Monday, September 19, 2016

Having Fun Along The Way

(Habakkuk 1:1-2,2:2-3)  The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. {2} O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?  2:2  Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. {3} For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

Last week I stated that the point of becoming a Christian is not to reach some ultimate destination --- ie, perfection, or heaven,
but the point of being a Christian is to be on a lifelong
          Eternally lifelong
                   Journey with Jesus Christ

And the point of the journey is not reaching some goal (although, those things are great) the point is THE JOURNEY.
          Being a fellow traveler with Jesus and with each other.

When we pay attention to our journey in the present, we encounter the living Christ, and ultimately experience the power of Jesus in what we might call those "unexpected Holy moments" along the way.

But, on the other hand, when we see our Christian faith as a means to an end,
·         as a way of getting from A to B,
·         a way of getting from this life to eternal life,
·         and we pay no attention to life in between,
·         life tends to become miserable
the journey becomes long and arduous
and we cut ourselves off from the many ways that Jesus is waiting and wanting to touch our lives!

As we constantly seek to keep before us the notion that Christianity is a never ending journey
and when we realize that the point of the journey IS THE JOURNEY
then there are some "RULES OF THE ROAD" that can help make the journey more profitable and more fun!

I want to thank the Monday morning Bible Study for their help in coming up with some of these ideas,

Some of them are pretty simple and self evident

RULE # 1   We are in this together, so wear your name tag!

It is a lot more fun to know who you are traveling with

If you don't have a name tag --- then now is a good time to get one!

RULE #2.    If you are not sure just where you are going --- GO SOMEWHERE!

Too many Christians never get off the starting blocks in their walk with Jesus because they are not sure exactly where they are supposed to go, or how they will get there.

A young person once said to me:
"I know that God is calling me to do something, but I don't want to just try anything.  I want to make sure that I do the right thing --- rather than just trying something and finding out that isn't what God wants of me."

How many of us have said almost the exact same thing?

I know God wants me to DO something, but what that is, I am not sure
so I had better not do anything until I figure out exactly what that is.
I will wait for God to bop me on the head --- then I will get started.

If you are not sure just where you are going ---- PLEASE, just go somewhere.

Jesus tells the disciples to GO --- he doesn't tell them where to go — JUST GO, he says

Remember the stories I shared last week about my journey --- the biblical story of God calling ABRAHAM, telling him to "Go to the place I will show you"

There is an old Chinese proverb that states:
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Samuel Johnson once said:
"Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome."

There will always be temptations and rationalizations that tell us to seek the safety of doing nothing --- BUT God calls all of us to GO!
And if we believe the Gospel we also believe that God will lead us!

That leads me to my third rule: CONTRARY TO POPULAR OPINION, MAPS REALLY ARE OK!

As you move along on your Christian journey --- do you consult your map?

And since the point of our journey is the journey we find ourselves on every day ---- do you consult your map daily'?


We have in our possession, the greatest collection of maps in the world.
Within that book are maps that will help us along the way on our journey
BUT, how often do we really consult it?

And do we really know how to read it?

I believe one of the problems today is many of us have lost the ability to read God's map.

How often do we go through life, assuming we know the Way.
Never consulting our maps --- only to find ourselves desperately lost and confused.

Take time to understand this "map" --- the Bible --- that God has given us.

The fourth rule is: just when you think everything is going smooth and you want to shift into fifth gear --- there is always a car doing forty in the passing lane!
To say it another way: LEARN PATIENCE.

It is hard to be patient.

Interruptions are a part of life!

The question we must ask ourselves is:
On our Christian journey are we angered by having to slow down'?
Or are we willing to seek the Holy moments that can be found in the detours of life.

Our scripture reading from Habakkuk reminds us that we must slow down.

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save'? Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

Paul writes in the book of Colossians: (Col 3:12)
"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience."

But, boy --- is it hard!

If indeed, interruptions are a normal part of life, then we must learn the lesson from Paul and the author of Habakkuk.

We must learn patience — because in learning patience we can experience a fifth rule of the road. ENJOY THE DETOURS; YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU WILL FIND!

I hate detours ---- when I am on a long journey, the last thing I want to deal with is a detour

But, our Christian journey is filled with detours!

Unplanned interruptions, circumstances that make us alter our course and take a different route --- things that cause us to change our plans.

When we hit the detours we face a choice
·         we can be miserable and angry about how life is unfair, God is unfair, our friends our unfair, everything is unfair
·         or find some joy in the detour.

