Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thriving In The Midst of Change
Philippians 4:4-9 and Romans 12:1-2

This is the transcript of the sermon that was preached by Pastor Debbie this week here at Druid Hills UMC. It is my hope that you all enjoyed the message and were enriched by it.


Life seems to be in turmoil right now – our country finds itself in a recession – businesses are collapsing, folks losing jobs, others are watching the investments that they had counted on to provide for them slip away with the bottoming out of the stock market. A lot of changes – how are we going to handle those – how are we going to face those – especially in light of our faith. Because the answer for how we handle and face change should be different that those who don’t have a belief in Jesus Christ. It really should.

LEARNING TO REJOICE (Philippians 4:4-9)
Back at the end of 2008, I started waking up early in the mornings. You need to understand a couple of things about me: 1) I don’t usually wake up before my alarm goes off; and 2) I’m a night owl, not a morning person. So I was a little aggravated the first morning when I woke up about 15 minutes before my alarm went off. I was even more aggravated the next morning when I woke up about 25 minutes before my alarm went off. But when it happened the third morning and I woke up 40 minutes before my alarm went off, I got the hint. I started praying – “Ok, Lord, what are you trying to tell me?” And the overwhelming impression that I got was one word – “Rejoice!” And then I started to get a verse, one of the verses from our Scripture lesson in Philippians this morning – “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” And so I kept praying and I started listing off all the things that I was thankful for, all of the blessings in my life. Soon the alarm went off. And when I went to get out of bed and start going about my day, I realized I had a different attitude. The focus on rejoicing and thankfulness before my feet hit the floor changed my whole outlook for the day. The next morning I woke up 30 minutes before the alarm went off and this time I knew exactly what to do – I started praying and rejoicing until it was time to get up. Over the last year or so it has happened over and over again - not every morning, but pretty regularly. And I’ve started looking forward to that time of rejoicing and thankfulness in the morning. So much so that even when God doesn’t wake me up early for it, I’ve tried to make thankfulness my first reaction and thought even when I wake up in the morning.

Attitude can be key in how we approach situations in life. Think about the huge contrast between pessimists and optimists. Optimists look at a glass with some water in it and think “Oh, that glass is half full.” Pessimists look at the same glass and think, “Oh, that glass is half empty.” Now most of us waver between those two states of mind and spend some time as both, depending on the kind of day we’ve had. But haven’t you known people who have lived their entire lives at one of those extreme ends? And how their attitude colors everything that they do and say and how it affects the quality of the life that they live?

I’ve enjoyed the change in attitude that’s come from trying to focus more on thankfulness. You know I feel like this whole exercise in waking up early was the Holy Spirit’s way of convicting me about attitude. It’s very easy to focus on the negatives in life, the problems and the things that you don’t have. However, when we focus in on those things they oftentimes overwhelm us until that’s all we see and all we start looking for in life. Suddenly we’re incapable of seeing the good things and the blessings. Whatever you think about the most becomes your focus in life. I needed to adjust my attitude in order to start really living into the full and abundant life that God intends for us.

That’s what Paul is trying to get at in his letter to the church in Philippi. In our Scripture lesson, Paul is reminding them that they can rejoice and not be anxious because they turn their burdens over to God and receive his peace. And he cautions them to watch their focus - “think on things (that are) true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.” Why? Because what you sow is what you reap. What you put into your heart and mind is what you are going to get back out. Because your attitude is very important!

Our attitude is very important, especially when we are in a state of change. Change is hard and often scary. Most people don’t like change, they avoid it if possible. And the principle thing that most people don’t like is to change is themselves. We resist change even when it is in our best interests. For example: A woman bought a piece of needlework at a craft fair. On it was stitched these words, "Prayer Changes Things." Proud of the handiwork, she hung it up above the fireplace in the family room. Several days later she noticed that it was missing. She asked her husband if he knew what had happened to it. "I removed it," he replied. "Don't you believe that prayer changes things?" she asked, mystified. He responded, "Yes, I do. I believe in prayer. In fact, I believe that it changes things. I just don't happen to like change, and so I took it down."

Change is difficult. I think one of the things that makes change so hard is that the process of change usually brings with it some grief. And I don’t think we acknowledge that enough. As we experience changes, we grieve the loss of expectations for how we thought our life would be, we grieve the loss of certain hopes and dreams.

And how we handle change? Some people live in denial that things around us are changing. Others get angry and lash out at innocent people all around them. But I think a good many of us face the changes in our lives by becoming frozen and stuck - we shut down, we isolate ourselves, we go on autopilot just trying to somehow get through. But life in survival mode isn’t much of a life at all. And I can’t imagine that it makes God happy to see us – his children, those he created in his image - just muddling through life miserable.

To me, that’s the way of the world. But we are not called to be like the rest of the world in our response to life, let alone change. God has so much in store for us. In “The Message” version of our Scripture lesson from Romans this morning we find the key – “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way that you think.” Hear that again – don’t miss a word – “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way that you think.” Wow!

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome stands to remind us that belief and behavior are not separate, but rather interwoven – we are what we do, we are how we act, we are what we think. If we want to live a different life, if we want to thrive in the midst of change, then it starts with our attitude and carries onto our behavior. We’ve got to gear up with the right attitude in our mind to affect change in our behavior. Just like focusing in on the good and joy and thankfulness helps me get my day started off correctly.

