Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes and Outline for Sunday Message; 27 July 2014; Joshua 2:1-24

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Joshua 2:1-24

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and CEB

Hymns:

UMH733 – Marching To Zion

UMH 177 – He Is Lord

UMH396 – O Jesus, I Have Promised

image

Today we will continue with the sermon series about commitment. Commitment to God is what keeps us connected to God and to each other. Commitment is what translates into action. That is why, as we try to figure out what our church will become in the future and how we will be making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, we need to look at examples of commitment in the Holy Scriptures.

image

Two weeks ago we looked at the life of Lazarus.

image

Then last week we looked at the foundation of our relationship with God. It all starts with the Sacrament of Baptism. Whether we are baptized as babies or adults, we are making a commitment to a relationship with Jesus. When we make a commitment to a relationship with someone, we are saying that we will take seriously what matters to that person. When we make a commitment to a relationship with Jesus, we are saying that we will take seriously our participation in the life of the Church, and that we will do that with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness, because church matters to Jesus so much that he was willing to give up his earthly life to establish the Church. The Church is made up of people who have a relationship with God. Church is the bride of Christ; collectively we are “the wife” of God.

image

Today we heard the story of Rahab, a woman who lived in Jericho. The story of Rahab is part of the story of the conquest of Canaan. From the genealogy of Jesus presented in Matthew 1, we know that Salmon (one of Joshua’s spies whom she protected) and Rahab had a son named Boaz. Boaz married Ruth, and they had a son Obed. We know that Obed was the father of Jesse and grandfather of King David. That information is found in Matthew 1:5-6.

image

When we think of the conquest of Canaan, we think of bloody battles and advancing Hebrews overpowering and annihilating the Canaanites who lived there. When we think of Jericho, we think about the song “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho… and the walls came a-tumblin’ down.”

From archeology we know that there was indeed a conquest of Canaan but it was much more peaceful than what we imagine. We don’t know why Canaan laid almost empty for the Hebrews to take over, all we know at this time is that it was. We also know that there were pockets of resistance that were extinguished, and that the advancing Hebrews ultimately took the land and divided it out among the individual tribes. A strong case could be made that local populations were assimilated into the Hebrew tribes.

image

Rahab was living in the city of Jericho, one of the pockets of resistance according to the Bible. Joshua sent his spies into the city to have a look-see, and to devise a better campaign. They came into town, probably disguised as tradesmen or traders, and took lodging in Rahab’s inn. It was probably the cheapest establishment around; you could not live further away or in a more vulnerable spot than Rahab and her family. Their house was in a city wall.

The local authorities suspected that two men staying with Rahab were Hebrew spies, and she was ordered to release them to the authorities. But Rahab did not do that. Not only did she protect the Hebrew spies, she also misled her own people, her friends and neighbors about their whereabouts.

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That is treason. So how do we go from traitor, to the grandmother of the greatest king in the nation of Israel? What can we learn from her story?

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Let us look at Rahab’s testimony. These are her words,

8 I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. … 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below”

(Joshua 2:8,11).

Rahab testified to her faith before acknowledging that the city viewed the advancing Hebrews with fear and resentment.

image

The story of Rahab hints that there is a place in God’s family for everyone. Rahab was not born into any of the Hebrew tribes; God welcomed her anyway. Not only did God welcome her, she became part of the story of God interacting with God’s Creation. She recognized God’s presence outside of where she was, and she made a commitment to be where God is; Rahab wanted to have a part in God’s story. We saw something similar happening to Apostle Paul. {Conversion on the road to Damascus}. We know that Paul kept Rahab in high esteem because he wrote in one of his letters, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Hebrews 11:31).

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I suspect that before helping Joshua’s spies, Rahab probably voiced her faith in God and her ideas to her neighbors. I also suspect that she was shut out because the people of Jericho did not know what to do with the advancing Hebrews, and when we don’t know what else to do we continue doing what we always have done. When we don’t know what else to do we say “we’ve never done it that way before.” Many tragedies could have been averted if people just like you and I had the courage to try something different. We have an example of that in the story of Jonah; the whole population of Nineveh turned to God and was spared.

image

The story of Rahab is the story of one woman’s commitment to God. She recognized that God was singing a new song, and she wanted to join the choir. Not even for a second do I think that she neglected to speak to her neighbors about her newly found faith. Not even for a second do I think that Rahab failed to actively witness to her faith. What I think, however, is that her neighbors could not even imagine how they could adjust and adapt. That is why their city was destroyed in the process.

image

All of us can relate to the people of Jericho. All of us reach a place in our lives (and that happens more than once) when we are just tired of change, and all we want is to be comfortable and enjoy life for a while. We want to change our dress shoes for slippers. Unfortunately when we learn all the answers, someone changes all of the questions. Life does not stand still; God is always singing a new song.

image

Many of our churches have become like Jericho described in the scroll of Joshua. Although the walls of many of our churches are not tumbling down just yet, it will not take much. That is the sad part.

image

On the other hand we have hope. Our hope is that God is doing something different in the world and it is up to us to hear God’s voice. Our hope is that all of us are invited to be a part of God’s story. Our hope is that although it may be scary and uncomfortable to try new things, when we are committed to God all things are possible. Although we cannot go back and redo our beginnings or our past, we can start today and make a new ending.

