Monday, September 30, 2013



1 Timothy 6:17-18   (The Message)
Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous.

This morning we are continuing the journey we began four weeks ago.

We have decided to follow the fork in the road that Jesus is leading us on.

It's not an easy path --- but we know that is the way that leads to life that really is life!

We are using as our guide for this journey the promises that we make as members of the United Methodist Church.

If we practice the disciplines necessary to fulfill these promises --- we will be well on our way on the path of Discipleship

We began by talking about our prayer life --- our relationship with God

Last week we continued by focusing on our need to participate in worship and in a small group

Today we will look at the third promise we make --- which is to support our church through our gifts.

A while back some friends and I were sharing ideas about sermons when we talk about giving.

One of the pastors said that as he began preaching on the topic of giving a husband turned to his wife and said loud enough for most people to hear:
          "Please, Make the bad man stop!"

I kind of doubt that it is a historical story
          But I know that it is true!

We don't like talking about our money.

But do you remember what I said about the offering last week?
          The purpose of the offering is not to raise money for the church.
                   The giving of our gifts is symbolic of giving ourselves.

Each week, as we have talked about these disciplines, I have been referring back to John Wesley and the early Methodist movement.

Wesley's goal was to make every waking moment of our lives centered in the love of God.

By following the roadmap that Wesley set out for us ---- we are able to live our lives in a way in which everything that we say and do is organized around loving God and loving others.

And that includes what we do with our money.

One of the surprising results of the methodical way of life that Wesley taught was that through cleaner living, being better educated and living more disciplined lives ---- the early Methodists grew in wealth.

Wesley preached a number of sermons to try and head off potential problems that might develop with this new found wealth.

He preached sermons titled:
·         "The Use of Money"
·         "On the Danger of Riches"
·         "On the Danger of Increasing Riches"

The purpose of these sermons was not to raise money for the Methodist Movement

His motivation was his desire to lead the Methodist people into more Christ-Centered lives.

It wasn't their money he was after --- it was their hearts and souls.

When Wesley preached on money his sermons were rooted in the conviction that we cannot be faithful disciples of Jesus unless we learn to manage --- what Wesley called the "excellent gift" of money and to use it wisely "to the greatest advantage."

In Wesley's sermon --- "The Use of Money" --- he laid out three rather simple rules
·         Gain all you can
·         Save all you can
·         Give all you can

I obviously don't have a lot of time to dig into this (but we will spend more time on it on Wednesday evening)

Let's look at each of these concepts:


Pretty self explanatory, but Wesley suggested some guidelines to make sure we didn't pay too high a price for our wealth.
·         Gain all you can without hurting your health
Don't work yourself to death

·         Gain all you can without hurting your mind
Don't cheat, lie or engage in behavior that is not consistent with a good conscience

·         Gain all you can without hurting your neighbor
Loving other as we love ourselves requires that we consider the way our economic practices will impact others

This is the exact opposite advice that Daddy Warbucks offered to Annie
He told her that you don't have to be nice to the people that you pass on the way up --- as long as you don't intend to go back down!


This is not about building huge bank accounts.

Wesley was calling the people called Methodist to live a frugal lifestyle.

Wesley called on his people not to waste their money on silly, overly expensive or needless items.

He called them to a simple lifestyle.

He was challenging us to discover the contentment that Paul described to the Philippians

Philippians 4:11-13   (NRSV)
Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


Wesley wanted us to gain all that we could and save all that we could so that we might give it away!

But this is more than just writing a check to a charity.  For Wesley, the purpose of the discipline of generosity is for our lives to be shaped into the likeness of the extravagant generosity of God. 
          A life of Loving God and Loving Others

Jesus describes for us what a life of loving God and loving others looks like in Matthew's Gospel.

Matthew 6:25-33   (NRSV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

If we were to live that way --- How would our lives be different?

James Harnish offers six rules when it comes to the spiritual discipline of Generosity.