And not all change is bad. You see, God is in the business of life transformation. You see the storyline interwoven throughout all of Scripture – New and Old Testament. He takes the pieces of broken people and creates something new and whole again. It’s no wonder that our two Scripture lessons this morning about attitude and change were written by the Apostle Paul. He had personal experience with the God of redemption, going from a man who persecuted Christians to becoming a man who was Christianity’ biggest champion and missionary.

A few chapters earlier in the book of Romans, Paul lays the groundwork for how and why we can thrive in the midst of change. In Romans 8, Paul asks a bunch of questions: “If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (vs 31, 35). These are the sort of things that were happening to Christians in Paul’s day. And then he goes on to answer with great confidence in the God we serve: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vs 37-39).

Paul goes to great lengths in his questions and his answer to show that there really is nothing so horrible that could happen to us or that we could do which could ever separate us from Christ’s love. Jesus himself acknowledged this to his disciples when he said: “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33). Knowing these things should make a difference in the way we face the circumstances of our lives and even the changes we have to face.

Coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ is just the first step in a lifetime journey of becoming more Christ-like – in our values, our attitudes, our words and actions. It’s a huge process of change and transformation. But one that results in a life that is more fully focused, more rich and fulfilling that we could ever imagine on our own. We need to keep that picture of Jesus first and foremost in our minds.

But as much as we want to change we can’t just think about it and will the change. Belief and practice go hand in hand and we need to do something. Want to gear up your attitude for change? Let me encourage you to take some time to rejoice. Start your mornings off with a focus on God. Count your blessings and be reminded of God’s amazing and un-changing love for you. It’s the most important step towards thriving in the midst of change.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bible Challenge 1/31 - 2/6

Greetings All!

Here is the schedule for next week. We are finishing up Romans and moving into I Corinthians as we continue to read from the writings of Paul.

1/31, Sunday - Romans 4-7

2/1, Monday - Romans 8-11

2/2, Tuesday - Romans 12-15

2/3, Wednesday - Romans 16 - 1 Corinthians 3

2/4, Thursday - 1 Corinthians 4-7

2/5, Friday - 1 Corinthians 8-11

2/6, Saturday - 1 Corinthians 12-15

Have a blessed week!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Fives

Here are a few things I wanted to share with you this week.

1. The disaster in Haiti is getting worse. I am sure most of you have been following along as things are happening in Haiti. It is a devastating tragedy that the Haitian people are going through. Please continue to be in prayer for this nation as they continue to feel aftershocks, deal with the chaos that is rampant in their land, and face an uncertain future. However, if you feel lead to do more than pray for Haiti, you can click here and read about other ways you can help.

2. This week you will be blessed to have my wife, Debbie, leading you in worship. With Debbie and I being appointed at two different churches we were given an idea about how we get to know our spouses' congregation. That idea was to swap pulpits on occasion so we could spend some time with each others church. It was agreed upon that we would swap each month where there was a fifth Sunday. The first Fifth Sunday of the year is here and we are swapping! I will be at Belleview and she will be here. Enjoy!!

3. The Easter Tableau outreach event is quickly approaching and planning is getting underway. If you are interested in being a part of the leadership team and helping to head up one of the areas of the Tableau or have questions about what would be required of you on this team, please contact either Eunice or Peggy Sue as soon as possible to let them know.

4. Don't forget to check us out on Facebook and on the blog. There many ways to stay in touch now a day and our church is utilizing them. We have a group page on Facebook and this blog kept by me. Both of these are wonderful ways to stay in touch with one another during the week. Things happen all the time so be sure to check these places out to keep up to date.

5. Next month we are having an Ash Wednesday service, on February 17th at 6pm in the Fellowship Hall. I hope you will make plans to attend as we begin the season of Lent together.

February 2010 Church Newsletter

Here you go folks...Hot off the presses!! Enjoy!!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

(Stewardship) Extravagant Generosity: To Share Gratefully II Corinthians 9:6-15 and Psalm 116

I heard a story once about a young boy named Nathan, just three years old. Nathan’s parents were trying to introduce him to what it means to be in church, so one Sunday they gave him a dollar bill to put in the offering plate. When the plate moved down Nathan's pew, his parents held it in front of him and told him to place the dollar in the plate. Nathan balked. Finally his mother gently took the dollar from him. She placed it in the plate, and it was passed on down the pew. Suddenly the stillness of the offertory was shattered by a voice demanding, "I want my dollar back! I want my dollar back!" Nathan had been robbed and he wanted everyone to know it. His parents tried in vain to quiet their son, but he was insistent, "I want my dollar back!" Everyone in the congregation was fighting a losing battle against laughter. Throughout the remaining strains of the organist's offertory, the only thing most worshippers heard was "I want my dollar back!" Eventually, his parents gave Nathan another dollar to hold and he was content enough so that the congregation could make it through the Doxology. When the pastor stepped into the pulpit to move the service forward, he knew he needed to address what had happened. Looking out, he told the congregation that morning, "We shouldn't laugh. It may be that Nathan is only voicing the feelings that some of us have after having given to God. We do so, not joyously but out of a sense of obligation. We do so unwillingly. We may not say it, but some of us think it down inside like little Nathan: "I want my dollar back!"

This morning we’re talking about the idea of sharing gratefully as one of our steps towards learning to be extravagantly generous. How can we move from giving to God out of a sense of duty and obligation and move into giving from a heart that overflows with a sense of gratitude and gratefulness?

