin. The way of the cross shows us the ugliness of sin, but it also shows us the beauty of redemption. The way of the cross leads home

If you are here today and you have been trying to be good enough, to do enough but you are consistently falling short, then I have some good news for you.

Come unto me, Jesus says, to those are heavy laden, who just can’t seem to do enough, and I will give you rest.

Why Worship?

1Chron 29:10 Then David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly; David said:“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.

This scripture occurs at the end of King David’s reign. David was a man after God’s own heart. He knew God, he loved God, and he worshipped God.

David wanted to build a temple for God. He thought it was not right for him and the people in his kingdom to live in beautiful homes, yet the ark of the covenant was still in a tent. But God would not allow David to build the temple because he was a man of bloodshed. So God chose Solomon to succeed David on the throne and build the temple.

Prior to the verses we read, we learn that David had drawn up the plans for the Temple according to God’s inspiration. He donated from his personal funds and then asked the people to make a sacrificial gift for the building of God’s temple.

And then he praised God. And he led the people in worship. He said all that he had was God’s anyway. So he called for the whole assembly to worship God.

And as one who serves adults toward the end of their life’s journey, I love that this scripture highlights that David, who was at the end of his life, was still focused on worshipping God. Let’s look at David a little closer to see if we can understand the heart of worship from a shepherds point of view
I. Innate need to worship God
A. Worshipped as a boy tending his fathers flock
1. Made up praise music to calm the sheep
Perhaps solitude gave him a greater understanding of who God is. Or perhaps in the midst of the noise he listened to that inner voice that said, i created you to praise me, I am worthy of your praise. Worship your God
2. David made up songs to calm King Saul
Wonder what would happen if you had a boss like Saul, prone to fits of depression and anger, if you began to sing praises to God in the midst of one of his outbursts.
B. David learned that the more he worshipped God, the closer he became to God
C. David learned the closer he became to God the more he could depend upon God
II. When the shepherd became a warrior the worship continued
A. David worshipped before battle and he worshipped after battle
B. David worshipped alone and he worshipped in a congregation
III. When the warrior became a king, he worshipped when he made good decisions and he worshipped when he made bad decisions

Do you see a recurring theme here? It’s all about God. Worship means we are proclaiming God’s worth. In essence we are agreeing with God that he is worthy of our praise

Why worship? God has given each one of us a need to worship. Martin Luther was one of the first people to say, if we don’t worship God we will worship something. We may not create a god out of wood, or stone and give it a name and then bow down to it. But if there is anything in our life that keeps us from worshipping God, then that is our idol.

We saw why David worshipped.

Why do we worship?
Do we worship because our parents raised us to worship?
Do we worship because we married into a family that worships?
Do we worship because it is the right thing to do?
Or have we, like David, developed a heart for worship?

If all of you arrived at church one day and there was no choir, no director, no organist, and no preacher, could you still worship? Yes, you could still worship because each of us brings a component to worship, but it is only when you believe and understand that God is worthy of your worship that true worship takes place. And you believe that!

We are Methodists! If there was no one up in the Chancel to lead the worship, you could do it yourself. All it would take for corporate worship is for one person to stand up and say, let us pray. Then someone else could stand up and say, let’s read the following scripture. And then someone else could say, let us give thanks to The Lord, at which point the rest of the congregation would say, it is right to give thanks to The Lord.

You have worship within you. It is part of your DNA. Just as Jesus proclaimed when He entered info Jerusalem one last time, if we do not worship Him the very rocks will cry out.

Why worship? Because God is worthy of our worship.

Why worship? Because we have to worship.

Worship is not for our benefit.. Worship is for God. We should come to church on Sunday morning with hearts so full of praise and thanksgiving that worship spills out of our hearts.

Ps 42:1. As the deer pants for the waterbrooks so my soul longs for thee o my lord

Romans 12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Why worship?
Paul and Silas worshipped in a cold, dark prison
Why did they worship? Because God was greater than their circumstances

David worshipped before he went into battle and again after he returned victorious
Why? Because the victory was God’s

Peter worshipped when he had the vision of the sheet coming down from heaven
Why? Because God was expanding his understanding of who would inherit the kingdom of God

Job worshipped when he had lost everything and he worshipped when everything was restored.
Why? Because he understood God is worthy of our worship

We Methodists live in the present. We don’t generally cling to a date when we were saved because we understand salvation is not something from the past, it is a very present reality. And each day that we walk with God we are being sanctified holy and We become more holy every day.

