Sunday, July 31, 2011

Grief and an Apology: Matthew 5:1-12 and II Corinthians 1:3-7

Today was our Fifth Sunday Pulpit Swap with Belleview UMC. The message that follows below is from what Pastor Debbie shared with you this morning. In light of what our congregation has experienced this past week I felt this message was very apropos. I pray you were touched by the presence of God this morning and could feel his Spirit within you. Thank you to Pastor Debbie for sharing so freely with us.





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GRIEF AND AN APOLOGY

When I was sixteen years old, Daryl’s grandmother Emma passed away. Our families attended the same church and she was a huge influence in my life. She had been a big part of the church’s history too, active in just about everything you could imagine. She was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly after we’d gotten a new pastor at our church. In fact, this was Philip’s first church. Within six short months Emma was gone. Pastor Philip did her funeral service two days before Christmas and did a fine job, even though he hadn’t had much time to really get to know her. A couple of years went by, and tragically Pastor Philip’s 8 year old nephew was killed in an accident at a construction site near his home. He was devastated and everyone in the church could see it. The congregation helped him through the grieving process as best we could. And during that process Pastor Philip did something interesting. He went back to visit every family that he had performed a funeral for in the time he’d been at our church. That included Daryl’s family. Why? To apologize to them. He apologized because he was afraid he had handled things too casually, too flippantly when their loved ones passed away. He apologized because he remembered thinking that sometimes people seemed to mourn too long. In his early 30s, he had never experienced the death of a family member or close friend. But he realized from his own grief that as he had dealt with grieving families before, he couldn’t even begin to fathom the depths of their loss and their mourning.

THE PAIN AND GRIEF OF MOURNING

The second Beatitude says: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Many of us know what it is like to mourn the loss of someone that we love. We are not talking about waking up in a bad mood. This is not about a mild disappointment. This is even beyond being sad. We are talking about mourning. In the Scriptures, when Jacob was given the false report that his favorite Joseph had been killed, Jacob put on the uncomfortable garment of sackcloth, which was a sign of hopelessness and despair. When his family tried to comfort him he refused to be comforted (Genesis 37:34). King David was able to move beyond the death of one child (2 Samuel 12:20-23), but the death of another son Absalom brought weeping and mourning so deep that he could not fulfill his responsibilities. He even cried out that he wished he had died in Absalom's place (2 Samuel 18:31-19:4). In Scripture, mourning is characterized by a neglect of appearance, by withdrawing from those nearby, and by deep, relentless grief.

We recognize it in our own tears and stunned silence and this persistent ache which will not go away. We are talking about mourning, the kind of shaking of the foundations which C. S. Lewis described in A Grief Observed. Lewis wrote of his wife after she died of cancer, "Joy's absence is like the sky, spread over everything. There is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss." One of the biggest issues for those who are grieving is that the loss seems to color everything else that you experience; meanwhile the world keeps turning and other people seem to have moved on. So we often shove our pain and grief way down deep inside and try to move on too. I did that after each of my grandparents died but I couldn’t do it this time because the loss was just too great.

THE VALUE OF MOURNING

You only have to read a few of the Psalms to understand that the writer clearly knew what it was to mourn. Rather than language that is safe and mundane and socially acceptable, the Psalms employ language that voices our deepest pain. The Psalms are not about denying our losses in the name of keeping things running smoothly. They are concerned instead with people who need to express their anger and grief and heartache. However, using language like that in this day and age makes people uncomfortable. It’s much easier for us to deny our pain than speak honestly about it. One of the songs that has meant the most to me is one by Mandisa called “Just Cry” and in it she says “Go ahead and take off your brave face” which is what society tells us to do and keep going. But there is some value in mourning, even before we get to Jesus’ promise in the second Beatitude.

Certainly a valuable part of mourning is found in allowing the community of which we are a part to enter our pain and share our loss. I understand now why it used to be tradition years ago for those who were mourning to wear black for the first year after a major loss. Because it helps remind people on the outside, what you are still dealing with on the inside. Mourning also allows us the time to push past denial and anger and start dealing with our grief and working through our loss. It doesn’t bring instant healing, but it does create a space where healing might happen. Mourning also gives us a chance to reflect, remember and celebrate the one we loved.

THE DIVINE GIFT OF COMFORT

There is value of mourning, but these words from the lips of Jesus promise us more: “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” We just aren't talking about readjusting. We aren't speaking merely of getting by. We are talking about more than simply making it. We are talking about being comforted.

This does not mean we quit crying, or that we no longer miss the person, or that we have somehow gotten over the loss. No, it means quite the opposite. In fact, there are some things we may never get over, but we can learn to live with them. Comfort is not the erasing of a memory, but having our pain soothed to the point that we can remember. Comfort is not a drying of the tears, but a peace that allows us to remember and give thanks even while we cry. The promise of Jesus as he gave his farewell address to the disciples was that God would send to them the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. We too are promised the Comforter, whose constant breath of new life empowers us to continue living in ways that would honor the memory of the one has died.