A train was filled with tired people. Most of them had spent the day traveling through the hot dusty plains and at last evening had come and they all tried to settle down to a sound sleep. However, at one end of the car a man was holding a tiny baby and as night came on the baby became restless and cried more and more. Unable to take it any longer, a big brawny man spoke for the rest of the group. 'Why don't you take that baby to its mother?" There was a moment's pause and then came the reply. "I'm sorry. I'm doin' my best. The baby's mother is in her casket in the baggage car ahead." Again there was an awful silence for a moment. Then the big man who asked the cruel question was out of his seat and moved toward the man with the motherless child. He apologized for his impatience and unkind remark. He took the tiny baby in his own arms and told the tired father to get some sleep. Then in loving patience he cared for the little child all through the night.

That man wanted to sleep, he wanted that baby to shut up --- but in the end, instead of allowing the detour to destroy him --- he allowed the detour to change him.

Detours are a fact of life.

They are a part of the Christian journey.
Sometimes we make a wrong turn --- sometimes the road gets blocked.

At times I feel overwhelmed with the interruptions that happen in the day I have planned out, but at other times I find precious God given moments in them.

How we handle the detours, the interruptions of life says a lot about how we view and experience our Christian journey.

When I was a junior in High School, my father got a crazy idea. 
He thought that a trip of just the Conger men was in order.

He convinced my two brothers and me that it would be a wonderful experience if we went canoeing in Quetico Provincial Park in Canada.

So we began the process of getting in shape.

The hard part about canoeing is not paddling the canoe (although that is not the easiest task to do for four or five hours every day!)

The worst part is when you come to the end of one lake and you have to carry all your "Stuff' to the next lake.

One of the things that makes Quetico so wonderful is that there are no motor boats allowed in the Provincial Park.
There are no stores, there are no bathrooms, there really aren't any campsites - it is primitive, especially once you get farther into the Park and away from Boundary Waters in Minnesota. 
So everything that you are going to need for your week long jaunt into nature, must be brought in by you and out by you!

For a couple of months, we practiced carrying the canoes and our packs around our neighborhood. I am sure the neighbors all thought that we were lunatics. We worked hard so that we would be in good shape -- BUT

The truth is nothing can prepare you for that first portage. We thought that we had done a good job in limiting what we were taking. After that first day, I was convinced that half of what we brought was worthless.

From that trip I learned our 6th rule of the road (I only wished I followed it better) and that is: When traveling long distances or for a long period of time --- it is best to pack light.

This simple lesson is also true for our Christian journey. Too many of us try to make headway in our Christian lives while still carting around a whole lot of baggage.

We over pack, refusing to throw away useless weight, and we find ourselves worn out and beaten down by our Christian journey.

Unfortunately, when that happens a lot of people just give up, forgetting that Jesus invites and encourages us to give up some of that weight.

As Christians we are called to pack light. Yet, still, time and time again I hear it. Most of us are so very good at storing away our old hurt, our past sins, so those things become like a mill stone around our necks weighing us down.

There is the person who says: “Christianity just isn't working for me. I'm just not loveable.”

Then there is the person who is consumed by their job, they wake up one day to find that their children have grown, their spouse has run off with somebody else. They are overwhelmed with the weight of guilt and shame - burdened by the “woulda, coulda shoulda’s” of life . . .  what could I have done differently.

To this Jesus speaks when he says:
(Mat 11:28-30) "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

The point of our Christian journey is the Journey --- and if we are going to survive the journey we must learn to pack light!!

Jesus calls to us --- NO, Jesus pleads with us to drop our burdens at his feet. There is no need for us to journey with the extra weight, the garbage we walk through life with - Jesus will take it —  and he promises that he will give us rest!

In other words --- We must learn to forgive ourselves!

God has forgiven us long before we forgive ourselves.
Why are we so insistent on clinging to those old sins?

As we journey, why are we so insistent on traveling with weight that is unbearable, unnecessary, and foolish?

Why do we find it so hard to travel light? To lay our burdens at the feet of Jesus --- to exchange our yoke of sin and sorrow, which is so heavy, with the light yoke of Jesus?

If God is willing to wipe the slate clean and give us a fresh start, we too, must be willing to accept ourselves, learn to live with the past --- learn from its scars --- and move into the future with strength and determination.