Our world is full of “rahab”’s calling us to come out of our shells and our buildings, to shed our pride and self-importance, and to go witnessing to our faith and relationship with Jesus. Do you know a “rahab?” Who is a “rahab” in your life? When was the last time that you witnessed to your faith in Jesus to someone?

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“… for the Lord … is God in heaven above and on the earth below”

~~ Rahab is Joshua 2:11

Approximate Notes and Outline for Sunday Message; 27 July 2014; Joshua 2:1-24

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Joshua 2:1-24

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and CEB

Hymns:

UMH733 – Marching To Zion

UMH 177 – He Is Lord

UMH396 – O Jesus, I Have Promised

image

Today we will continue with the sermon series about commitment. Commitment to God is what keeps us connected to God and to each other. Commitment is what translates into action. That is why, as we try to figure out what our church will become in the future and how we will be making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, we need to look at examples of commitment in the Holy Scriptures.

image

Two weeks ago we looked at the life of Lazarus.

image

Then last week we looked at the foundation of our relationship with God. It all starts with the Sacrament of Baptism. Whether we are baptized as babies or adults, we are making a commitment to a relationship with Jesus. When we make a commitment to a relationship with someone, we are saying that we will take seriously what matters to that person. When we make a commitment to a relationship with Jesus, we are saying that we will take seriously our participation in the life of the Church, and that we will do that with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness, because church matters to Jesus so much that he was willing to give up his earthly life to establish the Church. The Church is made up of people who have a relationship with God. Church is the bride of Christ; collectively we are “the wife” of God.

image

Today we heard the story of Rahab, a woman who lived in Jericho. The story of Rahab is part of the story of the conquest of Canaan. From the genealogy of Jesus presented in Matthew 1, we know that Salmon (one of Joshua’s spies whom she protected) and Rahab had a son named Boaz. Boaz married Ruth, and they had a son Obed. We know that Obed was the father of Jesse and grandfather of King David. That information is found in Matthew 1:5-6.

image

When we think of the conquest of Canaan, we think of bloody battles and advancing Hebrews overpowering and annihilating the Canaanites who lived there. When we think of Jericho, we think about the song “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho… and the walls came a-tumblin’ down.”

From archeology we know that there was indeed a conquest of Canaan but it was much more peaceful than what we imagine. We don’t know why Canaan laid almost empty for the Hebrews to take over, all we know at this time is that it was. We also know that there were pockets of resistance that were extinguished, and that the advancing Hebrews ultimately took the land and divided it out among the individual tribes. A strong case could be made that local populations were assimilated into the Hebrew tribes.

image

Rahab was living in the city of Jericho, one of the pockets of resistance. Joshua sent his spies into the city to have a look-see, and to devise a better campaign. They came into town, probably disguised as tradesmen or traders, and took lodging in Rahab’s inn. It was probably the cheapest establishment around; you could not live further away or in a more vulnerable spot than Rahab and her family. Their house was in a city wall.

The local authorities suspected that two men staying with Rahab were Hebrew spies, and she was ordered to release them to the authorities. But Rahab did not do that. Not only did she protect the Hebrew spies, she also misled her own people, her friends and neighbors about their whereabouts.

image

That is treason. So how do we go from traitor, to the grandmother of the greatest king in the nation of Israel? What can we learn from her story?

image

Let us look at Rahab’s testimony. These are her words,

8 I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. … 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below”

(Joshua 2:8,11).

Rahab testified to her faith before acknowledging that the city viewed the advancing Hebrews with fear and resentment.

image

The story of Rahab hints that there is a place in God’s family for everyone. Rahab was not born into any of the Hebrew tribes; God welcomed her anyway. Not only did God welcome her, she became part of the story of God interacting with God’s Creation. She recognized God’s presence outside of where she was, and she made a commitment to be where God is; Rahab wanted to have a part in God’s story. We saw something similar happening to Apostle Paul. {Conversion on the road to Damascus}. We know that Paul kept Rahab in high esteem because he wrote in one of his letters, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Hebrews 11:31).

image

I suspect that before helping Joshua’s spies, Rahab probably voiced her faith in God and her ideas to her neighbors. I also suspect that she was shut out because the people of Jericho did not know what to do with the advancing Hebrews, and when we don’t know what else to do we continue doing what we always have done. When we don’t know what else to do we say “we’ve never done it that way before.” Many tragedies could have been averted if people just like you and I had the courage to try something different. We have an example of that in the story of Jonah; the whole population of Nineveh turned to God and was spared.

image

The story of Rahab is the story of one woman’s commitment to God. She recognized that God was singing a new song, and she wanted to join the choir. Not even for a second do I think that she neglected to speak to her neighbors about her newly found faith. Not even for a second do I think that Rahab failed to actively witness to her faith. What I think, however, is that her neighbors could not even imagine how they could adjust and adapt. That is why their city was destroyed in the process.

image

All of us can relate to the people of Jericho. All of us reach a place in our lives (and that happens more than once) when we are just tired of change, and all we want is to be comfortable and enjoy life for a while. We want to change our dress shoes for slippers. Unfortunately when we learn all the answers, someone changes all of the questions. Life does not stand still; God is always singing a new song.

image

Many of our churches have become like Jericho described in the scroll of Joshua. Although the walls of many of our churches are not tumbling down just yet, it will not take much. That is the sad part.

image

On the other hand we have hope. Our hope is that God is doing something different in the world and it is up to us to hear God’s voice. Our hope is that all of us are invited to be a part of God’s story. Our hope is that although it may be scary and uncomfortable to try new things, when we are committed to God all things are possible. Although we cannot go back and redo our beginnings or our past, we can start today and make a new ending.

