Monday, February 19, 2018

Experiencing Life in The Psalms: You Can't Stand Still

Psalm 122  (NRSV)
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
I was glad when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
    within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
    that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
    the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
    to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
    the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
    and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
    I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
    I will seek your good.

Most of us are familiar with the Psalms,
we may have maybe even memorized some, like the 23rd or 100th
But very few of us tend to read the Psalms.

And that is pretty surprising since the Psalms are the most quoted literature of the Hebrew Bible in our New Testament.
          The early Christians saw in Jesus the fulfillment of the Psalms
          Today as Christians we tend to see the Psalms through the lens of Jesus

Even though many don't read the Psalms, they are at the center of Christian worship

We hear them read, we sing them, we even use them in our prayers --- often in fragmentary form.

But the Psalms as whole texts often seem to our modern ears to be strange if not even foreign.

And though the Psalms were created in an ancient culture --- the language that they use --- the amazing poetry ---- seem to wrestle with the question of what it means to be fully human.

The themes that are found in the Psalms include:
·         our longing for justice
·         the poverty of riches
·         caring for the poor
·         wonder of creation
·         the search for happiness
·         the quest for integrity
·         the need for silence and solitude
·         the struggle with grief, loneliness and mental illness
·         and the realization of our mortality

And at the center of it all --- is God.

You cannot open the Psalms without encountering God

Patrick Woodhouse, in the quote at the top of the bulletin said:
Could it be that, . . . the Psalms are in fact pointing to the greatest malaise of our times: the erosion of belief in a transcendent reality which all our lives can be measured and shaped, and given hope and meaning?

The Psalms are full of God

Woodhouse continues:
The one thing you cannot escape if you read the Psalms, is God.  They are shot through and through with the divine presence, the divine grace and the divine call.  This is why, despite the difficulties of their cultural context, they need to be valued and loved and known, not just as odd fragments but as whole texts, which, when deeply pondered can kindle faith afresh and reorient a person's entire perspective.

It is my hope that over this season of lent that the Psalms will help you to learn to live differently in the world.

We are hoping to help you do this though the daily devotions we are sending you, our sermons on Sunday mornings, and the workshops that Matt has put together to help us learn to pray the Psalms.

The Psalms invite us in and offer to help us to discover life.
          The abundant life that Jesus talks about (John 10:10)

Over the six Sundays of Lent we will seek to open the Psalms to you. 

All the great religions include the practice of pilgrimage

Certainly, the foundational story not just in the Christian tradition, but also Judaism and Islam is the story of Abraham.

Abraham was called on a journey --- just like you and me.

Every human --- even though sometimes we are deaf to it --- has been called to travel beyond what we know.

To be a pilgrim is to travel in search of God.

Have you ever gone some place that you just knew you belonged?

The year was 1992
Nancy and I were given the opportunity to go to Israel for the first time.

When you landed at Lod (Tel Aviv) the airplane didn't pull up to a gate, instead they brought out stairs and you walked out onto the tarmac.

As soon as my feet hit the ground --- I knew I was home.
          I don't even know how to explain the feeling I had
                   It was like I was where I always belonged.

A little over a week later, when we boarded the plane to come home --- all I could think about was how I could get back. 

And since then I have returned almost every two years. 
          It has been 5 years ---- and I am itching to get back.

But when Nancy and I boarded the plane to go to Israel I was going as a tourist. 
I was anxious to see the sites that I had read about and take in all the history.
          When I left, to go home, I understood that I was had become a pilgrim.

The difference is significant.

One of the things that the Psalms has done is help me to understand why being a pilgrim is so important

Psalms 120 - 135 are all songs of pilgrimage.
          In your bible they are often given the label --- "Songs of Ascent"

The reason why they were called that is because pilgrims would sing these songs as they literally made their way up to Jerusalem

Of all of these Psalms --- in my mind --- Psalm 122 is the greatest of the songs of ascent

The Psalmist begins: (The Message)
When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,”
    my heart leaped for joy.
And now we’re here, O Jerusalem,
    inside Jerusalem’s walls!

I said that when I went to Israel for the first time I went as a tourist --- but left as a pilgrim --- what is the difference?

First, for tourists --- when they go on a trip (on a journey) they are taking time off from their busy hectic life and will return to the same busy, hectic life ---- hopefully --- refreshed but basically unchanged.

But when you travel as a pilgrim --- what you are seeking is an entirely new life --- a new way to look at the world --- a new beginning.
          Not just more of the same

Second, you build a different kind of relationship with people when go through life as a tourist verses going through life as a pilgrim.

When you are on a tour, the goal is to make the tour as pleasant as possible. 

In other words, you will engage your fellow tourists with safe conversation, never allowing yourself to go too deep that might result in making the trip unpleasant.

Unfortunately, that is how we often treat church.
          We do our best to avoid subjects that might be uncomfortable, or controversial
                   Immigration, poverty, gun violence --- need I go on?
                             (I pray we not stifle the young people of Parkland Fl)

But pilgrimage is different.