Our Attitude of Gratitude
I think we can take a lesson from a holiday that we celebrate each year, Thanksgiving. Many of us gather with family and friends on that day to enjoy great meal and time together. But the point of the original Thanksgiving wasn’t just an excuse for fellowship or to overeat! The holiday of Thanksgiving in this country dates back to 1621 when the Pilgrims sat down with the Indians and shared a meal and GAVE THANKS. And they had much to thank God for – keeping them safe as they left their homeland and all that was familiar to come to a new strange place, helping them adapt and settle in and plant crops, and then surviving a harsh winter to be able to harvest those crops.

I know that there are times when it is tough to be thankful. It’s hard to be thankful when we are sick. It’s hard to be thankful when we are denied something which we had set our heart on. It’s hard to be thankful when we lose something or someone we love. But haven’t you noticed that whatever you focus on becomes larger than life? When you focus on your problems they seem overwhelming. When you focus on what you lack, it seems everyone has more than you do.

So what if we were to focus instead on what we have and what we’ve been given? What if each day we were to count our blessings in an exercise of gratitude? Remember the old hymn? – “Count your blessings name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God has done.”

Our Response to God’s Incredible Gift (Psalm 116)
And what has God done? God has given us so much. We need only to look at Jesus. I John 4:9 tells us that Jesus is “how God showed his love among us” for “he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” You can’t out give God for he spares nothing in being generous towards us, not even his Son.

Our Scripture lesson from the Psalms this morning reminds us of some of God’s other incredible gifts. Here the writer exhibits an attitude of gratitude as he begins, “I love the Lord because…” and then gives us a partial list of some of the wonderful intangibles God bestows upon us:

• God gives us his listening ear (v. 1-2)
• God gets us through the toughest times (v 3-4) and protects us (v 5-6)
• God gives us peace so we can rest (v. 7) and keeps us on track so that we can go the distance (v. 8-11)

And then at verse 12, the psalmist asks a key question: “what can I offer the Lord for all that He has done for me?” For you see, thinking about all that God has given – the divine way in which he shares so graciously with us - ought to stir up within us a response of joy and gratitude.

Fortunately for us, the psalmist doesn’t stop there. Instead of leaving us on our own to figure out what to offer to God, he spells out a few things.

1. First in verse 13, he tells us to “lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.” The single most appropriate way we can show our gratitude and thanksgiving to God is to accept Jesus’ gift upon the cross. To lift up the cup of salvation by repenting of our sin and turning our lives over to Jesus Christ. This morning the living Christ is here among us, hoping that some persons will for the first time allow him to be their personal Savior and lord.

2. And second, in verse 17, the psalmist tell us to “sacrifice a thank offering to God.” Many ancient Israelites made their living taking care of animals. That’s why they were required to bring an animal sacrifice to give thanks before the Lord, a perfect unblemished animal from among the firstborn of their flocks. Today the majority of the world doesn’t support their families through raising crops and animals. So for us sacrificing a thank offering to God involves our finances.

Sharing gratefully starts when we begin to realize all that God has given to us first. And it continues when we begin to understand the impact that our giving has, not only upon ourselves, but upon our community and the whole kingdom of God.

The Impact of our Sharing Gratefully (II Corinthians 9)
In our Scripture lesson this morning from II Corinthians we find Paul writing to the church at Corinth about the subject of giving. And what he has to say is very interesting. He reminds the believers that they should each give, but “not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7). And he reminds the believers that God makes his grace available to them so that they will have all they need (v. 8). But God doesn’t stop there. Paul says that “you will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (v. 11). Why?

Paul lists two reasons showing the impact of our giving:

1) We’re to be generous to help supply the needs of God’s people (v. 12).
2) We’re to be generous because our generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (v. 11, 12, 13)

I want you to think about that for a minute. God bestows gifts and blessings to help supply our personal needs. And then he invites each of us to partner with him in his ministry here in the world by giving back to him through the church a portion, a tithe, of those gifts and blessings. And in bringing our individual offerings together through the missions and ministries of the church we can help supply the needs of others in our community. And that generosity will result in much thanksgiving to God as people’s lives are touched and transformed.

Paul didn’t write these words from some lofty bubble. He had endured his share of dark times and problems – shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonment, unfair criticism and a host of other trials. And over and over again in the writings of the New Testament he expressed an attitude of rejoicing and thanksgiving that nothing could destroy. Having experienced God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness for himself and been transformed by it, he wanted everyone else to experience it as well.

Learning to see our giving from God’s perspective certainly changes our attitude – from a sense of duty and obligation to a joyful response to all God has given as we partner with him to help spread the good news of the Gospel. We’re here today because people in the past followed God’s call to share gratefully and with extravagant generosity. We should follow their example and leave that same kind of legacy for those who come after us.

Scripture invites us to respond to God out of gratitude and joyful obedience, giving that is eager with love because we know Who gave first (I John 4:9-10).

So I ask all of us, is your giving motivated by your gratitude? Count your blessings. This week, I challenge you to think about the different ways you can express to God his priority in your life through your offerings. May we learn to share gratefully our best and all to the One who gave His own Son for us.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bible Challenge 1/24 - 1/30

Hello All!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful beginning to the new year!

This week are finishing up Acts and moving into Romans. Did you know that Acts is thought of by some scholars to be a continuation of Luke?

Here is the schedule for this week.

Sunday, 1/24 - Acts 4-7

Monday, 1/25 - Acts 8-11

Tuesday, 1/26 - Acts 12-15

Wednesday, 1/27 - Acts 16-19

Thursday, 1/28 - Acts 20-23

Friday, 1/29 - Acts 24-27

Saturday, 1/30 - Acts 28 - Romans 3


Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Fives

Greetings all! Here are a few things that caught my attention this week that I wanted to share with you.

