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

Thinking Towards Sunday; May 8, 2016; Mother’s Day in the United States of America

Scripture for this Sunday John 19: 25-27; 1 Kings 3: 16-28

You can read this Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Happy Easter to my Orthodox Gumbahs!

Happy Easter to my Orthodox Friends and Gumbahs!

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Xristos Voskres!

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, May 1, 2016; Romans 12:3-8; Hebrews 10:19-25

Scriptures for this Sunday: Romans 12:3-8; Hebrews 10:19-25

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

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We started this series of sermons by reading the Scripture from Mark 1 where Jesus was staying in Peter’s house, healed Peter’s mother, and then took some Jesus-time. We saw that people were looking for Jesus, and the Disciples even asked him to go back to the village. Imagine how easy it was for Jesus to say, “of course… let’s go back, we can have awesome ministry here…” But it is not what Jesus said… Jesus started his ministry by saying, “NIV2010 Mark 1:38 Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

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Then we looked at the role that Judas Iscariot played in Jesus’ arrest. We saw that although his role in our Christian story is far from admirable, it is also nuanced and complicated. I think that he was trying to create a situation where Jesus would be forced to defend himself, and in the process vindicate Israel by bringing political and military defeat to the Romans. Judas longed to return to the Golden Era of Israel’s independence and sovereignty. Judas wanted a miracle; a miraculous change in circumstances that would right everything that he understood and perceived to be wrong with the world. Judas tried to fit our infinite God into his own finite mind and it did not work.

In reality we know that if we want miracles, we need to allow God to work in our lives and that means opening ourselves to the possibility that God is doing something different than what we want to happen.

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Then last week we looked at the readings from the Gospel of John and we saw Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and “two others” (John 21:2) tried to go back to the place where it all started, where Jesus made the decision to go “out there” instead of “staying here.”

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And who among us has not wished to return to a time of lost innocence? Who among us has not thought that it would be nice to return to a place of safety and to a time when life made sense? We saw that it is impossible to go back there. No matter how great is the trauma, no matter how strong is our desire to go back in time, there is no place like “home” because that place only exists in our memories. The physical building may still be standing, but because we are changed, that emotional place of innocence and safety will no longer satisfy our needs. Our needs have changed because we have changed. We cannot go back because there is nobody left in the past; the time and the place that we call “the past” has been moving forward. That is why the Disciples could not catch any fish on their own; they were no longer fishermen; they had become fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).

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That brings us to today’s Scriptures. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we hear, “…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…”

Jesus even demonstrated the process of how we can do it. As embarrassed as Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and the “two others” were (John 21:12), Jesus just reminded them of their journey with him by breaking bread and fish and giving it to them. Jesus did not harp on them; he did not have to. The Disciples knew what they had to do.

That is why Paul wrote in Romans 12:3-5,Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

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The United Methodist Church does a lot of things right and the United Methodist Church does a lot of things well. We are not scared of bringing items into the open, we discuss and debate, we step out in mission, we are connectional and strive to help Methodists throughout the world. Solutions only become available after recognizing that there is a problem, defining and understanding the nature of the problem and then figuring out how to resolve it. The United Methodist Church is very good at that. That being understood, we have also become very good at holding on to pieces of broken dreams and bickering about which pieces of those dreams should NOT be discarded. We don’t make room for new dreams, room to see where God may be leading, because we long to go back. Holding on to our broken dreams prevents us from moving forward. If we want miracles we need to make room for God in our lives. If we want new horizons, we need to allow God to reveal these horizons to us and then allow God to take us there.

That is why God gave us encouragement for the journey. That encouragement is called Sacraments, and today we will celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. The Sacrament of the Holy Communion brings us into the presence of the Holy, and just by being in that presence, it helps us to see beyond our current circumstances, and dream about ways to reinvent ourselves. The United Methodist Church and Kingswood United Methodist Church have reinvented themselves many times in our history.