When we journey not for our own sake, but because we want to be transformed, we are willing to wrestling the hard, difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable subjects.

Third, one of the great things about being on a tour is somebody else takes care of your luggage.  You pay to have them do that for you.

When you are being a Christian as a tourist what the tourist puts in the offering plate is a fee for a service.
          the sermon
          the beautiful music
it is a brief vacation from the cares of life.

But a pilgrim sees things differently.

To be a pilgrim means that you joyfully consolidate your resources with other pilgrims.
Sharing the responsibility and the load.

Pilgrims offer their tithe (10% or more of their income) to God not as a tip or a tax.
          Not as a response to great music or sermons.
They offer their gifts because they understand that all of it already belongs to God.

Sure, the pilgrim is still the steward over the money --- but what has changed is our understanding of it.
Our understanding of money expands and not contracts.

If we give our money without participating in the ministries that spend the money --- then we are only tourists, and not truly pilgrims.

Fourth, tourists want to have a clear understanding of exactly where they are going and what they are getting.  Pilgrims trust that God will lead them.

Let me try to explain

When I get ready to take a tour, I do a great deal of research and shopping before I go.

I want the most value for my dollar.

So I pick a tour company that will give me, what I think is the best value.

I want to know, exactly what the itinerary is,
what we are going to see,
where we are going to stay.

And if something doesn't go just right --- I expect the tour company to make it right.

I bet you are all the same way . . .

But when you are a pilgrim, you put your trust in God.

Remember the Abraham story?

In the book of Hebrews, the 11th chapter, the author talks about having faith in things that we cannot see.

He uses the story of Abraham to illustrate his point and he says in verse 8: (NRSV)
Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

Please don't misunderstand me

I am not suggesting that when one is a pilgrim that they don't care about where they are going. 
That they should not create a budget or a plan

I am not saying that at all.

What I am saying is that when you are a pilgrim --- you are willing to adapt to whatever God throws at you.

A pilgrim plans for the journey, but a pilgrim is un-anxious about the future

The reason a pilgrim can be un-anxious is that a pilgrim knows that God will provide.

Remember how our understanding of our financial resources changes as we become a pilgrim?
Well, one of the ways that God provides is through the shared resources of the other pilgrims who are on the journey with you.

Finally, Tourists are more interested in taking pictures of the sights ---- Pilgrims are more interested in transformation.

For many Christians there are three primary photo ops in their life
          When they get their child baptized
          When they get their child confirmed
          When their child gets married

And you could throw in the photo ops of Christmas and Easter

I know that is kind of uncomfortable for me to say . . .

Christian tourists can even go to church regularly, and attend bible study --- but if they aren’t willing to become a disciple --- if they aren't willing to be transformed --- they have missed the point of the journey.

The point of the journey is to meet Jesus --- and to fall in love with him.

During this season of lent, I invite you to become a pilgrim.

          I invite you to seek God's face

To fall in love with Jesus, and to allow that love to change you.

I love this Psalm
I was glad when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

I was excited because, the Psalmist says, I was excited that I was invited to pilgrim to God.

But more than that --- this pilgrimage represents all that is good about God.

A place of shalom

I long to go back to Jerusalem --- to set my feet there again.
          Not to see the sights --- which the history geek in me enjoys . . .

          But to allow me to grow closer to Jesus

Sunday, January 28, 2018


Matthew 5:10-12   (NRSV)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Proverbs 31:8-9   (NRSV)
Speak out for those who cannot speak,
    for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

If we want to experience REVIVAL in our lives, in our church, in our community and world it requires that we begin to look at the world differently

We need to take off the cultural glasses that we wear and begin to see the world through the eyes of Jesus

For me, it requires a return to innocence

A letting go of trying to be in control of everything around me and putting my trust --- putting my faith --- in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Jesus and Peter and Paul.

We have talked these last few weeks of what that means.
          Our need to turn back to God
Revelation 2: 5a    (NRSV)
Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first
          Our need to seek holiness
1 Peter 1:16   (NRSV)
as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Our need to fully embrace the GIFT of grace which Matt will look at in detail next week
Ephesians 2:8   (NRSV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God
          And we need to live out what Wesley called "Works of Mercy"

John Wesley believed that as one journeys through the "means of grace":
          Prevenient Grace ---- Justifying Grace ---- Sanctifying Grace
the proof is found in how we choose to live, love and interact with the world.

Adam Hamilton writes in his book REVIVAL:
Too often, Christians have thought that the goal of faith is to be born anew and cultivate a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ."  Wesley considered this goal to be an essential part of the Christian life, but he also believed that focusing solely on one's personal relationship makes for an incomplete faith --- narcissism masquerading as Christian Spirituality.
Hamilton goes on and says:
As Christians, our salvation is FROM narcissism, indifference, sin and death, and it is FOR good works.

Wesley agreed with Paul who, in the passage that we will look at next week reminds us that we were made for good works.
Ephesians 2:8-10   (NRSV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Works and faith are inseparable

The key, however, for Wesley and Paul and for us --- is making sure we keep them in the proper order.