Our world is full of “rahab”’s calling us to come out of our shells and our buildings, to shed our pride and self-importance, and to go witnessing to our faith and relationship with Jesus. Do you know a “rahab?” Who is a “rahab” in your life? When was the last time that you witnessed to your faith in Jesus to someone?

image

“… for the Lord … is God in heaven above and on the earth below”

~~ Rahab is Joshua 2:11

An open letter from Mr. Tom B., Church Council Chair of Christ United Methodist Church to the members of CUMC

On Wednesday evening, July 16, 2014, members of Christ and First churches met to discuss how we could better serve the Methodist community of Chestertown. Our initial intention was to explore potential cooperative ventures that might strengthen the bond between our groups; as well as expand our ability to reach out and help people in all facets of their lives more effectively.

The discussion quickly shifted from suggestions of joint projects to a much more focused discussion on the NEED for our churches to immediately begin to consider the ultimate goal of uniting to form one consolidated congregation. I must stress to everyone that there was a firm and definite consensus that there should be no delay in establishing a combined group of members to provide suggestions and direction concerning this initiative. We all recognize this will take time and will not be without difficulty. However, there was not a single objection expressed to this proposal. I specifically asked on more than one occasion if anyone wished to voice a contrary opinion with none forthcoming.

Carol B. and I, as the present Administrative Board leaders of our respective congregations, have been directed to request the help of a few members of each congregation in organizing this huge step forward. We will meet soon.

Sincerely,

Tom

Thinking Towards Sunday; 27 July 2014

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Joshua 2:1-24

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and CEB

Hymns:

UMH733 – Marching To Zion

UMH 177 – He Is Lord

UMH396 – O Jesus, I Have Promised

In Memoriam: Pastor John Mitchell

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“There is no better way to spend one’s life than to serve the Lord.”

~~ John Mitchell

Working Towards Sunday; 20 July 2014

Scriptures for this Sunday: Ephesians 4:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

At Worton UMC

UMH605 – Wash, O God, Our Sins and Daughters (We will use melody UMH89)

UMH349 – Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

UMH462 – ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

At CUMC

We will have special service by the water. Any hymns that we will sing will be a-cappella

Approximate Notes for the Message at the Soul Fest in Wilmer Park; 12 July 2014

Special THANX to Bishop Tilghman, all the Elders of the Potter’s House Ministries in Chestertown, MD and the community of Potter’s House Ministries for organizing the Soul Fest at Wilmer Park. It is a privilege and and honor to be invited to be a part of this outreach.

 

Mark 1:1-8 NIV 2010

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

1: 1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way”—

3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

    make straight paths for him.’”

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

We are living in days and times that call Christians to be filled with integrity and to stand up shoulder to shoulder.

These are the days of Elijah. Elijah’s story is in the book of 1 Kings 18:16-46 and it is the story of a prophet that felt isolated and alone in the culture in which he lived. It is a story of a prophet who had the courage to hear the voice of God and to follow that voice. The Church and all individual churches are like Elijah living in a culture where we feel isolated and alone.

We are living in days and times that call all of us, men and women whose identity is rooted in their relationship with Jesus, to be holy and just, and to stand up for God shoulder to shoulder just like Moses, Aaron, Miriam and Joshua did. Righteousness and integrity are important in all of our attitudes and in everything that we do. The Prophet Micah asked, “ …what does the Lord require of you?” And the reply was, “To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Righteousness that comes by faith always points to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, relationship with Jesus and recognition of God’s presence in our lives.

We live in days of great trial. Look at all the problems that we face as a human race: climate change, drugs, addiction, violence, parents send their children across the border in Texas in hopes that these children find a better life.

We live in days of darkness and sword. Look at all the wars: Israel, Middle East, Central America, Ukraine.

We live in days when thousands of people die every day from starvation, malnutrition and war. That does not only happen in faraway places. Two weeks ago, our neighbor and brother, a citizen of Kent County, died in Fountain Square. That man could have been any one of us if things turned out differently in our lives.

Now that I have depressed everyone, let me say that in the midst of it all, we do have hope! God is with us.

Now that I have depressed everyone, let me say that we are called to come back to God because when we are with God all things are possible. “The joy of the Lord is our strength!” (Psalm 28:7, Nehemiah 8:10)

As Christians, as sisters and brothers united by the Love of Jesus and united by his precious blood spilled on the Cross, we are called to make a declaration of what and who we believe in. It does not matter what denomination we are, it does not matter whether some of us are white or black, it does not matter whether some of us have hair or not, it does not matter whether some of us have grits or croissants for breakfast, it does not matter what differences divide us BECAUSE what divides and separates us from each other is not as MEANINGFUL or even as powerful as what unites us.

In case you are wondering, what unites us is the love of Jesus. All of us have experienced that love at one time or another in our lives; that love and that presence changed us and challenged us to be the best of what God created us to be.

In Matthew 9, we hear,

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”

We are called to go outside the walls of our churches declaring righteousness, demonstrating unity and worshiping God with all aspects of our lives. Jesus sends us to preach the word and to be God’s hands and feet in our hurting communities. Jesus calls us to carry God’s love not only to each other BUT ALSO & ESPECIALLY to the last, the lost and the least.