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{Transition to the Celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

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Thinking Towards Sunday; Sunday, May 1, 2016; Romans 12:3-8; Hebrews 10:19-25

Scriptures for this Sunday: Romans 12:3-8; Hebrews 10:19-25

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; April 24, 2016; John 20:19-23; John 21:1-14

John 20:19-23 NIV2010 Jesus Appears to His Disciples

NIV2010 John 20: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 21:1-14 NIV2010 Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish

NIV2010 John 21: 1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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Two weeks ago we read the Scripture from Mark 1 where Jesus was staying in Peter’s house, healed Peter’s mother, and then took some Jesus-time. We saw that people were looking for Jesus, and the Disciples even asked him to go back to the village. Imagine how easy it was for Jesus to say, “of course… let’s go back, we can have awesome ministry here…” But it is not what Jesus said… Jesus started his ministry by saying, “NIV2010 Mark 1:38 Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

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Then last week we looked at the role that Judas Iscariot played in Jesus’ arrest. I realize that after hearing last week’s message, it is totally possible to say, “Gee, it sounds like Judas Iscariot got a raw deal,” but the main point is that although his role in our Christian story is far from admirable, it is also nuanced and complicated. I think that he was trying to create a situation where Jesus would be forced to defend himself, and in the process vindicate Israel by bringing political and military defeat to the Romans. Judas wanted a miracle; a miraculous change in circumstances that would right everything that he understood and perceived to be wrong with the world. Judas tried to fit our infinite God into his own finite mind and it did not work.

In reality we know that if we want miracles, we need to allow God to work in our lives and that means opening ourselves to the possibility that God is doing something different than what we want to happen.

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That brings us to today’s readings. It’s been a few days since Jesus was crucified. We know that Jesus’ crucifixion was traumatic and scary for the Disciples. Then Jesus’ body “disappeared” from the tomb. Mary Magdalene said something about seeing the risen Jesus in the garden, then there were two men from Emmaus claiming that Jesus walked with them for a mile or two. These stories are so contradictory to what we call “common sense” and “life experiences”; that is why it was difficult for the Disciples to process that information. The Disciples did not know how to be, what to think, or what to do next. In the first portion of today’s reading we find them huddling in the Upper Room behind locked doors because they were scared, and because they just could not think of anything else to do.

That is when Jesus showed up. Jesus always shows up, not when we have our best foot forward, but when we are stressed and at the end of our rope. Jesus spent some time with them, teaching and instructing them, bestowing the Holy Spirit on the Disciples, and he did it not once but twice. The second time Jesus came back to make sure that Thomas had a chance to witness the resurrection (John 20:24-29).

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Reading the second part of the Gospel lesson we learned that Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and “two others” (John 21:2) went back to the place where it all started, where Jesus made that decision to go “out there” instead of “staying here.”

How many of us ever wished to return to a time of lost innocence? The truth is that we can never go back. No matter how great is the trauma, no matter how strong is our desire to go back in time, there is no place like home because that place no longer exists. The physical building may be still standing, but because we are changed, that emotional place of innocence and safety is no longer available to us. Our needs have changed because we have changed. We cannot go back because there is nobody left in the past.

The Gospel reading from John 21:1-14, describes an attempt by seven apostles — Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and “two others” (John 21:2) — to return to the time and place where they had felt safe and secure in the past. That reading also illustrates why it is not possible or even feasible for them to return to the perceived safety and security of their past.

With Jesus’ crucifixion, their dreams of ministry were seemingly destroyed. The seven fishermen in today’s story completely resigned themselves to having to return to the life that they left when Jesus called them away, just three short years ago. They returned to that life because in the depth of their despair, they could not even imagine what their life could look like in the future. They did not yet know how to reinvent themselves without Jesus. That is why they went “backwards.”

What they discovered, however, is that their attempts at rebuilding their old lives were fruitless; they could not catch any fish. This story could be described with the same words as Judas’ story: “It’s complicated” and “It’s nuanced.” There are levels of meaning in the story itself as well as in the corresponding human experiences that this story originated from.

So what’s in it for us? What does this reading mean to us?

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How many sincere, devout Christians come to church today and do the same things that they did in 1940, 1950, 1960 and 1970 because they cannot even imagine doing something different? The world that we live in is a state of constant change; do the songs that we sing, our worship, and our church buildings reflect what’s happening in the world today?

