Prepare the Way!


2nd Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12


Who invited John the Baptist to the Christmas Party? He was wearing clothes made of camel skin, had an odd diet and was sharing an intrusive message! Or was the message not for one Sunday each year but for daily use in our lives, to shake us up and point us toward the reign of God. A dynamic message that is quite different than what most of our churches share week after week. His message of repentance is not a message of threat, but a promise for a new and better lifestyle.

It is both often and at the same time for us to focus much on the path, a path not looking to the future. For starters, perhaps we don’t have to spend money that we don’t have that our family members and friends don’t really need. What we need most is our attention and presence focusing on the Lord. Perhaps preachers should offer guidance for persons to refocus on what they really need and what is important.

John arrived on the scene preaching in the wilderness of Judea, crying out “repent for the kingdom of god is at hand”. As a prophet of god he said, “Make ready the way (road), by which the Lord is making, He is near. Make ready the road that the Lord may enter your life in a new and exciting way. He fearlessly denounced evil wherever he saw it. When Herod the King, was in a sinful marriage, he rebuked him. If the ordinary people were living a life of sin, unaware of God’s presence in his life, wherever he saw sin in the state or the church he loudly rebuked it.

If John were alive today, what would he rebuke in the church today that would awaken us to what the church is really about? Lord, we need a resurrected John the Baptist to emerge and awaken all the churches today. Our beloved UMC and countless other churches in rural America need a great spiritual awakening.

It appears today that the mega church is the new style. Huge church buildings, large membership, multi-paid staff are missing the target of the down and out in smaller churches that need the Lord also.

Our main reason for being a Church community is not to just add more on the rolls, but to make disciples for the Lord. We don’t need to keep up with the large churches across town, but we need to offer the in-churched a new and fresh life with the Lord Jesus as their guide and example.

A cousin of mine had a grandchild who recently took his own life. He was 18 years old with a small infant son. A young man, who could have been reached to know the Lord and be a disciple, is gone.

What are we doing to make new disciples? Where are we going as a church to reach out to those struggling with life?

With the drug culture in our community, just imagine just what any one church can do to save the youth and others. When I was young we heard of drugs in places like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Today it exists in our own back yards. What a wonderful Christmas we might have next year if we spent as much money on reaching others as we spend on maintaining our air-conditioned, sanctuaries.

John was not afraid to rebuke even a king of his sinful lifestyle. Oh yes, it cost him his head but it gave him eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. May we aid in the fight to reclaim our society for the Lord Jesus Christ!

Let us Pray.

Pressing Onward

1st Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Isaiah 43:18, Philippians 3:13-1
The Upper Room for last Tuesday really spoke to me: Paul is saying that the church and its leadership must forget all that has transpired and press on to the goal that the Lord has set before them. We should not, and shall not, rest on what has happened, but look forward to the blessings the Lord has in store for us.

Each new experience is to strengthen our service and love for the Lord. He knows what He would like us to accomplish for Him. He is in control for each and everything that transpires in our lives. And He promises to be with us 100% of the time!

I like a sign that was hanging in my father’s doctors office on Maple Ave. It read, "everyone that enters in brings joy, some when they enter and some when they leave." That reminds me of my years as your pastor, the joys we have shared over the years as well as the times of discourse. That includes the joy that lies ahead in our future. The leadership that will come after me will lead in a slightly different manner, but they will still be a disciple for the kingdom of our Lord.

In each new encounter within our lives, there are joys and sadness. Your doctor may announce you need to have surgery. I recall my feelings when I asked my doctor if I could go home from the hospital. His response was absolutely not, as I needed my gallbladder removed!

Lamentations 3:22-23 speaks about the stressful happenings in our lives. Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassion never fails! It is a new day every morning. Great is the faithfulness of our Lord!

May we each step backwards for a moment, recalling a painful and stressful time in our lives. I cannot imagine Paul’s feelings when the voice of the Lord spoke to him on a Damascus road. He was on his way to take Christians to Jerusalem to be tried and executed. He fell to the ground when he hears the voice calling him. He cried out, “Is that you Lord?” The Lord stated, “I have chosen you.” What a transforming life experience fell on Paul and often falls on us. From being the chief enemy of the Lord to one of His people, Paul was transformed into one of the greatest missionary of Christ in the Christian movement!

Lord, You are calling all of us to new and exciting labors in building your earthly kingdom. Each one of us is only a drop of ointment to salve the hurts and pains of this earthly life and we pray that each new morning your blessings will fall fresh upon us.