Works, doing good deeds, acts of mercy --- are always to be a response to faith ---- a response to the Grace that God has shared with us --- not a way of earning God's love.

Do you remember what Wesley said the goal of the Christian life was?
          SANCTIFICATION ---- being made perfect in Christian love
That for Wesley, and for us --- should be the goal of our Christian walk.

And do you remember what Sanctification looks like?
It is what I talked about last week
          Loving God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength
          Loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself

There was a second way that Wesley described sanctification, and that was through what we often call the Golden Rule. 

That second great summary of Jewish law that is found in Matthew's Gospel
Matthew 7:12   (NRSV)
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

For Wesley ---- the Golden Rule should be evident in our lives as we move toward sanctification.
          We should experience what Paul called the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians
Galatians 5:22-23   (NRSV)
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

But it should also manifest itself in "Works of Mercy"

Now if we were to go back and look at Roman Catholic theology we would find that there are 14 defined works of mercy
          Seven are what they call "corporal acts of mercy"
          Seven are spiritual works of mercy

Wesley spoke of all of these and other acts of mercy in which we INTENTIONALLY care for and assist others who are in need.

The corporal acts of mercy are drawn from Jesus parable of the Sheep and the Goats
Feed the hungry
provide drink for the thirsty
clothe the naked
care for the homeless
visit the sick
minister to the prisoners
bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of mercy are:
instructing the ignorant
counseling those who doubt
admonishing sinners
bearing wrongs patiently
forgiving others willingly
comforting the afflicted
praying for others

It is through these acts of mercy that God is working in and through our lives

Revival --- personal and communal --- is found in living out those acts of mercy.

One of the things that Wesley really challenged us on is to make sure that we truly love God with our WHOLE head, heart, soul, and strength

Wesley understood that most of us struggle with loving God with ALL OF OUR BEING
Most of us are usually pretty good at either loving God with our heart or our head, but loving with both seems to be a challenge.

Every week I come across news articles, surveys and polls that are showing that when our young people head off to college that more and more of them (than ever before) are turning away from organized religion.

I read those articles and frankly I am not too surprised.

Christianity like the rest of our country has become increasingly polarized

Fundamental Christianity has established a pretty clear --- TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT --- stance on many social issues.

And our young people are taking them up on the offer and leaving.

I am shocked by the things that people post and say on places like FaceBook and Twitter --- it seems often that we feel like loving God completely means it is OK to speak with venom against those whom we disagree.

And I see, and hear too many of the young people who have grown up in this church, and other churches throwing up their hands and saying: "I don't need it!"

But do you know what the craziest thing is . . .
          While they don't GO to church --- they are actually BEING the CHURCH

They are living out those acts of mercy
          They are filled with compassion and caring

They are engaged in serving others and trying to make a difference in the world --- trying to make the world a better place for EVERYBODY

We need to help them see that Jesus ---- Jesus is the reason to engage in acts of mercy

How are you doing at doing at loving God with your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength --- and at loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself?

When I left Ridge Church I went to work for TradeWinds – an organization that works with people who are physically or mentally challenged

One of the first events that I went to was a Bowling night

What made this event special was that the sponsors who come out to bowl would only bring three people for their team.
That is because we would add a consumer (one of the clients) to be the fourth member of each team

We called it a Fundraiser --- but that really wasn't what it was all about.

It was about you and me getting to meet and interact with some very special people

We served pizza and pop and gave out a few prizes.

But the night was all about new friends.

The morning of the bowling event Michael came to join the TradeWinds family --- he moved into one of the group homes.

When Keith came to TradeWinds would not communicate with anyone.
He still struggles to speak --- and he is very hard to understand
But the week before the event he was telling me about going bowling and the day after the event --- he told me about how much fun he had

But the highlight for me was Sara
Sara is one of those special people who is FILLED with joy
One of her nicknames is giggles --- because she loves to giggle
At one point during the evening she came up to me
threw her hands in the air and said
"This is the best day of my life"  and then as an afterthought she added "Up till now"
Because EVERY DAY --- Every moment is the best day of her life!

Let me ask you:
          Who was blessed that night?

The truth is --- when we forge those kinds of relationships --- when we live in service to others --- we BOTH are blessed!

I came across the most amazing story.
It was probably on someone's Facebook page --- and I often don't click on things that people have shared on their page --- but for whatever reason --- this time I did.

It was a story about two young wrestlers in Georgia --- and I wish I could show you the video, but we don’t have that capability.

Demetrius de Moor's father was killed in action in Iraq.

Demetrius is an up and coming Wrestler and he was busy preparing for the second most important wrestling tournament in Georgia each year.
The most important --- is of course the State Finals --- but the oldest running wrestling tournament in Georgia is the South Metro Tourney.

Michael Lind is also a wrestler --- he is a member of his High School wrestling team
          He loves the sport but has never participated in an actual meet.

Michael's coach went to Demetrius' coach to see if someone on their team would be willing to wrestle against Michael.
Demetrius volunteered.