I don’t know if something like this is even possible, but I wonder if the churches that I have the privilege to pastor, Christ United Methodist Church and Worton United Methodist Church, could get together with the Potter House Ministries and organize a joint mission, something that we can do together, something that will make a statement that our differences pale next to our common mission, our common identity in Christ and our common understanding of God’s Grace. We already gather for worship together. Can we get some dirt under our nails together?

We are called to make a declaration of what and who we believe in because if we do nothing, we will watch the world that we know and love turn into “a valley of dry bones” (Ezekiel 37:1-14). If we find the courage to set our differences aside and work together, if we dare to become a united church rising up in unity and purpose, we can make a difference.

The truth is that no matter how hard we try we will not resolve all the problems. We will not be able to eradicate hunger. We will not be able to stop all the wars and broker peace in all the areas of armed conflict. We will not be able to eradicate drugs and alcohol addiction and we will not be able to reverse or fix the effects of climate change. We CAN however do something. We can work together to make our corner of the world a better place.

Jesus calls us to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

{Illustration: Story of a poem from my childhood}

 

If my heart is not on fire,

And your heart
is not on fire,

If we are not filled
with the Spirit,

Who will then
disperse the dark?

If my heart is not on fire,

If your heart is not on fire,

If our hearts are not on fire,

Who will then
disperse the dark?

My hope is that by working together we can make this area a “City on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). My hope and prayer is that by working together, we will be able to prepare the way (Mark 1:8) for the Holy Spirit to swoop onto Chestertown, and Fairlee and Rock Hall and every other nook and cranny of our county, just like John the Baptist did for Judea.

This is our corner of the Garden of Eden, the spot where God planted us. It is here that God trusted us to “till the soil,” (KJV) to “work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15 NIV2010).

When we are with God, all things are possible!

May God bless our churches and our ministries!

Approximate Notes and Outline for Sunday’s Message; 13 July 2014; John 11:1-3, 17, 38-44

Scripture Reading: John 11:38-44

You can read it here: NIV & CEB

Affirmation: UMH 883

Hymns for Sunday:

UMH 600 – Wonderful Words of Life

UMH 133 – Leaning On the Everlasting Arms

Lazarus Monologue:

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My name is Lazarus of Bethany. I have two sisters, Mary and Martha.

Three of us knew Jesus of Nazareth since we were children. I remember the day when he showed up with his Disciples for the first time, and they stayed with us every time that they needed to go to Jerusalem because Bethany is so close to Jerusalem.

Everyone knows the story about Jesus calling me out of the grave. What nobody knows is my side of the story. I remember getting sick; it hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt so hot; every muscle and every joint in my body was hurting. Every breath was painful.

Mary and Martha did everything they could to comfort me. They even sent for Jesus in hopes that he could heal me. To this day the stories of his healings are legendary.

All I remember is pain and drifting in and out of consciousness. And then I felt nice and cool and it was very comfortable. There was no pain, I felt wonderful and there was such a beautiful light all around me. Now I realize that this is what death feels like; at the time all I knew was that I felt wonderful and comfortable.

And all of a sudden, I heard Jesus calling me, “Lazarus, come out!”(John 11:43). I was so comfortable and I really did not want to leave that place because it was so beautiful. But I know Jesus; if Jesus called me to come out, there was a good reason for it. So I got up and walked towards his voice, the voice that I knew so well; the voice of my friend.

Mary and Martha tell me that I was dead for a day, then buried for four more days in a sealed grave before Jesus arrived. To me it felt like a moment in time; less than a second. One moment I closed my eyes and drifted out of consciousness, the next moment, I heard Jesus calling me to come out.

Can you imagine my surprise when I realized that my body was bundled in burial wraps and that I was standing at my own grave?

It felt scary. It felt weird. I remember feeling my heart beating and wondering what it meant that I had been dead, and now I was alive. Jesus understood me. Jesus understood that I needed to come to terms with all these feelings and emotions and with what happened to me. That is why he told my neighbors to unbundle me and let me spend time alone so that I could figure out what had happened and how I would respond to this gift of life.

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Sometimes I wonder, why did Jesus call ME – Lazarus – to come out of the grave? He could have glorified his Heavenly Father by raising anyone. So, why me?

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Today we are starting a new series of sermons. We will look at a few men and women in the Bible, and we will talk about commitment.

I know that when pastors start talking about “commitment,” many people start thinking about ways they can “boycott” worship services for a month or two. Everyone expects sermons about commitment to ask for money.

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The commitment that I want to talk about is about our – yours and my – closeness with God; commitment is about our eagerness to follow Jesus; commitment is about our willingness to allow the Holy Spirit of our God to mold us and shape us. Many disagreements in and between our churches, many financial shortfalls and building problems, are symptoms of the lack of commitment on all of our parts.

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{Explain Adam Hamilton’s Discipleship process.}

We tend to go up and down that “mountain” and every time that we reach a new understanding, all of us have a tendency to marvel at how cool it is and how much more spiritual we are becoming. As soon as we start thinking in terms of “our own spiritualness and specialness,” that is when we realize all of a sudden that we have just fallen off of the mountain. If that sounds strangely familiar, re-read the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4-9). It happens to all of us… A popular song says, “For the God on the Mountain, is still God in the Valley…”

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As time progresses, and as I spend time with God, I realize that every time we climb that mountain, we climb a little higher. And that gives me hope, because one day I may learn enough to just stay there, or God will take me there when my journey is over.