·         Generosity begins with God

This is kind of a no brainer

Our generosity can never compete with God's

God is the absolute expression of extravagant, self-giving generosity

We are generous to others ---- because God has been extravagantly generous to us

·         Generosity is essential

We cannot be a disciple of Jesus and not be generous --- it just isn’t possible

Our use of money will undergo a fundamental transformation when we stop asking how much of our wealth we will give to God and instead start asking how much of God's wealth we will keep for ourselves.

Generosity is the only antidote to greed

·         Generosity is intentional

Generosity doesn't just happen

We don't just wake up one morning and become generous --- it is something we have to work at

·         Generosity grows with practice

It is a learned behavior that runs counter to everything that our culture teaches.

We live in a world that says grab for all you can

God says share all you can

·         Generosity is joyful

One of the things I have observed is that generous people are some of the most joyful people I have ever met.

When we give all that we can --- we experience the joy of knowing that our generosity is blessing not only our lives --- but also the lives of others

When I am generous --- I am making an active contribution to the building of God's kingdom.

·         Generosity results in blessing.

I wish that I could promise you that if you tithe you will get wealthy. (I will leave that to other churches)

What I can promise you is that if you develop the spiritual gift of generosity --- YOU WILL BE BLESSED and your life will be a blessing to others.

Proverbs 11:24-25  (The Message)
The world of the generous gets larger and larger;
    the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.
The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
    those who help others are helped.

A well lived life is one that is filled with generosity as our scripture passage today reminds us.

1 Timothy 6:17-19  (The Message)
Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.

May we all learn to get our wealth and possessions in line with loving God and loving others.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A DISCIPLES PATH: The Joy of True Worship

September 22
A DISCIPLES PATH:  The Joy of True Worship

Psalm 100    (NRSV)
A Psalm of thanksgiving.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

As much as we sometimes believe it, the truth is NO ONE can be a FOLLOWER of JESUS all by THEMSELVES.

There is no such thing as a solitary Christian or Disciple of Jesus.

Christianity --- being a follower or Disciple of Jesus is ALWAYS lived out in community.

No matter how hard we try --- we cannot be spiritual or religious without the presence of other people in our lives.

We need each other --- for:
          and accountability

I think E Stanley Jones was right when he said:
"everyone who belongs to Christ, belongs to everyone who belongs to Christ"

While reading McLaren's Book, EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE, (that I preached on last year) --- he shared the African concept of ubuntu.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu defined ubuntu as meaning:
"My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. . . . A person is a person through other persons."
Our humanity is found in our connections with other people!
          I am who I am because you are who you are

This is the whole example of Jesus --- his life was lived in community
·         He calls 12 very ordinary men to be his first Disciples
·         He promises that whenever two or three gather he would be among us
·         As he and his disciples shared a last meal together Jesus even seemed to raise Christian friendship to a sacramental level when he said:

John 15:15   (NRSV)
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

And when Paul told the Disciples in Corinth:
1 Corinthians 12:27   
Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.

Or as the author of Hebrews reminds us of the need for community
Hebrews 10:23-25   (NRSV)
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

You understand that there is a problem with this idea?
          This goes totally counter to everything in our culture.

We live by a "do it yourself" --- "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mentality

But that is not the message of the Gospel

One of my favorite passages of Scripture ---- one that I often use at weddings because the image of community is so powerful is found in the book of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12   (NRSV)
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

When John Wesley began, what became known as the Methodist Movement, one of the things that he did very early was to organize people into small groups.  The purpose of these groups was to do all those things that the author of Hebrews talked about.
provoke one another to love and good deeds, . . . encouraging one another

One of the things that Wesley observed was that those who were active participants in these small groups continued to grow in their faith while those who were not involved often would fall away.

The same seems true today.

If somebody's only contact with the church is worship, there is a pretty good change that that person will fall away --- or even sadder, miss out on the care and concern of the church community.

Growth as a disciple happens best when each individual is connected to others in the community through a small group

And there are a bunch of opportunities for you to connect --- if you so choose.