Of course, what made the match interesting was Michael suffers from Down's syndrome

Demetrius could have creamed him, but instead he wrestled with him and he forced Michael to earn a hard fought victory.

It was the greatest day in Michael's life.
But maybe not surprisingly ---- also in Demetrius' life.

Because he learned the most important lesson --- it's not about winning or losing --- there are some things that are more important.

If you were to ask Demetrius who won that day --- he would tell you he did!

But what really shocked me was reading the comments people wrote about the video.
While 90% were amazed at what Demetrius did --- there were quite a few who took exception that he "let" Michael win.

Our heads know that it was crazy --- but when we temper our heads with our hearts --- when they are really working in tandem we know that what Demetrius did was an act of grace and mercy!
Demetrius didn't let Michael win
Michael let Demetrius win!

So, how about you?

How are you on the journey toward perfection?

If you haven't started, I invite you to take a moment RIGHT NOW and invite Jesus into your head and heart.
Ask Jesus to help you love him FULLY --- and to love your neighbor like you love yourself.

If you do that --- you are well on your way toward perfection!


I found out three hours before church that I would need to preach --- this is my "Sunday morning special".  Please excuse any typos or out of the ordinary bad grammar. :)

1 Peter 1:13-16   (NRSV)
Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

This morning I am continuing our journey through John Wesley's life by focusing on the concept of HOLINESS.

Holiness is one of those "funny" words ---
we all think we want it
          But we are not really sure what it is
          or how we get it

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines Holiness as: "the quality or state of being holy"

Wait a minute --- I was always taught by my teachers that you can't define a word by using a form of the word.

That was the definition for the noun "holiness" but it later goes on and describes the same word but as an adjective.
"emphasizing the doctrine of the second blessing; specifically :  of or relating to a perfectionist movement arising in United States Protestantism in the late 19th century"

Like most definitions of theological concepts, it doesn't help a lot but it points us in the right direction.

And they are wrong in ascribing the perfectionist movement as something that arose in the US in the late 19th Century

"Holiness" came to be a term found within the Methodist Movement to help describe Wesley's instance that we all must move toward perfection.  The only way we could do that is by living in a state of Holiness.

Are you all confused already?

Let's go back to the life of John Wesley and see how he began to live out this concept.

Obviously the roots of Holiness/perfection are found at the apron strings of his mother Susanna.  The lessons that she taught at home to her children were all rooted around being in a right relationship with God.

Do you remember the question I shared last week?  Susanna would ask each of her children every week when she met with them privately this powerful question.
          How is it with your soul?

If you ask me, that is the root of Wesley's understanding and expectation that all Christians be on the path to perfection or holiness.

But getting there required many winding roads along the way.

When John was ten years old, he left the safety and security of the parsonage in Epworth and traveled the 150 miles or so south to London and Charterhouse School.

It was there that he began his formal education.

As John reflected back on this experience, 25 years later in his journal --- an important habit that he developed --- we wrote about the experience.

As you read the entry --- you realize that John was a pretty typical kid of his day growing up.

But he says he became convinced that salvation was found in 3 things.
1.    Not being so bad as other people
2.    having still a kindness for religion
3.    reading the bible, going to church, and saying my prayers

After finishing at the Charterhouse --- John began his studies at the University.

At the age of 17, in 1720, John began his studies at Christ Church --- which is one of the most prestigious colleges that make up Oxford University.

And again --- according to his biographers --- John Wesley was a pretty typical college student --- he did the kinds of things that college students did in 1720.

Education was the opportunity for the upper class and the clergy in Wesley's day --- so his decision to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandparents really wasn't all that surprising.

So following graduation, John began studying for his master's degree but also began preparing for ordination.

At this point he seemed to want to become an academic --- and realized that ordination was important since most of the professors at Oxford were ordained.

This inward reflection that Wesley was going through as he prepared for his ordination seemed to lead him into a deeper spiritual quest.

Around this time he read Jeremy Taylor's book: The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living.  It seems to have had a profound impact on him.

Wesley was drawn to a passage from 1 Corinthians 10:31 that was highlighted in Taylor's book:
1 Corinthians 10:31   (NRSV)
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

Taylor laid out the concept that everything that we do --- should be an act of worship and prayer and is thus religious.

This concept cut Wesley deeply to the core.

He also began to realize that we as Christians often alter the ending of the Lord's Prayer without even being consciously aware of it.

That final phrase in the doxology of the prayer:
"For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory."

He began to believe that sin had caused many of us to pray it not that way --- but rather:
"Mine is the kingdom and the power and the glory."

I think a lot of us have that inner drive for affirmation --- praise --- recognition --- as I shared last week.

And it probably really is a good thing --- because it is one of those things that help motivate us to get things done --- the problem is when it becomes our PRIMARY MOTIVATION.

When that happens we have strayed from giving God the glory and instead are desiring the glory for ourselves.

Sometimes in our desire to be in the "holy" relationship with God we work harder, seek to do more --- thinking that will draw us closer to God.

That is certainly what John Wesley did.