I praise You, Lord, for calling each one of us and continually helping us to envision each change in our lives as a new and exciting challenge for your eternal love. Help us not to dwell on yesterday or today, but the future that lies ahead for us. Give us only a glimpse that our futures will bring this church and our lives to new and exciting ministries.

In Jesus' name we pray, amen!

First Fruits and Tithes

Last Sunday of Pentecost/Thanksgiving Sunday
Scripture: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Thanksgiving has become an American institution with ritual foods and the pardoning of the turkey, and Inter-faith civic prayer services and serving dinner for the homeless. This national holiday dates back to 1862 when President Lincoln proclaimed it as a national day of thanks. It was intended as a day of unity among the north and the south. It was a day of thanksgiving in the midst of a bloody civil war.

Thanksgiving is something that should be our vocation constantly 365 days a year, but few among us are naturally thankful for our many blessings that the Lord has given us. Thus we need to be reminded daily to be constantly thankful for the multitude of blessings that we have. Thankful people need to express a attitude of gratitude for blessings that we have as the people of God.
Our text from Deuteronomy is a demonstration of our gratitude unto the Lord for His daily blessings. Everything we have in material goods has only been given to us to make this life a blessing. That is why we don’t take anything with us when we leave this world.

Our thanksgiving gatherings are not just gatherings of friends and family members to stuff our tummies with fattening foods and drinks. It should be a time that is set aside from our daily activities to pause, and reflect on the gracious love of our heavenly Father who through our sweat,blood and tears has built this great nation, giving thanks for all our blessings where the hands and heart of god has guided us and directed us.

Like his people who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the promise land, do we grasp the fruits of a gracious god who blesses our humble effort? On the first day of thanksgiving, they broke bread and sipped wine, giving thanks to the Lord for watching over them.
Are we so comfortable with ourselves and our life style that we can’t pause and give thanks unto the Lord not only for ourselves and all others? For we live in a free nation under the umbrella of a Loving God who has reached down from above to care for us. Now can we reach out and touch others that they may feel his presence as we feel it and give thanks not just on Thanksgiving but each and every day of our lives.

Let us pause for a moment or 2 setting in silence, reflecting on God’s love and blessings in our lives as we share in Holy Communion today.

A Warning Against Idleness

26th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
Paul quotes his own experience, all his life Paul was a working man using his hands. The Jews glorified work. A man who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal. Paul was a trained Rabbi, but the Jewish law laid it down that a Rabbi must take no pay for his teachings. He must have a trade that will satisfy his daily needs by the work of his hands. Thus we find Rabbi’s who were bakers, barbers, carpenters, and a host of other trades.

They believed in the dignity of honest toil and were sure something is lost when they became a scholar. Scholars lost something when they withdrew from life refusing to work with their hands.
Thus, Paul quoted this saying, “if a man refuses to work, neither let him eat. It is the refusal to work that is important.” This has nothing to do with the unfortunate man who through no fault of his own can not work or can find no work to do. Further, Paul says, “he was probably borrowing a bit of good old workshop morality, an industrious worker, who would forbid his lazy apprentice to eat dinner.”
We have a perfect example in Jesus himself. He was a carpenter in Nazareth. Legend has it that he was so good at making ox yokes that people came from near and far to buy one.

There is a story of a man who bought a house without seeing it. He was asked why he did this. His reply was “I know that the man who built the house was a Christian and he built that house with Christian ethics, one brick at a time.”

Paul’s’ instructions that those who disregard the work ethics, would be doubtful of that person’s love for his Christian brothers “All we can do is to aid him in his behavior, that he might see the light of his behavior and repent in his idleness.”

We need to go back to the fall of man is the Garden of Eden and for their failure to obey God’s instructions to not eat from a certain tree. The punishment for their actions, God said Eve would suffer pain in childbirth and Adam would earn a living for himself and Eve by the sweat of his brow.
One of our basic Christian actions is to aid and encourage someone who is idle and is failing to use their god given gifts. The joy that we might encounter when we aid someone like this is far beyond our understanding of the results of that person’s life when they turn a new leaf in their life.

Let us pray.

Stepping up to the Plate

24th Sunday in Pentecost
Scripture: St. Luke 19:1-10

Little did I know how true that would be a month after I wrote this message… The Cubs stepping up to the plate and after 70 years winning the pennant!