But the place that I want focus, or start this morning is the entry point for most people when they decide that they want to inquire about what it means to follow Jesus --- and that is worship.

Mike Slaughter, pastor of one of the larger UM Churches made this true but sarcastic comment on his twitter page:
          "Curious crowds don't equal committed disciples"

What makes a committed Disciple is one that participates not only in worship, but seeks opportunities to further their spiritual growth.

I have people tell me all the time that they are spiritual, but don't have any use for the church.

As I have already shared --- I think they are missing the most important part of the church --- supporting and encouraging each other.

But more than just that --- worship isn't a solitary experience.

I have had some profound experiences of the divine while watching the sun rise and set ---- particularly over the ocean.
          That experience just opens me up to God

And I have even had those experiences by myself --- but something is missing when I cannot share them with others.

A few weeks back I made a round trip to Bloomington. 

As I was nearing the wind farm along I65 the sun was just setting. 
It was so beautiful, I had to stop and take a picture.
But I also had to share it --- so I took a few minutes and posted it online, but also sent it to Nancy and the girls

I don't believe we can experience the fullness of Christian worship by ourselves.

It is in coming together --- sharing our common journey ---- that we experience the power of God.

But one of the main reasons we gather together to worship is to be able to proclaim the Word together.

We are the people of the BOOK --- we have a story to tell.

When we come together to worship, we come together to tell the story.

And we do this through a variety of means

We tell the story of what God has done and is doing through Jesus and us!

We tell the story that shapes us as disciples of Jesus.

We tell the story to invite others to join us on the journey.

Regardless of HOW we tell the story ---- We tell the story to help us find our place within the story so that God's story becomes our story!

But the story is just empty words if we don't do anything with it.

Once we receive the story, we are called to respond to it!

You have probably heard the story before about the guy who was always falling asleep in church.
One Sunday the pastor wanted to try and teach him a lesson, so when the man was asleep he said rather quietly to the congregation:
"Everybody who wants to go to heaven, raise your hand."
Everybody quietly raised their hands --- except for the one guy who was sound asleep.  Then the Pastor said:
"Everybody who wants to go to hell, STAND UP!"
The man, startled, jumped up, looked around, and said:
"Preacher, I'm not sure what we are voting on, but it looks like we are the only two in favor of it."

That's not the kind of response that I am talking about.

We are invited to respond to God's word in a number of ways.

One of the ways that we are invited to respond is in thanksgiving to God for all that God has done in our lives and for our commitment to Jesus.

And that brings us to the offering.

Wesley said that the offering should be after the Proclamation of the Word --- as a response to the Word.

Now, we do it earlier in the service, but regardless, where it is placed in the order of worship  --- The purpose of the offering is not to raise money for the church.

The giving of our gifts is symbolic of giving ourselves.

It is the act of worship in which we say thanks to God for all that God has done in Jesus and in which we once again affirm our commitment to Jesus by pledging our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness.

We are called to respond to God's love --- to God's story.

Worship, then concludes with what we call the Benediction --- it is a final blessing, but it really is a sending forth.

Having heard God's story we are called to take that story of love out into the world and share it.

Worship is sort of like the locker room of a sports team.
          We gather together to get fired up on the love of God in Jesus.
          We are sent out of the worship service to share that powerful love!

Can one be a Christian and not participate in worship
          Not really

Worship matters

It matters because it is one of the disciplines that helps shape us into the likeness of Jesus.

It matters because our presence may be the very thing that God uses to strengthen, encourage, challenge and bless one of our brothers or sisters.

It matters because it prepares us to go out into the world to share God's unconditional love and God uses us to help transform the world.

So make a joyful noise to the Lord and worship God with gladness. 

Because God's steadfast love --- endures forever!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A DISCIPLES PATH: The Key to Relationship with God: PRAYER!

September 15
The Key to Relationship with God: PRAYER!

Matthew 6:5-15    (NRSV)
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Do you struggle with prayer?

