Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bible Challenge 1/1 - 1/2

Greetings All! As we begin this new year we begin anew our Bible Challenge. For those that participated last year I am excited to hear the new things you learn this go around. For those waiting till this year to begin, here is your opportunity.

Our Bible Challenge is a reading plan where we read 4 chapters of Scripture a day and within a year you will read the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once. It is a wonderful way to create daily time to spend in the Word and with God.

I had a few people ask me what do we do when we participate in this challenge. My answer is whatever works best for you. For me, I keep a journal. After I read, I write one brief (five to ten words) statement about what impacted me the most. Then I write a few sentences about the message I got from the reading that day. Next, I just begin writing, or brainstorming, about what I read. Some days it is in perfect sentences, other days it just a collection of ideas and phrases. All of this helps me to process and unpack what I read and what I believe God was trying to tell me. With that done, I pray. Having a clearer understanding about what I read and felt gives more focus to my prayer time. After I have unpacked and prayed, then I listen. That step of listening is what brings all of this together for me.

Again you have to find what works best for you, but hopefully this will give you a starting point.

Here is the schedule for the first two days of the new year. I will post next week's full schedule on Saturday.

1/1, Friday - Matthew 1-4

1/2, Saturday - Matthew 5-8

Happy New Year!
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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Are You Willing? - Jeremiah 31:31-34

Introduction
Several weeks ago we discussed the idea of what a covenant is, both historically and presently. Today we going to spend just a moment exploring the relationship between God's New Covenant for us and Wesley's Covenant Service as we prepare to participate in Wesley's Covenant Service.

The Need for the New Covenant
Covenants are important. They help to keep us focused. They tell us what we can expect for our energy and our commitment. Covenants are also our creation and for our benefit. And God loves us so much that God uses them to relate to us. God uses them to connect with us. When we enter into a covenant with God there is no worry on our end that God's word will be kept. But there is always the issue of humanity keeping theirs.

Our Scripture lesson this morning speaks of the creation of a new covenant that God will make with humanity. It speaks of a wonderful bond where people will no longer need to be taught about God because they will know God inherently, instinctively. It will be a covenant that will not be written merely on paper but in the hearts and minds of all people.

This portion of Scripture from Jeremiah is as important as any there is in the Bible. It is foundational, transcendent, and vital to our faith in God. Jeremiah was a prophet in the time of Judah's decline. Judah was weakening and was close to being captured and overthrown by Babylon. Jeremiah's entire ministry was about warning the people of what was to come if they did not repent. Jeremiah was grieving over the current state of his homeland. But no one listened. His family abandoned him, his friends rejected him. In fact as Jeremiah was writing this particular piece of Scripture he was in jail.

But was so important that Jeremiah would risk humiliation, imprisonment, and abandonment of his family and friends? God was preparing the way for a new covenant, a new way to reconcile God's people. Our ancestors had broken the old covenant, even though God was faithful. Even though God did everything that was promised as they were led out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, the Israelites still broke the covenant.

But this new and glorious covenant was going to be different. It was not going to be written on stone but on the hearts and minds of believers. It not going to be a set of laws but a new way of life. It would be internal, part of our nature, permanent. We would no longer require human intervention to interact with God. God was going to be accessible to all people, directly, personally, intimately. God's existence was not going to be something to be taught, but made known by the infusion of the Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of sins. The birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was going to make all of this possible not out of requirement or obligation, but out of love. A love so deep and broad that we can barely take it in. A love that would foster such gratitude that this new covenant would create spontaneous obedience. This New Covenant is not dependent on us or our constructs. As one theologian put it, “The new covenant, which differs so much form the old, focuses on its permanence and its sustaining principle that evokes gratitude for the forgiveness of sin. The overarching emotion is love, not fear.”

This covenant is here. And our response to that devotion from God is to do the best we can to live a life that glorifies God and works to establish God's reign here on Earth. One way to accomplish that is through persistence. Wesley firmly believed that we need to be persistent in our faith so he created a covenant that we can all enter into in order to help us foster that persistence.

What is Wesley's Covenant Service?
“Wesley believed that the most widely neglected means of "increasing serious religion" was the joining of believers in a covenant "to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul. He urged his converts to renew, "at every point, [their] Covenant, that the Lord should be [their] God." [27]

On August 11, 1755, John Wesley's Journal refers to an occasion when he conducted a service that provided opportunity for making or renewing individual covenants with God. At the close of a 6:00 PM meeting, he writes, "All the people stood up, in testimony of assent, to the number of about 1,800 persons." The entry closes with "such a night I scarce ever saw before. Surely the fruit of it shall remain for ever." [28]

The success of this Covenant Renewal Service encouraged Wesley to have it published as a pamphlet in 1780. He urged each of his societies to conduct such a service once a year, most often on New Year's Eve.” (George Lyons Address 1997).

Wesley was extremely moved by the crowd's reaction and acceptance of this service that he did repeat it annually. Can you imagine 1800 people standing up to renew their covenant with God. What a sight it must have been.

Conclusion
Today we have that opportunity to renew our covenant with God. For us to come together as one voice, one body, and express to God that we are rededicating ourselves to the Kingdom. As we gather for the last time this year we are going to participate in John Wesley's Covenant Service together. Found in your bulletin is the litany that we will use to profess our bond before God and one another as we publicly, spiritually, and corporately come together and resolve to make our Triune God our ruler and leader, and lives our lives accordingly.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bible Challenge 12/27 - 12/31

This is it! You have made it! CONGRATULATIONS!!! You have just read the Bible from Psalms 3 through Revelation. For those of you that did not have the opportunity this year we will begin again on January 1, 2010 and will go all the way through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice. We will read four chapters a day. I promise that you will be blessed and rewarded for your effort.

For those that have done it, I am very proud of you and look forward to hearing what this has done for you. So here are the last few days.

12/27, Sunday - Revelation 11-14

12/28, Monday - Revelation 15-18

12/29, Tuesday - Revelation 19-22

12/30, Wednesday - No Reading

12/31, Thursday - No Reading

Do not forget January 1 we will start again and I will post those two days later. Have a Merry Christmas!
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Greatest Journey of All (The Word Becomes Flesh)
Luke 2:1-14 and John 1:1-14

Introduction
I love this season. It’s one of my favorite all year. Somehow it seems like the veil separating heaven and earth is somehow smaller – that we are closer to God during this season than any other. I love the pageantry of this season, the traditions like the carols and the candles and the reading once again of the Christmas story from Holy Scripture.

Tonight we heard the Christmas story told in two ways from Scripture. Luke’s text is the one that we typically associate with Christmas. His account contains the details with which we are all familiar: Mary and Joseph, the stable, the angels singing to the shepherds. Luke answers some of the important questions that we have concerning Christmas – the what, the how, the when, the where, the who…

On the other hand, our reading from the Gospel of John is not what we would consider a traditional story. There are none of the familiar characters, none of those familiar details. But don’t let that fool you. With grand and eloquent words, the Gospel of John describes the great mystery of the greatest Advent journey of them all – God’s coming to earth to take on human form and become one with us. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14)

You see for John, the mystery of Christmas is not the “what” – that Jesus was born a baby.

Nor is it “how” – Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Nor is it the mystery of “when” – it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Nor “where” – Mary gave birth to her baby in a stable in the city of David called Bethlehem.

Nor is it the “who” – the angel Gabriel telling Mary “You will call him Jesus.”

The mystery of Christmas for John is the question of “why.” Why would God undertake such a risky and difficult venture? Why would God choose to become one of us, knowing that it in the end it would mean abandonment, betrayal, suffering and death? Why indeed?

He Finally Gets It
Have you ever tried to tell someone something or explain something to someone and they have no idea what you are talking about? Once there was a man whose entire family believed in God, but he did not. And so when they went off to church on a snowy, cold Christmas Eve, the man stayed behind beside the fire at home. He thought them silly for believing in a virgin birth, that an Almighty God would condescend to come to earth. But as he sat beside his nice warm fire that night, he looked out his picture window to the snowy front yard. And he saw this little group of sparrows huddling together in the cold. For some reason, the man was moved with compassion for these little freezing birds and so he bundled up and went outside and tried to herd them into his garage so that they might be a little warmer. But the birds were scared of the man. He was so much bigger than they were and he didn’t speak bird at all. They kept running away from him and scattering and finally the man gave up. In great frustration he yelled out, “If only I could become one of you and fly among you, then I could make you understand.”