As we look at the story of Zacchaeus once again, I want you to see him stepping up to the plate. He wanted to see this traveling prophet, but was a small man, with a small body thus he climbed up into a sycamore tree. He paid no attention to the crowd who tried to quiet him down, saying “you are a sinner, He will have nothing to do with you”As Jesus walked by, he looked up in that sycamore tree telling Zacchaeus “you come down, for I’m going to your house today”.

I can see that little man almost jumping off the tree limb, and coming to rest at Jesus’ feet. Can you?
He stated if I have cheated anyone, I will repay them 4 times what I stole from them.That is one more time than the Jewish law commanded a person to do to make amends. Jesus tells him, “today salvation has come to you and your house and you are truly a son of Abraham”.

How often have you or I been sitting in a pew and we blindly step up to the plate after the spirit of god moved within our lives and we get involved with something special at his prompting?

It’s like a little 4 year old standing at the shore of water in the gulf, seeing the water coming in, fearful of the waves, and we are afraid to get in the water. After much coaxing, the child gets their toes in the water. Each time the waves come in, she puts her foot in a little deeper in the water. After a few minutes, she is knee high in the water, running to and fro playing and having fun.

Because of the fear of the unknown, we all have doubts and reservations in our discipleship duties to the Lord and his church. We fail to trust Him.

We are like the servant whose master gave him one talent to make more, and he was afraid he might lose it, thus he buried it in the ground. When the master confronted him with what he had done, he said “I know you are a hard man in business and I was afraid of what might happen if I lost your talent.”
How often are we like the 4 year old afraid of the water or the unproductive servant burying the talent?

Andrew seeing Jesus the prophet stepped up to the plate, calling Peter to come and see the prophet. Peter stepped up and became a mighty, mighty voice for Christ. He was a man with many faults and yet Jesus said “you are the rock and I will build my church on you.”

Dr. Billy Graham was a plain, simple man, full of faith. He stepped up to the plate and has become a great missionary encouraging thousand all because he was not afraid to step up to the plate.
If each one of us would step up to the plate, allowing the Lord to use our humble efforts, can you envision what might happen in our world today, a world that is crying for love? Regardless of the simple gifts most of us think we have, when we step up to the plate, allowing the Lord to use us, we will have blessings in abundance and his promise He will walk each step with us.

Lord, help each one of us make new disciples in your precious name and divine love.

Let us pray.

Too Young, Too Old

Here's a picture of some of our family. From left to right we have Rene (daughter), me, Sylvia Lori (daughter), Judy (wife), Jeremy (grandson), and Lee (son-in-law). Lori was visiting us before moving to South Carolina, Jeremy was visiting for the weekend, and my son Randy also visited us for about a week. We celebrated Jeremy's birthday early since so many of us were together for the weekend. No matter what life throws at me and Judy, we are blessed that all our children know the Lord. 

This week we had a special guest who helped with the preaching. She's my daughter Lori, who also goes by Sylvia. Her in-person speech was phenomenal. Lori gave us a good set of stories and good historical information about the Bible that proves that each of us can answer the Lord's call, from the young Samuel in the temple to the public figures who would qualify for the senior discount today. She shared with us her prepared notes, which aren't nearly the same, but there's still a lot of wisdom in them. Her message is both encouraging and convicting.

21st Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: 1 Samuel 3; 1 Samuel 16:20-23

There's a list of things we're too old for.

There's a list of things we're too old for. Mini skirts, long hair, snowboarding, driving, riding a bike, skating.

Have you ever said someone or yourself was too old or too young?

Often people think people are too young or old to serve our Lord. It's as if each congregation has a magic age to be old enough. But when it comes to being too old, we tend to self-impose our own restrictions. We "retire" from service.

I chose today's scripture because we have extremes of too young and too old in Samuel and Eli's story. Samuel came to the temple to serve God when he was weaned. That would have been between 1 1/2 and 5 years old. Each year his mother brought him a new tunic as he had outgrown his previous one. Eli was almost blind when Samuel came to the temple and his eyes continued to fail. Samuel waited on Eli at a young age. Eli was a high priest and he continued in that position until his death. Eli had two very old sons — not good sons — named Hophni and Phineas. They did evil in God's eyes. They made sacrifices and did other things they shouldn't have. Eli had rebuked his sons, but they didn't listen and Eli overlooked that.