1. The disaster in Haiti is getting worse. I am sure most of you have been following along as things are happening in Haiti. It is a devastating tragedy that the Haitian people are going through. As a church we raised $130 last week for relief and for that I am very grateful. Please be in prayer for this nation as they continue to feel aftershocks, deal with the chaos that is rampant in their land, and face an uncertain future. However, if you feel lead to do more than pray for Haiti, you can click here and read about other ways you can help.

2. We are concluding our preaching series on stewardship this week as we take a look at the idea of "Sharing Gratefully". Pledge cards are available in the narthex and in the church office. Please be in prayer about what you might want to write on them as your human response to God's divine grace. We will present these cards together as one body during worship this Sunday as we sing our Hymn of Dedication.

3. Our Serving from the Heart Bible Study continues this week. If you would still like to come, you are more than welcome. Just show up on Thursday at either 11:30am or 7pm. Hope to see you there!

4. Tomorrow we are having a service of Celebration for June Straub at 10am in the Fellowship Hall. Everyone is invited to come and share their stories about June. I know the family would love to hear what she meant to you and to this church. I hope to see as many of you as possible tomorrow.

5. Next month we are having an Ash Wednesday service, on February 17th at 6pm in the Fellowship Hall. I hope you will make plans to attend as we begin the season of Lent together.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

(Stewardship) Extravagant Generosity - To Possess Loosely Matthew 6:25-34 and Matthew 6:19-24

Last week we began our annual focus upon stewardship. And our theme for this year is an expansion of the last practice from the Methodist Way - Extravagant Generosity. God calls us to be faithful stewards, no matter our circumstances and to be as generous with others as He has been with us. So our focus is looking at steps we can take in our lives to help us get towards being more extravagantly generous: to live responsibly, to possess loosely and share gratefully. Last week we looked at the parable of the talents to learn how to live responsibly, realizing that God is the owner, that our job is faithful management and that a day of accountability is coming.

Growing up my family, financially, was blessed. While we were not rich we had enough to live comfortably. My brother and I were involved in a whole slew of activities and my parents were always able to provide the cleats, bats, balls, running shoes, letter jackets, and even classic cars when my brother and I both earned our Eagle Awards by age 16. We were always able to go on a two week vacation every year; but all of that was because we were blessed. As a family, my parents tithed off their salaries and my brother and I off any money we earned babysitting, doing yard work or whatever, we tithed. Well when I turned 21 it came time for me to move out. Living the way I had for most of my life was something that I had gotten used to. But what I did not fully realize that when I left the comfy confines of my parent's home I also left behind their salaries. I also should have left behind my lifestyle…but that did not happen. Whatever I wanted or felt I needed, I bought….on credit. It was not long before I had huge credit card debts and no idea about how I was going to pay it off.

I was very worried about how I was going to make ends meet. I had purposely waited to move out so I could save some money and not have to admit failure and move home. However, there I was broke, in debt, and worried. I was also stressed because I was not tithing either and I had grown up being taught by my great-grandmother, grandmother, grandfather, and parents that tithing was not an option, it was what you did. But there was no way I could give up one red cent if I was going to be able to pay all my bills. Praying to God and letting my parents know the situation I was in was not an option…I was not going to admit failure. One day when I got home from work and listened to an answering machine full of creditors that I fell to my knees and told God that I gave up. I failed. I could not do this anymore. I needed God's help. I immediately felt a sense of peace and began to look at what I could change to get my finances…and my stress, under control.

Jesus Tells Us Not To Obsess Over Things (Matthew 6:25-34)
How many of you are worried this morning? How many of you are anxious about something? Statistics show that between 20-30 percent of all Americans will live today under significant stress, worrying about marriages, children, jobs, mortgages, health, grades, friends or a host of other issues. Is it possible to be “worry free”? Not likely. But it is entirely possible to become less dominated by our fears and more motivated by our faith.

Contrary to popular belief, our culture has not invented stress and worrying about the circumstances of our lives. Even 2000 years ago in Galilee, people were often worried about their material possessions, often to the exclusion of concern for God or neighbor. And so Jesus had a lot to say about our priorities and how to deal with worry and the sort of anxiety that takes the joy out of life. Perhaps better known than any other word on this subject is our passages from Matthew this morning, part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus questions why we worry about what we will eat and drink, about our bodies and what we will we wear. He says our lives are about more than food, and our bodies are about more than clothes. And then he gives us two wonderful examples from creation of how much God loves and cares for what he has created. The birds of the air – they are fed, even the littlest tiny bird is taken care of by God. The lilies of the field – the grass itself is beautifully clothed, and it doesn’t even have a long life span. We are certainly more valuable to God than the birds and the grass – for after all God sent his only Son into the world to die that we might have life with him.

God knows our needs. Scripture tells us that he’s our Creator and knows every hair on our heads, so certainly he knows what we need. But he doesn’t want us to be consumed with worry in trying to work them out for ourselves. Because all the worrying in the world can’t change our circumstances or as Jesus puts it, add a single hour to our lives (v. 27). God’s plan? – for us as believers to possess things loosely and to seek God’s kingdom first. In return, He promises to see to the needs of our lives.

We Let Go By Shifting Focus – Temporal vs Eternal (Matthew 6:19-24)
Most of us can probably agree in theory that God is the giver of every perfect gift and that everything we have is because of God’s generosity in our lives. However, it’s the practice of this that causes a problem for many. That’s because if you love things and have an inordinate desire to have them, it can weigh you down and impede your spiritual progress. So we need to be liberated from our need for things; to possess them loosely. And we first let go by shifting focus – from the temporal to the eternal.