No sooner had the words left his lips than the man realized the truth of Christmas. God had the same problem with His people that the man had with the little birds. For centuries God had spoken to his people from above – through creation, the law, the prophets, burning bushes and leading clouds. And while his people would try to follow them, it would eventually become too hard to believe in something they couldn’t see, or hold on to, or talk to and they would fall away from God. By Jesus coming to earth as a human, he was telling us that he loved us enough that he would endure everything that humans could experience. He felt joy, love, friendship, betrayal, sorrow, pain, and death. There is nothing that we can experience that Christ has not felt before us. Christ truly understands our emotions and our situations because he has experienced them first hand. That is part of the why for him coming to us.

Proof of God's Love
I look out over all of you gathered here tonight and I noticed how you were all gathered talking to one another before the service. That shows that you all understand community. In order for this community to exist you have to have a level of trust with one another, some sense of affection, in some degree, for one another. That is similar to the community that God wants to have with us. You see God loves us so much, that He wants to be in community with us. He wants to walk side by side with us, laugh with us, cry with us, live with us. Have you ever heard the word Koinonia? It is a Greek word that means fellowship or a close mutual relationship. All the many years ago, God sent his Son to be one of us, so that He could have community with us, that true koinonia. Just as God calls all of us into koinonia with one another He wants that same type of fellowship and community with each one of us.

All of this boils down to God's love for us. It is a love that is never ending. There is a Christian band that calls themselves Petra. In one of their songs they are speaking about how easy it is for us to turn from God. The lyrics go on to outline how before we know it we can feel like we are so far away that we cannot possible see God nor God see us. But they wind up the song by expressing how it is always, always only one step back. There is nothing that we can do that will make God not love us. We can be sure of this by the fact that God sent his one and only Son knowing that it would cost Jesus his life. You see God is absolutely nuts about you. The love he has for us, the complete love that he has for us, is so deep, so strong, that I do not believe that our feeble, human minds can comprehend its breadth. But the good news is that we do not have to. We just have to believe that it is so.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” so that we might be able to finally understand our loving Heavenly Father and His plan for our lives.

Conclusion
We wrap this wonderful season is so many beautiful trappings and traditions: lights, ornaments, tree, carols, decorations, candles, family dinners, and exchanging presents. But as wonderful as all these things are, none of them can contain the wonderful exciting truth and miracle of Emmanuel: “God With Us” – “The Word (becoming) flesh and (dwelling) among us.”

John’s Gospel reminds us that the birth of Christ at Christmas was an event which changed the world forever, and the lives of all who have lived since. The miracle remains for us to experience by opening our hearts and lives to the God who wants to dwell in us. Even on our off days, even when we can’t see stars or don’t feel like singing carols, we can rest assured that God’s incarnate love seeks in us a dwelling, a birthing, so that our spirits may be filled with the Word whose light shines through all darkness. Won’t you let Him in this Christmas? Won’t you offer Him your warmest hospitality? Won’t you welcome Him into your life this year with open arms? Won’t you receive Him into your life as never before? I beg you to not let another day pass without taking time to speak with God, listen to what God has to say, and then invite God to dwell within you so you can be a beacon…a source of light and hope for someone else as we celebrate God coming to us, to be one of us, so we can dwell with Him for eternity.

And all God’s people said: Amen! and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Friday Fives

Since Christmas is this Friday this will not be a Friday Fives installment for this week. But I do want to wish all you a wonderful and joyous Christmas!

Please be mindful of the reason we celebrate this time of year. One of things I do is before any presents are opened I gather the family and we read the Christmas story from Scripture. It helps me remember. I have heard other people tell me they have birthday cake on Christmas day as part of their celebration. Whatever you do, I pray you have fun, enjoy your family and friends, and live in the love that you will share.

Merry Christmas to all of you!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

January 2010 Newsletter

Greetings All!

Here it is...hot of the presses! Below is the January 2010 Newsletter. I hope you enjoy reading it and having another way to get this information.

Merry Christmas!!


Jan10NwsLtr

All I Want for Christmas is Joy – Isaiah 9:6-7 and Luke 1:26-38

Introduction
This week we are continuing our preaching series entitled, “All I Want for Christmas Is...” Two weeks ago we talked about the idea of hope and how God's actions deliver just that very thing to us this time of year. Last week we spoke about the idea of peace, what God means by peace, and how we can live to achieve it. Today we are turning our attention to joy, what it is and where we can find it.

What is Joy?
I am sure all of us have people and events that bring us joy; time spent with a best friend, a favorite memory of days past, a special event you attend, a certain time of the year. And when we think of those things it brings a smile to our face, a tear to our eye, or even an audible laugh from our belly.

For me right now I find joy in my boys. They wear me out but recharge me all in the same breath. They can frustrate me and then in a way no one else can, remind me of what true joy is. I love to watch them learn and to see their eyes get as big around as a silver dollars and the joy just explodes on their faces. When they walk up to me and want to show me affection or place a blanket over the legs of their sleeping daddy, I melt. For me that is finding joy in my boys.

When I see my boys I often think about my relationship with Christ. I think about how Christ must feel towards me. Do I wear him out? Does Christ get a feeling of complete happiness, complete contentment, when He thinks of me? Does he find joy in his interactions with me?

Now some days joy comes easily, others it seems so far away that you wonder if you will ever see it again. And looking at the circumstances Mary finds herself in, one might think that is how Mary might be feeling at the beginning of our second Scripture lesson this morning.

As our lesson opens we read that Mary is in the sixth month of her pregnancy. And this poor girl has already gone through so much. She has avoided a quiet divorce from her fiance, she has avoided the customary stoning for being pregnant out of wedlock, and the shame heaved upon her must have been horrific. Not to mention, the horrible accusations, the unfair judgments, and the hours of crying. This had to be trying on Mary. But here in the sixth month comes good 'ol Gabriel to give Mary a visit and to help her understand what it is that is happening. But more than that Gabriel comes to give her joy. He greets her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (NRSV Luke 1:28b). Scripture tells us that Mary is troubled or perplexed by this and not quite sure what to make of all of this. Understanding that dynamic Gabriel tells her not to be afraid for she has found favor with God. Then he tells her just how special and wonderful this child in her womb will be. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (NIV Luke 1:32-33).

Mary then asks just one question, “how can this be?” and Gabriel tells her because nothing is impossible with God.

How can Mary possible find any peace or joy in the midst of what was happening to her? There’s a clue in how she answers the angel. Listen to her words: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be with me as you have said.” Mary had a deep trust and faith in God that carried her even through times when she could have questioned and doubted the wisdom of God’s plan for her. She had surrendered her life into the hands of the Almighty and trusted him to take care of her. That’s how she was able to journey into peace and joy instead of sorrow or bitterness over what was happening to her.

Christ is Joy
And if we look to our Scripture lesson from Isaiah we get a better understanding of just who this baby will grow to be. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” (NIV Isaiah 9:6-7)

This tells us that Christ by his very nature will be joy. He will bring peace, he will bring justice and righteousness. And for all of this there will be no end! This child that Mary is carrying will bring a joy like never before to a world that so desperately needs it.

So often if we look to movies we see a serious, unemotional Christ. All He does is walk and preach and very seldom do we see a joyful, laughing Jesus. But for me Christ is so much more than that.

I have always been drawn to happy images of Christ. In fact my favorite verse in Scripture is from the Old Testament, from the book of Zephaniah, not one that would typically make your favorite verse list. But listen to the words: "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Think about that - God will sing a song of joy over you!

In John Ortberg's wonderful book The Life You've Always Wanted (Zondervan, 2002), he writes: “We will not understand God until we understand this about him: "God is the happiest being in the universe" (G. K. Chesterton). God knows sorrow….but [his sorrow like his anger] is his temporary response to a fallen world. That sorrow will be banished forever from his heart on the day the world is set right. Joy is God's basic character. God is the happiest being in the universe.”

Conclusion
Joy is what makes Christmas. Each of us may look to some annual family tradition to trigger that joy. But the trees, the carols, the cookies, the presents, the parties, are only various expressions of a single experience of the spirit JOY born again into our souls.

This Advent season we can all experience the joy that is Jesus Christ. Mary showed us how. Regardless of our situations, regardless of how we are treated, regardless of how we feel physically and spiritually, we can all find joy.

It is found by releasing all our circumstances, all our fears, and all our apprehensions into the hands of that little baby born so long ago. When we trust Christ to take care of us, to turn over everything to him, and to surrender to His will, and not our own, then and only then will we find joy. Christ came for you, Christ loves you, and Christ wants you to know the joy that only comes from him. Trust the baby, trust our Savior, and I pray that you experience a joy this year like none you have ever felt before.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bible Challenge 12/20 - 12/26

Greetings to all my fellow Bible Challengeers! ( I am not sure if that is a word...but it sounds good!) This week is a busy one again as we finish 1 Peter and make it through 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude, and into Revelation. So with no further adieu...