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That brings me to the old question: why Lazarus? There were many other people who died whom Jesus knew and loved. We know that Jesus resuscitated Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43; Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 8:40-56) and a young man/widow’s son in the city of Nain (Luke 7:11-15). We know that there were other men and women whom Jesus could raise. What was so special about Lazarus? Why not just console Mary and Martha, officiate a celebration of life service, and then spend some time in Bethany teaching and preaching on the village green?

It is in the context of Lazarus’ death that Jesus said, “… it is for God’s glory …” (John 11: 4). It is in the context of Lazarus’ death that Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). And after saying that, Jesus asked, “Do you [Martha] believe this?” (John 11:26).

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Every one of us has been in “Lazarus’ grave” at one time or another.

Who among us has not found themselves so tired and frustrated that they had difficulty facing another day or even the next minute?

Who among us has not had a really bad day at the office?

Who among us has not had a tough day with kids?

Who among us has not been frustrated with traffic at one time or another?

Who among us has not had difficulty dealing with a severe health issue?

Did you, or do you know someone, who has received an organ transplant, and thus receive a second lease on life?

In all of these cases Jesus is calling, “Asher, come out!” “____, come out!” Remember me! I am with you, you are not alone.

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I think of commitment as a sum of devotion, dedication, loyalty to a cause or to a relationship that gives us energy and strength to keep on keeping on. I think of commitment as an attitude that keeps us working towards a goal or in support of something that is bigger than ourselves.

image

Commitment to God is what keeps us connected to God and to each other. Commitment is what translates into action. That is why, as we try to figure out what our church will become in the future and how we will be making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, we need to look at examples of commitment in the Holy Scriptures.

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{Q&A}

Thinking Towards Sunday; 13 July 2014

Scripture Reading: John 11:38-44

You can read it here: NIV & CEB

Affirmation: UMH 883

Hymns for Sunday:

UMH 600 – Wonderful Words of Life

UMH 133 – Leaning On the Everlasting Arms

Approximate Notes and Outline for Sunday Message; USAmerican Independence Day’2014; Galatians 5:1, 13-18

Today,  July 4, 2014, our nation (The United States of America) celebrates anniversary of signing the Declaration of Independence. Our nation refers to the calendar date of July 4th as Independence Day.

On Sunday, July 6, 2014 we will have a special service with the Celebration of the Holy Communion dedicated to commemorating the history and meaning of this day and living its legacy into the future.

Our Services will be held:

  • 8:45 am @ Worton UMC

  • 10:00 am @ Christ UMC

Scriptures for this day: Galatians 5:1,13-18

You can read it here:   NIV2010 & CEB

Hymns

UMH697 – “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”

UMH 696 – “America the Beautiful

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The beginning of July is a celebratory time in the United States of America. On the 4th of July we remember and celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence that happened on July 2, 1776. The thirteen (13) colonies rebelled against the rule of England and against imposing taxes without any representation in the British parliament. For the colonists this was a time of making hard decisions. For the colonists this was a time for making choices that challenged the status quo. For the colonists this was a time to think outside the box.

And this is what they wrote:

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When in the Course (sic) of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

 

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Just reading these few lines it is easy to hear the passion and the resolve of the men who signed their names on the Declaration. Just reading these few lines it is easy to hear the struggle and debate that led to developing this document. It is easy to hear why we cherish this document and the sentiments that it espouses, and why we celebrate Independence Day. We celebrate the spirit, the idealism and the resolve of these men to build a better world.

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That is why many businesses are closed on July 4th, most workers get a day off, there are fireworks, parades, barbecues, picnics, and other forms of celebration. The Independence of a nation is a gut wrenching, monumental triumph and it is a legacy and accomplishment to remember, to celebrate and be inspired by.

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In Philippians 4:8, Paul wrote, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

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The truth is that most nations celebrate some sort of Independence Day. As a kid I was celebrating Independence Day in the Old Country, Independence Day in the republic where I lived, Independence Day in the Soviet Baltics and Belarus where I visited quite often. This year a strange coincidence jumped at me: the declaration of all of these “independence days” were preceded by a disagreement and were followed by some form of a civil war. For me it was a “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) moment.

I realized that the common vision, the common understanding were born from strife and conflict and , once born, were followed by a struggle that tested the resolve and validity of the new understanding.

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Our country is not an exception. We call the war that followed the signing of the Declaration of Independence the “Revolutionary War,” but we know that it was a war where members of the same family found themselves on opposing sides. In a way, it was a civil war fought between the neighbors and citizens of the colonies.

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As Christians all of us have a personal “independence day” marking when we recognized the presence of the Living God in our hearts.

And when we recognize the presence of the Living God in our hearts, the presence that challenges us to be the best that we can be, all of a sudden we recognize how tempting (not to mention easier) it is to be LESS THAN the best that God created us to be.

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One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One wolf represents Evil -it is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other wolf represents Good – joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’

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Knowing God implies that we also know and have the ability to recognize evil. Knowing God means that when we are tempted by something, we hear a small voice urging us to NOT succumb to the temptation, but to keep our eyes on God, to keep the faith.

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In Galatians 5:15 Paul wrote, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

Which wolf are you going to feed?