The truth is that not many Christians are willing to take the risk and leave “their boat” (a.k.a. routines and habits of worship or physical church building) the way Peter did in order to follow Jesus. Peter and six of his colleagues discovered that spending three years with Jesus changed them to the point that fishing would not make them happy anymore, because Jesus had other plans for them. That is why they were so embarrassed by this encounter; in John 21:12 we read, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.”

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide us and to encourage us to try new things. Some will work, some will fail.

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Link to Funeral Resources

Thinking Towards Sunday; April 24, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: John 20:19-23; John 21:1-14

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV/ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; April 17, 2016; Acts 1:12-26

Acts 1:12-26 NIV2010 Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

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Have you ever asked yourself, “How did we get here?” We tend to think that this question is asked when we are trying to figure out how something terrible happened in our lives, but it is a great question to ask when something good happens as well. I have very little doubt in my mind that the Disciples and the Followers of Jesus were asking this and similar questions between the First Easter and the First Pentecost.

As much as all of us like to dislike Judas Iscariot, we cannot answer this question {“What happened?” or “How did we get here?”} without talking about Judas Iscariot. He is the disciple who betrayed Jesus and helped the Jerusalem authorities to arrest him.

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Matthew and Mark portray Judas as being motivated by greed (Mark 14, Matthew 27). Luke and John assert that Judas was led astray by Satan (John 13:27). As much as we want to dislike him, his story can be described with three words and these words are, “it is complicated.”

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Nobody would disagree with me if I were to say that Jesus was a good judge of character. The Gospels are clear that Jesus personally called Judas Iscariot to be his disciple (Matt 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16). We know that Judas was the treasurer for the disciples (John 13:29). As a disciple and the treasurer for the group, Jesus and Judas had to spend extra time together. As a treasurer, Judas had special trust bestowed upon him by Jesus and by his colleagues. Knowing Jesus, it seems implausible that a thief would have been invited to join the Disciples, or that Jesus would have made a thief their treasurer. Nevertheless, the Scriptures assert that Judas stole from the group (John 12:4-6) and I suspect that these details surfaced as the Disciples struggled to answer “what happened?” and “how did we get here?” during the time between the First Easter and the First Pentecost.

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Judas is best remembered for his betrayal of Jesus to those who sought to harm Him (Matthew 26:14-47; Mark 14:10-46; Luke 22:3-48; John 18:2-5). In Matthew 26:15 we learn that Judas was paid “thirty pieces of silver” for his betrayal. We also learn that after the betrayal, Judas felt remorse and tried unsuccessfully to return the money that he had been paid to betray Jesus (Matthew 27:3-4). We also learn that he was unable to live with himself and the gravity of his actions; Judas took his own life (Matthew 27:5; Acts 1:18).

I struggle with Judas Iscariot. For example, why did Jesus allow Judas to betray him (John 13:21-30)? In John 13:27, Jesus actually told Judas to go and “do it quickly.” Could it be that Jesus was unable to prevent the betrayal?

On the other hand, could it be that Jesus actively tried to cause the betrayal to happen? If that is the case, could it be that Judas had no free will, and therefore was acting as God’s puppet? If that is true, why is he so disliked? If that is true, Judas is punished for being an instrument of our salvation, and the God that I know would not do something like that.

To make things more complicated, when Judas left Jesus and the Disciples, they were in the Upper Room eating the Passover Meal. Judas brought the detachment of soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane. Although I personally was never in Jerusalem, my understanding is that Garden of Gethsemane is approximately one mile from the traditional location of the Upper Room (John 18:1, across the Kidron Valley). How did Judas know to go to the Garden of Gethsemane?

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What happened in the Garden of Gethsemane also raises multiple questions. According to Matthew and Mark, Judas identified Jesus to the Romans with a kiss (Matthew 26:47–50; Mark 14:43–45). According to John, Judas did not really need to identify Jesus out because Jesus came forward himself. We know that Jesus was not trying to hide. I suspect that Jesus’ humanness dreaded the upcoming suffering, but his divine nature was prepared for the necessary work of Redemption.