12/20, Sunday - 1 Peter 3 - 2 Peter 1

12/21, Monday - 2 Peter 2 - 1 John 2

12/22, Tuesday - 1 John 3 - 2 John 1

12/23, Wednesday - 3 John 1 - Revelation 2

12/24, Thursday - Revelation 3-6

12/25, Friday - No Reading, Merry Christmas!

12/26, Saturday - Revelation 7-10

Have a wonderful, safe, and joyous Christmas! May God bless you and yours!
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Fives

Hello All -- Here are few things that I wanted to make you all aware of this week.

1. We are continuing our preaching series, "All I Want for Christmas Is..." as we take a look at Joy. We will talk about the Joy that we are reminded of this time of year.

2. New Bible Study - Beginning January 14th we will begin a new study on spiritual gifts, entitled Serving From the Heart. This is a four week study that will help you discover your gifts and talents for the Kingdom. I will offer the same lesson twice every Thursday, once at 11:30am and again at 7pm. This will give greater flexibility for more people to attend. Look for a sign-up sheet in the bulletin in the coming weeks.

3. Literacy Tutors - Karen Hill will be here January 12th at 6:15pm to lead an informational meeting where she will explain how we can get involved with the Literacy Coalition and become tutors for adults. If you are interested or think you might be, please make plans to attend. We will meet in the Fellowship Hall.

4. Silver Springs Annual Festival of Lights - This Sunday, 12/20, our choir will be performing at Silver Springs at their Annual Festival of Lights. If you have a chance come on out and have a listen as we and other people perform. I hear it will be quite an evening!

5. Christmas Eve Service - Our Candlelight Christmas Eve service will be Thursday at 6:00pm. I hope everyone can come as we celebrate together the little baby that came to bring us hope, peace, joy, and love. Please invite your family and your friends and come and join us.

Have a great and joyous week!
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Great Day!!

We have had a great day! A WONDERFUL Choir Cantata then a great turnout at the Open House. Thank you to everyone for coming by...Debbie, the boys, and I really enjoyed it!

Introduction
This week we are continuing our preaching series entitled, “All I Want for Christmas Is...” Last week we talked about the idea of hope and how God's actions deliver just that very thing to us this time of year. Today we are going to spend just a moment talking about the idea of peace, what God means by peace, and how we can live to achieve it.

A Heavenly Choir
There is an old Christmas legend that tells of how God called the angels of Heaven together one day for a special choir rehearsal. He told them that He had a special song that He wanted them to learn. This was a song that they would sing at a very significant occasion. The angels went to work on it. They rehearsed long and hard with great focus and intensity. In fact, some of the angels grumbled a bit but God insisted on a very high standard for His choir.

As time passed, the choir improved in tone, in rhythm, and in quality. Finally God announced that they were ready but then, He shocked them a bit. He told them that they would sing the song only once and only on one night. There would be just one performance of this great song they had worked on so diligently. Again, some of the angels grumbled. The song was so extraordinarily beautiful and they had it down pat and felt surely, they could sing it many, many times. God only smiled and told them that when the time came, they would understand.

Then one night, God called them together. He gathered them above a field just outside of Bethlehem. "It's time," God said to them and the angels sang their song. O my, did they sing it! "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will toward all". And as the angels sang, they knew there would never be another night like this one, and that there would never be another birth like this birth in Bethlehem.

What is Peace?
Those angels were singing about peace. Our Scripture lesson this morning tells us that after the initial announcement of Christ's birth, a whole host of angels appeared saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people on whom His favor rests." So what is this peace they were talking about? We have all heard about what people think peace is. Some say no wars, others say no famine. But God's peace is like nothing we have ever known. It is about harmony, justice, equality, joy! It is a paradise, it is what exists in Heaven right now. No pain, no longing, just peace. Your heart is at peace, your mind is at peace, everything about you is right.

How do we get it?
So how do we get this peace that God longs for us to have? How do we live to achieve peace? Renowned writer and Catholic Priest, Henri J Nouwen came up with a “spirituality of peacemaking” that had four parts.

First, Nouwen believed that peacemaking requires a life of prayer. We have spoken several times about how important prayer is in our lives. Prayer is that life-line, the channel by which we communicate with God. Without prayer there is no link. Prayer is vital, prayer is essential, prayer is utterly necessary. Prayer should not be an event for us but a way of life. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. God tells us to take everything to Him in prayer. Christ took time to teach us how to do it while he was here on Earth. Prayer is critical to us achieving the peace that God desires for us.

Next, “Peacemaking demands ongoing resistance to the forces of violence”. We must be a people that not only desires peace but a people that take the steps to see that it comes about. We must not be involved in those organizations whose purpose is to bring about war, destruction, and fear. Jesus came to us as a sign of that. Christ came in a non-violent manner, as a vulnerable baby. Christ's life demonstrated that very ideal of non-violence. He did not come and demand His way. He came and loved people into understanding what it was He was trying to teach. Bringing about peace is about resisting the forces of violence.

Nowen also believed that “Peacemaking necessitates community”. We need to be in community with like minded believers for this to happen. We can try and do it alone, but we can be much more effective when we do things within a community. If we are a people seeking peace, trying to establish peace, we almost cannot help but develop community. Besides, life is so much more fun when lived with others!

Finally, “Peacemaking requires living and working among the poor and the broken”. We have to get outside of our ivory towers and help those less fortunate than us. This week I had the privilege of getting together with some of you to pick fruit to take to charity. We were a community, having fun, doing work to help those less fortunate than us. It was not a chore, for me anyway. It was fantastic! And it was Kingdom work! God has a very large place in His heart for those that are poor. We are called to care for them, we are called to learn from them. To gain peace we should live and work among the poor and broken and be looking for ways to get outside of our walls.

Conclusion
This time of year, we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. We read the Scriptures that remind us of that night so long ago when love came to Earth, when God Himself came to live among us, when peace was wished upon us, when a gift of peace was given to us.

You remember that legend I told you about earlier? Well, when the angels returned to heaven, God reminded them that they would not formally sing that song again as an angelic choir, but if they wanted to, they could hum the song occasionally as individuals. One angel was bold enough to step forward and ask God why. Why could they not sing that majestic anthem again? They did it so well. It felt so right. Why couldn't they sing that great song anymore? "Because," God explained, "my Son has been born and now earth must do the singing!"

It is now up to us to take the peace that God wants for us and deliver it, give it, grant it to all that we meet. Peace is what God wants for you this Christmas and Jesus was born to make sure we had a chance at receiving it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Want to Help Serve Communion?

Hello all,

If you would like to help serve Communion there is a sign up sheet at the welcome station waiting for you! This sheet has three spots for each month of 2010 at the welcome station, as we need three volunteers each month. To sign up, simply find the week that you would like to volunteer and sign your name. It is a wonderful experience to help with this and we will explain everything you need to know. We would love to see as many as possible sign up!

Our Chance

Hello Church Friends,

It is with a sad heart that tell you that we are going to be saying "See you later" to two dear friends, Mary and Rudy Richardson. They are moving north at the end of the year and while we completely understand their reason, we are still saddened that we will not see them as much as we would like.

With that said, if you would like to tell Mary and Rudy how much they mean to you now and how much they have meant to you over the years, then here is your chance. There will be a basket in the back of the sanctuary for the next two weeks for you to put a card in and we will make sure they receive all that are brought in.

Mary and Rudy you will be missed and we are very grateful for all that you mean to so many of us!

Bible Challenge 12/13 - 12/19

Greeting my fellow Bible Challenge friends! We are getting through several books again this week, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, and James. Here is the schedule for the week.

12/13, Sunday - 2 Timothy 1-4

12/14, Monday - Titus 1 - Philemon 1

12/15, Tuesday - Hebrews 1-4

12/16, Wednesday - Hebrews 5-8

12/17, Thursday - Hebrews 9-12

12/18, Friday - Hebrews 13 - James 3

12/19, Saturday - James 4 - 1 Peter 2

Be blessed and be safe!
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Fives

Here are a few things that I want to share with you all this week.

1. This week in worship we are going to continue our preaching series, "All I Want for Christmas Is..." as we take a look at the idea of Peace. We will talk about what God's peace is and how we can live to achieve that peace.

2. This Sunday during worship our Chancel Choir will perform their Annual Christmas Cantata. Please make plans to attend and bring a friend. You will not want to miss this!

3. Sunday, 12/20, our Church will participate in the Festival of Lights at Silver Springs. If you would like to attend and participate please let us know. I am told this is a wonderful event and a lot of fun! Hope to see you there!

4. If you have not seen it yet, our Monthly Newsletter, the Sunshine Herald, is now online! Right here on my blog I will post each month's newsletter for you to read. There are all sorts of options and views you can use to read it. January's is getting ready for print and when it is done you will see it right here...so keep checking!