The Bible has much to say about the ministry of divine comfort and shares with us several important truths we would do well to remember:

1) Comfort comes from knowing God draws near to those who hurt. After my dad died, a friend sent me this Bible verse on my facebook page that has stuck with me - Psalm 34:18 - “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” And when Jesus talked to the disciples towards the end of his ministry about leaving them, he promised that “(he) would not leave (them) comfortless; I will comfort you” (John 14:18). Here are promises of God’s special presence in the midst of our pain. Through the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, the Lord himself draws near to us in times of great suffering. We sense his presence in a way that goes beyond the natural. We hear his voice though there is no sound in the room. Many Christians can testify to this special sense of God’s nearness felt during a time of great grief. For as Paul wrote to the Romans, for a Christian, “there is nothing, not even death, which can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

2) Comfort comes from knowing God shares in our sorrow and grief. Our first Scripture lesson from John demonstrates this as no other Scripture can. Jesus – our Lord and Savior, our Good Shepherd – stood at the grave of his good friend Lazarus and he was so moved and disturbed by the death of his friend that he wept. Christ grieves over the sorrow and pain of earth, but he is not a spectator, he is a participant. He knows all earth's sorrow and pain and loss. He even experienced death. But unlike us, he conquered death and sorrow. Thus he is able to enter into our pain and give us power in our sufferings.

The old hymn, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” asks the question: "Can we find a friend so faithful, Who will all our sorrows share?" We know there is only one. Jesus’ wonderful invitation draws us to his arms of comfort when he says, "Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Comfort comes from the presence of the One who suffered for us and suffers with us. Comfort comes from being assured that we and our loved ones are in Christ with all His love and mercy always.

3) Comfort comes from knowing that nothing in our experience is ever wasted. In our second Scripture lesson from II Corinthians we are reminded that “God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” The word translated “comfort” in this verse is the same word Jesus used in Matthew 5:4. He uses our sufferings to comfort us so that when we are better, we can then minister to others in his name. Why? Because no one knows the pain of losing your job like someone who lost his job. No one understands cancer like someone who has been through it. No one understands divorce like a person who’s been through it. No one understands the pain of a miscarriage like a mother who lost her child.

There are people in this church who are superbly qualified to minister to others. They are the ones who have been deeply hurt by the troubles of life and through it all, have discovered that God is faithful. Those folks have an important message to share. They can say with conviction, “God will take care of you. I know, because he took care of me.”


4) Comfort comes from the assurance of an eternal home and a family reunion. Finally and most importantly, we must remember this: Comfort comes from the assurance of an eternal home and a family reunion. In John 14, Jesus reminded the disciples: "Let not your hearts be troubled; you believe in God, believe in me; in my father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will surely come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there you may be also."

John tells of the home eternal where God dwells with His people--where all of our sins and sorrows and pains and decay will be removed and we will experience the most incredible of family reunions as we go home to be with our Heavenly Father.

CONCLUSION

The pain and grief of mourning can be a heart-breaking experience. And the absence of those we love dearly may always be felt. But Jesus’ words from the Beatitudes promise that even in our darkest times of mourning and grief we will be comforted.

  • God draws near to those who hurt. We have the blessing of a personal God who seeks to be in relationship with us as a Father cares for his children. Therefore, we can rest assured our God cares about our grief and pain.
  • God shares in our sorrow and grief. Think God doesn’t understand? He does. Even Jesus wept as he stood near the tomb of his friend. And God watched his only beloved son die upon a cross to pay for our sins. God understands and sorrows alongside of us.
  • God wastes nothing we experience. He can work through even the worst of situations and bring some good. We can share comfort with others who are experiencing losses as we have, reminding them that God got us through and he will get you through also.
  • God promises us an eternal home and a family reunion. For people who profess Jesus Christ as their Savior, this world is not our home. And our death is not the end. Rather it is a beginning – the beginning of an eternal life in a place God our Father has prepared for us.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bible Challenge 07/31 - 08/06

Greetings Bible Challenge Readers!

We are almost done with the last book of Psalms. In this fifth book, 15 Psalms are ascribed to David and one is considered a charge to Solomon (#127).

In this week's reading we get both the shortest Psalm (#117 with 2 verses) and the longest Psalm (#119 with 176 verses). The interesting thing about Psalm 119 is that it is composed in sets of eight verses and each verse starts with one of the 22 letters comprising the Hebrew alphabet.

Psalms 120–134 are often referred to as a group called the Songs of Ascents. They are thought to have been used as hymns of approach by pilgrims to the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the interesting things that we learned on our trip to Israel is that anyone traveling from any direction to Jerusalem is considered to be "ascending" to Jerusalem, as it is the Jewish holy city of God.

Here is the schedule:

31, Sunday - Psalm 108-111

1, Monday - Psalm 112-115

2, Tuesday - Psalm 116-119

3, Wednesday - Psalm 120-123

4, Thursday - Psalm 124-127

5, Friday - Psalm 128-131

6, Saturday - Psalm 132-135

May you be blessed and refreshed by the Spirit as you read this week!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Fives

1. Preaching Series - I want to invite you to join us, this Sunday at 10:30am, as we take part in our Fifth Sunday Pulpit Swap with Belleview UMC.

Pastor Debbie will be here to share with us the importance of one of the Beattitudes; Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  The sermon will focus on the pain and grief of mourning, the value of mourning, and the gift of divine comfort.