Jesus made this clear when he said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” In other words, wherever your focus is, that’s what becomes the important priority in your life. The lyrics of an old gospel song help bring the point home to us - “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ thru. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.”

This world is not our home. It is temporary and so is all of the stuff we have. We can’t take any of it with us. But we certainly can invest our monetary, material and personal resources in a way that will outlive us and have eternal significance. God is not opposed to our enjoying His blessings upon us. It’s not as if God is leaning over the balcony of heaven waiting for us to enjoy something so that He can say, “Cut that out!” No, the Lord is pleased when His children find pleasure in what He has given. However, our attachment should be to Him and not to the things themselves.

A Practice Designed to Help – Tithing
One practice designed to help us possess things loosely and make the switch from a temporal perspective to an eternal one is the practice of tithing; giving a tenth of all one makes to God. Tithing helps reprioritizes lives and helps people distinguish what is lasting, eternal and of infinite value from what is temporary, illusory and untrustworthy. Instead of giving God the leftovers at the end of the month, tithing is a spiritual discipline that puts God first. It’s a practical way of saying, “God really is Lord of our lives, and we do not give into society’s expectations, our possessions, or our appetites.”

The practice of tithing goes all the way back to Abraham, who after defeating a pagan army, gave God a tenth of everything (Gen. 14:18-20). Later the people of Israel were given the law and instructed that “a tithe of everything…belongs to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30). It didn’t become His when it was given – remember we already established that everything belongs to God and we are just the managers. So not to tithe, not to give, was to rob God of what was rightfully His and rob ourselves of a blessing in the process.

Tithing is God’s most basic financial plan and it cannot be improved upon. Biblically understood and practiced, tithing is human response to divine grace. We give to God because he has already given to us. We bless God because he has already blessed us. He is no poorer if we fail to tithe, but we are the ones who are impoverished. He is no richer if we tithe, but we are enriched. But we do not give in order to get; we give because we have received. Tithing takes enormous trust in God and the practice of tithing strengthens faith.

It took me many years but I eventually got my finances back under control. I quit buying the things I did not need, I quit eating out as much, and I got some great financial advice. It was not long after this experience that Debbie and I got engaged. Now I had to think about not only providing for myself and keeping myself out of debt but I had to do my part to make sure Debbie and I would be okay financially. We both grew up in homes where tithing was practiced and when we got married we decided to do the same. We had both witnessed numerous occasions in our own families where God had provided in difficult circumstances when our parents had been faithfully giving. That didn’t mean it is always easy for us. For the majority of married life we lived on one income – I was working while Debbie was in seminary and Debbie worked while I was in seminary. There have been many times when we have struggled financially. I remember one very pivotal moment that helped erase any doubt in my mind about whether or not we should tithe. Debbie was nearing the end of seminary and had to write a check as a deposit to hold an internship spot as a hospital chaplain. She needed the internship to graduate and we didn’t have the money for the deposit. She called me at work and asked what we should do and I told her write the check we will figure out a way. I then told God here it is… I have no money, I gave you all I had, and you better take care of us because I do not know what else to do. Debbie wrote the check knowing it would bounce and drove the whole way home praying about how to come up with the money. When she opened up the mail at home she found a card from my Aunt Doris, she is really my grandfather's sister, and she is a women that I had probably spoken to twice in my entire life for a grand total of about 4 minutes. Her letter said that she had come into some extra money and felt that God was telling her that it was not for her but that she should give it away. She began thinking and remembered that her brother's grandson had just gotten married and was living with his wife in Kentucky. Inside that letter was a money order for $200, the exact amount of the check that Debbie had written just an hour earlier. She also told us that if we would be okay with it, she would send us a check for that amount for the next nine months. Not only had God taken care of us, but God put this plan and this letter in place before we even knew we had a need. He provided that way. We've still had our ups and downs over the years with our finances, but every time we have been down God has never, never failed to provide. I could stand up and tell you story after story after story of his faithfulness. And because of that we have never missed an opportunity to invest a minimum of 10% of our income in God’s kingdom. I could never in good conscience stand up here and ask you to do something that I’m not willing to do myself.

God Says Put Him to the Test
It’s easy to understand at times the idea of possessing things loosely, to think about the principles of giving and the reasons that we should tithe. But we often find it hard to give and put the things we understand into practice. And that’s because we’re scared. Stewardship ultimately comes down to a question of faith: “CAN WE REALLY TRUST GOD TO TAKE CARE OF US?” It would seem that Jesus’ answer for us in the Gospel of Matthew is absolutely yes. That’s certainly been mine experience over the years.

For those of you who may have never taken that step before and feel like it’s an impossible stretch, did you know that this is one area of your life where God says you can put Him to the test? We find this in Malachi 3:10, where God says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

So let us all take the leap of faith and learn to possess things loosely and put on that eternal perspective with the practice of tithing. For what you will find is that God is faithful to catch you and care for all you need.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bible Challenge 1/17 - 1/24

Greetings All!

I hope everyone has had a wonderful week! This week we are finishing up Luke, moving all the way through John, and beginning Acts. I would love to hear from some of you a few of the differences you found reading the four Gospels and what thoughts that brought to your mind. Here is the schedule for the upcoming week. Enjoy the Word!

1/17, Sunday - Luke 21-24

1/18, Monday - John 1-4

1/19, Tuesday - John 5-8

1/20, Wednesday - John 9-12

1/21, Thursday - John 13-16

1/22, Friday - John 17-20

1/23, Saturday - John 21 - Acts 3

Have a great week!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Fives

Greetings all! Here are a few things that caught my attention this week that I wanted to share with you.