5. Finally I want to leave you with a prayer that was shared with me this week from a fellow pastor I know in Florida City.

God, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me whatever you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. Into your hands I commend my spirit. I offer it to you with all the love that is in my heart. For I love you, Lord, and so... want to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve and with confidence.

Have a safe and wonderful weekend and I hope to see you in worship on Sunday!!
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

All I Want for Christmas is...Hope
Isaiah 7:10-14 and Matthew 1:18-25

Introduction
Today we begin a new preaching series for Advent entitled, “All I Want for Christmas is...” where we will look at the aspects of Hope, Peace, and Joy and the role that each of them play during this time of year. Today we are beginning with hope and how God's actions delivers just that very thing to us this time of year.

Illustration
At the mere mention of Christmas time I think we all feel some sort of emotion. Lately, for me I have felt a sense of hope. When I think about what this season is truly about and what that little baby Jesus really means for you and me today, I get a real sense of hope. A real sense of anticipation about what God will do this year during this advent season. And I think if we look closely at the Scriptures from today we can see that hope, we can see that anticipation, in how God worked behind the scenes to orchestrate this wonderful event.

When I was in high school, the church that I attended was extremely fortunate to have a playwright in our congregation. This woman would write our church two plays a year, one at Easter and the other at Christmas, and her scripts were absolutely wonderful. She would pull from her long life of experiences and really write some truly magnificent plays. You see she was 90 years old when she began writing these plays. She told me that she had seen and experienced so much that she felt this would be a great way to pass those experiences on to others. I was usually involved in these productions and would get my copy of the script about three months before she wanted to put it on. Realizing that she did not have the desire to direct these plays, she enlisted the help of another woman in our congregation, Sandy. Sandy loved directing the plays and she always had such good suggestions. She would help us figure out the best places to stand, what to do with our hands, and give us direction on our acting. Sandy was tireless in her duties. You see since Sandy was so involved behind the scenes, most people rarely had any idea that Sandy was even involved. But you see, as wonderfully as those plays were written, without the love and care of Sandy to take care of the behind the scenes stuff, those plays never would have gotten off the ground. And it is in that manger scene we read about in Scripture today, that we can see God working so tirelessly behind the scenes to give us hope.

In the beginning of this passage a few things have already happened that we need to be aware of. First, we learn that Mary and Joseph are engaged, Next we read that Mary is already pregnant. Third, we read that Joseph has been informed of Mary's pregnancy, although he does not yet understand its divine source. And finally, we learn that Joseph has decided to avoid the letter of the law and not have Mary stoned but decided to divorce her quietly. And it is in what happens next that we see how utterly and completely God gives us hope.

Hope in God coming to Earth as a Human
At his point everything is centered around Jesus. We the reader, understand that Mary is pregnant and that her child is Jesus Christ, but Joseph is still in the dark about this. As Joseph is sleeping he is visited by an angel and he is clued in as to what is really happening and what his role is going to be in this wonderful miracle. He is told to take Mary as his wife, that she will give birth to God's son, and that they are to name him Immanuel, "God is with us". Everything is about the baby. I am sure we have all seen the manger scene and we all know about baby Jesus and how cute babies are. And that is where the hope lies, in how Jesus came to be among us. Jesus came as a baby, God came as a helpless, dependent, vulnerable baby. He did not come as a mighty warrior or as a powerful king, but as a baby. He came into this world in the exact same way each and every one of us did. Now he could have come triumphantly but I believe that he wanted to make a connection with us, a bond with us, and that was best accomplished by coming into this world the same way we did. To understand that Jesus came as fully human in order to connect with us and show us just how important we are to him, then and today, can give us great joy, great hope, that he loves us so completely and so dearly.

Hope in Who God Used
But you see it is not only in the act of Jesus coming to Earth as a human baby that is remarkable but it is also who God chose to be the parents of this blessed miracle. He did not choose a king and a queen of some large, powerful land. He did not choose some adored religious leader. God chose two very ordinary people. I have often thought that if it was not for being the earthly parents of Jesus, that we may have never known of Mary or Joseph. There was nothing particularly special about either one of them. But that is the point. By God trusting these two ordinary people, to be the caretakers of his one and only son, of God himself in human form, God is telling us that we do not have to be socially important or powerful or some sort of world leader for God to love us and to use us for his work. There is great hope in that knowledge that God loves all of us so fully that we are all important to God.

Hope in God's Work Behind the Scenes
And we can also find hope in God's faithfulness and we can see that throughout this story if we look closely. If we give this passage a quick reading we will find no mention of God performing any action. But we do find God mentioned as being the possessor of angels sent to talk with Joseph and of a prophecy from God that Isaiah proclaimed many years ago that a virgin would give birth to a son to be named Immanuel, God is with us, being fulfilled in Jesus' birth. You see just because God does not perform a direct action does not mean that God is not present. And we can find hope in that. It is in the difficult or hectic times of our lives that we often fail to see God or think that God is not there. But God is. God is always there supporting us, guiding us, and most importantly loving us. You see, God knew what would happen to Jesus before Mary became pregnant. God knew that Jesus would have to die and God knew the pain that God would feel watching Jesus die. But he chose to send Jesus anyway; he chose to come to dwell among us anyway. What a pure and beautiful act of love and devotion to us, God's children.

Conclusion
God is nuts about us and we can see that in our advent story today. It is in that love that we can also see hope, that we can feel with great anticipation the wonderful things that God does with and through us, each Advent season. This time of year is a very hectic time. With the decorating of our houses and the buying of gifts we can get very distracted and lose sight of what Christmas is really about. I know we have all seen those clich├ęs like "Jesus is the reason for the season" and "Keep Christ in Christmas" but do we truly apply them? When we are caught in the hustle and bustle of Christmas are we looking for the ways that God is at work even though we may not be at church? Are we looking for God in the places that we would least expect God to be? That is the hope that I am talking about with Advent. The hope, the anticipation of the wonderful things that God will do this year. I challenge you that as you go through this Advent season, the Christmas time, to not only look for God, but to expect God. And I pray that each and every one of you will find hope in this time of year, and be amazed with the wonder of a child, at what wondrous good work God will do through you this year.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bible Challenge 12/6 - 12/12

Greeting my fellow Bible Challenge friends! We are getting through several books this week, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Timothy. (whew!) Here is the schedule for the week.

12/6, Sunday - Ephesians 1-4

12/7, Monday - Ephesians 5 - Philippians 2

12/8, Tuesday - Philippians 3 - Colossians 2

12/9, Wednesday - Colossians 3 - 1 Thessalonians 2

12/10, Thursday - 1 Thessalonians 3 - 2 Thessalonians 1

12/11, Friday - 2 Thessalonians 2 - 1 Timothy 2

12/12, Saturday - 1 Timothy 3-6

Be blessed and be safe!
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Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Fives

Hello All,

Here are five things that I want to bring to your attention this week.

1. Through modern technology we have found a way to place our monthly newsletter on my blog. If you scroll down to November 30th you will see last month's newsletter with a brief description about some of the features. I hope you enjoy it!

2. Our Facebook membership is growing! We have had five new people join in the last several days. Thank you to all that have joined! This is a great way for us to stay connected throughout the week. Feel free to tell your friends, stop on by and post something on our wall.

3. Tomorrow is the annual UMW sponsored, Advent Breakfast, at 9:30am. I will be giving the devotion and we will have some poems read and sing a few songs together. If you can, come on by!

4. This Sunday we will start a new preaching series, "All I Want for Christmas is...". We will focus on the ideas of Hope, Peace, and Joy over the next several weeks.

5. Sunday December 13th from 12:30pm till 2pm, Debbie and I will be hosting an Open House at the parsonage. After worship, go get some lunch at the Fellowship Hall, and then walk up the backyard, and come on by for some snacks and beverages. Hope to see you there!

Have a great weekend!
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Facebook Info

Several people have asked for help in finding the Facebook page for our church. Here is a link that should take you directly to it.

For Druid Hills Facebook Page click here!

Give it a try and let me know how it works. Once you are at our page, just click on the "join" button next to our church name, sign into your account, and you will be a member of our page! Remember, Facebook is free to join and a great way to keep up with our church family!

From that point on when you click on your groups button we will be right there. Just a click away.

For those that have found it, I just updated our calendar for December. Take a trip over and give it a look. We are very active this month!!

Blessings!

Monday, November 30, 2009

November Newsletter

Nov09Nwsltr

Technology can be a wonderful thing! As you can see I have figured out how to post our church newsletter online. With this format you can change the view style by using the menu in the lower left of the image to select scroll, book, or list. You can also zoom in and out with the "-" and "+" symbols. We also now have the ability to use the commands at the top of the newsletter window to make the newsletter fullscreen for easier viewing. There is even the option at the top of the newsletter window to download and print the newsletter.