We know the rest of the story. Judas tried to return the money, and was not able to live with the severity of his betrayal and took his own life.

So far today’s message is a snoozer. All I have done is reiterate things that you already know. So what’s in it for us? What is the “so what” in all of this?

I think that Judas Iscariot was a Zealot. From the writings of secular historians (Josephus in particular) we know that the Zealots were a political party in First Century Judea which sought to incite the people of Judea to rebel against the Roman Empire. Zealots were convinced that God of Israel would not allow infidels and pagans (Romans) to get the upper hand in the armed conflict for political freedom. The reason I think this is because we read in Matthew 10:1-4:

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

As you can see, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot are grouped together.

Was Judas trying to create a situation that would force God to act on behalf of the oppressed nation? Was Judas trying to incite the revolt by trying to force the hand of Jesus to defend himself against the Romans?

I think that the most important lesson that all of us can take from Judas is that we cannot force God to act on our behalf. When we incite a social or political change, there will always be unexpected consequences because God is not in the favoritism business. In First Century Judea, God was not only with the Hebrew Children, but also with Romans and Greeks and Egyptians, and with Native Americans who lived in the lands that were not re-“discovered” by the Europeans yet. I think that when Jesus went on the Cross instead of putting up a fight, Judas was deeply disappointed. There was no room in Judas’ heart for God’s love and grace, and because there was no room in his heart for God he could not recognize or even accept the miracle that was Jesus’ Resurrection and the promise of our redemption.

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If we want miracles, we need to make space for God in our lives and that means opening ourselves to the possibility that God is doing something different than what we want to happen.

Schedule of Holy Week Services and Events at Kingswood United Methodist Church

Schedule of Holy Week Services

  • Sunday, March 20, 2016 @ 11 am. Palm/Passion Sunday, “Shadows of the Cross” cantata.

  • Thursday, March 24, 2016. Maundy Thursday service. At 6 pm our community will gather for soup dinner in the fellowship hall. After the soup dinner we will gather in the sanctuary for communion service at 7 pm.

  • Friday, March 25, 2016. Good Friday service. At 7 pm there will be an Ecumenical worship service at Kingswood UMC. Pastor Bill Lane will be preaching, Pastor John and Pastor Asher will be co-leading the service.

  • Sunday, March 27, 2016. Easter Sunday Services. At 6:45 am there will be an Ecumenical Sunrise service on the lawn followed by breakfast at Kingswood UMC; Pastor Asher Preaching. At 11 am our community will gather for Easter Worship with the Celebration of the Holy Communion.

Special Events that will take place during the Holy Week.

  • Saturday, March 26 @ 10 am there will be an Easter Egg Hunt. If any of our church family have young ones (whether they are children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren), or if you know any families with children, that would like to join in on the Easter egg hunt please call Karen G. so that we can plan and properly prepare for the event. The only requirement is that they are 12 years or younger to be registered.

Don’t forget to change your clock this Saturday!

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Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; Philippians 3:1-14

Scriptures for this Sunday: Philippians 3:1-14

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

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We are in the season of Lent and Lent is a time when we are challenged to struggle with the tough questions and issues of faith. Sometimes I wonder whether we have “domesticated” Jesus. I struggle with the issue of the North American churches softening Jesus’ call to service and action. I think that we offer cheap grace as a response to sin; we even use words like “bad choices” to describe “sin” and do not hold offenders responsible for their actions, not to mention challenge them to repent. To add insult to injury, I think that we make it difficult for outsiders to see themselves inside this club that we call the Church.

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We are entrusted with the greatest story of love and grace in action ever told. Somehow we made it into a story of who is in and who is out, putting ourselves in control of who gets in.

Notice I did not say you; I said we. All of us are guilty.

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As a result, it is a “good” Sunday when there are sixty of us in the church and there are ONLY 100 or so empty seats in the pews. It is impossible to estimate how many of our sisters and brothers have come through the doors of our churches looking for God only to leave disappointed because our restrictive rules, our habits, and inflexibility speak louder than our ability and willingness to meet them where they are emotionally and spiritually. These are our neighbors, our sisters and brothers. These are God’s children who came with their hearts and minds open, and left feeling hurt and misunderstood. It is very possible that they left feeling rejected by our dispassionate and aloof witness.