In light of what we as a congregation have been experiencing this past week, I feel this message will be very apropos for us.  Invite a friend and come and be blessed, as we hear from the gentle spirit of Pastor Debbie.



2. Memorial Services - We are hosting two Memorial Services this weekend that I would like to invite you to attend.  It is often in the gift of presence that we can be of the greatest support to one another.

Chuck Hughes - On Saturday, July 30th, at 1pm, we will host the memorial service for Chuck Hughes.

Chuck and his wife Linda had been members here for several years and were very active in the life of the church, volunteering in a multitude of ways.

There will be a time of fellowship and refreshments immediately following the service in our Fellowship Hall that you are invited to attend.

Helia Lopez - On Sunday, July 31st, at 2pm, we will host the memorial service for Helia Lopez.

Helia first began to walk to our church from her home at Camelot Chateau, Assisted Living Facility.  She would come on Sunday mornings with a smile on her face and just grateful to be here.  She frequently expressed to me how much at home she felt here and how welcoming everyone was to her.

There will also be a time of fellowship and refreshments immediately following this service, again in our Fellowship Hall.  Everyone is invited to attend.

I encourage you to come and show your love and support to these families as we celebrate the life and legacy of Chuck and Helia.


3. Interfaith Ministries - Would you like to volunteer at Interfaith? Would you like to learn more about the various ways we partner with Interfaith to reach out to the Ocala Community? We can help you with both!

If you would like to volunteer, we have committed to help serve meals the 2nd Friday of every month to the residents at Interfaith and we are need of a few more volunteers. This task is not small, can be done in groups, and is well worth your time and effort. If you would like to help in this ministry you can either sign up at the Connection Station before worship, or you can contact Libby for more information.

If you would like to know more about Interfaith and can spare an hour sometime in the next several weeks let me know. We have been invited to take a tour of the facilities and see all the various ways Interfaith is adapting and meeting the needs of the community. It is free, and I will gather a group of us to go at a time convenient for us and them. Let me know if you are interested and we will get a group tour scheduled.

Our partnership with Interfaith is something that we can be proud of and it is with our gifts, presence, and service that it will continue to grow and the light of Christ will shine through all of us!


4. Church Website - I am happy to announce the redesigned website for the church is up and running. I encourage you to take a tour of it and see all that it has to offer. We have menus across the top for our various fellowship, community outreach, and ministry areas. There are also links to the church calendar, the pastor's blog and even a place for the weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter. One great feature is the news feed that runs down the left hand side where we can update the news of the church instantly.

The address is http://www.druidhillsocala.org

I hope you enjoy it and find it informative. Bookmark it and visit often!



5. GoodSearch - Here's a new easy way to raise money for our church. Just start using Yahoo! powered GoodSearch.com as your search engine and they'll donate about a penny to our church every time you do a search!

In addition, do all of your shopping through their online shopping mall, GoodShop.com, where you can shop at more than 2,000 top online retailers and a percentage of your purchases will go to the church. You pay the same price as you normally would, but a donation goes to us!

Here's the web site — http://www.goodsearch.com. You can also read about GoodSearch in the NY Times, Oprah Magazine, CNN, ABC News and the Wall Street Journal.

And if you download the GoodSearch – Druid Hills United Methodist Church toolbar, our church will earn money every time you shop and search online - even if you forget to go to GoodShop or GoodSearch first! Add the Druid Hills United Methodist Church toolbar by clicking here.



Have an incredible weekend and I will see you all Sunday!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Midweek Moment

This week has been a unique one. If you read this blog then you know that we have lost two members of our church family over the last seven days. Any of you that have experienced the loss of a loved one to death, understand the wide range of emotions you feel as a result of that loss.

As a pastor, I am with people, for a bit, as they go through this valley in their lives. I get to witness some of the tears, the questions, and the range of emotions that people feel. And this year, as a husband, I stood by my wife as she lost her father. Death is a very real aspect of our lives. It is a difficult aspect, but it is one that we all have to experience at some point.

This week I sat down to watch TV and just decompress. I did not have a particular program in mind to watch, I basically just wanted a distraction for a little while. A show that I had never watched before was on, 8 Simple Rules. This show has long been canceled, in large part due to the death of John Ritter, who played the father in this show. Many of you may remember his tragic death almost eight years ago. This particular episode that I watched, aired just after Mr. Ritter's sudden and tragic death. It was about how each of the remaining characters were dealing with the loss of their husband and dad. There were several story lines that were intersecting each other, wreaking havoc on the whole family. Finally, with the mom at her wits end, she turned to her dad, who had been in the background fixing things around the house to help out. She said, “ok dad, stop fixing things and help.” He gave her a hug and answered, “right back at you baby girl”. This prompted the mom and two daughters to have a real conversation about what they were feeling and how they were handling the sudden loss of their husband and father. They reached out to each other in love and support.

As part of God's family it is important that we reach out as well. Sometimes help is physical and tangible, like helping someone go through belongings of a loved one and fixing things around a house. Sometimes it is behind the scenes, like praying or coordinating people to bring food over. Sometimes it is simply presence, like sitting silently with someone or going with them to run an errand. When we let that person know that they are not alone and that you care, then we are showing them the love of God. A love that can take many forms and that we all can be active within.