I will be posting the monthly newsletter each month right here on my blog and will also put a notice up on our Facebook page each moth letting people know it is posted here.

And the great thing about all of this is that it is free. Technology can be a wonderful thing!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bible Challenge 11/29 - 12/5

Well fellow Bible Challenge readers, we are in the home stretch. We are in our last month. This week we finish up 1 Corinthians, move through 2 Corinthians, and begin Galatians.

11/29, Sunday - 1 Corinthians 8-11

11/30, Monday - 1 Corinthians 12-15

12/1, Tuesday - 1 Corinthians 16 - 2 Corinthians 3

12/2, Wednesday - 2 Corinthians 4-7

12/3, Thursday - 2 Corinthians 8-11

12/4, Friday - 2 Corinthians 12 - Galatians 2

12/5, Saturday - Galatians 3-6

Keep pressing on!
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Fives - Thanksgiving Edition

This week I want to take time to tell you five things I am thankful for.

1. I am thankful that I serve a God that is ever faithful, always present, and wonderfully forgiving. The support and love I feel from my God is of great comfort and strength to me and always shines light upon my path.

2. I am thankful for a wonderful and healthy family. My wife and my boys are a treasure to me and provide me unending joy and a spark to life that is amazing. To my extended family, you support me, love me, and uplift me, now and throughout my entire life, and I will be forever grateful to all of you!

3. I am thankful for my church family! All of you at Druid Hills UMC have treated me with unconditional love and support and have made this experience incredibly rewarding. Your willingness to accept me and support me mean a great deal to me and I look forward with great anticipation to what God will accomplish through us in the future.

4. I am thankful to the men and women that have put their lives in harms way to protect my freedoms. Your dedication and your sacrifice will not be forgotten and I am extremely grateful.

5. I am thankful for the calling that God placed on my life. I am honored to be called a child of God and to know that my eternity is secured. The release that comes from that knowledge is incredible to me.

To all my family and friends, please know that I love you, pray for you, and ask for all the blessings of God to be given to you till your cup overflows. I am thankful for each and every one of you. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all who read this blog I want to wish you a happy and safe Thanksgiving. I hope you find time with family and friends restful, enjoyable, and memorable. I also pray that you take time to tell those you are spending the holiday with just how thankful you are for them and what they mean to you.

But most importantly take time to tell the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit how thankful you are for what they have done in your life this year. You are loved, adored, and watched over by our Triune God, so I encourage you to tell them just how much they are appreciated and how you feel about them.

Take care and many blessings upon you and yours!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christ the King Sunday: There Should Be No Confusion – John 18:28-37

Introduction

Today we are celebrating Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King Sunday is the last day of the Christian year and as such we are taking time today to recognize all of the seasons of the Christian calendar so that we might be renewed and strengthened in the fact that Christ is our King! This morning we are going to take a look at what it means to call Christ our King and how that belief can direct our lives and our actions.

Illustration

My boy Wesley is a thinker! I am amazed at how well he processes things and how eager he is to problem solve. Take this past week for instance. He has a birthday coming up and my mom wants to make him a birthday cake of his choosing. So we got together on Skype the other night so she could show him the pictures in the book and let him pick out which cake he wanted. How many of you know what Skype is? Basically, Skype is a free computer program that allows you use the internet to hook up two computer cameras so you can see and hear each other. It is a form of video teleconferencing. Wesley loves it because he can see and hear Grandmommy. Anyway, we were on Skype and every time Grandmommy would hold up the book, she would hold it too close and the image on our end would go black, rather than allowing us to see the image she was trying to show us. The first time it happened he simply called out as best as his one year old mouth would let him, “Grandmommy, where you go?” The next time it happened, he looked at me shrugged his little shoulders and said “where go?” I was beginning to laugh at how serious he was that she just disappeared. We could still hear her, we just could not see her. The third time it happened his brain kicked in, either out of curiosity, confusion, or frustration and he looked at me and very matter of factly said, “I do”. He jumped off my lap and looked at the back of the desk where all the cables are and pretended to follow one of them till he got to where he knows the camera is plugged in. He then looked at me and started calling out, “Daddy, Daddy, here!”, as if he had found the problem and was showing me where to fix it. Wesley was thinking about how he was going to solve this problem. And during his thinking he was going back and forth between Grandmommy, Daddy, and his own thoughts. He was confused about what was happening and wanted a resolution. Our Scripture lesson this morning gives us another confused person, Pontius Pilate.

Confusion Clouds

At this point in Scripture Christ has already been arrested and stood trial before Caiaphas, because the religious leaders feared Christ and the influence he was having over their people. The trial before Caiaphas actually began the night before and went into the early hours of the morning. And when that was over, is when Pilate was summoned...in the early hours of the morning. You know when most people are sleeping.

Before going any further it is important for us to understand something about Pilate. He did not really like the Jewish people. He did not really like the city of Jerusalem. But as governor it was Pilate's responsibility to be in a city he did not like, making sure people he could not stand, were behaving themselves.

So Pilate is awakened in the middle of the night, in this city he does not like, by people he is not fond of, to try a man that he probably has no opinion of one way or another. So needless to say Pilate is probably not a happy governor at this point. Pilate probably wants to tell them to hit the road, but he understands that he is there to keep the peace and to send these people away will cause protests and unwanted attention and make his job much more difficult. So he agrees to meet with them. Then when he says to let them in, his advisers tell him that he will have to go outside to hear them because coming into his palace would defile them and render them unclean. I cannot imagine what must be going through Pilates head at this point. First he is unhappy about even being in this city. Then he is awakened in the middle of the night for a trial and told that the people that woke him, whom he in not very fond of, won't come into his house because it will make them unclean. They are not exactly getting off on the right foot with the person they want something from.

Pilate goes outside to hear their case and pretty quickly tries to dismiss it by telling them to try Jesus themselves by their own laws. They counter with the idea that they want Jesus crucified and only the Romans can do that. Pilate then calls for Jesus to be brought in so he can interrogate him privately. He asks Jesus are you the King of the Jews. Instead of giving him a direct response Jesus, after being up all night and beaten responds with a question of his own, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?” I can imagine the confusion is beginning to roll in for Pilate at this point. He might be wondering why this man is not answering quickly and trying to save his own life. Surely He knows that Pilate has the power and authority to kill Him or save Him. But Jesus is not interested in appeasing Pilate. Fulfilling the prophecy is his objective.

Pilate continues his interrogation with Jesus by saying that he has no idea who he is and inquires about what he has done. Jesus finally gives an answer to the first question Pilate asked him, “Are you King of the Jews?”. Jesus responds, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Pilate then says, “You are a King then?” to which Jesus replies, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”. (NIV John 18:36-37).

If Pilate was not confused before, he definitely is now. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Pilate even tries to pawn Jesus and his situation off on King Herod. Since the instant Pilate was brought into this situation it has been a sea of confusion for him. He has had to deal with accusations from the religious Jewish leaders, a vote of innocence from Herod, his wife telling him that she has had a nightmare about Christ and that Pilate is to release him, not to mention that fact that based upon his own examination he wants to let him go. Pilate is utterly confused as to why these religious leaders want this man dead. But through their constant pressure, his responsibilities as governor to keep the peace, and the confusion of the entire situation, he concedes and sentences Jesus to death by crucifixion.

Are We Confused

So this leads me to ask this question this morning, “Are we confused?”. Are we unsure of who Christ is? Are we allowing the hectic nature of this time of year, work responsibilities, or family responsibilities to replace Christ as the most important thing in our lives? To confuse us as to Christ's proper place in our lives?

Well there are a few things that we can do to help us not be confused. One is fellowship. Fellowship. Get connected with a group of people that you can count on and trust. I mean really connected. Find 5-8 people that you can form a group with and get together 3-4 times a month and talk about what you are going through. Find people that are close to you in age and situation and form a small group. Spend time doing devotions with one another. Spend time listening to one another. Spend time lovingly holding one another accountable. Spend time crying with one another. Spend time praying for one another. Get connected, be supported by other believers and do not be confused about where Christ is in your life.

Another is to read. Read your Bible, study the Word. Find a bible study guide online, from a book store, preferably get involved with an actual Bible Study group, but dive into the Word. As a church we have created a goal for each of the five practices that we as a church want to accomplish this year. And for Intentional Discipling our church wide goal is to get each person in this family involved in at least one Bible study this year. At some point in the year we want everyone to have been involved in at least one group Bible study. Also as a part of your study, read one Christ based book a year. Whether it be devotional, historical, exegetical, read one book a year that gives you a better understanding of who Christ is, what he did for our sake, and the extent of his love for all of us.