Face it, most of the weight that you and I carry on life’s journey is unnecessary --- and Jesus says to us: "give it up, forgive yourself even as I have forgiven you."

Pack light -- Jesus wants not only our stresses and problems in life --- Jesus wants our old shames, guilts and hurts as well.


Face it we need each other.  As much as I don't like to admit it, I have found myself lost at times. I hate being lost --- And I bet most of you can identify with that feeling.

There are moments on our Christian journey that we feel utterly lost!

We have no clue as to where we are, where we are going, or how we are going to get there!

Listen to what Paul has to tell us from his letter to the Romans:

(Romans 12:9‑21 NIV)  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. {10} Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. {11} Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. {12} Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. {13} Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. {14} Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. {15} Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. {16} Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. {17} Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. {18} If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. {19} Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. {20} On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." {21} Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It's here.
It's in this place --- in the Body of Christ --- the church --- that we can in our times of loss, in our times of doubt, even in our times of joy --- find friends, and fellow travelers!!!

People who will help us find our way — people who will be supportive --- people who will hold out lights in the darkness — people who will help us keep perspective on our current journey.

Remember, us who sit here this morning --- we have got to always remember: We are the Church (I am not the church) and it is to the Church that hurting people come in their time of lostness and need.

In my book there is only truly one kind of hypocrisy that the church must really be concerned about.

And that hypocrisy is not that we are Christians and yet still sinners --- because that is the reality of why we are here, if we were perfect we would not need to come.

No the hypocrisy that I am concerned about is when we turn our backs on those who are lost, on those who need love, on those who need compassion and support.
Don't ever forget what Paul says in Romans: "Be devoted to one another in . . . love."

My final rule is this and it flows from the previous one: TAKE ALONG SOMEONE WHO KNOWS THE ROAD!

A friend of mine tells the story about a time when he and his family were white water rafting. On this trip there were four boats. Now normally each boat has its own guide --- someone who knows the river --- knows the best way to get down the river --- and where all the trouble spots are that need to be avoided.

When they got ready to go, they were told that one of the guides was sick --- and they asked if someone would be willing to steer the boat down the river.
They said that this person's job would be simply to follow the other guides.

Needless to say, my friend volunteered.

And as he would tell the story, he was a good guide (at least for most of the trip!)

While they were heading into some pretty good white water, he was dutifully following the other guides in front of him and shouting out the paddling orders to the other members of his boat.

Suddenly, there was in front of them a boulder that had to be navigated around. Proudly, he says that is exactly what he did --- yet little did he know, but right after that big boulder was a second smaller boulder that also had to be maneuvered over.

He did pretty well at that too, most of the boat missed that little rock --- actually the only part of the boat that caught that rock was the exact spot where he was sitting --- and the result was predictable.

Once he fell, instinctively he grabbed the rope that encircled the boat --- he said that the water was so cold that he could not talk, nor even scream.

It wasn't until the others noticed that he wasn't screaming out orders that they even realized that he had gone over.

Fortunately they helped him get back in the boat and get it down the rest of the rapids successfully.

The point of the story is this: without a guide to lead us --- someone who is experienced in the journey that we are taking --- the results can be tragic.
We need someone to help guide us along the way.

As Christians that guide is none other than Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God's chosen disciples.

Have you noticed how Jesus went about preparing people to become guides?
He didn't say: "Go do it yourself"
No, what Jesus always did is say: "Follow me."

And then, once we have followed we can help others along the journey that we have firsthand knowledge of.

Paul always was busy trying to teach others, to show them the way first and then, and only then to let them become guides along the way, under the direction of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

All too often we travel along on our journeys and we lose sight of whom it is that is our Ultimate guide.

All too often we travel along on our journeys and we forget to enlist the help of our guide!

All too often we travel along on our journeys and in our bull headed nature we say --- the heck with the guide, I know a better way --- and it never fails, but we find ourselves thrown from the boat!

Christianity is a never ending journey --- and you and I are on that journey!

It is impossible to make the journey without a deep relationship with Jesus Christ.

The journey that we are on is at times long and hard, and it has far too many obstacles for us to travel on without an experienced guide!

Jesus Christ is the only one who fully knows the way, and is the only one who can be the trailblazer!

PLEASE, please take someone along with you who knows the journey.
find a prayer partner
find a study partner
find a friend in Christ

This morning I have shared eight simple, yet I believe profound rules that will make our journey more successful and more fun.

Christianity is a journey --- a journey through this life, experiencing God and all that God has for us.