Does prayer seem like an exercise that you just don't seem to have the tools or skill to do?

I want to state this very emphatically!
·         Prayer is not some mysterious practice reserved only for clergy and the religiously devout.
·         Prayer is simply communicating with God.
·         Listening and engaging God --- just as you would a friend or partner

But for whatever reason ---- we have convinced ourselves that prayer is hard and is something that should be reserved for only trained people.
·         I have a friend who often has had to pray at community meetings and he once asked me to write him a prayer (that he keeps in his wallet to this day) that he can pull out for those occasions
·         I once had my doctor call me and ask me if I would write a prayer for her mother's birthday party
·         Nancy had a teacher once ask her to ask me to write a prayer for a special occasion

And while we all snicker a little under our breathe --- most of us are terrified of being asked to pray (especially in public)

But why?

What is it about prayer that is so difficult for us?

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we have convinced ourselves that we don't have the right words, or know the right formulas to be able to pray.
So instead of learning --- or just trying --- we don't practice prayer

I have shared this statistic with you before, but I think it illustrates well the challenge we face.

About four years ago, two Harvard researchers published their finding about peoples wiliness to change in a fascinating book called Immunity to Change.

One of the more startling statistics they published was that only one is seven cardiac patients actually make the lifestyle changes that could potentially save their lives.

We are talking about things like
  • ·         stop smoking
  • ·         lose weight
  • ·         eating right
  • ·         getting exercise


As I read that statistic it makes me depressed --- and wonder if I am just banging my head against the wall.

If only one in seven cardiology patients,
People who are faced with life and death choices are willing to make the changes in their lives with the potential outcome of making their life longer and healthier ---- what are the odds that I am able to convince any of you to do the things necessary to become a DISCIPLE of Jesus?

We are called by Jesus to live transformed lives.
          Lives that are no longer centered on us
A life that is no longer conformed to the assumptions and values of the world around us --- but a life that is transformed by Jesus. 

Not just external changes in our outward behavior ---- but radical pervasive change that goes all the way to the heart

Listen to what Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
Romans 12:2  (The Message)
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

What did Jesus teach us that being a Disciple of his is all about?
          LOVING GOD and LOVING OTHERS.   Period!
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, 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

John Wesley defined "true religion" as:
          "A heart right toward God and man."
He taught that:
"It does not consist . . . in any outward thing whatever, in anything exterior to the heart."

In other words, we can be orthodox in our beliefs, and even correct in our behavior, but we might be (as he put it) "a stranger  . . . to the religion of the heart."

As has been said by many a United Methodist before me: the heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart.

Being a disciple of Jesus requires a change in our belief AND action that ultimately results in a transformation of our hearts.

When I am talking about change ---- I am not talking about just giving God lip service or attending worship or a class on spiritual disciplines.

I am talking about committing to the important actions that will change your behavior for the long run.

But according to Kegan and Lahey, the two Harvard researchers, "Adaptive change requires a shift in mindset, not just behavior."

They have used their discoveries to develop a process that helps us overcome ingrained obstacles and successfully make what’s known in psychological circles as “adaptive change.”

Kegan and Lahey see our resistance to change as an immune system of sorts, and they note that our “immunity to change” has a positive purpose — namely, to protect us from the psychological trauma and danger that sudden changes can bring.

Unfortunately, this same system that’s meant to keep us wary of negative and disruptive changes can also inadvertently dissuade us from making significant positive changes in our lives.

Even the mere prospect of change can be enough to trigger our inborn defense mechanisms, causing us to sabotage our best efforts almost before we’ve begun.

Because our immunity to change is so often rooted in unexamined beliefs they have found that shifting our behaviors typically requires first instilling a more conscious and constructive set of beliefs.

The foundation of their methodology for this work is a four-column “immunity map”, which can guide us through a process of self-examination, thereby helping us identify and adjust assumptions that may be holding us back.

I don't have time to go through the "immunity map" ---- but it is available in the entryway if you want a copy.