Next, pray specifically for Christ to be the center of your life. I know we all try and pray daily, sometimes several times a day. But I want you to consider praying specifically for you not to be confused about who Christ is in your life. God has promised to hear our prayers and I know that if you earnestly pray for this God will lift any cloud of confusion you might encounter in your life. Pray specifically and confidently for Christ to be your King and ruler.

Conclusion

We should not be confused. Christ does not want us to be confused. The Holy Spirit wants to lift our confusion. Pilate was confused, he did not believe. This life can make us confused. Satan tries to create situations to help confuse us. But stay strong, understand that Jesus died for you and knew your name when he breathed his last breath. This entire service is not only to familiarize us with the different seasons of the Christian calendar, but to allow us to see the love that our Triune God has for us. The willingness to meet us as we are, live as we live, and die as we die, so that we may have eternal life in the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Folks, you are loved all year long. Please, do not be confused about who Christ is in your life. Christ is not confused about who you are in His!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bible Challenge 11/22 - 11/28

Thanksgiving is this week! Take time to enjoy your loved ones and to express thanks to God for all that you have. And since one way to do that is to spend time in the Word, here is the schedule for the week.

11/22, Sunday - Acts 24-27

11/23, Monday - Acts 28-Romans 3

11/24, Tuesday - Romans 4-7

11/25, Wednesday - Romans 8-11

11/26, Thursday - Romans 12-15 HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

11/27, Friday - Romans 16- 1 Corinthians 3

11/28, Saturday - 1 Corinthians 4-7

Have a blessed week and keep pressing on!
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Fives

Hello Everybody! Thanksgiving is upon us. Traveling, chances to visit with families and friends, and the opportunity to eat way too much, will play some role in a few of our futures in the upcoming week. Please know that you all will be in my prayers for a wonderful, thankful, joyous, and restful time. Without any further delay here are a few things that caught my attention this week....

1. Tonight is our church's annual Thanksgiving Dinner. I am looking forward to being a part of this and experiencing this event. I hope to see as many of you as I can tonight at 6pm!

2. We have a call into the Literacy Coalition to set up an informational meeting in December. We are going forward with this so keep your ears open for when we can get this set up. If you are at least thinking about becoming a tutor to help teach some of the adults of Marion County how to read and write, then this meeting will be for you.

3. This week we will be celebrating Christ the King Sunday in worship as we use Scripture and song to walk through each season in the Christian calendar. Please do not miss this opportunity to worship Christ as our King and take a trip through our Christian seasons!

4. Then the following week, November 29th, we will celebrate the Hanging of the Greens in worship. During worship we will explain and talk about each of the decorations, their importance, and Scriptural significance. Please bring your family and friends as we kick off the Advent season.

5. Newsletters are ready! When you come to tonight's Thanksgiving dinner or at worship on Sunday be sure to pick up your newsletter so you can read all about the goings on within our great family!

Blessings!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

THANK YOU!!

A special thank you to all of you that came to support our wonderful church at Charge Conference today. By my count we arrived with the largest contingent of members and that says a lot about our excitement and enthusiasm. Thank you again for your support and have a great week!

Big Rocks: Remember Your Call – Matthew 6:7-15 and Hebrews 7:15-28

Introduction
This week we are concluding our preaching series entitled Big Rocks where we have been looking at the big rocks or tenets of the Christian faith. Our first week we spoke about Grace and how Grace impacts and informs our lives as Christians. Then we talked about Salvation, what it is, why it was necessary, and what our response should be to this incredible act of love. Next, we spoke about the idea of discipleship and what it means to truly be a disciple of Christ. Today we are going to bring it all together as we spend some time talking about what it means to be a covenant people and how that impacts our faith.

Illustration
A young boy by the name of James had a desire to be the most famous manufacturer and salesman of cheese in the world. He planned on becoming rich and famous by making and selling cheese and began with a little buggy pulled by a pony named Paddy. After making his cheese, he would load his wagon and he and Paddy would drive down the streets of Chicago to sell the cheese. As the months passed, the young boy began to despair because he was not making any money, in spite of his long hours and hard work.

One day he pulled his pony to a stop and began to talk to him. He said, "Paddy, there is something wrong. We are not doing it right. I am afraid we have things turned around and our priorities are not where they ought to be. Maybe we ought to serve God and place him first in our lives." The boy drove home and made a covenant that for the rest of his life he would first serve God and then would work as God directed. Little James was entering into a promise, creating a covenant.

What is a Covenant?
So what is a covenant? A typical covenant is basically a legal fellowship between two humans. Back in the era of the Old Testament, two people that had entered into a fellowship with one another would come together, agree on the purpose and terms of the covenant, and then divide a suitable animal and walk between the two halves. This was done to signify that if either of them broke the covenant may their fate be the same as the animal they just sacrificed. So as you can see entering into a covenant back then was a serious endeavor not to be taken lightly or for granted.

But there was also another type of covenant and that was one that was made between humanity and God. Scripture makes mention of several different covenants; between God and Noah, God and Abraham, the Sinai covenant, God and David, and of course the New Covenant made complete with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

For our purposes today we are going to speak about the covenants between humanity and God for the means of fellowship and the forgiveness of sins. It is important for us to understand that the idea of covenants were instituted for our benefit. Covenants are a human enterprise and God chose to use that institution to help us relate to God. You see, covenants were established to help encourage other people to keep their word. And since there is no issue with God not being faithful to God's end of an agreement, we can see why covenants are human driven and not necessary for God. But God entered into them anyway for our benefit and comfort. So when we think of a covenant we can know that if we do what we promised to do, any promised blessings are guaranteed. There is no worry of God defaulting on the agreement. Our God is a perfect God, always faithful, always dependable, and always eager to bless us as much as we will allow it.

Our Response
So are we part of a covenant? Absolutely! And here is our part of it. Our first Scripture lesson this morning gives us the basis for the prayer that we gather together and pray each week. The Lord's Prayer. I want us to focus on the second line of that prayer for just a moment, “Thy Kingdom, come, thy will be done, on Earth, as it is in Heaven”. That is a request from us, we are asking for that. We are asking for God's Kingdom to be established here on Earth. And since we are asking for it, we have a part to play in its realization. When Christ ascended into Heaven, he gave us the Great Commission. He told us to go and make disciples of all nations, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That is Kingdom building, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth, as it is in Heaven”. As followers of Jesus Christ, the Great Commission is our part of the covenant. And we pray for that exact act to happen each week. That is a part of the covenant we have made with God when we proclaim ourselves to be believers in Jesus Christ. When we devote ourselves to His ways, we are agreeing to be bound by God's commands. And one of Christ's commands is to build the Kingdom here on Earth.

You see the whole goal of our creation is to ultimately spend eternity with our Creator, and to have everyone be a part of the Kingdom. And God went to great lengths to give everyone the opportunity for that very thing to happen. He sacrificed his Son for our sins.

Remember earlier we talked about what a covenant was, how it was entered in to, and the consequences of breaking it. Well there was a downfall to those types of Old Testament covenants, and it was that the animal sacrifices used to atone for us breaking our covenant with God, had to keep being repeated. The animals were not sufficient. So God decided to enter into a covenant with us using a permanent sacrifice, His Son.

Our second Scripture lesson this morning from Hebrews details for us why the sacrifice of Christ was necessary, sufficient, and final. As this passage of Scripture points out, The Mosiac law that used to be the norm never made anything perfect. But through Christ, we have a new hope, a better covenant. The animal sacrifices of the past lacked permanence, so another was necessary. Jesus as our high priest was superior because his sacrifice fulfilled the necessity, offered the needed sufficiency, and was forever. The permanence of Christ's sacrifice was something never before seen and it granted access for all people to have a relationship with God.

What Next?
So what's next? All of the big rocks that we have discussed here these past several weeks have led us right here. For us to be a true covenant people, we need to understand the big rocks of our faith.

Our bulletin cover this week, shows humanity on the right as sinful, God on the left as Holy, and the sacrifice of Christ as the bridge that brings us all together and honestly that is the reality of it. It is through grace, given in the form of salvation, that creates our desire to be disciples, that urges us to enter into a covenant with our Creator.

There were covenants entered into in the Old Testament that were temporary. There were sacrifices made by priests that allowed the short term forgiveness of sins for the believers of God. But God wanted more. God wanted a permanent way for all of humanity to be able to reap His blessings, so God entered into a covenant on our behalf. God wanted everyone to have access to the benefits of being in His presence, experiencing His grace, and being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our challenge as a covenant people is to live into that agreement. Our response to this wonderful gift is to share the aspects of grace, the gift of salvation, the blessings of discipleship, and the rewards of righteousness with all that we meet.