Let us try to remember these rules as we go through our life.

Only you know what you need at this moment on your journey
courage to start
lessening of the burdens that you carry with you

Only you know.

Bring those before our Lord and receive his blessing and guidance!

Let me close with this story:
A college class was graduating on a hot and humid day. As the graduates walked across the platform to receive their diplomas from the president of the University, he smiled, shook their hands, and said loudly, "CONGRATULATIONS!" Then, in a much lower voice, one that was firm and could only be heard by the graduates, he would say, "Keep moving."

He was only trying to keep the line moving across the stage, but his words are good advice for a lifetime -- "Keep Moving."

After every achievement --- growing up, graduation, marriage, job promotion, even retirement --- the best advice is: "Keep moving. Don't stop. Don't stagnate. There is more to life than you have found thus far."

Even once we have made the decision to become a Christian, God says the same thing to us:

"This is not the end of the journey, only the beginning. Keep moving!"

Friday, September 16, 2016

How Jesus Saves the World

I was not familiar with Morgan Guyton until I stumbled across his new book, How Jesus Saves The World From Us.  Unlike Morgan I do not come from a conservative evangelical background, but instead grew up in main line churches that tended to lean ever so slightly towards progressivism.  I would call myself firmly in the center of the progressive camp today.

That said, I found his book challenging and refreshing.  I think what I appreciated most was the questions at the end of each section of the book.  They gave me a chance to stop and think about where we (I) need to move forward in my relationship with God. 

I recently was sent an article of his called “Six Things That Make White Christian America Toxic”.  In some ways it was a good summary of what was in the book, but maybe a bit more biting in tone. 

I would recommend the book to a discussion group that cares about helping the church be relevant to the culture today.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

It’s All About The Journey

Gen 12:1-5a Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." 4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

The biblical story is a story of journeys.
That is true whether we are talking about the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament

Adam & Eve leaving the garden to travel east of Eden
Moses and the Israelites journeying in the wilderness for 40 years
Israel being forced to journey to Babylon and eventually return home
Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days
The disciples sent out by Jesus --- two by two
Paul’s journeys all over the known world

Or our lesson today --- the story of Abram and Sarah leaving Haran and trusting that God would help them find a new place

The Bible is filled with stories of people who are on the move.

Often on their journeys --- our biblical travelers are tempted and sometimes succumb to being pulled off their course.

Our lives are the same way --- our lives are the story of our journeys and the temptations that we encounter along the way.

If we are willing --- we can learn a great deal about how to journey by studying the great travelers of the Bible.

Dr. John Sylhavey was once called the most brilliant man in America.
He was a professor of History and Philosophy at Harvard for 35 years.
Dr. Sylhavey grew up poor.
He fought in World War 1,
and afterwards he did some of the first mapping of Alaska and then he worked his way through school.
He acquired 2 bachelor’s degrees,
3 master’s degrees,
and 2 PH.D.'s!
Dr. Sylhavey wrote 36 books in his career, and composed 2 operas.

In 1965, just as he was about to retire, he was asked to address the graduating class at Harvard. This is what he said:

I am now an old man. I am at the end of a long and hard career of teaching. And I am amazed that you would ask me to speak to you, you who are just starting out. But here is what I have to say.

For over 20 years most of you have been climbing the creaky ladder of American Academic Institutions. In that time you have read thousands of pages of text. You have written and re-written hundreds of papers. And now you are about to go out into the world, and you ask me what you should know. What you should know is this: THAT YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING AT ALL.

You ask me how I know? I know because I have spent many years in Academic Institutions; I have read millions of pages of text, and written a few myself. I have tried to understand what I need to know, and yet know, as I finally leave my post, I realize that I don't know anything compared with what I really need to know.  My job, and your job, tomorrow and every tomorrow is to begin to learn what it is that I really need to know in life.

Amazing, how simple, and yet how profound.

Here is a man who was one of the most learned men in America, and yet he says that he is not yet done --------- as a matter of fact he would say that he is only beginning!

If we are honest, isn't that really true with all of us?
I know that has been true in my life!

Thirty years ago when I graduated from The Duke Divinity School --- with my hard earned and hard won Masters of Divinity, I thought that I had learned it all --- certainly all that I needed to know --- and I was ready to inflict that learning on the world.


I found myself serving a basically rural church just outside Plymouth, Indiana.
·         How does one minister to a church that has no desire to grow or have new people attend, but are happy paying the bills and doing their thing?