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Not all of us are fortunate to pinpoint the day when we gave our lives to Christ. I am fortunate because I remember the day when I first became consciously aware of God’s presence. I am fortunate because I remember the day when the Holy Spirit moved me to answer the altar call at Gloucester County Community Church.

For some of us it is not such a well-defined event; for some of us it is a process, a series of days, weeks and months that led to an “A-ha!” moment.

The reason I chose the reading from Galatians today is because I think that it is Paul’s personal declaration of independence. It is easy to take the words that Paul wrote and adapt them into our lives. The following is my attempt:

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We, the people of the Church established by Jesus, believe that Christ has set us free to resist evil and enjoy everything that is Godly, right, true and beautiful around us.

We believe that we have tendencies to overlook the “whispers” from God and concentrate on the “shouts” from our sinful nature. That is the internal struggle that all of us are engaged in individually and as a community.

We also believe that Jesus gave us freedom to resist evil so that we can serve God by serving one another humbly in love and serve the world in which we live. That is why Jesus taught us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Encouraged by these teachings we will resist internal strife in our community so that it does not destroy us. By resisting in-fighting we will also provide a welcoming and uplifting environment for ourselves and for our neighbors to grow and thrive  to grow and thrive and a welcoming place for our neighbors.

How many of us would be willing to sign this preamble / statement of faith?

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To celebrate our personal “Independence Day,” to help us to remember what it means to be a Christian, to help us to feed the wolf that represents everything that is right, true, and beautiful with the world, Jesus gave us the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

{Q&A}

Happy Independence Day!

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John Trumbull’s “Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776″

 

There are two secular holidays that I love: USAmerican Independence Day and Thanksgiving. For me the rest of the secular holidays are just an opportunity to take some time off, and I would not miss them if they were not on the calendar. Independence Day and Thanksgiving, on the other hand, are days of celebrating God’s Blessings and remembering what it means to be an American. At least they are for me.

July 4th is a special date in in United States. Like Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of the calendar month of November, Independence Day is a guilt-free holiday filled with family, fun, hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, apple pie and an occasional beer or a glass of wine.

Our Country (the United States of America) has been founded on the premise that it welcomes the best from around the world. We have become a great nation through embracing those that seek religious freedom and political tolerance, cultural acceptance and economic opportunities for anyone who is industrious and is willing to work hard.

While we are not perfect, the United States of America is a pretty wonderful place to live in for many reasons.

We have religious freedom and separation of church and state. This right is very important to me because I was raised in a place where there was no freedom of consciousness or religion. My United States passport does not have a line specifying my ethnic origin and/or religious affiliation in addition to my citizenship. It is important because it makes it unlikely for my fellow citizens to look at my passport and then point a gun to my head. In case you are wondering, the threat of a gun to anyone’s head is not an enjoyable way to live.

By contrast, growing up I was not taught how to think, I was told what to think. Growing up there was almost a stigma related to my ethnic origin attached to my person. Growing up, in every election we always had ONLY ONE candidate. In the United States of America we have candidates debating their vision and hopes for what they will accomplish while in office. In this country we challenge people/voters to think and make decisions for themselves.

We still have certain populations within our nation that can claim persecution and oppression (and rightfully so) based on ethnic, socio-economic or political background. Great strides need to be made in this area and while it is not going to be easy, at least the issues are on the table and we exchange words and ideas instead of bullets.

In our country we enjoy unparalleled economic opportunities. I realize that there is a huge chasm in our society that is based on the educational background of individuals; after all education is what opens doors for future opportunities for advancement. As a country we no longer offer relevant education for all. Education is only available to those who are able to afford it financially. By doing that, we are cutting the branch that we are sitting on because the future competitiveness in the world economy will depend on who has the most educated, imaginative, hard-working and industrious work force.

Freedom is easy to take for granted when we have it. It is easy to take freedom for granted when you never knew what it is like NOT to be free.

As we celebrate Independence Day on July 4, 2014, we are standing on the shoulders of previous generations, and we are enjoying the fruits of their vision, their desire to build a better life for future generations, their hard work and accomplishments. It is a wonderful legacy, and my hope and prayer for our country is that we continue carrying it forward.

My hope and prayer for the churches that I currently pastor, Christ United Methodist Church and Worton United Methodist Church (listed in alphabetical order), is that our communities find a way to be instruments of reconciliation in our divided world, and challenge themselves and our neighbors to be the best versions of what God created us to be.

To God Be the Glory and May God Bless the USA!

Thinking Towards Independence Day Sunday; 6 July 2014

On July 4, 2014, our nation (The United States of America) will celebrate anniversary of signing the Declaration of Independence. Our nation refers to the calendar date of July 4th as Independence Day.

On Sunday, July 6, 2014 we will have a special service with the Celebration of the Holy Communion dedicated to commemorating the history and meaning of this day and living its legacy into the future.