Conclusion
Remember that young cheese salesman we spoke about that made the covenant with God? Well, he kept that covenant to serve God first and foremost and he was blessed. So every time you take a take a bite of Philadelphia Cream cheese, sip a cup of Maxwell House, mix a quart of Kool-Aid, slice up a DiGiorno Pizza, cook a pot of Macaroni & Cheese, spread some Grey Poupon, stir a bowl of Cream of Wheat, slurp down some Jell-O, eat the cream out of the middle of an Oreo cookie, or serve some Stove Top, remember a boy, his pony named Paddy, and the covenant promise little James L. Kraft made to serve God and work as He directed.

We have a calling from God that is demanding. A calling to go and make disciples of all nations, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. A calling that requires our complete devotion. A calling that usually requires more than we are capable of. But God will equip you, God will lead you, and God will fulfill God's portion of the covenant made on our behalf. Folks, it is a win-win for us. Remember your call, remember God loves you, and remember the sacrifice he made for you, before you were even born.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bible Challenge 11/15 - 11/21

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, time will be more scare than normal. I encourage you to try and stay on track with this challenge. This week we finish John and begin our venture into Acts.

11/15, Sunday - John 17-20

11/16, Monday - John 21- Acts 3

11/17, Tuesday - Acts 4-7

11/18, Wednesday - Acts 8-11

11/19, Thursday - Acts 12-15

11/20, Friday - Acts 16-19

11/21, Saturday - Acts 20-23

Keep pressing on!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Fives

Greetings my Friends!

This week is a busy one so with no further delay...

1. This week we are concluding our preaching series on the Big Rocks as we talk about what it means to be a covenant people. Then we are embarking a worship experience the following week as we celebrate Christ the King and focus on the different seasons of the Christian year through Scripture and song. It will be a service you won't want to miss!

2. This Sunday at 4pm over at First Ocala UMC, we will be holding our annual Charge Conference, along with ten other churches. Everyone is invited and I do hope you will make plans to come. In fact if we do not have enough people show up will not be able to vote and complete our charge conference. We will begin with a worship service, celebrate Holy Communion, and then have the business discussions. If you are free, please let me know either here as a comment or at worship tomorrow. I would love to see a healthy number of us there to represent our wonderful church.

3. November 29th, we will celebrate the Hanging of the Greens in worship. We are still in need of volunteers to help us decorate during worship as together we will transform our sanctuary into a beautiful Christmas display. During worship we will explain and talk about each of the decorations, their importance, and Scriptural significance. Please bring your family and friends as we kick off the Advent season.

4. Friday, November, 20th will be our annual Thanksgiving Dinner. It will be at 6pm in the Fellowship Hall. Come join us for a time of fellowship and what else...thanksgiving! Hope to see you there!

5. Sunday at 2pm will be our monthly trip to Ocala Health and Rehab. If you would like to help as we sing with and minister to the residents you are more than welcome and we would love to have you. Just show up at 2 pm just down the road from the church and we will have a good time together.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Big Rocks: One with God – Luke 10:38-42 and James 2:14-26

Introduction
This week we are continuing our preaching series entitled Big Rocks where we look at the big rocks or tenets of the Christian faith. Our first week we spoke about Grace and how Grace impacts and informs our lives as Christians. Then we talked about Salvation, what it is, why it was necessary, and what our response should be to this incredible act of love. Today we are going to talk about the idea of discipleship and what it means to truly be a disciple of Christ.

The Importance of Discipleship
There are many ideas today about what it means to be a Christian. Hundreds of theologians have weighed in with their opinions; pastors, Sunday School teachers, church goers. All of us have an opinion as to what we think it means to call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ. Some people think that if you come to church each week that alone makes you a disciple. While that is a good start, I do not think going and sitting in a church sanctuary makes you a disciple any more than going and sitting in a garage makes you a car. Other people think that salvation and discipleship is the same thing. Salvation, that free gift from God that comes with us professing our belief in Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, is not the same as discipleship. The thought is that “I have professed, God has saved me, see ya in Heaven!” But is that really it? Is that really the mindset believers should have after they receive salvation? I am here to argue no, that is not it.

There is more! When we accept Christ and have that true conversion experience, we are changed! We are transformed into a new being with new desires and new outlooks, and our faith will begin to generate works for Christ. Now let me take just a moment to clarify something here. I have told you from this very spot just a few weeks ago that in order to be saved there was nothing you had to do but accept the freely given gift from God. If you accept Christ as your Savior and ask him to live in your heart, that is it...salvation is yours. I am not wavering from that today. I am not saying that works is now required for salvation. We are not talking about a faith vs. works controversy. Paul often spoke of salvation and he was speaking about our inward devotion. What we read from James this morning is James talking about our outward action as a result of that inward devotion. They are not competing but complementary. Today we are taking that next step from salvation and talking about discipleship. Salvation is the acceptance, discipleship is the natural response. Once we accept the gift, and are transformed, discipleship is the natural result of that act.

So James is not challenging anyone's salvation, but basically he is asking “what now”? What is going to be our response to salvation? Are we going to sit on our hands or are we going to go out and live as James is encouraging us to, as Christ has commanded us to.

What Are We To Do As Disciples?
Well what are we to do as disciples? I have a few ideas, and feel free to add your own ideas to this list later. But, the first is to spend time with Jesus. If we are to follow someone we need to understand who they are and what they want of us. So spend time with Jesus. Our first Scripture lesson this morning models this ideal for us. Here in the Gospel of Luke we have two sisters that have welcomed Jesus and his disciples into their home. Both feel they are serving their guest, one by doing, the other by listening. However when Martha, the doer, asks Jesus to tell the listener, Mary, to get to work Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen what is right and it will not be taken from her.

Mary made the choice to not get caught up in the doing for Christ at the expense of being with Christ. That can be a pitfall for all of us. It is easy to get so busy doing for the Kingdom and being what we feel is a good and faithful disciple that we neglect spending time with Christ. Do not let the doing for Christ become more important than spending time with Christ. Take that time daily! If this is a habit for you God bless you and I pray it stays that way. If not, start with just five minutes a day, in a quiet, uninterrupted place. Pray, by adoring God for who God is, confess for our shortcomings, thank God for all the things God has done in your life, ask for what you need God's help with, and then listen. Next, get involved with a Bible Study, read the Word! Love God with your heart and know God with your mind. Be with God, talk with Christ, and listen for the Holy Spirit. The only way we can be good and faithful disciples is to first spend time with and get to know the One we are longing to serve.

Next, live it out! Once we spend time with Christ, go and live for Christ. As disciples of Jesus, we are supposed to continue to grow in our faith, to become more Christ-like, more like Jesus in our attitudes and actions. The theological term for this is “sanctification” which means “being made holy.” Find a cause, find a group, find a person and be Christ for them. Often times the only way people experience the love of Christ is through their interactions with us. A smile from you as you walk by, getting something from a top shelf for someone else, letting someone ahead of you in a line. All of these are easy ways to begin. Then look for ways to make a lasting impact. Become a literacy tutor, volunteer with Meals on Wheels, give of yourself at a soup kitchen. Find a place where you can get involved, love another, and make an impression that they cannot help but know that it came from God.

Another thing we can do as disciples is to stay plugged in. To be a disciple of Christ is not easy, but incredibly rewarding. And in order to have the strength and energy to be an effective disciple you need the energy and strength that comes from being plugged in, connected with a body of believers. When we get together and the Spirit is moving among us, the energy, the strength, the love is almost overwhelming. Being a disciple of Christ can wear you down, make you physically and spiritually exhausted...and sleep will not cure those ills. But, being with a group of believers, having a church family to pick you up and encourage you, can. Please be connected. And more than just a trip to our corner of Lake Weir and 17th Street once a week. Find a small group, a bible study, and if there is not one established, talk to me and I can help you get one going.

We are all called to be disciples of Christ and in order to do that we must spend time with Christ, live out His love to others, and be connected with other believers.

Conclusion
There was an anonymous poem that was written in the late 1970's that I want to share with you:

I was hungry and you formed a humanities
club and discussed my hunger. Thank you.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your
chapel in the cellar and prayed for my release.

I was naked and in your mind,
you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you left me alone to pray.

You seem so holy, so close to God.

But I''m still hungry and lonely and cold.


It is one thing for us to talk about what we believe and how Christ is living in our hearts. It is entirely a different matter to live it out. So I encourage you to ask yourself, am I living as Christ has called me to live, or am I standing on the sidelines just watching His Kingdom grow without me?

We are all called to discipleship to be active hearers, doers, and givers of the love of Christ. He wants you involved, and he will equip you, strengthen you, and love you all the way through. And to me that sounds like a good deal!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bible Challenge 11/08 - 11/14

I hope that everyone is on track as we get busy with the end of the year holidays. This week we finish Luke and get into John.