After four years I was asked to start a new church
·         I had no clue about how one starts a new church

When they asked me to start the church I was asked to start a "traditional United Methodist Church" that would attract young people.

As you can guess, that model didn't work very well. So after a year and a half, we shifted to a "contemporary model" of worship ---> do you think I "knew" how to do that? --- I didn’t have a clue!!

During that time — I read everything I could get my hands on — I went to every seminar I could — trying to figure out how to reach young people. 

In the process I met Lyle Schaller, the Church Growth Guru. 
He was fascinated with some of the things that we were doing, and used Celebration as a case study for a seminar he lead.  He also wrote of Celebration Church, and its young upstart pastor in a couple of his books and articles.

After six exciting years I left Celebration,
my precious child -
that I nurtured and helped give birth to,
that I sat up many sleepless nights with as it went through (and I went through) the growing pains of childhood. 

I was sent from there to serve a church and manage a staff at Simpson, a large transitional church in downtown Fort Wayne --- and did I know what I was getting myself into ---- had I learned enough?

After three heartbreaking years of trying to convince a dying church that God had something more for them — and realizing that I could not re-create my experience in Warsaw; I was sent Munster. 

To a church that was on the verge of GREAT THINGS. 

Had I learned enough?

During the time I was there they did some amazing things:

Did I have a clue how to lead a church through most of that? 

NO, but I read and studied and tried to stay one step ahead of the congregation.

And now I find myself here at Meridian Street ---- poised to do even GREATER THINGS.

·         Today we celebrate the grand opening of the third floor
·         In the midst of a major addition to the building
·         In just a few months the Welcome Center will be completed along with the sports fields, the kitchen and some updates to the sanctuary

Have I learned enough?

The truth is: I am constantly aware of how much learning I have yet to do!

I really appreciate Dr. Sylhavey's when he said: “My job, and your job, tomorrow and every tomorrow is to begin to learn what it is that I really need to know in life.”

What I have learned so far on my journey is that learning is something that we never finish.

If we stop learning, our journey is over.
Cut short! 
Robbed of reaching its full potential.
Learning is the never ending cycle and challenge of life!

Just as it is with learning —> so too it is with Christianity!

Our Christian journey is a continual process of learning and experiencing the power and the fullness of Jesus!

Too often we see being a Christian as a state of BEING.

Being a Christian thus falls into the same category as:
I am right handed,
I am getting grey,
I am a man

I am a Christian

but Christianity is not, nor can it be, a state of being.

Being a Christian is adopting a certain lifestyle.

Too often we view Christianity as merely subscribing to a set of beliefs.
I believe in the constitution of the United States, therefore I am an American;

I believe Jesus died for my sins, therefore I am a Christian.

Some take it even farther;
I believe in adult baptism in flowing water by immersion, therefore I am a TRUE Christian.

Or, I believe that one must speak in tongues or be slain by the Spirit, so I am a true Christian.

BUT, Christianity is not simply believing the right things.
It is not just subscribing to some set of beliefs.

The point of Christianity is not to arrive at some knowledge, nor even to arrive at some state of maturity, nor even to arrive in heaven!

The point of Christianity is the journey that we find ourselves on as we strive to experience the fullness of Jesus Christ.
As we strive to be Christ like!

Let me say it again: Christianity is not some destination --- it is a JOURNEY

And I know of no one inside of this building, or even outside of it, INCLUDING MYSELF, that has arrived!

Christianity is a journey--- filled with struggles, trials, temptations, disappointments, joys and sorrows ---> accomplishments and failures.

Being a Christian means being part of a journey that sometimes sees us taking one step forward and two steps backward --- one success and two failures --- Sometimes we gain ground, sometimes we slip and fall --- but always we are on the journey!

Our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament illustrates this perfectly.
“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘GO from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.’”

Go, God says. Pack your things and be off. 
Go to the place that I will show you.
Forget the maps, forget the travel guides, GO!

Trusting when God says go, is awfully scary!
I know!

There have been times in my life where God has said very clearly to me; GO.

As I shared with you last week, my decision to take a year away from pastoral ministry.

It wasn’t easy --- and it involved great risk --- but God was clearly saying to me: GO

Throughout my life ---God and I have spent many hours wrestling in the desert together. 

Often times, I would end up with more questions than answers.