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Without recognizing this, without admitting that somewhere, somehow we took a wrong turn, without asking God’s forgiveness [act of confession], without repenting (doing something differently) we cannot even dream of the renewal and regeneration of our church. To quote one of the greatest visionaries of the last century, Albert Einstein, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

What are we to do?
            
How do we develop a different way of thinking?


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The life of the Apostle Paul is a great example. You can say many things about Paul, but nobody can say that he lacked passion. He was passionate for God and for the traditions that he grew up with, to the point that he organized the persecutions of the first Christians and even presided over the execution of Stephen (Gal 1:11-24, Acts 7:58).

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All that changed one day on his way to Damascus, where Paul was sent to persecute Christians (Acts 9:1-19). It is on that road that Paul met Jesus, and after that meeting everything Paul said and did was about his experience of Jesus Christ.

An experience of God changes us. It changes what and how we think, how we perceive ourselves and others, and why we do what we do.

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul placed his confidence in his pedigree, and was dedicated to maintaining the traditions of ancient Judaism.

After experiencing the Risen Savior, Paul’s world was turned upside down. What was gain became loss. What was foolishness became wisdom. Paul gained new insights through faithful living. Throughout Epistles we hear over and over and over, “God is in Christ and Christ is in me. Praise be to God for God is faithful” (Romans 8:10, 2 Cor 5:19, Col 3:3).

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Listen to how Paul says it in today’s reading, 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).

We live in a fallen world. That is why it is our tendency as a Church to concentrate on the institutional aspects of the issues that we face in our life. During the Bishop’s Day Apart on February 8, 2016, our bishop, Bishop Johnson, invited Bishop Young Jin Cho to address the clergy of Peninsula-Delaware Conference. One of the quotes that Bishop Cho used came from the book by Dr. Graham Standish titled Becoming a Blessed Church. Dr. Standish wrote,

“I have been frustrated over the years that a vast majority of the congregations in the mainstream denominations, and the denominations themselves, have adopted a functional style of church that cuts off their spiritual cores. What I mean is that too many churches focus only on function, on doing activities of church, and not on the fact that at their hearts churches are meant to be spiritual communities in which people form a relationship with and experience God. In these churches there is little expectation that members will experience and encounter God, or connect what they do to God’s purpose, presence, and power.”

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That’s what Paul was doing before meeting Jesus: his spirituality was based on maintaining the traditions and following the rules. Before meeting Jesus, Paul was about “functionality of the establishment” and he was passionate about it.

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When people come through our doors they are NOT looking for functionality, maintaining of religious traditions and following the rules. If they suspect or discern that we are about “a functional style of church” they leave because they come to us looking for God, not for ways to administer their lives. If they think that they see righteousness without a kindred spirit, without hunger for God, without passion for faithful living, they will leave.

The good news in all that, our hope in all that, is that the church building is meant to be a gathering place for a group of people who cannot contain the good news of Jesus and do not want to keep it to themselves.

It is sometimes difficult for us to reconcile our modern faith and lives with Paul’s faith and life. None of us have gone blind after experiencing the Risen Savior (Acts 9), I do not know of any of you being stoned for your faith (Acts 7:58, 14:19), and most of us do not travel and plant churches like Paul did.

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The truth remains that after meeting Jesus, Paul found a new “normal.” Paul’s faith in Jesus is made up of things that he forfeited. A major lesson from the life of Paul is that sacred cows, when we give them up for the right reasons, make awesome burgers. “I consider everything a loss,” Paul wrote “that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

Paul challenged his readers with these words, “…forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which … God has called me [through] … Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14).

There are three instructions in this passage:

  1. Forgetting what is behind” (Phil. 3:13) Jesus has redeemed the past. Jesus bought us a future with his love. Our challenge is to NOT get stuck in the past. “… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8.36)

  2. “… straining toward what is ahead” (Phil. 3:13) Moving forward with Jesus is simple, but it is not easy. To do that we have to confront our fears. Salvation is not for wimps. Relationship with Jesus stretches us and challenges us emotionally. Do you trust the Holy Spirit to lead you through this process?