1. I am sure most of you have heard about the devastation in Haiti as a result of the earthquake. I would ask that we all be in prayer for those people of Haiti and the ones offering aid. On Thursday I posted a link that talks about ways we can help. Please take a look at that and consider doing as you feel led.

2. We are continuing our preaching series on stewardship this week as we take a look at the idea of "Possessing Loosely". Pledge cards are available in the narthex and in the church office. Please be in prayer about what you might want to write on them. We will present them together as one body on the 24th during the Hymn of Dedication.

3. Our Serving from the Heart Bible Study began this week. We had a tremendous turnout. If you missed last week and would still like to come, you are more than welcome. Just show up on Thursday at either 11:30am or 7pm. Hope to see you there!

4. Literacy Tutor – Karen Hill was here last week and gave a wonderful presentation about what is involved with being a tutor with the Literacy Coalition. There are laminated placards in Fellowship Hall if you are interested and want some more information. The placards have phone numbers and websites to help you. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to exhibit Salty Service.

5.I am still working to get the ministry with the nursing and rehab centers going. I have had several people speak to me already! If you feel led to participate in this ministry please let me know.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Earthquake

Folks...please join me in lifting up the people of Haiti in prayer. As many of you have heard they were hit with a devastating earthquake and the damages and fatalities are severe. UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) is mobilizing to give aid to the people of Haiti. The link below will give you more information about what UMCOR is trying to do, our special relationship as United Methodists with the Methodist people of Haiti, as well as ways you can help, prayerfully and financially.

Please pray for all of the people affected by the earthquake in Haiti.
Thank you for your faithful support for all of God’s children.

Click here for the article

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stewardship: To Live Responsibly Matthew 25:14-30 and I Timothy 3:6-10

Today we’re beginning our annual focus upon stewardship and over the next couple of weeks we’re going to discuss it and be open and honest about what God says concerning stewardship in Scripture. This year we are expounding on the last practice of the Methodist Way, Extravagant Generosity, as our theme for stewardship. You might think that this is an odd choice, given the way that people have been cutting back financially because of unemployment and the economy. But God calls us to be faithful stewards and to be as generous with others as He has been with us. So our focus together is going to be looking at steps we can take in our lives to help us get towards being extravagantly generous: to live responsibly, to possess loosely and share gratefully.

Jesus and His Parables
By some reckoning, Jesus told around 48 parables. 5 deal with God's character. 8 deal with history. 4 encourage us to "Watch" faithfully for Christ's coming. 3 bid us pray and not lose heart. 8 deal with obedience. And 9 deal with stewardship. Why did Jesus talk so much about possessions, about management of material blessings? I think he did so because he knew money was his chief rival for the soul of humanity. After all, what was it that caused the rich young ruler to walk away from Christ? Money. What was it the prodigal son wanted from his father, and after getting it, ran away to live the fool? Money. What was it Judas received for betraying Christ? Money.

In our parable this morning from Matthew 25, the premise is that a wealthy landowner sets out on a long journey. Before his departure, he entrusts “talents” or a large sum of money to three of his hired hands. Most Biblical scholars speculate that the amount of the talent was probably worth about $1,000 back in Jesus’ day, a huge sum then and worth the equivalent of a little over a million dollars today. One of the hired hands gets 5 talents, another receives 2 talents and the last servant got just 1 talent. After a long time away, the landowner eventually returns and calls the servants before him for an accounting of what they had done with his money. Two are praised and one is punished. And I believe that this parable has a lot to teach us this morning about living responsibly so that we can end up being extravagantly generous for God’s kingdom.

God Is The Owner
First, we look at the character of the landowner, who possessed everything that was handed out. Understanding the landowner as God, the parable helps remind us that our Heavenly Father is the rightful owner of everything around us. Psalm 24:1 puts it bluntly, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof."

I heard a funny story about this – a lawyer in Louisiana was once asked to do a title search for a piece of land being acquired for a U.S. Army base. He ran the search back to 1803 and sent the title in. The base commander was not satisfied and asked the lawyer to run the title search back still further. In response, the attorney wrote: “Said parcel of land was purchased in 1803 by the Thomas Jefferson administration from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The French acquired it by military victory from Spain; Spain acquired it from the Indians by conquest; and the Indians came to own it from God the Creator. I hope this complies with your request."

Read the Bible and you'll see. All that I have – all that you have - it came from God, it is God's now, and it will someday return to God (Hebrews 1:1ff). This is true for our car, our house, our clothes, our bank account. The Apostle Paul reminds us in our second Scripture lesson from I Timothy, "For we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out" (6:7). The ancient Egyptians tried to take it with them, packing the pyramids with wealth, food even servants, but museums are full with exhibits of things that they left behind.

Our Job is Faithful Management
Getting this perspective on ownership is the first step towards responsible living and becoming extravagantly generous. And it leads right into the second step. This parable reminds us that our job is faithful management. We are like the servants among whom the landowner divided up his money. He commissioned them to work with his resources entrusted to them until he returned, just as God has done with us. This is what we as believers call stewardship. Stewardship means I am out of ownership and into management. It means that life is like a great ship loaded with cargo to be delivered to people in many places. And Christ is the owner, but we are the captain. So how will we steer the ship?