And the first area that I would encourage you to look at or the first goal to accomplish is to develop a better and more intentional prayer life.

When we join the church --- the first vow that we take --- the first practice that we commit to doing --- is prayer.

At virtually every meeting I attend --- from Staff Parish and Finance meetings here at the church, to Chamber of Commerce and Rotary meetings, there is at least an opening prayer --- if not a closing prayer.

We say we believe in prayer --- but the question is --- do we really believe prayer makes any real difference.

Because at so many of these meetings that I have been at that have opened with prayer --- it seems like nothing has happened that gives any indication that we really believed that the prayer made any difference.

There is a great story that has gone around for years about a congregation of teetotaling Christians who prayed for years that the lord would do something about the bar that was across the street.

One night the bar was hit by lightening and burned to the ground.

The bar owner promptly sued the church arguing that the prayers were responsible for the fire.
          The church of course contested the lawsuit.

The judge, upon hearing the case said:
"I'm not sure how I'll rule on this case, but one thing is clear.  The bar owner believes in prayer, and the church people don't."

So what is prayer?

What is the purpose of prayer?


CS Lewis put it best when he said:  "Prayer doesn't change God --- Prayer changes me"

Take a look at the quote on the front of the bulletin, Rabbi David J. Wolpe shares this story:
If you watch a man out on a boat grab a rope and pull his boat to shore you might think, if you were confused about weight and motion, that he was really pulling the shore to his boat. People have much the same confusion about spiritual weight and motion: In prayer, some believe that you are pulling God closer to you. But in fact the heartfelt prayer pulls you closer to God.

I have prayed in fear and in joy, in crisis and in calm. Each time I understood that what I was asking for was not the object of my prayer. My prayer that I would be healed was a prayer, stripped of all its topmost layers, to be assured that whatever happened would be all right. Every prayer in this way is a prayer for peace; it is peace in the world and in one's soul, the certainty that the pain is not empty, the world not a void, the soul is not alone.

Prayer is not some process in which we try to get what we want from God --- Prayer is about the relationship we have with God in which God gets what God wants in and through us.

John Wesley expressed this same idea in his Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

As followers of Jesus --- our goal --- as we talked about Wednesday night --- is to move from strangers or acquaintances with God to intimate friends.

C. S Lewis once said:
"True friends . . . face in the same direction, toward common projects, interests, goals."

We do that through prayer --- and one of the best ways to do this is by following the example Jesus gave in the "Lord's Prayer" but that can be expressed as a rather simple acronym ---- ACTS
·         Adoration
·         Confession
·         Thanksgiving
·         Supplication

Let's spend a few minutes talking about this, but we will spend much more time on this Wednesday evening.


Prayer should begin not with who we are or what we want from God ---- but rather with who God is, and ultimately what God wants for us.

Adoration reminds us of the very character of the God whom we want to be intimate friends with.

Read the Psalms and they are filled with this as their starting point to prayer.

This is where Jesus tells us to begin in that model prayer we call the Lord's Prayer.
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."

Think of one of the first prayers we learned as children and then passed on to our children:
          "God is great; God is good"

Adoration is important because it sets the table by reminding us of the nature of the God to whom we pray and what that relationship to God should look like.


Confession is the way we face the hard realities about who we are and where we are on our Discipleship journey.

Confession is when we name the stuff that clutters our souls and gets in the way of that intimate relationship with God that we are seeking.

It is the way we acknowledge that we are not as perfect as we like to pretend.
          Not as good as we would like
          not as loving as we ought to be

Anybody who has been involved in AA know that this is call it a "searching and fearless inventory."

Unless we are willing to honestly confess --- our relationship to God gets stuck behind the wall of our own making.

Confession is the act of tearing down the wall and letting God help us grow through Grace and Forgiveness.


This is where we count our blessings, thanking and praising God for all God has given us and done for us in our lives.

Paul tells us in Ephesians to:
Ephesians 5:18-20    (NRSV)
be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Try it sometime!