  3. “… press on toward the goal … for which God has called me…” (Phil. 3:13) Our goal is God, to see God better, to love God deeper, and to follow God more closely. We cannot perfect ourselves any more than we can work our way into Heaven. What are you doing to see God better, to love God deeper, to follow God more closely?

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Thinking Towards Sunday; March 13, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: Philippians 3:1-14

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Philippians 2:1-4,12-18


Scripture for this Sunday is Philippians 2:1-4, 12-18

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

This coming Sunday, March 6, 2016, Pastor Asher and the congregation of Kingswood United Methodist Church will joyfully welcome Ms. Wendy Shipman, who will be sharing her musical talents during the worship service.

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Have you ever wondered what would happen if God answered all of your prayers from the last 12 months the way that you wanted them answered? What would change in THE world? What would change in YOUR world?

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“… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phillippians 2: 12b-13 NRSV).

Because we live in the fallen world, we are predisposed to live as if God is not an active presence in our day-to-day lives. This in turn makes it much easier to succumb to temptations and sin.

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We are in the season of Lent, and Lent is about tough questions of faith. Lent is about figuring out what we need to do individually and as a community, so that our love for God grows, so that we better recognize God’s presence around us and we become better disciples and followers of Jesus.

All of humanity (which includes every one of us) occupies a special place in God’s heart and within God’s creation. We are created in the image of God, every person has the ability to understand abstract concepts, exercise freedom of will, has the ability and capacity to love, to exercise mercy and justice and to seek a relationship with our Creator. Every human being also possesses an immortal soul that temporarily connects our mortal bodies with our immortal God as we travel on the road of life towards perfection.

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The Good News is that God understands us and God made a choice to sacrifice God-self in the person of Jesus who was crucified and resurrected. In that selfless act all of God’s creation, including humankind, was redeemed. When we make a choice to accept God’s gift of redemption, the Holy Spirit begins a life-long process of molding and shaping us into a new creation (Ephesians 4:17-32).

“… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phillippians 2: 12b-13 NRSV).

For the longest time, the phrase from today’s reading was a “stumbling block” for me. I struggled with it because it says that each of us has “our own” salvation and that we have to “work it out.” Isn’t salvation by faith alone? What is Paul talking about here?

I finally understood these two verses when I connected them with two verses from the Old Testament.

The first verse is, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). The second verse is “… the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

When we talk of “the fear” as in “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” we tend to think of fear in the sense that “I am quaking in my boots.” I think that in that context, what was translated as “fear” should have been translated as “conscious realization of the presence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

When we hear that the joy of the Lord is our strength, I think that it implies two things. First, when we are consciously aware that God is by our side all the time, there is comfort and joy in that realization. Second, when God takes joy in who and what we are.

Now let’s look at today’s reading through the lens of these two verses. “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2: 12b-13 NRSV)

My paraphrase: “Work out your own salvation knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord is by your side whether you are aware of it or not. For it is God who is at work in you, taking great joy through enabling you both (1) to will and (2) to work for his good pleasure.”

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That is important because all of us are unique. We have different interests, likes and dislikes. When we talk about working out our own salvation, we talk about how we respond to God’s presence in our lives. Do we respond because we feel guilty or inadequate or scared of what eternity might look like? Or do we respond because God’s presence challenges us to be the best that we can be?

In both cases our response may be the same but our motivation is different. When we respond out of guilt or fear, it feels like a chore, an inconvenience, or an imposition. When we respond because we want to be the best that God created us to be, it feels altogether different. There is a joy in us and among us. And that joy translates into strength, into the ability to renew, to regenerate and to set and accomplish new goals.

I started today’s message by asking whether you have ever wondered what would happen if God answered all of your prayers from the last 12 months the way that you wanted them answered? Would God’s response change THE world around you or would it change things in YOUR world only?