Because sometimes we do not get a clear vision as to the direction that our journey is to take.

But, nevertheless, we are all called to the journey.

Dr. James Dobson says:
All too often we expect to see God's leading like the headlights of a car -- providing direction way out in front of us! In reality, God's leading is like a flashlight, dispelling the darkness in our midst and providing direction in the present.

On our journey often we consume too much energy yearning for and expecting a bright beam of light — and we refuse to move until we have it -- and we MISS the guiding light of Christ in the present, at our feet, leading the way every day of our lives.

Christianity is a journey, and the point of the journey is the journey

We need to learn to look for the unexpected in life instead of always anticipating what hill we must climb, or next hoop we must jump through.

Look for the unexpected--- for therein lies the Holy moments of life!
          Believe me --- I have come to figure that out

Experience the journey rather than simply moving through life thinking that you know it all — thinking that you have arrived, because the truth is — we all have more to learn -- we have only just begun!

To be a Christian means that we are involved in the here and now --- today.

Not pine-ing for that day of reckoning when God will set the world straight.

Jesus didn't teach us to sit down and think we have it all together and wait for eternity --- Jesus tells all of us to GO!

Mat 28:19 - 20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

But as I say all of this, we have got to quit being so obsessed with getting from here to there!

We have got to quit looking at the end of the journey and missing out on what is happening right here and now.

When we look that way --- we are miserable, because we can never fully get there.

The point of the journey IS THE JOURNEY! 

People who put all their hope on an afterlife and fail to see the beauty of God's creation in this life --- have missed the entire point of being a Christian.

Do you remember when you were a child and were on a trip and you would ask your parents a question that went something like this: "Are we there yet?"

Compare the agony and the unending nature of that trip with a trip that you have been on and traveling was the trip.
The traveling was an adventure in and of itself! 

Which trip would you rather go on today?

If we don't involve ourselves in the journey--- if we are continually asking: ARE WE THERE YET?, when it comes to our Christian journey ---> then the journey becomes of absolute misery and our walk with Christ is an illusion.

BUT when we are able to involve ourselves in the journey itself, we find ourselves engaged with the living Christ and we find beauty and meaning in life.

Remember what God said at the end of every day of creation: IT IS GOOD!

Let's not forget that, because the beauty of God's creation can carry us through those moments when our journey is going through those valleys that the Psalmist called the valley of the shadow of death!

Jesus is constantly calling us to look at today.
To quit focusing on the illusory signs of tomorrow.
To embrace the gift of today, to experience Jesus presence in the here and now.
Experience Him as we journey today.

The problem is, when we are always looking somewhere in our future for our fulfillment, we miss the presence of the Christ in our midst --- the presence of Christ in the present!

The point of our Christian journey IS THE JOURNEY'

Next week, I want to examine this concept that being a Christian means that we are fellow travelers and with that in mind I want to examine how we can make our journey the best it can be.

The point of Christianity is the journey that we find ourselves on: It is a never ending journey

The point of the journey is the journey--the ways in which we encounter Christ along the way --- thereby continually experiencing the fullness of Christ in new ways.

None of us know it all!

None of us have arrived.

May we all open ourselves to experience the present as we continue our journey with Jesus Christ as our guide!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Necessary Beginnings

Deuteronomy 31:7-8   (NRSV)
Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Unfortunately for many of us, today is the enemy of our tomorrow.

What we want for the future often cannot come into reality if we fail to let go of what we are doing right now.

I have seen it over and over again.

Someone refuses to let go of the past --- or sometime even the present and it keeps them from accomplishing all that they --- an often God --- wants.

So before we can have a beginning --- we must have an ending

For me, I began to realize that I needed an ending about two years ago

I was in denial, but I was slowly beginning to see that my role as the lead pastor at Ridge United Methodist Church was coming to an end.

And to be honest --- I fought it
          I fought it hard

But, by December 2014 I was confronted with a decision.
          And I had to make a choice

I have been around the block in the United Methodist Church long enough to know how things work.
Every fall pastors and SPRC are given a form to fill out independently about their intentions for the coming year.
There are basically three choices
          Leave me alone
          I might consider a move
          Get me outta here
I KNOW that if you want to stay there is only one choice --- LEAVE ME ALONE

But that fall I selected "I might consider a move"

I knew that by selecting that choice my time at Ridge UMC was coming to an end.

For probably the prior 10 years, I had said that Ridge would be my last church --- at the time, I could not even imagine serving another church.