Instead of listing all the anxieties
          all the burdens
          all the frustrations
          and all the failures in your life
Try instead to begin with the words: "Thank you Lord for . . ." and just fill in the blank.

We have so much to be thankful for.

And at times when we are surrounded with cynicism, fear, anger, and just plain nastiness --- praying to God and giving thanks can re-center us and give us a new and more joyful perspective on life.


A better word for supplication might be INTERCESSION.

But remember, Intercession is more than just lifting up a shopping list of prayer requests to God and asking God to fix them.
          Prayer isn't about changing God --- prayer is about changing us.

Intercession is how we pray the very real concerns in our life and in the world around us into the presence of God and invite God to be at work in them THROUGH US.

When you stop trying to make God solve your problems, and get on with the business of finding out what God wants you to do about them, you have discovered what prayer is all about. 

The purpose of prayer isn't to change God.  It's to change you. 

You need to pray until you have done an ultimate reality check and found out where you are and what you need to do.

You don't need to get God aligned with your program for life. 
          You need to get yourself aligned with God's program. 

It is through prayer, that our relationship moves from being an acquaintance with God to become true friends.

But the problem is we often start our prayers where we should end them.

Most of us begin our prayers with a long list of concerns which we bring to God.
          I am often guilty of this!

Instead we need to begin by recognizing who God is, how much we need God, and by confessing we tear down the walls that keep us separated from God.

As we experience God's forgiveness we can begin to offer thanksgiving.

And then --- then we can bring into God's presence all the messy painful stuff that is in our lives and our world.

This is the kind of prayer that can transform our hearts.

But to be honest with you, I have just scratched the surface this morning.

You need to get involved in a small group to help you continue to grow in this process.

We need to practice the ACTS prayer together and also to learn how meditation on scripture.

Doing these things will help us move from being acquaintances with Jesus to become his friend.

Join us Wednesday as we continue the journey.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A DISCIPLES PATH --- A Long Obedience In The Same Direction

September 8
A Long Obedience In The Same Direction
Luke 10:25-28

Luke 10:25-28   (NRSV)
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

This morning we are beginning a journey together. 
Where this journey takes you, is really up to you.

There is that great moment in Alice in Wonderland when Alice is have a conversation with the Cheshire Cat.
          Alice has come to a fork in the road and she asks:
          “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
          The Cheshire Cat replies:
          “That depends a good deal on where you want to go”
          Alice says:
                   “I don’t care much where.”
          To which the Cheshire Cat wisely replies:
                   “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

We have gathered here this morning because we have all heard Jesus say to us:
          “Follow me!”
And I truly believe we really want to follow Jesus, but we are kind of like Alice and not sure where we want to go, or Thomas who said to Jesus:
“Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” (John 14:6 The Message)

I am sure you are like me --- we want to know
·         Where this path is taking us?
·         What is the destination?
·         How do we get from here (where we are right now) to what God wants us to be?

In our scripture this morning, Jesus has spelled out pretty clearly what the destination is ---- and that is DISCIPLESHIP

Luke 10:25-28   (The Message)
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

If you remember the sermon series I preached during Lent ---- the destination of every follower of Jesus --- of every Disciple of Jesus is to live 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, 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

John Wesley --- the founder of the Methodist movement would use the term Christian Perfection to describe the goal of all Christians.  For Wesley --- Christian Perfection described a life that was completely aligned with the love of God.

If you are not sure what this looks like --- pick up my sermon series from Lent but to sum it up is quite simple.


That is the goal --- that is the destination of Christians.

And here at Ridge Church we strive to help you do that by being your coach along the journey.

I took the title of one of my favorite devotional books to use as the title of the sermon this morning.  Eugene Peterson in turn had taken that title from Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote:
The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is . . . that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there . . . has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.

We all want shortcuts --- but there are no shortcuts on the path to Christian Perfection.  There are no shortcuts --- on the path to discipleship.

A disciple literally means someone who is apprenticed to their master.