Take time today to reach out to another. Tell them you love them. Show them you care. Allow them to see God at work within you. Regardless of whatever else happens that day...I bet it will be a good day!

May God's blessings rain down on you today and everyday!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Upcoming Services

Greetings Friends.

It is with a sad heart that I write to you all this evening.  As many of you know we have recently lost two members of our church family, Chuck Hughes and Helia Lopez.

We will host memorial services for both families here at our church this weekend.  I wanted to let you all know the dates and times so you could come and show your support and love to these families as we celebrate the wonderful legacy both of these individuals leave behind.

First, on Saturday, July 30th, at 1pm, we will host the memorial service for Chuck Hughes.  There will be a time of fellowship and refreshments immediately following the service in our Fellowship Hall.

Then, on Sunday, July 31st, at 2pm, we will host the memorial service for Helia Lopez.  There will also be a time of fellowship and refreshments immediately following this service, again in our Fellowship Hall.

It is in times such as these that the support of family and friends can mean so much.  Therefore, I want to invite each of you to come and show your support to both these families with your presence.  I also want to encourage you to keep both families in your prayers in the days, months, and years ahead.

Take care and God bless each of you!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Women of the Bible: Elizabeth – Luke 1:5-7, 24-25 and 57-66

Introduction
Today we are going to conclude our preaching series focusing on the lives and examples of a few of the prominent women in Scripture and as we look to these women, I believe you will see great acts of faith and devotion in how they lived their lives. We began this series three weeks ago as we focused on the story of Deborah and how her faith in God and her ability to be humble, allowed her to deliver the Israelites from certain defeat. Two weeks ago we continued by turning to Esther, as we discovered how her courage and faith saved not only her own life but those of her people as well. Last week we looked at Ruth, a woman whose concern for others, combined with her ability to love, and loyalty to God, allowed her to influence another for Christ while inspiring the rest of those around her. Today we are going finish up this series by shifting our attention to Elizabeth, as we look to her faith in the face of the impossible, the benefits of her willingness to believe, and the resulting boldness she exuded in the way she lived her life.

The Fear of the Unknown
This past week Parker and I were walking home from the church. I was at a stopping point for the day and Parker was done at YMCA camp. As we were walking up the backyard I began to tease him a bit that July was almost over, that next month, August, school would start again, and his summer vacation was almost over. He grunted at me and immediately said that he did not want to go back to school. I asked him why and he said that second grade was going to be too hard. I then reminded him of all of the stuff he learned in first grade and how well he grasped all of those new facts and concepts. He said, “yea, but” and said, “but what?”. Parker without missing a beat said, “yea, but I already know all that first grade stuff!”

When we have to face uncertainty or try and understand those things that make no sense in our minds, we have a tendency to fear. We have a tendency to doubt, not only our own abilities, but those of God as well. Even though we understand God knows all and sees all, we sometimes have a hard time finding peace in that and being able to exist in that.

Doubt is a Painful Seed
That is where our story begins this morning. Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah had been going about his duties as a priest when he was visited by an angel. The angel brought him news that he and his wife were going to be parents and that they should name their son John. That in and of itself doesn’t seem like a big deal unless we realize from Scripture that Zechariah and Elizabeth have never had any children and are past their child-bearing years. Culturally speaking, people would have thought that they had sinned or done something wrong to be barren, but the writer of Luke makes it clear that they were both faithful in obeying the law and righteous in the eyes of God. When Zechariah questions the angel, he is rendered mute until after the baby is born. Elizabeth does indeed become pregnant and she secludes herself in her home in the hill country of Judea.

At this point Zechariah drops out of the picture for a bit and we get to focus on Elizabeth. And in doing so we see a stark contrast in demeanor, faith, and joy. When go back and look at Zechariah we see how his doubt causes him extraordinary trouble. Zechariah was performing his duties as priest and an angel of Lord approaches him. Telling him something that he initially believed to be impossible, even though this message was from God and this pregnancy was to have God's blessing, he still doubted. When told of this incredible news Zachariah’s response is, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18 NIV). Other versions translate his question as “How can I know this?” Eugene Peterson offers this paraphrase, “Do you expect me to believe this?” which captures the note of doubt and skeptical unbelief. Though it was quite true that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and past child-bearing years, the angel clearly expected Zechariah to believe what God had said. And because of this doubt he is rendered mute. It is almost as if God says to him, if you do not believe then move over, be quiet and watch.

Elizabeth's Model of Faith
Here is where Elizabeth becomes our teacher. God has a plan for our lives, a perfect plan. A perfect plan that we are blessed enough to be a part of, when we do not doubt. Zechariah doubted, Elizabeth did not. Elizabeth, like her cousin Mary, was grateful for this blessing of a child, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorable on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people” (Luke 1:25 NRSV). This feat of becoming pregnant at her age was a cultural and physical anomaly. The physical process of reproduction had more than likely ceased for Elizabeth, but that did not deter her faith. For Elizabeth, this was a gift from God, blessed by God, and in her mind a done deal. Regardless of any perceived obstacles or doubt in her mind, she showed incredible faith in the face of a physical impossibility. She allowed God to work his plan through her. She allowed God to bless humanity through her. She was given the opportunity to act for God and she took it.

