Sunday, January 25, 2015

Seeking Holiness

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.”

As we continue our journey through John Wesley's life we are going to focus 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 that she would ask each of her children every week when she met with them privately?
          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  (279 years ago TODAY) 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.  But we will look into that experience in greater depth on February 8th.

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 lacking in Wesley's life still is the subject of my next sermon --- 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 we 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 was researching for this sermon, I came across a website that provided some interesting insight into perfection.

One of his central agreements is that John Wesley really didn't create this idea.

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 called 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?

For me, these questions have been critical in the decision that Nancy and I have come to.

I know it is the elephant in the room, so I will do my best to try and share with you how we got to this decision. 

Then, I hope we will not need to publicly address this until maybe our final week

Every year, in November at the Staff Parish Relations Committee meeting, I --- along with your Staff Parish team fill out a form --- independently --- on whether we want our pastor to return the next conference year.

There are four choices on the form --- Every year I have chosen the first one which states --- LEAVE ME THE HECK ALONE.

This past November I selected the second of four choices --- I would be willing to consider a different appointment.

Why I made that choice I spelled out to you in the letter and don't think I need to go over that now.

But, I know how the conference works --- and by selecting that I was giving them permission to move me at the end of June.

Since that fateful evening --- I have wrestled with my future.

I love ministry --- I want to make a difference in the world.

I also came to the realization that the right path for Nancy and I was not to seek another appointment in another church. 

I know that I have built a great many connections and that I could make a few phone calls and probably find a job with many different companies. 

But I wrestled with those questions

How does this affect my relationship with God?
How does this affect God’s ability to love others through me?
Is God a major factor in everything in this decision?

TradeWinds is a wonderful agency that works with adults and children with special needs to help them achieve their full potential.

I will still be in ministry --- just in a very different way.

We are all called to ministry
We are all called to putting God first in our lives
          through our action and our choices

I am trying to do that --- and I hope and pray that you will do the same.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Letter To Ridge Church

To my Ridge Church family,

Seventeen years ago, Nancy and I and our three little girls arrived on your doorstep.  Since the moment we arrived, you have welcomed us into your homes and into your hearts.

I was a young man, 37 years old --- desiring to help you change the world.  Instead, over the past 17 years you have changed me and together we have made a huge impact for the kingdom of God.

Last year, at a friend's suggestion, I picked up a book called Necessary Endings.  I got it to help me with the transition that was necessary in our staff at that moment.  As I read the book, I found myself surprised at how it spoke to me.  I became more and more convicted that it was time for me to pass the leadership mantle.  We have accomplished some amazing things together to grow God’s kingdom, but I realized that I was not the leader to lead you to the next place.

I have always said that Ridge Church would be my last appointment.  I intended to stay here until I retired --- but sometimes God puts opportunities along our path that remind us that we really are not in charge.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to put my name in for the Director of Marketing and Development with TradeWinds Services.  I am a big fan of TradeWinds, having served on their board the past two years.  Little did I suspect that they would be interested in me.

I do not see this position as leaving ministry.  I have asked the Bishop to appoint me to TradeWinds, and I will keep my credentials with the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.  

I will remain as your pastor until June 30th, and will continue to serve you faithfully until that time.  Your Staff Parish Relations Committee will be working with our District Superintendent Larry Whitehead and the Cabinet to find the pastor Ridge Church needs to lead you on the next part of the journey.

As I reflect on the past 17 years, I see all the amazing things that we have accomplished together.  That is why it is so hard for me to leave this well-traveled path.

I have never served a congregation that was filled with more love than Ridge Church.  You are family to us, and we will grieve mightily over this transition. 

But I also know, that it is time for me to choose this new fork in the road.  Nancy and I look forward with great fear and excitement what this next phase in our lives will be like.  And we know that with all of you working together with the new pastor that Ridge Church has a very bright future.

With much love,

Steve & Nancy Conger

Sunday, January 18, 2015

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.