In his early years following Oxford, Wesley became one of "those people" --- you know what I mean --- one of those people who think that they are getting it all right --- who think they know it all --- who think your relationship with God has to be a carbon copy of theirs.

And then it all crashed in around him.

In 1735, John Wesley made the fateful decision to come to America.

He arrived in Savannah at the British Colony of Georgia.

But it was the trip over that began the domino pieces falling that would transform Wesley's life and understanding of God.

Obviously, the passage over to America was by ship --- and John Wesley was terrified of the sea. 

It was a three month long journey and through-out the journey they were beset by terrible storms.
          John was convinced he would die
                   He began to question his faith

On January 25, 1736  (282 years ago this Thursday) John recorded in his journal what was the climax of the voyage and the terrible storms that they encountered.
the mainsail was in tatters, waves washed over the ship, and the water "poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up."  He observed that the English passengers were screaming in terror, as he was, but a group of German Moravians calmly sang a psalm. (Revival, Hamilton)

Wesley was never the same after that experience.

He began to focus inward on the inner assurance that can only come from God.  He realized that he had been focusing on outward assurance and it did not comfort.

Two years later, this experience came to full bloom when Wesley had what we today call his Aldersgate Experience. 

Despite the seeds that were planted in Wesley's heart --- his experience in America was nothing short of a disaster.

He struggled mightily with how to connect his desire for Holiness and how to convert others.
In many ways he missed the whole point of what he was trying to teach

What was still lacking in Wesley's life --- will be the subject in a couple of weeks --- GRACE.

But let me just say:
It is next to impossible to treat others with grace if you have yet to fully experience it.
And Wesley had yet to fully experience or embrace grace.

I find this period in Wesley's life one of the most fascinating, and I could talk about it for hours --- but sadly we cannot.

All of these experiences however, were the proving grounds as he struggled to understand what HOLINESS was all about.

If you really want to understand Wesley and his struggles you can read his sermon/treaties that is found on the web entitled: A Plain Account of Christian Perfection

In the midst of it Wesley wrote:
"I saw that giving even all my life to God . . . would profit me nothing, unless I gave my heart, yea, all my heart to him."

But in some ways, it is in a sermon that Wesley preached that he clearly articulates what it means to seek holiness in our relationship with God.

It was preached to the students and professors at St Mary's Church in Oxford.

Wesley seems to be challenging all of us not to be ALMOST CHRISTIANS --- but instead to become what he called an "Altogether Christian."

The style of this part of the sermon almost sounds like it could come from an African-American church of today with its rhetorical questions asked with great passion and in a rapid fire format.

This is how Wesley defined what if means to be fully Christian as he challenges us with these questions!

Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
Can you cry out, "My God, and my All"?
Do you desire nothing but him
Are you happy in God
Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing
And is this commandment written in your heart, "That he who loveth God love his brother also"
Do you then love your neighbour as yourself
Do you love every man, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own soul as Christ loved you
Yea, dost thou believe that Christ loved thee, and gave himself for thee
Hast thou faith in his blood, Believest thou the Lamb of God hath taken away thy sins, and cast them as a stone into the depth of the sea that he hath blotted out the handwriting that was against thee, taking it out of the way, nailing it to his cross
Hast thou indeed redemption through his blood, even the remission of thy sins
And doth his Spirit bear witness with thy spirit, that thou art a child of God

It was in the formation of small groups that Wesley believed that they questions can move off the paper and into our hearts and lives.

We need people to hold us accountable
We need people who will love us as we stumble
We need people who will encourage us to grow

That is all found in the small accountability groups that became so central to the Methodist movement and are still central today.

This movement toward holiness --- toward perfection is a lifelong quest.

It is moving religion from our heads and placing God in the center of our hearts and in all that we do.

As I putting this together, I came across a website that provided some interesting insight into perfection.

One of the author’s central agreements is that John Wesley really didn't create this idea of perfection.

And I would agree.

It certainly is found in the passage we looked at from 1 Corinthians, and also in 1 Peter
1 Peter 1:13-16   (NRSV)
Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

But that it really is found in that central tenant of our faith --- the Shema

Do you remember it? 

Or maybe, as I like to call it --- the Jesus Creed.
"Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength."  The second is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  There is no commandment greater than these.

Living "in Christ" has always been the goal of the Christian faith --- Wesley just helped us to find ways to do it.

If it is your goal --- to seek holiness or perfection --- let me suggest some questions you need to learn to ask yourself on a regular basis.

How does this action, word, thought affect my relationship with God?
How does this action, word, thought affect God’s ability to love others through me?
How am I fitting God into every aspect of my life for God’s sake?
Is God a major factor in everything I do, say, think, and feel?

Matt shared with you in his email Friday these same questions, but in a bit more modern language that would really be helpful for us to ask ourselves.
Did the Bible live in me today?
Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
Am I enjoying prayer?
When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
Is Christ real to me?

These really are great reflection questions for us to ask ourselves daily, weekly, or monthly.

As followers of Jesus, our goal must be to strive for holiness.