So often in this life we are presented with opportunities. Opportunities for witness, opportunities to grow our faith, opportunities that will change our life and the way we perceive this world. We are each given, at various times, the opportunity to play a major role in God's plan for the building of his Kingdom here on Earth. That is where the decision comes. We can either demonstrate faith in the face of uncertainty, like Elizabeth, and be a part of extraordinary happenings; or we can allow doubt to be our guide, like Zechariah, and be left on the sidelines. God's plan is going to happen. With or without our involvement. Zechariah’s doubt did not stop Elizabeth's from getting pregnant and giving birth to the man we know as John the Baptist. In fact, despite Zechariah's doubt, John was still born and he still paved the way for Christ's earthly ministry. Doubt will never change God's plan only the way it comes about.

Unbelief the Thief
And it is in that doubt that we become familiar with our little nemesis, Unbelief the thief. Unbelief does not steal anything tangible or physical. Unbelief takes our emotional property. We talked a few weeks ago about the incredible, indescribable exhilaration we get when we are used by God. That exhilaration that comes when we believe and take that step of faith for God. The joy that we feel is what Unbelief will steal, when we doubt.

In Zechariah’s case, our nemesis Unbelief the thief, robbed him of the pride and joy in being a vocal part of Elizabeth's pregnancy. It robbed him of the honor of being able to name his son in the Temple. It robbed him of being able to help spread the word of the tremendous, incredible, and extraordinary gift God had given to him and Elizabeth. Instead, in what should have a been a time of joy and celebration, it was a time of shame and embarrassment. A time of regret and sorrow. But it was also a time of uncomfortable but necessary growth.

Unfortunately, Unbelief the thief is someone we all know and someone we have all done battle against, and unfortunately someone we will all see again. However, we have hope. Hope learned from the life of Elizabeth. Hope given from the power of the Holy Spirit. Hope that is ours because of the love of God.

Conclusion
Elizabeth does not have a whole book devoted to her in Scripture. She does not have chapter after chapter retelling the story of her life. But what we do have is an incredible example of faith in the face of the impossible. We are able to learn from her example the benefits of her willingness to believe, and the resulting boldness she exuded in the way she lived her life. Boldness that allowed her to stand before the elders in the temple, speak when Zechariah could not, and name her son John. Boldness not from her own doing, but because she had faith in the face of the impossible.

So my challenge to all of us, is to find that faith in face of the impossible. To have faith like Elizabeth and trust in God to accomplish anything. God's plan is not for us to decide. It is not for us to doubt. It for us to do. When God calls and directs us to those places where we are stretched; go. When God calls and directs us to those places where we are scared; go. When God calls; go. If you struggle with that, if you want help with that, if you want strength to continue that, come. Come to this rail and pray to your Father in heaven. Ask for whatever you need, turn over your worries and your unbelief, and renew and strengthen your resolve for Christ. God is here, listening, waiting, and eager to do those very things. All we have to do is ask.

You see, the joy, the goosebumps, the connectedness you feel when you are part of God plan for love, restoration, grace, mercy, and love is sensational. It will change your life, not to mention the lives of so many countless others. You know, God's plan is going to be accomplished...so why not be part of it?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bible Challenge 07/24 - 07/30

Greetings my Bible Challengeers!

How are you doing in Psalms? This is exciting stuff. Once we are through with Psalms we have a couple of books of poetry left (Proverbs, Eccelesiastes, Song of Solomon) before embarking on another chapter of Israel's history with the major and minor prophets!

We finish up the third section of Psalms this week with chapter 89, read through the entire fourth section of Psalms (chapters 90-106) and embark on the fifth section of Psalms with chapter 107. The fourth section that makes up the bulk of our reading, contains 17 Psalms, of which Psalm 90 is actually ascribed to Moses, and Psalms 101 and 103 to David.

May God add his richest blessings to the reading, the hearing and most importantly the living out of his holy Word! Amen.

Here is the schedule:

24, Sunday - Psalm 80-83

25, Monday - Psalm 84-87

26, Tuesday - Psalm 88-91

27, Wednesday - Psalm 92-95

28, Thursday - Psalm 96-99

29, Friday - Psalm 100-103

30, Saturday - Psalm104-107

Stay safe and have a GREAT week!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Fives

1. Preaching Series - I want to invite you to join us, this Sunday at 10:30am, as we conclude our preaching series celebrating a few of the prominent Women of the Bible. Our sermon will focus on Elizabeth and her model of faith in the face of the impossible, the benefits of her willingness to believe, and the resulting boldness she exuded in the way she lived her life.  Invite and friend and I look forward to seeing all of you there.


2. Church Website - I am happy to announce the redesigned website for the church is up and running. I encourage you to take a tour of it and see all that it has to offer. We have menus across the top for our various fellowship, community outreach, and ministry areas. There are also links to the church calendar, the pastor's blog and even a place for the weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter. One great feature is the news feed that runs down the left hand side where we can update the news of the church instantly.

The address is http://www.druidhillsocala.org

I hope you enjoy it and find it informative. Bookmark it and visit often!