We are called to be in a growing-learning relationship with our master --- Jesus --- ALWAYS!

Ben and I are not here to be your tour guide and point out to you interesting facts and curiosities about our faith.

The role of the Pastor --- the role of the staff here at Ridge Church is to be your Cheerleaders --- your coach ---- your fellow travelers on this journey of becoming better Disciples of Jesus.

But the key to the journey
          The key to becoming a Disciple of Jesus is: GRACE

Grace --- Amazing Grace is what makes it possible.

The concept of GRACE was critical to John Wesley’s understanding of God
          But what do we mean when we talk about Grace? 
          What is Grace?

If you were to look up the word in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, they define grace as:
unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification

Well that wasn’t much help --- was it?

James Harnish, author of the material that this study and sermon series is based on defines grace this way:

Grace is the undeserved, unearned, unrepayable gift of the God who loves us enough to meet us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.  Grace is the love of God at work within us to transform each of our lives into a unique expression of the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, so that we become participants in God’s transformation of the world.

In the United Methodist Tradition, we often talk about GRACE that takes three different forms, or has three different aspects to it. 

I want to spend just a few moments trying to explain these three kinds of grace to you.


In a nutshell, you could describe this as the love that goes before.

A better, more modern term might be preparing grace. 
Prevenient grace refers to the love of God that is active in our lives prior to our response.

Prevenient grace is the love of God that seeks us before we even seek God.  This grace is active in everyone --- whether they know it, or even acknowledge it.

We can find this preparing grace evident throughout the Bible
·         It's the creative love that searched for Adam and Eve when, in their rebellion and sin, they tried to hide in the garden.
·         It's the undeserved love of the God who "proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
·         It's the unearned love that left John saying: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10)
·         It's that seeking love that Jesus described as a shepherd who searches for one lost sheep or a woman who turns her house inside out looking for one lost coin.
·         It's the hound of heaven that many of us have felt restlessly pursuing us as we have attempted to run away from God.

Prevenient Grace or preparing grace is what we celebrate when we baptize an infant.

People have said to me "Children can't make the choice --- they don't understand what is happening."
          That's the whole point!

Long before we are aware of it, long before we stand up and commit ourselves to Jesus --- God already loves us!  God has searched us out, God has tracked us down ---- while we were still sinners, God chose us!

Any love that we have for God --- for Jesus --- is because God loves us first!

Do you remember Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman?

Willy Loman's life is consumed by a fantasy
A fantasy that if he could make that one big deal --- then his son (Biff) would love and accept him.
As the play comes close to a conclusion, Willy suddenly has this revelation that his son might just love him after all.
Willy is in a kind of shock and in bewilderment he says to his wife:
          "Isn't that --- isn't that remarkable?  Biff --- he likes me!"
His wife responds:
          "He loves you, Willy!"
And, Biffs' younger brother adds:
          "Always did, Pop."

God loves us --- ALWAYS, even before we knew it!  That's Prevenient grace

A second kind of grace that we often talk about is JUSTIFYING GRACE.

This could be described as the love that makes things right!

Justified is kind of hard to describe, but the most common way, that I know of, is one that anybody who is familiar with a computer will understand. 

In your word processor is an icon that will "justify" the type to fit evenly within the margins on both sides of the screen.

To "justify" text is to realign the words and letters in every line so that they are in right relationship with each other and with the page on which they appear.

Because our lives can be out of alignment with God, justifying grace is God's love in Jesus that brings us back into a right relationship with God and with each other.

Even though we really don't want to believe it, the reality is we are all infected by sin. 

Paul points this out quite clearly in the letter to the Romans: (2:1; 3:22-23)
You have no excuse, whoever you are, . . . For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Not sure you believe me? 

Ask yourself these questions:
·         Have you arrived at a life that is fully centered in Jesus?
·         Is every inch of your life in perfect alignment with God's love?
·         Do you love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength?          No reservations, no compromises ---- no hidden agendas?
·         Do we love others the way that we love ourselves ---- much less the way that we have been loved by God?