Munster was our home
The girls all grew up there
Munster Schools were the only schools that Haley our youngest went too.

I was ridiculously connected in the community
Chair of the Board of the Munster Chamber of Commerce
Past President of Rotary
On the Hospice Board
On one of the Community Hospital Boards
Police Chaplain

You name it, I was involved

Munster was our home

And while I KNEW that my ministry at Ridge UMC was coming to an end --- I wasn't ready to leave the community --- plus, there was that thing about being my last church . . .

I was well respected in the community, and I used that to help me find a job ---
A job in which I made more money than I ever made in the church

At first, I loved being "retired"

I relished not having to prepare a sermon week in and week out

BUT --- we quickly found out that the quality of most worship services that we visited were ---- shall we say ---- less than stellar

It was about a year ago right now when I got a phone call inviting me to go and preach at First United Methodist Church in Glenview Illinois.

This was the church that I had been recommended for ministry out of.

If I had to pick a place that I call where I grew up --- it would be Glenview.

But in the 35 years since I was recommended for ministry --- I had never been invired to preach there.

And to be honest --- I dreaded the invitation


But, there was something inside me that would not let me turn it down.

I had turned down numerous other invitations to preach --- but this one was different.

And to be honest --- it was an amazing experience

Between 20 and 30 youth from my old youth group showed up that morning (I graduated from High School 38 years ago!!)

I was completely humbled
          And it was probably one of the most terrifying experiences in my life

And that day, God whispered in my ear

I loved my year away from the church. 
Working with persons with disabilities was amazing
          The people blessed my life in ways I can't even explain

BUT, God kept whispering in my ear

My calling was to be a parish pastor

And as the holidays drew near --- Thanksgiving into Advent --- I knew where I needed to be.

Last year Christmas Eve was horrible for me.
          Actually the worship service we attended at a Presbyterian Church was wonderful
          The music was beautiful and the sermon was challenging

BUT, I realized I was looking at the wrong side of people's heads

Ralph Abernathy has said: Christians should be ready for a change because Jesus was the greatest changer in history.

If you don't have an ending before a new beginning, you are destined to make the same mistakes over again.

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity this past year to have an ending, so that I could have a new beginning with you

This past week I had the opportunity to meet with Dennis Bland from the Center for Leadership Development here in Indy.
Do any of you know Dennis or the work that the Center for Leadership Development does?

One of the things I have been trying to do since I arrived is meet each week with at least one community leader here in Indianapolis.

Every leader that I have met are doing amazing work

But the two hours I spent with Dennis, as he showed me what they do at the Center for Leadership Development was some of the best time I have invested.

The mission of the Center for Leadership Development is to foster the advancement of minority youth in Central Indiana as future professional, business and community leaders by providing experiences that encourage personal development and educational attainment.

Written at the top of the entry rotunda are these words from Maya Angelou’s poem: Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

They currently work with approximately 4,000 students and they would like to double that in the next few years.

And as he shared their story, I realized what he was trying to do.

He was trying to help the students have a necessary ending of the way that things had been for them, and let them see that they can have a new beginning.

And as he shared, I realized how easy my ending was --- and my beginning.

For most of the students who participate in CLD, letting go is HARD, because they cannot see a future.  All they see are the road blocks and the walls that keep them from overcoming the situations that they find themselves in.

He illustrated it this way (and I know I won't do it justice) --- using the example of a football field

He said for most of the students who come to CLD, they have spent their whole lives with the ball stuck way down toward their own goal.  They almost NEVER are able to get past the 50 yard line and when they do, they sometimes think that is success. 

For most of us, and our children, while many black children start on the 5 yard line, we start on the offensive side of the 50.  We don't have to go nearly as far for success. 

And we get disillusioned if we slide to the wrong side of the 50

When I ended at Ridge, I was way on the good side of the 50, and my ability to find employment outside of the church was moving the ball forward.

That's not how it happens for many people

They are stuck --- afraid to end the dysfunction of the past because they cannot see the future.

Even as the people wandered for 40 years in the wilderness --- Moses told Joshua not to worry.  They could end the wandering and have a great new beginning in the Promised Land.

What do you need to end?
What changes do you need to make in your life so that you can have the new beginning that God desires for you?

As we come to the Table this morning, I pray that you will hear Jesus whispering to you --- that you will hear what you need to set aside, so that you can have the new beginning God wants for you.