But let’s take a really quick trip into the future

When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We will sing and shout the victory

The book of the Revelation gives a clear image of what heavenly worship will be. Chapter 4 says
Revelation 4:9-11 (NRSV)
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty- four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

Why worship?

Practice makes perfect. Don’t you want your worship to be perfect when you get to heaven? Don’t you want God to know how much you treasure Him right now?

Why worship? How can we love God and be called according to His purpose and not worship?

SEEING IS BELIEVING

Seeing is Believing

John 20:19-31
20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Theme: Blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe.

During the past 40 years we have witnessed many miraculous inventions. Technology has increased, our understanding has increased, and our thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. Yet this mystery called the gospel of Jesus Christ has never changed. Will we be as Thomas and only believe what we have seen, or will our faith enable us to believe without touching the nail scars in His hands. Join us as we discover how our faith is not something that can be held in our hands, but something we hold in our hearts.

Last week was Easter Sunday. We celebrated our risen Lord with song, with praise. Some of us got up early to attend the sunrise service, others slept in. Some of us bought new clothes, some of us celebrated with a feast of food. For those of us who gave up a certain food or practice for Lent, Easter Sunday was a day to renew our love affair with whatever we missed during the past 46 days.

But Easter is not over. For 50 days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost we celebrate not only the resurrection of our Savior, but the resurrection of faith, first for the Apostles, and then for each one of us.

Today’s scripture focuses on Thomas. There are very few references to Thomas in the Bible. What we know about Thomas comes primarily from the Gospel of John. Thomas, whose Greek name Didymus means twin, is a bit of a mystery. Was his twin a boy or girl, identical or fraternal, living or dead? Or was it as some speculate that Thomas did not have an earthly twin at all, but was so much like Jesus that Jesus considered him His spiritual twin.

These things we know: We know he was a fisherman from Galilee and one of the original 12 Apostles.
We know when Jesus said where he was going his disciples would follow, Thomas asked how could they follow since they did not know where Jesus was going. Funny: no one called him Doubting Thomas then.

When Jesus set out to go to Judea to perform the miracle resurrection for Lazarus, the other disciples tried to dissuade Jesus from going because there was the threat of death. But Thomas said’ Let us go with Him that we might die, too.” Why is he not known as Courageous Thomas or Brave Thomas? After all, he was willing to die with Jesus.

Thomas had one moment that defined him, and it was the moment that He failed to accept the risen Lord because he was not in the room when Jesus appeared to the other disciples. From that moment he was no longer Thomas the Twin, or Thomas the Fisherman, or Brave Thomas. From that moment he became Doubting Thomas, but is he really so different from many of us today? If we had been there and had a choice between believing in a Jesus we could not see and seeing a Jesus in whom we can believe, wouldn’t most of us choose the latter?

Matthew 14:28-31 (NRSV)
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter doubted and had Jesus not reached out to save him, his doubt would have killed him. Yet Peter is the Rock, not the doubter. I would propose that Thomas did not have less faith than the other apostles. In fact, there were many doubters in the Bible prior to Thomas. Thomas heard of the miracle of the resurrection. The other apostles saw the evidence of the resurrection. Of course they believed. They could reach out and touch Jesus which is all Thomas wanted to do. It’s when we must live by faith instead of by sight that problems can sometimes occur.

But here is a question I have been rolling over in my brain. Could it be that Jesus knew Thomas would not be present when He appeared before the other followers. Jesus knew Thomas’ nature. He could have predicted instead of being with his spiritual brothers, Thomas would be grieving alone. Perhaps Jesus used this moment to teach us something about doubt and about faith, and even community.

In William Barclays Commentary of John he says this about Thomas:
There is more ultimate faith in the man who insists on being sure than in the man who glibly repeats things which he has never thought out, and which he may not really believe. It is doubt like that which in the end arrives at certainty.

Do you get what Barclay is saying. When we repeat the Apostles’ Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer without thinking about what we are saying, without meaning what we are saying, that is worse than doubting. You see, Thomas’ doubt was not grounded in a lack of faith but instead the desire to prove his faith.