I want to begin this morning by apologizing.
Some of you seemed to have misunderstood my sermon last week

I was very worried about that --- I actually had Nancy read it prior to Sunday to see if it was too confusing --- and she thought I could get away with it --- I guess she was wrong

Despite what some of you heard --- it 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.

Listen again to our scripture this morning:
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 is suffering from exactly what the author of the Book of Revelation was writing about.

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

"The church" has lost their spiritual center --- because they got too busy majoring on unimportant things.

My life has often gone through ebbs and flows of spiritual vitality.

Part of my malaise these past few months was that I too, had somewhat lost my center. 
I too, was majoring on the things that weren't truly important

Then something amazing happened.

Kathy O'Brien mentioned a book to me a couple months ago when it first came out, and said --- "It might make for a good Wonderful Wednesday Evening study."

I thought, "That sounds great, I will have to check it out . . ."

Everything I read, every movie and show that I watch I am always asking myself --- HOW CAN I USE THIS --- for a sermon illustration --- teaching material.  EVERYTHING!

And so I bought the book, looked at it quickly, and said --- NOPE, won't work on a Wednesday Evening.
So, do you know what I did with it?
I put it away, and out of my mind

If it wasn't going to be useful to teach with ---- what was the point.

On December 23rd, in the midst of the chaos of Christmas --- for whatever reason --- I picked that book back up and decided to start reading it.

It is a yearlong devotional book.
          52 chapters designed to be read and pondered over --- one each week

As a result of starting to read it, I also started a journal (something I have done off and on over my ministry).

And then after the holidays, I decided I wanted a devotion for each day of the week --- so 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 part of the reason that you are stuck with all this self-reflection by me.

I was sharing this with Pastor Ken the other day 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 spiritually I was stuck in neutral
          And I can't lead you (or myself) if I am stuck!

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.  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.
Each week at our staff meeting we ask 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.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Transforming Ridge Church

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 last number of years, every January I have spent a couple of weeks reminding you of the Mission and Vision of Ridge Church.

In case you have forgotten ----

Ridge Church exists for only one reason: TO MAKE DISCIPLE FOR JESUS CHRIST.

And 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 - 15 years ago, the leadership of Ridge Church wrestled with that question and at the end of a two day retreat --- we came up with what we call our vision statement today:

We of Ridge United Methodist Church are united with Jesus Christ in His ministry of compassion for all people by offering HOPE, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE and MEANING FOR LIFE.

The problem, has been, we have often looked to prescriptions to try and do those things ---- offer hope, love unconditionally and help people find purpose for their lives, 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

Two weeks ago --- I freaked a lot of you out --- as did my newsletter article.

I apologize for that --- it was not my intention --- but I am wrestling with some very serious demons right now.

Last winter 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 preached my most honest sermon I have ever preached last February 15th.

But even in it --- I was careful not to be too honest with you or myself

I am sure you don't remember it --- but it is on my blog site --- if you want to go back and read it

And I am sure it is somewhere in the sanctuary computer in audio form

This last week --- 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 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 --- there was no reason to even try!
          And so I didn't

The demons inside whispered to me --- you can't
          And I BELIEVED IT

And believing it 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 --- you have heard this out of my mouth hundreds if not thousands of times
          Change is inevitable
          Growth is optional

Instead of changing forward --- growing --- 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
·         My hospitalization with vertigo
·         My herniated disc this fall
·         My need to go back on the sleep apnea machine
·         Nancy has been telling me over and over

Sometimes we refuse to listen

And 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

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 many of you already know, Nancy and I are planning on going to New Zealand in June.  In order to prepare for this trip of a lifetime we have been watching with Haley 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 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

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 recently 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

If you don't believe me --- Just ask Dave Miller.
Dave is one of the few people that I can talk to about things --- he is a great sound board and he has heard me share some of my anger, frustration, defensiveness over the years

          He often tries to remind me not to shoot the messenger

He is a great friend!!

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

Twice this past year 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 --- other's love is what I need in my life to validate my worth.
          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 he took --- 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.