I read in the New York Times once of a college graduate who moved to the big city bent on making his fortune in banking. He was driving a very nice car, a graduation gift from his older brother. One day as he was getting into his car, a poor inner city child of twelve stood admiring the car. "My brother gave it to me," the young banker explained. The kid said, "I wish...." And immediately the banker thought he was going to say, "I wish I had a car like that!" But, no! The child said, "I wish I could be a brother like that!" "Do you want a ride?" the banker asked. "Wow! Sure I do," the lad said and got in. Soon the boy asked if he could stop in front of an old building while he ran upstairs. Thinking the boy was going to fetch a friend to gawk at his car, he was amazed when his young neighbor came down carrying his severely handicapped brother. "Just look at this car! Isn't it great? Some day I'm going to buy you a car like this!"

Now that's biblical stewardship! Not how much of my money am I going to give God, but how much of God's money do I keep for myself? Not me, mine, I-focused, but God-and-others-focused. When we get to heaven, Jesus will not care what kind of car you drove, but did you use it to help others? He won't ask the square footage of your home, rather the number of people you sheltered. He won't ask your net worth but rather how generous you were in helping others.

You see each one of us has been entrusted with a certain sum. The text says some of us are given five talents, others two, some of us one. We're not all equally endowed. But we show what we’re made of by what we do with what we’ve been given.
How we manage what God has given us is a reflection of His priority in our lives. It’s that simple. No matter what we might say about how much we love God and that we want to serve Him, our actions speak volumes more. Do we honor God with how we manage His resources? Or do we give back leftovers instead of our best and all?

I believe we can do better than spending an hour surfing the Internet or reading the newspaper cover-to-cover and five minutes reading God’s Word before falling asleep.

I believe that we can do better than bringing our best energy and talent and motivation to our jobs, but when it comes to serving the body of Christ, we sit on the sidelines or look for something requiring the least amount of effort.

I believe we can do better than spending hours talking with friends about our hobbies and favorite sports teams, but when it comes to talking with those same friends about our faith, we stay silent and never invite them to church.

I believe we can do better than spending money on all the latest electronic trends or some amazing vacation, but when it comes to giving God an offering we look at our budget and say, “What’s left over here?”

If we’re to live responsibly in an effort to be extravagantly generous, we have to remember that God is the owner. And we must remember that our job is faithful management. And we must also keep in mind that the time of accountability for our efforts is coming.

The parable tells us the landowner returned and called in each one of his servants to see what they had done with his resources. The first servant had doubled his five talents and returned ten. He was commended. The same with the two talent employee – a 200% return. And the master proclaims: “Well done thou good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matt. 25: 21, 23).

But the last servant could only return the one talent he had been given. He’d buried it and he sourly complained to his master: “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground." What’s the problem here? Translation: "I resent your lordship over me. I'm into possession, not management. I'll work to put money into my pocket, but I won't do it for you!" In short, he rejected his master. He rejected the entire concept of stewardship. Jesus called him "wicked," "slothful," and said he would "cast him into outer darkness."

In every game there is a buzzer, a whistle, a finish line, a bell that rings signaling the end. So will come a day in each of our lives. A trumpet will sound from on high and we’ll each stand before the Lord and give an account of our stewardship. What will Christ have to say to us on that day?

Paul reminds us that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim 6:10) and that “some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (I Tim. 6:10) and been plunged into “ruin and destruction” (I Tim 6:9). Is that the legacy you want to leave behind? My prayer this morning for each and every one of you is that your legacy would be one of faithful management, responsible living and extravagant generosity in God’s name. Hear the words of God calling out to you today: “Use the gifts that I have given you. Don’t complain what you do NOT have or who you are NOT like and instead start concentrating on the things that you do have, that you have been given.” What do you have? How can you multiply it? How can you share it to make a difference for the kingdom?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bible Challenge 1/10 - 1/16

Here is the schedule for this upcoming week. We will conclude the Gospel of Mark and begin the Gospel of Luke. I hope you are enjoying seeing what each author views as important.

Sunday, 1/10 - Mark 9-12

Monday, 1/11 - Mark 13-16

Tuesday, 1/12 - Luke 1-4

Wednesday, 1/13 - Luke 5-8

Thursday, 1/14 - Luke 9-12

Friday, 1/15 - Luke 13-16

Saturday, 1/16 - Luke 17-20

Have a great week!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Fives

1. We are beginning a new preaching series this week involving Stewardship. We will be looking at this from the idea of living responsibility with what God has blessed each of us with.

2. Literacy Tutor – Karen Hill will be here Tuesday 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.

3. New Bible Study – Beginning Thursday 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. Pastor Daryl 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. Please fill out sign up sheet in the bulletin if you plan to attend.

4. Communion Signup – If you would like to help serve Communion there is a signup sheet at the Connection Station where you can volunteer. There are three lines for each month, simply look for a month where you are available and sign you name. We will teach you everything you need to know.

5. Last week I shared in worship something that God was laying on my heart. As I was preparing for worship that morning I felt this idea so strongly that I could not hold a thought in my head. I tried to push it out and continue my preparations but simply could not. The idea is that we should try and seek a way to walk alongside the nursing home and rehab centers around our church. One idea is that we establish a representative from our church for each facility that could contact the facility about ways we could take a group of people over and pray with residents or become pen pals with some of them. Basically the premise is for us to see how we can let those people know that we care. So if you are willing to help me figure out how to make this ministry take shape just let me know. I have had a few of you speak with me already. I am very excited about this and am anxious to see how God will help us make this a reality.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sad News

Greetings All. I wanted to let all of you know that Ruth Griffith's sister, Evelyn Kendall, died today. Please keep Ruth and her family in your prayers as the go through this difficult time.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Hope of Christmas Lives On – Isaiah 60:1-16 and Matthew 2:1-12

Today is Epiphany Sunday, the first Sunday of the New Year. Today is the day that we generally reserve to talk about the manifestation of God's saving intervention in history and how that is seen in the actions of the Magi or wisemen. This morning we are going to spend our time together looking at how those actions not only express the hope, peace, joy, and love we were preparing ourselves for during Advent, but how those ideals can live on all year long.