My music teacher at Central was Lois Jean Raymond. When trying to get us to sing out, she would say to put our courage in our hot little hands and sing. Well, it would be great if we could put our faith in our hot little hands and believe. But faith cannot be held in our hands, it must be held in our hearts.

Why was Jesus being raised from the dead so hard for Thomas to believe? Wasn’t he present when Lazarus was raised from the dead?

Thomas had lost hope. Jesus raised Lazarus–if Jesus was dead how does a dead man raise himself? He doesn’t. Jesus believed in and relied upon the Holy Spirit to breathe life into a lifeless body.

How would we have remembered Thomas if he had responded, Where is Jesus?? I must go find him!!! Would we have called him Thomas the Inquisitive or Thomas the Loyal instead of Doubting Thomas?

After Thomas plunged his hand into Jesus’s side he made the greatest statement of faith that he could have made–my Lord and my God! The man who could not envision the Resurrection would go on to travel the farthest than all of the Apostles, going all the way to India, to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Tradition has it that Doubting Thomas was killed by the spear of a soldier while preaching about the Risen Lord.

Seeing is indeed believing, and it is when we are able to see with our spiritual eyes that our faith grows. If we must doubt let it be as Thomas doubted so that our faith may grow within our hearts.

A Tribute to Mothers

A Tribute to Mothers

How often did your mother soothe you to sleep?
How often did she pray, “The Lord your soul to keep”?
How many times did she lay awake,
listening for any sound you might make?

How many times did she rock you in her arms
vowing to protect you from all harm?
How many ways did she show you her love
which was a reflection of God above?

How many ways did she guide you through life
and teach you to bear up under the strife?
Was she mentor, coach, teacher and guide,
protector, defender, walked with you side by side?

It matters not if your mother gave birth to you
or she chose you and then stayed your whole life through.
It matters not if she was your grandmother, your aunt or a friend,
what matters is her faithfulness to the end.

A mother may be known by many names
but when she hears your voice her heart inflames.
For there is nothing sweeter to a mother’s ear
than to hear the words, “I love you, Mother dear.”

The Last Note

The Last Note
In memory of Vance Burton (Burt) Finch

When the last note on the piano
has played and faded away,
when the last song has been sung
and the last “Amen” prayed

I will still be in your memories, in
your hearts and in your lives,
for the bond we share between us
will most certainly survive.

You will see me in the flowers,
the first bloom of the Spring,
and you will hear me in the gospel songs
I taught you how to sing.

And if you feel that you must cry for me,
let the tears be sparse and few,
for I have bowed before the throne, my dears,
and reunited with my own, my dears,

and now I am finally home, my dears
and I’ll be waiting here for you.

Today we said goodbye to Burt Finch. It is such an honor for me to do one final act of love and kindness as I preach the sermon honoring a life that mattered. May we each walk alongside Burt as he walks with Jesus.

God is light

1 John 1:1-10 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

God is light, yet even Christians sometimes try to walk with one foot in the light and one in the dark. Commitment seems to be a word we don’t quite understand in the 21st Century.

May we accept the free grace of God, and come into the understanding that while grace covers a multitude of sins, we must appropriate such grace and then live in it.

Amen.

Humility leads to godly wisdom

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. 

When looking for a verse of instruction on how to live a godly life, one need look no further than this one simple verse.  I am convinced the original sin was pride, the pride that caused Eve to believe she could be god if only she ate of a piece of fruit. 

Pride had already raised its ugly head when Lucifer waged a war against the angels to overthrow God.  One of the synonyms for pride is “self-importance.”  When we begin to think we are more important that we really are, or to use a modern phrase, “when we begin to believe our own press,” disaster follows. Better to live our lives in humility and service to others than to end our days in disgrace.

Why does wisdom follow humility?  I see these two characteristics as fraternal twins—on first inspection their appearance is not the same, but look closer.   When we learn the meekness of God, power under control, then we begin to attain a godly wisdom that directs our paths.

God is so good to give us what we need to accomplish His work here on earth.  Let us begin each day praying, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” and allow God to work through us rather than having to work around us.

PRAYER:  Our holy God, cultivate within us a humility that comes only through knowing who you are, and enable us to live with wisdom that comes from on high  Amen

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