3. Interfaith Ministries - Would you like to volunteer at Interfaith?  Would you like to learn more about the various ways we partner with Interfaith to reach out to the Ocala Community?  We can help you with both!

If you would like to volunteer, we have committed to help serve meals the 2nd Friday of every month to the residents at Interfaith and we are need of a few more volunteers.  This task is not small, can be done in groups, and is well worth your time and effort.  If you would like to help in this ministry you can either sign up at the Connection Station before worship, or you can contact Libby for more information.

If you would like to know more about Interfaith and can spare an hour sometime in the next several weeks let me know.  We have been invited to take a tour of the facilities and see all the various ways Interfaith is adapting and meeting the needs of the community.  It is free, and I will gather a group of us to go at a time convenient for us and them.  Let me know if you are interested and we will get a group tour scheduled.

Our partnership with Interfaith is something that we can be proud of and it is with our gifts, presence, and service that it will continue to grow and the light of Christ will shine through all of us!


4. GoodSearch - Here's a new easy way to raise money for our church. Just start using Yahoo! powered GoodSearch.com as your search engine and they'll donate about a penny to our church every time you do a search!

In addition, do all of your shopping through their online shopping mall, GoodShop.com, where you can shop at more than 2,000 top online retailers and a percentage of your purchases will go to the church. You pay the same price as you normally would, but a donation goes to us!

Here's the web site — http://www.goodsearch.com. You can also read about GoodSearch in the NY Times, Oprah Magazine, CNN, ABC News and the Wall Street Journal.

And if you download the GoodSearch – Druid Hills United Methodist Church toolbar, our church will earn money every time you shop and search online - even if you forget to go to GoodShop or GoodSearch first! Add the Druid Hills United Methodist Church toolbar by clicking here


5. Helia Lopez – Many of you may remember our friend Mrs. Helia Lopez that came to us from Camelot just across the street.  When she first began to come she would walk, but it did not take long for the kindness of this church to begin offering her rides to and from church each Sunday morning.  We have been praying for Helia the last several weeks.  It is my sad duty to inform you that Mrs. Helia passed away this week.  We will have a memorial service for her on Sunday, July 31st, at 2pm, in the Sanctuary.  Her family knew how much this church and its members meant to Helia so everyone is invited to come and celebrate the life of our dear friend, Mrs. Helia Lopez.

Have an incredible weekend and I will see you all Sunday!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Midweek Moment

Have you ever heard the statement, “This is all part of God's plan”? I am sure most of you have heard that statement, or some variation, said at one point or another. This statement is one that I grew up hearing quite a bit. People used it to help others find peace in a difficult circumstance, hope in a hopeless situation, or strength in a time of weakness. The intentions of those well-meaning individuals were admirable and a wonderful testimony to what it means to reach out to those who are hurting and seek to help them in their time of pain or uncertainty. But those words have always bothered me.

This week I was reading a book and the author mentioned time and time again how when things went bad in his life he would cling to that statement, “this is all part of God's plan”, to help stabilize his spinning world. Every time I read that statement I would feel very uneasy. Not because I doubted that God could take whatever issue this author was dealing with and bring good out of it, but because of the connotation, the implied flip side, of what this statement says.

If someone you love is experiencing a horrific episode in their life and you tell them, this is all part of God's plan, what is it that you are telling them? In my mind, we have just told them God caused this horrific episode. Really? Is that the best we can do to minister to a hurting person? Does that statement accurately depict the God we love and serve? I would say no it does not...not even close.

Let me tell you very briefly who I understand God to be. I understand God to be love in its purest form. I see a benevolent creator that goes to incredible lengths to help me feel the over abundance of grace, mercy, and forgiveness God has for me. I believe God wants to be in a relationship with each and every one of us, so eagerly, that God created a way to bridge the gap of sin so that all of us can freely receive the gift of eternal salvation in God's presence. I know God as my Lord, my Lord that has moved mountains to be with me. I see a God that no matter the situation, is willing to be by my side, if I allow it. I see a God that can bring good from any situation, but whose heart breaks every time mine does. I see a God that has cried every tear I have, felt every moment of pain I have, and gone through every moment of uncertainty right by my side. I worship that God. I have devoted my life to the one that seeks out the least, the lost, and the last. I love my God, and remain in constant awe of how God works in this world. In short, that is who I understand God to be.

And I believe all of that not only from personal experience, from feeling and seeing and sensing the Spirit of God in the lowest times of my life, but from Scripture. I read Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (NIV). Then I read Zephaniah 3:17, “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs” (NLT). All of that shows me that God does not want us to hurt. God does not want us to despair.

Now I understand horrific and tragic and unfair things happen to all of us in life. Things that we do not deserve, cannot explain, and that devastate us. God does not cause those things. God does not use tragedy to teach us a lesson or bring about his will. God is much bigger than that! God does not need to create tragedy for us to learn. However, when those terrible things happen, and they will, God will be the one to walk with you through it. God will swoop in and care for you, cry with you, comfort you, if you let him. For me to say to another person, “this terrible thing you are going through, God caused that” does not line up with the God I just described a few paragraphs earlier. For us to attribute the evil of this world to God is obscene and just plain wrong.