11/8, Sunday - Luke 13-16

11/9, Monday - Luke 17-20

11/10, Tuesday - Luke 21-24

11/11, Wednesday - John 1-4

11/12, Thursday - John 5-8

11/13, Friday - John 9-12

11/14, Saturday - John 13-16

Keep pressing on!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Fives

Hello All,

I hope you have each had a wonderful and God-filled week. Here are a few things that I wanted to bring to your attention.

1. This week are taking time to honor all the Veteran's in worship. It is through their sacrifices and service that we are afforded the lifestyle we have today. Take time this weekend to honor those you know and come to worship on Sunday as we honor them there as well.

2. We are continuing our preaching series on the Big Rocks this week as we take a look at discipleship and sanctification and what our response is to those ideals.

3. We are celebrating Hanging of the Greens on Sunday, November 29th and are in need of volunteers. Please consider being a part of this spiritually moving experience as we decorate the Sanctuary together during worship on that morning. If you are interested in helping out please let the church office know.

4. If you are interested, do not forget there is a Healthy Lifestyle for Senior Adults "Health Fair" on November 10th, from 10am - 2pm, at Oakcrest Baptist Church. For more info you can call 352-629-7058.

5. Charge Conference is coming up on November 15th at 4pm at First UMC Ocala. I would like all of you to think about coming this year. This is an opportunity for us to look back and share what God has been doing in our congregation and to look forward expectantly, at what God will do in the future. It is not the completely boring exercise that it might have been in the past. We will actually have a worship service in the midst of the business. Please pray about it and I hope you will make plans to come.

Have a great weekend and I hope to see you Sunday!
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day: Heroes of the Faith - Matthew 5:1-12 and Hebrews 11:30-12:2

Introduction
This week we are placing our series on the Big Rocks on hold for just a week to focus on today, All Saints Day. This is a day on the Christian calendar where we pause to remember, reflect, and thank God for all those that have gone before us. This is the day where we spend time honoring those Christians who are now part of the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” that meant so much to us.

My Heroes
Growing up there were two people that had a great influence on me, Richard Schnaare and Emma Davis. Richard Schnaare was a man that I knew from as long back as I can remember. He was a member of my home church until his death about five years ago. He was a man that had a strong faith in God, but not showy. He taught my young adult Sunday School class and would teach what he knew but not force it on us. He lived the best way he knew how and never made a point about it. His quiet example of what being a Christian man was to him, spoke volumes to me. His example taught me more than any words he could have ever spoke. Richard studied Scripture, really studied and labored over it in order to understand it the best he could. He then strived to live out what he learned. It was important to him to not only profess his faith in the Triune God but to model it and live it out daily. I loved that man, I respected that man, I miss that man.

The next person that holds a big place in my heart is Emma Davis. Emma was my grandmommy, she was my Mom's mom. She lived just a few blocks from my house as I was growing up and I spent a great deal of time at my grandmommy's house. She would take me on errands with her, she would let me just tag along as she cleaned house, did yard work, or whatever it was she was up to that day. She basically allowed me to be her shadow, and her shadow I was. My grandmommy was also very active in my home church. She ran the children's programs and was very dedicated to making sure the children felt they had a home at the church. She loved those kids and they adored her. She was 4 feet 11.5 inches tall, you always had to include that .5 inch, so she was just about the same size as the kids, and she would play just as hard as they did. Her ability to love, accept, and nurture those children really impressed me. She had a way of making you feel important, valued, and just like you were on top of the world. She could sense someone hurting and usually had the right words that made you feel better. She could mediate disagreements to where both sides felt like they were heard. She could smile at you and you instantly knew she was someone you wanted to know and be around. My grandmommy lived with the love of Christ as her shield. She had such a deep abiding love of Christ and she strived to share it with everyone she could. Her faith in the risen Savior and the love that he expressed through his death and sacrifice really spoke to her and informed her Christian faith. I loved my grandmommy, I respected my grandmommy, I deeply miss my grandmommy.

What Makes Someone a Hero?
These two people were and are very important heroes in my faith. Their example and their witness guide me, strengthen me, and encourage me. But what makes someone a hero? Our first Scripture lesson tells us. Christ is walking up the mountain side with his disciples and begins what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. He starts with the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3-10 NIV). Jesus outlines it for us right here. Those of us that have the traits that this world mocks, those of us that have the traits where we put others first, those of us that have the traits that allow us to thin the veil between Heaven and Earth, those are the heroes. Richard and my grandmommy had those traits. And I am confident that all of you know someone who possessed those traits as well.

The Importance of Heroes
And knowing heroes of the faith is important because they are part of the cloud of witnesses that we read about in our Second Scripture lesson this morning.

We were never promised an easy life as Christians. When made the decision to devote our lives to the Kingdom we were never promised that we would never face difficulties. But these verses from Hebrews give us the encouragement to persevere.

You see Hebrews Chapter 11, the entire chapter is about great examples of faith from the lives of those we read about in Scripture, from Cain and Able, from Noah, from Abraham and his wife Sarah, from Jacob, from Joseph, and from Moses, among others. For some, marvelous things happened to them. For others, horrible things happened to them. But what happened to them was not the focus. The focus comes in verse 40 where we are told that God has planned something better for us, the whole people of God.

This is where the cloud of witnesses come into play. This life is hard, long, and arduous and to have to do it alone would terrify me. But we have our cloud of witnesses. Maybe it would help to think of this passage in terms of a relay race. There are people that have to start with the baton at the beginning of the race, those are the people that lived before us. They are the ones that set the tone for us, teach us, influence us and when their portion is done they hand off the baton to the next person, to us. But they are not done. As we watched them carry that baton, we were studying them, whether we were cognizant of it or not. We were examining them to see how they carried themselves and treated others. And after we receive the baton, the next runner is doing the same thing to us. Those that came before us, even though they are not physically here anymore, their examples, their actions, and their teachings, are still guiding us today.

Are You a Hero?
So I ask you today, as we honor those that came before us, are you a hero to someone? Are you striving to live the life that Christ preached about on the mountainside? Are you striving to live the life that Christ sacrificed himself for? Those are the questions that we need to constantly ask ourselves. To be a disciple of Christ means that we will do things not generally respected by this world and both of our Scripture lessons talk about the rewards we will receive from God for following Him rather than this world.

Those people that have come before us have provided us with a legacy worth remembering, worth passing on. So as we remember them today, let us make it a point to remember them everyday and take what they have taught us and pass it on to the next person in the race so that God may continue to be glorified and the Kingdom may continue to be strengthened.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time Change, Time Change!

Just a friendly reminder to everyone tonight we gain an hour...YEA!!!! So set your clocks back an hour before you retire for the night and enjoy the extra sleep. See you all tomorrow!

Blessings!

Bible Challenge 11/01 - 11/07

Greetings All! I pray your week has been wonderful! Here is the schedule for the upcoming week. We are going through the Gospels which just permeate with the love of Christ. I truly hope you are all enjoying them! We get all the way through Mark and into Luke. Keep pressing on!

11/1, Sunday - Mark 1-4

11/2, Monday - Mark 5-8

11/3, Tuesday - Mark 9-12

11/4, Wednesday - Mark 13-16

11/5, Thursday - Luke 1-4

11/6, Friday - Luke 5-8

11/7, Saturday - Luke 9-12

Have a great week in the Word!
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Fives

Hello All!

Here are a few things that caught my interest this week.

1. The interest in our Facebook group has grown a bit. We now have 10 members! This is a wonderful way we can stay in contact and let others see what we are all about. Do not forget to check it out sometime, join as a member, and tell others about it. I will post some pictures soon from the Pumpkin Patch.

2. I received a flyer this week advertising a Healthy Lifestyle for Senior Adults "Health Fair". It will be November 10th, 10am - 2pm, at Oakcrest Baptist Church. For more info you can call 352-629-7058.

3. This week in worship we will be taking a break from the preaching series "Big Rocks" to recognize All Saints Day and remember those that have died within the past year. This is also a time for us to be mindful of those that have influenced us for the Kingdom and our response to that gift. I hope you all will be there!

4. On Sunday November 29th, we are going to be participating in a worship service called the Hanging of the Greens. It will be an opportunity for us to learn about what all of our Christmas decorations mean and their significance in Scripture as we decorate the sanctuary together! However for this to be truly meaningful we need volunteers to participate. If you are willing to help, please contact the church office. We need quite a few people to make this an experience that I hope you won't soon forget!

5. Charge Conference is coming up on November 15th at 4pm at First UMC Ocala. I would like all of you to think about coming this year. This is an opportunity for us to look back and share what God has been doing in our congregation and to look forward expectantly, at what God will do in the future. It is not the completely boring exercise that it might have been in the past. We will actually have a worship service in the midst of the business. Please pray about it and I hope you will make plans to come.

Have a blessed week!