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

Thinking Towards Sunday; March 6, 2016

Scripture for this Sunday is Philippians 2:1-4, 12-18

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; February 28, 2016; Luke 13:1-9

On Saturday, February 27, 2016 our church community will gather for an evening of informal worship and fellowship in the fellowship hall. It will be an informal worship service, so come as you are. You will be blessed by this worship service.

Worship leaders:

Robin G. on vocals

Stephen G. on guitar

Ross T. on guitar

Jim B. on Bass

Bart S. on drums

Kelli E. on guitar and vocals

Pastor Asher, backup vocals

Janet W. as liturgist

Karen G. will share a devotion

Scriptures for this Sunday (February 28, 2016) are: Psalm 63, Luke 13: 1-9

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and ESV

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Billy woke up on Sunday to the voice of his mother calling, “Billy, time to get up and get ready for church…” After several iterations of “Just five more minutes, ma!,” his mom came into the bedroom and turned on the light.

“But I don’t want to go to church,” he whined. His mother asked, “why not?”

“Because nobody likes me,” he replied.

“Nonsense,” she said. “I will give you three reasons why you must get out of bed right this second and get ready to go to church. {1} You are 55 years old, {2} at least some people like you, and {3} you are the pastor.”

All of us remember times when we felt warm and cozy but had to get out of our comfort zone to do something that felt uncomfortable.

{Illustration}

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Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. In Luke 9:51 we read, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to go to Jerusalem? In Luke 13:33 Jesus himself revealed the reason for his resolve, “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day [on my journey to Jerusalem] — for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” To Jesus, it is unthinkable to be crucified anywhere else because Jerusalem is such a meaningful location in the story of God’s interaction with God’s human children.

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Luke tells us that after setting out for Jerusalem, Jesus did a lot of teaching along the way. I almost envision Jesus and the Disciples going from place to place and leading revivals. Jesus also taught the Disciples by trusting them with the more complicated tasks of ministry (he sent them out into the world (Luke 10:1 – 24) as he was preparing them for ministry without him). It is in this context that we hear a parable of the Good Samaritan. It is in this context that we learn about arguments between Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42, “Martha, Martha don’t worry about the dishes”). It is in this context that Jesus gave us the prayer that we know and love as “the Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:1-13). And if you scan the Gospel of Luke between chapters 9 and 13 you will see many other teachings; Jesus was preparing his followers for ministry in the future when he would no longer be with them. Jesus was instilling his Disciples with the seeds of vision, so that they would continue serving as his hands and feet in the world.

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That is when we come to today’s reading. Jesus was told that Pilate had killed some Galileans who were on a yearly pilgrimage to the Temple. Jesus took this news and offered a lesson. He made the point that the Galileans Pilate killed were average people like you and I and the disciples, and that sometimes we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The message was, “watch it, be prepared, you never know when you will have to face your maker.”

And to illustrate that point, we received the Parable of the Fig Tree.

Luke 13: 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’

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This is a parable about nurturing, about resilience, about regeneration, about finding strength to face the challenges of the day and staying productive. God made us to be God’s hands and feet in the Creation, (“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” Genesis 2:15), Jesus came so that we have an example of how we can live abundant lives (John 10:10) and bear fruit in the Kingdom of God.

Making fruit takes a lot of effort. Once in a while we find ourselves too settled in our ways, too complacent and too comfortable. We are too cozy and we don’t want to get out of our “proverbial beds” on a “cold and dark morning.” Today’s parable is a word of warning: We cannot solve our problems without making changes. We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. To renew and to reinvent ourselves we must let go because when we hold on to our comfort too tight, we lose what we have, as well as what could have been. (Luke 17:33, Matthew 16:25 – “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”)

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That brings me to the last point. When you have a problem with your Ford truck, you take it to the Ford dealer. When you have a problem with your GM car, you take it to the GM dealership. If your Honda breaks down, you take it to the Honda dealer. And when we are broken, when our lives don’t go the way we hoped they would go, when we feel like that fig tree that no longer produces fruit, where do we take ourselves for repair, for renewal, for regeneration? To the one who created us… God.

Psalm 139: 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Isaiah 64: 8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

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Do you need to take yourself to your Creator in prayer?

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