Our Services will be held:

  • 8:45 am @ Worton UMC

  • 10:00 am @ Christ UMC

Scriptures for this day: Galatians 5:1,13-18; John 8:31-47

You can read it here:   NIV2010 & CEB

Possible Hymns (still Work in Progress)

UMH697 – “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”

UMH 696 – “America the Beautiful”

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-22; 29 June 2014

This Sunday the community of Christ United Methodist Church will join our sisters and brothers from First UMC in their sanctuary @ 9:30 am. Please note that the Worship time is 9:30 am. **PLEASE NOTE THE TIME 9:30AM**

Scriptures:  1 Thessalonians 5:9-22;Hebrews 10:19-25; Philippians  4:4-9

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 & CEB

“Let the mind of Christ be in you…” (Philippians 2:5)

Hymns:

UMH 131 – We Gather Together

UMH 396 – O Jesus, I have promised

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At no point in history was God ever silent. God has always communicated with his people in some way or another. We know that if God wants something understood, it will be heard. The question is not whether God communicates with us, but how God does it.

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I am convinced that God reveals Godself to us all the time; experiences of God are not the exception, but the norm. When was the last time that you had a vision from God? When was the last time you heard God’s voice? When was the last time that you felt a prompting from God? I suspect that all of us have experienced God’s voice, and wondered whether it was God, or our intuition, our wishful thinking, a selfish desire, or perhaps that fifth slice of a very large pizza we had at midnight that caused us to hear all kinds of strange noises as we tried to drift off to sleep.

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In the last four weeks a few of us shared in a Bible study titled The Power of a Whisper and we spent quite a bit of time sharing stories and our personal experiences of how God communicates with us. We learned a lot about God and about each other; we laughed a lot and we prayed together. It was an awesome time and a tremendous experience.

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Our lives are filled with voices competing for our attention, shouting to us from our laptops, televisions, and magazines, telling us to “Buy this!” or to “Go here.” Or “If you want to live a fulfilling life, you must have this.” What is especially irritating to me personally are the advertisements that say that a certain product, “will take you [the observer] from where (and who) you are to where (and who) you want to be!”

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Ironically, advertisers have learned to camouflage secular messages as messages from God. God often whispers to us, “I will take you from who you are today to who you want to be tomorrow”; secular messages promise us similar things all the time.

{Illustration}.

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So, how does God communicate with us AND, more importantly, with all the noise and interruptions competing for our attention, how do we distinguish God’s voice from all the others?

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1) God communicates with us through prayer. Prayer is not a monologue; it is a conversation with God.

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In Matthew 6:5-8 we hear,

5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words [figure out what you are asking for]. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him [you will recognize the answer because you know what you asking for and because you had the courage to ask].”

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Experience. There were times in my life when God communicated through other men and women.

 

 

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Ephesians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up”

{Illustration: Clara’s story  //  Almost an Angel – no batteries in the remote  // Wise Men from the East in Christmas Story}

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Is what I perceive to be God’s Whisper about God’s interaction with God’s Creation OR is it a story about me. Will what I perceive to be God’s Whisper benefit mostly me and shine a spotlight on me, or will it serve God and help my neighbors? Does what we perceive to be communication from God point towards the Holy, is it something that is about the larger community or is it about ME?

 

 

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{Illustration: Story of Elijah // John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer // “I am a ________ man/woman”}

In Matthew 6:1-4 we read Jesus teaching about that, “1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. … 2 … when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, … 3 … when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret.”

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Do my trusted advisors recognize God’s presence when I share my experience with them?

Our personal egos get in the way and it is always important to validate what we perceive to be God’s guidance with those we trust and whose opinions we respect.

 

 

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Is what I perceive to be God’s Whisper is a thinly disguised attempt to run from something or someone?

All of us know someone who has done that or even have done it ourselves. Whether it is at work, or at home, or in a relationship, or one of life’s “ordinary” problems, they often believe the best way out of the problem is a fresh start. Sometimes [in rare occasions] we do need a fresh start. But more often than not, when we quit, get a divorce, break-up, or move to a different city without figuring out what root cause of the problem is, the cycle just repeats itself.

 

 

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Ephesians 5: 13 “Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”

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So here are five things I do to discern whether a whisper is from God, or just wishful thinking on my part:

    • Prayer

    • Past experiences confirm what is happening now

    • Is it about God or is it about stroking my personal ego

    • Do people I trust find it reasonable

    • Is it an attempt to run away

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That brings us to the last point I want to make.

In order to hear God’s whispers we need to put ourselves in a position where we are ready to hear God’s whispers. For someone it could be having a chair on a front porch, spending mornings with a cup of coffee and a Bible meditating on the Word of God. For me personally it means shutting down my mind {or at least slowing down} and putting myself in a situation that is out of the ordinary where my routine is broken.

That is why I hear God’s promptings during mission trips. On my mission trips to Nicaragua and to Cuba I saw God face-to-face. It was NOT an ordinary day in my life when I met Clara (See point #2 above). I treat Camp Pecometh SLC trips as mission trips because I am out of my comfort zone and because I experience God there and I see God working in the lives of the campers and counselors.

These experiences of God change me. They change me morally and emotionally, and, what is more important, they change and challenge me in my capacity to imagine and to dream. These experiences leave me convinced that God is beside me as I journey through life. These experiences leave me with an understanding of God as a partner and a friend. Because of these experiences I know that my Redeemer lives (Job 19:25) and I know what God’s voice feels like and sounds like (John 10:27).

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I want to challenge all of us. To quote Paul, “do not quench the spirit” (Ephesians 5:19). I want to challenge all of us to do what you have to do, adjust where you have to adjust and accept what you have to accept so that you can put yourself in a position to see and hear God more clearly every day of your life, to follow God more nearly, and to love God more and more with each passing day of our lives.

Dare to be a Disciple!