It is not always easy to answer those questions in the affirmative, but we (as the church) are striving to help you along your journey.

During the season of Lent (that starts in just a few weeks) we are going to look at the Psalms both on Sunday mornings and in small groups (on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings) and inviting you to use the Psalms to help you grow in your walk with Jesus.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Changing The World (According To John Wesley)

Revelation 2:1a, 2a, 4-5a    (NRSV)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: . . . “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. . . . But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

Despite what some of you heard --- last Sundays sermon was not about self-loathing

I am not a bad person
          Nor am I a perfect person

I am a flawed child of God

And just like you, God has great plans for me.

HOWEVER, --- unless we recognize and combat the demons in our lives --- we will never be able to change the world ---- let alone ourselves.

I have demons to combat --- and God is helping me to defeat them so that I can do those things that God has called me to do. ---- that is all that I was saying . . .

Did you listen to the scripture that was read this morning?

Listen again to these challenging words:
Revelation 2:1a, 2a, 4-5a    (NRSV)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: . . . “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. . . . But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

The Christian Church today is suffering from exactly what the author of the Book of Revelation was writing about.

Dr. Martin Luther King may have summed up this passage best when he said:
Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.

"The church" has lost sight of its mission
          It has become --- like the old Pink Floyd song --- "Comfortably Numb"

"The church" has lost its spiritual center --- because it has gotten too busy majoring on unimportant things.

My life has often gone through ebbs and flows of spiritual vitality.
I have experienced periods that the 16th century Spanish mystic, St John of the Cross called: "The Dark Night of the Soul"

When that happens --- I find myself with a couple of choices
·         do nothing and try to wait it out
·         enjoy the wandering in the wilderness
·         throw myself into spiritual practices to try and fill the void

What I have found is when I am in that place I too, am often majoring on the things that aren't truly important

Staying focused is not always easy for me
          It is too easy to get distracted by things that just don't matter

When I get distracted I find two things that really help to bring me back

First, finding a devotional type of book for me

I don’t know if you realize it, but virtually every book I read, I read with an eye toward one of two things
          Can this make a good small group study book?

          How can I use this for preaching?

I really don't read just to read
          Although my son in law (wow not sure I have ever called Sam that before) gave me Ron Chernow's new book on Grant for Christmas and I am about half way through it.

Second, getting back to a habit that I do off and on --- and that is journaling

I picked up Anne Lamott's book GRACE EVENTUALLY, a book, that had been gathering dust beside my bed and have been reading one chapter every day and then journaling about what is going on in my life and how the spirit is nudging me through these devotions.

It has been amazing --- and it is part of the reason that you are stuck with all this self-reflection by me.

I was sharing this with a clergy friend of mine and he said to me:
"It's hard to grow ourselves spiritually when we are so busy trying to find things for others spiritual growth and neglecting our own."

And he is so right!

John Wesley is the spiritual founder of the Methodist movement.

He was born in 1703 in Epworth, England about 150 miles north of London.

He was the 15th child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley

Samuel Wesley was a graduate of the University of Oxford, and since 1696, had been parish priest of Epworth.

He had married Susanna, the twenty-fifth child of Samuel Annesley, a Dissenting minister, in 1689.

Samuel and Suzanna had nineteen children, of which nine lived beyond infancy.

When John was a child of 5, on February 9, 1709, the parsonage at Epworth burned --- some suggest that angry members of the church may have started the fire --- regardless of how it started --- young John was left sleeping in his bed on the second floor while the rest of the children were all ushered to safety.

With the stairs burning, and the roof about to collapse, John was plucked from a second story window by two men, one standing on top of the other.

Later, Susanna would describe the experience saying that John was "a brand plucked from the burning." (quoting Zachariah 3:2)

That experience, was one that shaped the rest of his life.

England in the 18th century was not all that different than today.

England was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, and the middle class was shrinking --- the rich were getting richer --- while the poor were growing in larger and larger numbers --- and getting poorer and poorer.

Religion seemed to be losing influence on the culture.

The protestant revolution, which began with Martin Luther nailing his 95 thesis (attacks against Roman Catholicism) on the door to the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany --- had been raging for 200 years.

People were forced to choose who they would be loyal to: The Pope or Luther and his Protestants.

But in England the situation was even a little more interesting, and confusing.

If you know your history, you remember a man named Henry VIII ---- Henry, like all kings, needed a male heir.  But his wife kept producing girls or still born children. 

Eventually Henry would divorce his wife and begin a long string of failed marriages that always seemed to end with a dead wife.

England then suffered through Bloody Mary and the Elizabethan age.
A period of religious persecution --- that could get you dead if you belonged to the wrong group.

Because of this 200 year period of religious turmoil --- many people had grown weary of religion and the Church.

The age of enlightenment brought scientific reason and skepticism toward religion and all things supernatural.

It was into this world that John Wesley was born.

John's father Samuel was pastor of St Andrews Church in Epworth for almost 40 years. 

But as was typical in that day, John and his siblings were taught by their mother. 
          What was unusual was that she insisted that the girls too learn to read, and write. 