There are many, many people in our world that are hurting. There are many, many people in our world that are searching for the one thing they can adopt into their life that will help bring them a sense of stability, hope, and strength. That 'thing' is God. That peace is found in Christ. That hope is given by the presence of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of pain, to tell someone God caused that pain, does not seem to be the best way to go. In my mind that is not the God of love that I have devoted my life to. As Christians we are called to bring people into the Kingdom. To go to the ends of the earth talking about the love and grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. We are to let people know God loves them and is eager to be in relationship with them. So I encourage you to tell them about our God of love, our God of grace, of mercy, and forgiveness. Tell them about the God that continually keeps us in awe. Tell them about the God that will never leave them, that has plans for prosperity for them, and that rejoices over us with songs of joy.

When people come to us and they are hurting, we are blessed with a great opportunity to be a door way to God for them. Let us show them, and at the same time remind ourselves, that God does not cause the evil or tragedy in our lives, but God will comfort us in those times, consistently and faithfully. God will be our refuge and our strength, this day and every day.

Have a tremendous week and I will see you Sunday!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Women of the Bible: Ruth Ruth 1:3-18 and Ruth 3:1-13

Introduction
Today we are going to continue our preaching series focusing on the lives and examples of a few prominent women in Scripture and as we look to these women, I believe you will see great acts of faith and devotion in how they lived their lives. We began this series two weeks ago as we focused on the story of Deborah and how her faith in God and her ability to be humble, allowed her to deliver the Israelites from certain defeat. Last week we continued on by turning to Esther, as we discovered how her courage and faith saved not only her own life but those of her people as well. Today we look Ruth, a woman whose concern for others, combined with her ability to love, and loyalty to God inspired those around her.

Mothers are the Bond of Life
Many years ago, a teacher gave her class of second graders a lesson on the magnet and what it does. Hoping that repetition would help this information to stick, she gave them a test the next day. On that test she included this question: " My full name has six letters. The first one is M. I pick up things. What am I?" When the test papers were turned in, the teacher was astonished to find that almost 50 percent of the students answered the question with the word Mother.

Ruth's Beginnings
The story of Ruth expressed to us the magnetic bond a motherly figure can have in our lives. You see it was the motherly relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, that sets the stage for us this morning.

Ruth's story begins when a man named Elimelech flees a drought and famine in Judah with his wife Naomi and their two sons. They move to a foreign land named Moab seeking a better life, but not long after they get there Elimelech dies. Naomi is left to struggle and raise both boys on her own. When the boys grow up they choose to marry women from Moab named Orpah and Ruth. I often wonder what Naomi thought about that in her heart of hearts. Intermarriage was greatly frowned upon in Israel and now her Jewish boys were marrying foreigners. But there is not one word, not one indication, that Naomi ever let her inner feelings be known. As far as Orpah and Ruth were concerned, they were now as much a part of Naomi's family as if they had been born into it. There were lots of wonderful things about Naomi, and this was just ONE of them: Naomi ACCEPTED them...and they knew it.

But after a while, both of Naomi’s sons also pass away. And so Naomi is left alone with just her two daughter-in-laws as family. One day, after receiving word from relatives in Judah that the famine is over and that God is blessing the Israelites again, Naomi decides to take her little family and return to her homeland in Judah. After they have traveled for a while, Naomi begins to think better of her decision to bring along Orpah and Ruth. What kind of future could these foreign women hope to have in Judah? The custom of marrying the brothers of their deceased husbands was out since they had not brothers and Naomi was too old to bear more children.

So she tells her daughter-in-laws to return home to their parent’s houses where they can be taken care of. She prays that God might reward them for the kindnesses they have shown her and that he might bless them by giving them the security of new marriages. You see, Naomi BELIEVED in those two young women. She had gotten to know them just as if they had been her own flesh and blood. She knew that they had a lot to offer the young men who might marry them. She had seen them offer a lot to her own sons, especially at the time of their death. She knew these girls would be all right.

But the girls are in tears and do not want to leave her. But again Naomi pleads with them to consider their own futures and tells them to go back. It had to have been painful for her, because she loved Orpah and Ruth and they were all she had left in the world. But Naomi was practical. She was well aware that, in her culture, the life of a woman was totally dependent upon the man. A widow could not simply decide to pick up the pieces of a broken life, go out, get a job, and start all over again. The only way life could really begin again was in the home of a new husband. Naomi was CONCERNED for them, so she was willing to sacrifice her own wishes for their happiness.

One daughter-in-law shows Naomi a measure of respect by obeying her wishes. Orpah is grieved at the separation, but she kisses her mother-in-law goodbye and turns back toward Moab. But the other daughter-in-law shows her steadfast devotion to her mother-in-law and her God by making one of the most beautiful statements of commitment found in Scripture. One that is still used today in wedding ceremonies as the ultimate relationship statement - “I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16b).

When Naomi realized that Ruth had made up her mind, she stopped urging her to leave; instead the two of them continued on towards Naomi’s tiny hometown in Judah, the city of Bethlehem. The next two chapters of Ruth tell the story of how God is faithful to look after both Naomi and Ruth. Ruth supports her mother-in-law by going out and gleaning in the fields. That means Ruth was following the harvesters around in the fields and picking up the wheat that they dropped or left behind. This was the Israelite custom for helping to feed the poor, the widows and the orphans. The field in which Ruth happens to glean belongs to one of Naomi’s distant relatives, Boaz. And eventually he comes to admire and love Ruth because of her dedication in giving up everything to help her mother-in-law. And so Boaz steps in to marry Ruth and care for both she and Naomi.