“Gospel Measure”: this expression means “abundance.” “Gospel Measure” of God’s blessing….

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Thinking Towards Sunday; 29 June 2014

This Sunday the community of Christ United Methodist Church will join our sisters and brothers from First UMC in their sanctuary @ 9:30 am. Please note that the Worship time is 9:30 am. **PLEASE NOTE THE TIME 9:30AM**

Scriptures:  1 Thessalonians 5:9-22;Hebrews 10:19-25; Philippians  4:4-9

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV201o & CEB

“Let the mind of Christ be in you…” (Philippians 2:5)

Hymns:

UMH 131 – We Gather Together

UMH 396 – O Jesus, I have promised

Approximate Notes and Outline for Sunday’s Message; 22 June 2014; Romans 1:8-17

Scripture Reading: Romans 1:8-17

You can read it here: NIV

Affirmation of Faith: UMH 888

Hymns:

UMH301  -  Jesus, Keep Me Near The Cross

UMH374  -  Standing On the Promises

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The reading that we heard today from the Scroll of Romans has always intrigued me.

This reading opens with Paul stating that the church that he is writing to is in his prayers and thoughts. Nothing earth shattering.

Then he says that he “longs” to spend time with the people that he is writing to, so that they may study the scriptures, pray, and break bread together, and help each other to learn more about God, learn about each other, do some projects together and get inspired and excited for further mission.

Then Paul writes, “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome” (verses 14-15). What he says is that he knows that the presence of God is among the people of the church and that is why he wants to spend time with them, whatever their personal background or family of origin.

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Ever since I heard the next paragraph for the first time, I have struggled with it. Verse 16 states, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

I am OK with the first part of the verse, “not ashamed of the Gospel”; what I am struggling with is, “… first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

How can Paul make a claim that the salvation first comes to only one group of people and then is revealed to everyone else? Does God play favorites?

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And then we come to verse 17. Again, I do not have a problem with the first part of the verse that states, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed… .” What stumbles me is, “…a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

And what about the righteousness that is “from first to last?” Do some of us have a predisposition to be more righteous than others? All of us know that no matter how much faith we have, unless we get out of bed in the morning and go to work, we will not be able to meet even the basic necessities of life.

{Illustration}

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Today we will start a series of sermons during which we will look at different persons in the Bible, look at their humanness and also at their commitment to God and how their commitment gave them strength to serve God and to influence those around them.

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Let’s reread what Paul wrote through that lens (humanness and commitment).… I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes … . For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Paul is saying that he takes great pride in the Good News that he was trusted to deliver. He is saying that he has great confidence in the forgiveness of God, redemption in Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In that respect we are not all that different. Who among us would not say that we take great pride in the Good News of Jesus Christ? Who among us would hesitate to express their confidence in the forgiveness of God, redemption in Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

The difference between Paul and all of us is that although we may feel confident in the forgiveness of God, redemption in Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are not often glad, excited, or even prepared to back out faith with evangelism and outreach, to stare our faith with others. There is a reason for it. As Christians we have a hard time recognizing God’s presence and blessings in our lives. How many of us love the Gospel in our hearts, but are afraid to admit our love out loud or in our actions. That is the effect of the culture in which we live.

That brings me to the topic of commitment. The difference between someone like Paul, and someone like you and I, could be summarized in one word – commitment. Or more precisely, the level of commitment.

{Illustration}

 

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Commitment is a state of being bound emotionally and intellectually to a cause, to a course of action, or to another person or group of persons. Commitment is an attitude of diligence and hard work to support something that we hold dear and believe is important, in order to pass it into the future. Commitment is something that develops over time.

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The psalmist said it best in Psalm 51:10-12:

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

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In his letter to Hebrews (Hebrews 11:1, 6), Paul explained how faith and commitment to God relate to our own spiritual and emotional wellbeing,

1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. … 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

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And that brings me to the last point that I want to make in today’s message. In the beginning of the message I shared with all of you that verse 16 of today’s reading (Romans 8:16), the part where Paul wrote that God brings salvation “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” has been a stumbling block for me. As I started preparing for this series and thinking about commitment I understood (at least I think I understood) what Paul is talking about.

In order for us to understand something, we have to be willing to receive new information and to be able to process it. During Paul’s life, the Jews had a lot of experience with God. They already had over two thousand years of tradition and experience to reason and debate God’s leading on their lives individually and as a quasi-nation. That is why, when God came to this earth in the person of Jesus, he came to the Jews, and that is why the first disciples that were called {}{} were Jews. The Jews were sent to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world. The Jews as a group were trusted to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world.

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Just like the Jews who lived with neighbors that did not share their views or understanding of who God is {EXPLAIN}, we live in a world that has some understanding of God, but it is not rooted in the Holy Scriptures {EXPLAIN}. By and large, it is rooted in Hollywood and popular culture. Although art is a lie that tells us something about the truth, it is still a lie.

After the first Pentecost, God sent the Jews on a mission to spread the word. Today we are in an annual season of Pentecost of the church calendar cycle and God is sending us. And we may not be much, but we are here. All of us have our assorted shticks, weaknesses and limitations and we have faith. In the upcoming series, we will look at how different persons in the Bible were able to overcome their limitations and find way to stay faithful to God.

My hope is that we find inspiration and guidance on how to be the church in the lives of these men and women and that we figure out how to meet the world outside these walls so that we can make disciples to the glory of God.

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