The truth is, our lives show plenty of evidence that we are out of alignment with God's love ---- we need to be Justified!  We need things to be made right!

Paul reminds us that there is indeed good news!
Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand . . . . God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. . . . 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. . . . Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the middle of the mess that we have made of things ---- God comes to us.  God restores us to a new and right relationship with God and with others.

Do you know what we call this, when this reconciliation happens?  CONVERSION

And there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve it.  This is God's gift to each of us --- restoring our lives into the relationship that they were meant to be! 

God makes all things right!

The invitation to each of us is to acknowledge just how much we need to be justified and to receive the grace that only God can give.

The final form of grace that we often talk about is SANCTIFYING GRACE.

Again, very briefly, this can be described as the love that just won't quit.

We have seen how God's love goes before us ---- Prevenient Grace
How God's love makes things right ---- Justifying Grace
We also need to recognize that God's love NEVER QUITS! 
          God's love sustains us and perfects us in love!

Twenty-five years ago, when I stood in front of the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church ---- Bishop Leroy Hodapp asked each of the candidates for ordination a rather intriguing question.

It is the same question that has been asked of every Methodist Pastor since John Wesley first asked it to his traveling pastors:
          Are you going on to perfection?

How would YOU answer that question?

But notice the question is not --- have you arrived at perfection --- but rather are you moving toward perfection. 
          Are you moving toward a Jesus centered life?

Christian perfection is the process of being made perfect in love
It is about setting our minds in the direction of a life that is perfectly, completely, fully centered in the love of God in Jesus

And that begs a question of us:
·         Why would we settle for anything less than that kind of perfection
·         Why would we stop somewhere along the way and say: "This is good enough" before we achieve the goal of perfection
·         If we aren't going on to perfection --- then where do you think you are headed toward?

James Harnish tells a great story about a farmer in a church that he served.
One day Harnish asked him how he was doing?
His answer is enlightening for us all
"Well preacher," he said, "I'm not the man I used to be, and I'm not yet the man I hope to be, but I'm more the man I'd like to be that I've ever been before."

That's what sanctification --- sanctifying grace is all about!

After Bishop Hodapp asked that first question: "Are you Going on to Perfection?' he followed it up with two more questions that came from John Wesley.

First, "Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
In other words to you expect God's grace to make a tangible difference in the way that you live

Do you expect to become a more loving, a more Christ like person tomorrow than you are today?

And then he asked: "Are you earnestly seeking after it?"
Are we willing to do what is necessary to actually seek after perfection?

In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is trying to teach his disciples about what it means to be a Disciple.  He tells them all kinds of parables and then he turns to them and says:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)

Jesus is asking you the same question!

Are you willing to do the things that are necessary to help you move on to perfection?

It is one thing to say that we want to be centered on Jesus --- but it is something else to actual practice the spiritual disciplines that will help get us there.

Last year I ran the Chicago Marathon --- do you think I just woke up one morning and said I want to run a marathon? 

In order to run a marathon it takes a huge amount of discipline
·         Change eating habits
·         get up at 5 each morning to run

The same is true if we want to become a disciple of Jesus

It takes a lot of work and discipline

In our membership vows we promise to commit ourselves to
o   Prayers
o   Presence --- worship
o   gifts ---- generosity
o   service --- helping others
o   witness --- letting others see Jesus in us

Over the next 5 weeks we are going to look seriously at these vows and the disciplines they require.  But not only here during the sermon, we will continue the discussion on Wednesday night and in our Adult Sunday Study group.

We will be using a workbook from James Harnish called A DISCIPLES PATH. We have copies that you can have for $10 or you can order it yourself.

Why do you call Jesus Lord, and yet not do what he asks?

Come and join us and find out what it is Jesus is asking when he invites us to become a follower of his!

          Alice has come to a fork in the road and she asks:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
          The Cheshire Cat replies:

“That depends a good deal on where you want to go”