Education was very important in the Wesley home.

Susanna's influence on John cannot be underestimated.

She instilled in him many of the values that would come to dominate his ministry the rest of his life.

One of the things that Susanna did with each of her children was spend an hour with each one of them --- she asked them about their faith --- their fears --- their hopes and dreams --- she asked about the state of their souls.

This practice becomes the genesis of Wesley's small groups in which each participant shared with each other and held one another accountable.
They asked each other:  "How is your soul?"

John also was given another gift from his parents --- and that was how to preserve in the midst of conflict.

It was not an easy time to be religious in England --- people were deeply divided. 
Much like today people seemed to be separated into two camps
While they weren't
          Red and Blue
          Fundamentalist or progressives
          Liberals or conservatives
But they were divided
Tories and Whigs
conformers and dissenters
Anglicans and puritans

And that division, as we all know --- drains us of our spiritual vitality
          Sometimes we just want to throw up our hands and give up

But Wesley --- because of his upbringing --- found a different way.

Wesley once wrote:
Would to God that all the party names and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world were forgot; and that we might all agree to sit down together as humble, loving disciples, at the feet of our common Master, to hear his word, to imbibe his Spirit, and to transcribe his life in our own.

In a sermon he once said:
Though we can't think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.

Wesley offered us another way --- one in which we listen to each other --- focusing not on where we disagree --- but instead identifying our common ground.

He showed us how to build bridges and not walls.

We learn to assume the best of each other --- and not the worst!

We give people the benefit of the doubt.

We listen more and talk less.

Adam Hamilton in his book Revival writes:
We have forgotten how to listen, as individuals, as churches, and as a nation.  Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, progressives and fundamentalists find it easy to demonize others.  The mark of those early Methodists, and a key element of personal and corporate revival in the twenty-first century, is a willingness to see the good in others, hold our positions with humility, and treat others with respect.  It is a willingness to make our hearts pliable in God's hands.  It is a willingness to follow the highest calling of Christians, which is both a prerequisite and the goal of revival: love.

John Wesley's life was never easy.

But if there was one hallmark of it --- it was that he never gave up!

Even when things seemed to be crashing around him.

As his family reflected on the fire in the parsonage at Epworth --- they came to see God's hand in it.  They believed that God had spared John for a special purpose.

I, like every other pastor, have sometimes received difficult letters from parishioners.  Sometimes they have been sent to me, other times I have been copied because they were sent to the bishop.

And while I have gotten frustrated at times, and wanted to throw in the towel --- you have never set my house on fire, like they did to John's house

John never gave up.

Even when he failed --- and he often did --- he preserved.

If we want revival in our lives.
If we want revival in our church.
If we want revival in our nation ----
It must start with you

Without a humble spirit --- one willing to see growth opportunities --- we will never have the opportunity to change the world.

John Wesley changed the world --- we are products of his vision.

Let us not:
abandon the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

Transforming Meridian Street

Ephesians 3:1-12   (NRSV)
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

For the most of my ministry, every January I have spent a couple of weeks looking at the mission and vision of the church and doing my best to remind you of it and of its importance.

In case you have forgotten ----

Meridian Street exists for only one reason: TO MAKE DISCIPLE FOR JESUS CHRIST.

And we have defined that universal mission of the church by saying: Through Christ we seek to grow in faith as we serve, love and share God's unexpected grace

We make disciple with the goal of transforming the world with the love of Jesus.

That is our sole purpose.

The question that every church struggles with --- certainly that we struggle with --- is
          how do we do that
          and what does it look like

10 years ago or so, the leadership of Meridian Street wrestled with that question and over the last few years was able to clarify by vision with the statement:

We desire to be "Communities thriving and growing in the fruit of the Spirit".

The problem, really has been, we have often looked to prescriptions to try and do those things ---- become representatives of the fruit of the spirit, (in case you have forgotten what those fruit are: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), rather than go back to the beginning.

And the beginning starts with ME --- it starts with you

Being transformed ourselves into Disciples of Jesus Christ --- before we head out to save the world

I know it is risky for me to say this --- but I guess I have to trust you --- part of my journey is trying to be honest with myself --- and that means being honest with you . . .

But during the winter of 2014 I had a breakdown
          Call it what you will ---

It cut me to the core --- and for a time --- I did really good

But those demons have a strong hold on me

I believe I preached my most honest sermon that I have ever preached on February 15th, 2014. (not that I remember that date!)

But even in it --- I was careful not to be too honest

You of course didn't get to hear it --- but it is on my blog site --- if you want to go back and read it

As I was working on my sermon for today --- it really hit me
          It was a LIE
Not because what I preached wasn't true
It is probably one of the most truthful sermons I have ever preached

It was a lie because I failed to live it
I was that most horrible of persons who preaches:
          Do what I say
          Not what I do

And I have had to ask myself --- over and over again --- why didn't I practice what I preached? 

Why did I give in to temptation and make other things more important than the truly important things.