God called Samuel. Samuel. Samuel. Samuel ran to Eli 3 times when he heard the voice. Then Eli realized it was God calling Samuel. The 4th time, God revealed to Samuel Hophni and Phineas' fate. Samuel had to tell Eli. Samuel later lead the people and served as the high priest who annointed Saul and David when David was just a lad.

David went into Saul's service playing the harp to soothe the spirit that raged against Saul. (Today they think Saul was bipolar.) As a youth David slew Goliath. He served Saul faithfully to Saul's death. David was king 40 years.

David's son Solomon was a young man when he assumed the throne and asked for wisdom. Solomon was faithful in his younger years, but as an old man he turned away from God. Of the kings of Israel, the ones who weren't bad started at a young age. Joash, who ruled from age 7 to 47, repaired the temple that was let to fall apart from neglect. He took up offerings from repairs. Josiah, who ruled from age 8-39, found the Book of Law during repairs and renewed the covenant.

Solomon was a young man. So were Jeremiah (whose father was a priest) and John the Baptist when  they started. Jeremiah 1:5 says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Noah was over 500 when he had sons. Abraham had Isaac after he had turned 100.

Samuel served God all of his life. Eli died in service as a high priest. Stephen and other Christian martyrs were killed in brutal ways. We really have it easy today. The apostle John died of old age natural causes, although some say he did so after having escaped exile in Patmos and unsuccessfully being boiled in oil. Philip was tortured and crucified. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Bartholomew/Nathaniel was flayed and martyred. James was killed by the sword. Thomas was pierced by the spear. Andrew was hanged and burned.

Unlike a lot of the Biblical people I have talked about who served until their death, others may have served cogently for a time and then drifted away or walked away like many Christians seem to do. God wants our hearts and our service for all our lives and into eternity. The Israelites had three big problems.
  1. Their hearts wandered, desiring things they didn't have (coveting).
  2. They grumbled when they didn't get them.
  3. They turned away from God and sought other ways to obtain what they wanted.
Are we any different?

We are called to serve, not grumble. Yes, there may come a point when you are unable to do what you do for God now, but have you prepared someone to take your place at that job or will they have to assume your position not knowing what needs to be done? Mentor someone today and say you have done this long enough to answer any questions. Also, ask God where and how He wants you to serve next.

Service to God is given from our hearts out of thanksgiving for what God did for us. He sent His Son. Jesus willingly came, served, died, and rose again so we could have forgiveness of sins.

I know Dad and many aging pastors serving because God called them, but where are their Samuels who can step into their places? If you feel God calling you for anything, GO. Christians don't retire; they just move up. Are you moving up? Do you feel God calling you? Maybe you need to rededicate your heart and your life. Maybe you have been negative or a grumbler and need to confess. You're never too young or too old. The altar's always open. Humble yourself before God. Say I'll serve for life and then move up.

At the end of the service, we stood up and came together as Lori led us in a round of prayer. May we feel God's call and love and reach out to our neighbors with it. Amen!


20th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: St Luke 17:5-10
If we have the faith the size of a mustard seed, we could say to the mulberry tree be uprooted and planted in the sea and it would obey us. I think we sometimes hear Jesus’ comments as rebuke that if we only had a little bit more faith we could fix our broken relationships, be healed of cancer, find a job and had all the money we think we need we would be happy. We think our painful situations in our lives are because we are a failure or unworthy.

How often do we have feelings just like the reasons I just referred to? Yet I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying here. I think He is telling us that we have what we need. It doesn’t take a 40 gallon vat of faith to repent and be forgiven for the sins of our life.

Notice He is speaking in a plural sense. We are all connected to Him with the faith we already have, and we are connected to one another by that same faith. Our faith may be personal but it should not be private. We aren’t given even a mustard seed of faith only for ourselves, but to be connected with the little bit of faith that countless others have. If we connect our faith with one another our 40 gallon vat will overflow a hundred, a thousand or a million times over.

Life without faith is like a stick trap used to catch small animals. Jesus is saying it is impossible to construct a world without temptation by ourselves. Only all the faith bits that come together can change the world of sin and death. Our text tells us that we can not put any claims on God with our little bit of faith, only by joining together can Christ’s kingdom on earth become a reality. When we have done our very best, we are only doing our duty in serving the Lord.

Recall these words from a great hymn:
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far to small
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

While it maybe impossible to satisfy the claim of God’s love, every lover knows that nothing he or she can do could sanctify that claim for Gods gift of eternal life. May we use the faith we have been given, joining together with countless others to share our little bits of faith with all others.

Let us pray.