A World of ICE
Yesterday my family and I had the opportunity to go to Orlando and tour the ICE Exhibit at the Gaylord Palms Hotel. This is an exhibit that is made totally of ice and takes 38 Japanese Artisans to create and a 9 degree environment to maintain. They had clear ice, colored ice, huge sculptures, small sculptures, they even had an ice slide at the end. I was in awe at how festive this place was. Christmas was around every corner and to cap this entire exhibit off was a life size, full nativity that had a recorded narrator tell the story of Christ's birth. There were even spotlights that would turn on and off to put emphasis on certain characters. I was incredibly moved and inspired by this thing.

This time of year we do a real good job of remembering the Christ child. Everywhere I drove this month I saw numerous signs paying homage to remember that the Christ child is the true focus of this holiday. I saw all sorts of car magnets that said the familiar “Keep Christ in Christmas” or “Jesus is the reason for the season”. I even saw several signs that said “Merry Christmas” with the letters that spell Christ in all caps within the word Christmas. We do a marvelous job at remembering and speaking about Christ at Christmas or CHRISTmas time. But what about the rest of the year? I bet when I drive around in the next few weeks everyone of those signs will be gone and there will be nothing about remembering Christ in their place. The signs will vanish, the car magnets will be removed, and Christ will be packed away like so many holiday decorations.

But why? Why has this become our modis operandi, our standard operating procedure? Why does our emphasis and public support of Christ lessen outside of Christmas? Why do we let those ideals of hope, peace, joy, and love disappear from the public eye after New Year's?

Where Do We Go Now?
Understanding this penchant of ours I began looking at our story of the Magi or Three Wisemen and there were a couple of traits of theirs that really stood out to me. Traits that will really help us to keep the hope of Christmas alive all year long.

As our lesson opens the Magi are in Jerusalem and asking about the birthplace of Christ. They explain they saw a star in the east and have been following it so they could find this new king and worship him. King Herod hears about this, his paranoia kicks in, and he summons the Magi. He pumps them for everything they knew under the guise that he wants to worship this new king as well. But we all know that Herod is really afraid that this new king will grow up and try and overthrow him. There is no intent to worship Christ, just destroy him.

The Magi leave and continue their search and eventually find Christ, with his mother, and feeling overjoyed they present Him with gifts, bow down, and worship Him. Once the Magi complete what they set out to do, and after begin warned in a dream to not report what they have discovered back to Herod, they go home another route.

These men can teach us a lot. One of the roles of these Magi was to study the heavens looking for signs of God. And one night they found one. The sign was a star so bright that they had no doubt about its purpose. But what is important is not what they found but their reaction to it. They dropped everything and followed it. They did not study it. They did not ask questions. They did not undertake a mountain of preparations. They dropped what they were doing and followed it. Have you ever found yourself moved by the Spirit, encouraged to take a leap of faith, and for whatever reason found a way out of it? Sat on the feeling long enough and it subsided? It is easy to do, life will make it easy to do, fear will make it easy to do. This year I encourage to break that trend. Pray for courage, ask for the opportunity. And when it happens drop everything and go. Maybe it is a missionary trip overseas. Maybe it is helping with a local charity. Maybe it is writing letters to people at nursing homes who have no family. When given the opportunity to follow God this year, do your best to drop everything and go!

The next thing we can learn from these Magi is that there is a place at the manger for you and for me. In this point in time Gentiles were not highly regarded. This region was for Jews and essentially run by the Jews. In fact these Magi were the first to refer to the Christ child as King of Jews. But these Magi were not Jews. They were Gentiles and they came anyway. They knew that this King was not going to be just for one group of people, but for all people; Jews and Gentiles and rich and poor. There was no longer going to be just one group of God's chosen people. We all have access to God through Jesus Christ. The Magi showed us this by dropping everything, following the star, and coming to worship the Christ child.

The Magi have a prominent place in our Nativity scene. But they are more than just astronomers, more than just kings, more than just glorified delivery boys. They teach us that the hope of Christmas can live on.

As we were leaving this exhibit I caught a short glimpse of a video about how this whole creation gets setup and taken down. And the final scene was an enormous, bare, empty, dark room. Now that Christmas is over and the decorations are packed away, are we allow ourselves to become an enormous, bare, empty dark room, or will we make certain that the hope of Christ is alive within us ALL year long. Love those you meet, always speak kindly to everyone you encounter, and work to keep your soul and your life alive with hope that was born in the Christ child.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bible Challenge 1/3 - 1/9

Happy New Year!

Here is the schedule for this upcoming week. We will continue in the Gospel of Matthew reading about the ministry of Christ and then begin the Gospel of Mark.

Sunday, 1/3 - Matthew 9-12

Monday, 1/4 - Matthew 13-16

Tuesday, 1/5 - Matthew 17-20

Wednesday, 1/6 - Matthew 21-24

Thursday, 1/7 - Matthew 25-25

Friday, 1/8 - Mark 1-4

Saturday, 1/9 - Mark 5-8

Have a great week!