I have wrestled many sleepless nights over this:
And I have come to the conclusion that I had been telling myself a lie

It is a lie that many of us, unfortunately, live by

One that is so extremely dangerous, because we don't even know that we believe it
          It least not consciously

And the lie that I kept telling myself was:
          I can't change

I didn't believe that I could actually change --- and if I didn't believe I could change --- there was no reason to even try!
          And so I didn't

The demons inside continued to whisper to me --- “you can't”
          And I BELIEVED IT

And believing that was a LIE

What I am starting to realize is that every healthy thing that God creates changes

Nothing that is truly alive stays stagnant

If it doesn't change --- it is dead (or at least dying)

And I was (am?) dying

I love to quote John Maxwell --- I have shared this with you before
          Change is inevitable
          Growth is optional

Instead of changing forward --- instead of growing --- instead of becoming the man God wants me to be --- I gave in to my demons and started dying

And the saddest part about it all
          God gave me many warning signs that I often ignored
·         I was hospitalization that year with severe case of of vertigo
·         My need to go back on the sleep apnea machine (which Nancy has been telling me over and over)  And that I will do for a week or two and then stop . . .

My body calls out to me and too often I refuse to listen

I closed my ears and let the demons fill my head and soil my heart

I created a soundtrack to blot out the opportunities to grow healthy and instead chose to die slowly

So what does one do?

My first step in healthy transformation is REALIZING THAT I CAN GROW

I can change --- I can change
(it is a mantra that I must repeat)

In the greater scheme of things --- coming to that realization may be the easiest step of all --- but without it --- nothing will change

I must believe --- that I CAN CHANGE

The really hard part is looking inside and asking yourself the really tough questions --- the questions we all want to avoid
          WHY --- Why do I refuse to change?

And the answer for me came in the most unlikely spot

As Nancy and I were preparing to go to New Zealand a few years ago we re-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  YES, it is long!!!!  But well worth the effort.

In watching the videos, I realized something about me --- this is hard for me to confess . . .

I am very driven by other people's approval of me.

I crave it

What I mean by that is that if somebody doesn't think I am doing a good job, or challenges my motives --- or even quite simply just doesn't like me
          I take it personally
                   (I don’t image any of you have that problem)

I do my best not to let you know that I take it personally --- to let anybody know --- but I do --- it eats me up inside.

And it is crazy some of the ways that it manifests itself.
·         those of you who haven't turned in your pledge cards --- yep, I take it personally
So lots of times I try to not know who that is, so I won't be hurt
·         When somebody quits the church --- even though I KNOW it’s not about me --- I take it personally

Crazy --- I know --- but that doesn't mean it's not real

When this happens, I become hurt, and angry and defensive

I don't like to admit that people affect me that way

But they do

Unfortunately, other people's opinions seem to matter a great deal to me (even if I pretend otherwise . . .)

I let them tell me who I am
          It's crazy --- I know
          But true

Don Miller on his blog wrote:
As I’ve grown older and read more and more about psychology, I’ve realized that, in part, this is by design. We really do shape our opinions about ourselves, in large part, through the opinions of others. It’s as though we wear certain clothes and act a certain way and try to succeed at things so other people will tell us we are good or valuable. And when they do, we feel a little better about ourselves and when they don’t, we start thinking we are losers

I am kind of slow
          I have to say things over and over to myself to get them to sink in

This past fall I had the opportunity to hear Bob Goff.

The more I read his stuff --- the more I wish I could be like him

He is a lover!
          A faithful lover!
He has extraordinary passion --- extraordinary love

Gosh, I wish I could have it . . .

But one thing that he constantly says is:
Don't let the past define you

Don't let others tell you who you are

I have told you that many times --- but I haven't believed it myself!

I have let my past
          my fears
          my insecurities
                   control me

They are demons who rejoice in me making the same mistakes over and over again.

I have to learn to listen to the RIGHT PEOPLE
And, maybe most importantly, I have to remember why I was created
·         to love Jesus
·         to love Nancy
·         to be faithful to Nancy, Jessica, Lindsey and Haley

When I do those things --- the rest is pretty easy

But it all starts with ME

I have been seeking the love and adoration of YOU
          And you have loved me more than I deserve

But when I have failed you --- and I have failed all of you somewhere along the way --- your hurt at my failure becomes magnified in my life in a crazy sort of way.

I have made the mistake in believing that your love --- that, other's love is what I need in my life to validate my worth.
          So when I disappoint or let someone down --- I feel like a looser

And because I have been chasing approval from others --- I have failed to do the most important thing --- I have failed to love myself!

I have to learn --- we all have to learn --- how to really love ourselves!

Because, if we want to make a difference in the world we must first change ourselves!

Over the next few weeks we are going to look at how John Wesley transformed the world by changing himself.

If you haven't read Adam Hamilton's book REVIVAL --- which is all about Wesley and the transformation that took place in his life (and in the world) --- I encourage you to do so.

Paul in our text this morning reminds us that we have all be called

Called to change the world with the love of Jesus
          It starts with ME
          It starts with you.