The marriage of Boaz and Ruth was then blessed with a son whom they named Obed. I’m sure that he was not only the joy of his parent’s lives, but the delight of his grandmother’s life as well. And he would be the delight of the people of Israel, for Obed was the grandfather of King David.

Ruth the Teacher
We spoke earlier of the differences between Naomi and Ruth; culture, background, family, religion and age. But they also had a few things in common; a shared deep sorrow over their respective losses, a great affection for one another, a sense of loyalty and commitment, and a concern for each others well-being. Naomi was willing to let Ruth return to her family in Moab because she figured Ruth would be better off there. Ruth was willing to leave everything she knew, her family and her homeland, to follow her mother-in-law to Judah.

Beyond all of this, these two women also shared a commitment to the God of Israel. God was at the center of their close connection. But how did this happen? Ruth was a Moabite woman and the people of Moab had their own gods that they worshipped. Yet Ruth acknowledged and worshipped the God of Israel. Her devotion to God and to Naomi was rewarded in that she, a foreigner, stands as one of the ancestors of King David and Jesus, the Messiah himself.

So how did Ruth come to know the God of Israel? No doubt this was through her relationship to Naomi. Naomi comes across as a bitter woman in the book of Ruth, and rightly so after suffering the death of her husband and both her sons. But you only have to look at the fact that both of her daughter-in-laws were willing to leave their families and their homelands to follow her, to understand that Naomi was a pretty special mother-in-law who had lavished love and attention and care upon Orpah and Ruth. The strength of that relationship, of their bond, made it possible for her to also share her faith, to live it out as real, in good times and bad, before her daughter-in-laws. And Ruth responded to this. Naomi accomplished something with her life that all of us should hope to accomplish. She influenced someone to choose to follow her God. Naomi became the instrument of Ruth’s choice to make Naomi’s God her own.

Lessons Handed Down
There were some lessons that were so strong that they survived being passed down several generations. Lessons that can be of tremendous benefit to us today.

One was practical faith. Ruth had a faith that directly impacted her everyday life and how she lived. Through Naomi, Ruth had learned enough to say “Your God will be my God.” For many Christians, faith has become separated from daily life. It’s one of a number of different things that we do, but the practice of our faith doesn’t always intersect with all areas of our life. Faith should not be just another task in our life. It should inform our entire life. Our faith should be the basis for all decisions, easy and hard. It should influence our mood, our treatment of others, our spending habits, our vacation plans, our daily routine. Faith is the foundation for how we live for Christ.

Another lesson is that of obedience. The pattern of obedience we find in Ruth’s example is embodied in the statement, “All that you tell me I will do.” Such unswerving obedience is a model of faith for every Christian. Our society has become obsessed with greatness. But greatness does not mean that we are great people; instead, greatness is found by being obedient to a God who is great. For if we are obedient, we appear great because the greatness of God shines through us. The spiritual giants we look up to are the same. They are simply obedient to God. People like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Paul, and Ruth.

We can also see the value of the idea of love your neighbor. Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Naomi and Ruth were women of two different countries, in fact the Moabites, of which Ruth was a member of, were sworn enemies of Israel. Yet these two women were able to understand that they were still neighbors. And they didn’t just say this. They demonstrated it through acts of kindness. Do you want to reach people for Jesus Christ and his church? You can talk till you are blue in the face, but we know the truth that "actions speak louder than words." The good news of Christ's abiding presence in our lives will most assuredly be communicated by what we DO at least as much as by what we SAY. Loving our neighbor is the clearest way for that to happen.

We have no idea what Naomi might have said to Ruth about her God during the years they lived together in Moab. However, we do know what effect Naomi's life had upon her daughter-in-law: that marvelous affirmation, "Your God...MY God." And we know what marvelous effect Ruth’s life and faith had upon future generations of her family. We can leave a powerful legacy. May it be one of mutual commitment and concern for each other.

Conclusion
The lesson from their story applies to us all. Naomi accomplished something with her life that all of us should hope to accomplish. She influenced someone to follow her God. Naomi became the instrument of Ruth’s choice to make Naomi’s God her own.

Let us learn from Ruth and Naomi’s example of mutual commitment and concern for one another. Let us put into practice their example of common faith by reaching out to those we love. Every relationship has a powerful potential to influence others for the kingdom and your influence can begin today...right here...at this rail. Come, pray, and ask for that influence, ask for the opportunity to influence others for Christ. Ruth had the incredible capacity to love others through her faithfulness to God. I encourage all of us to follow in her footsteps; to love each other; and not to be afraid to witness for Christ.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bible Challenge 07/17 - 07/23

Greetings All!

More Psalms this week and we pass the halfway point of its 150 chapters!

We finish up the second section of Psalms this week with chapter 72. This section had 31 chapters (42-72) with 18 being ascribed to David and the rest as anonymous. Psalm 72 begins "For Solomon," but is traditionally understood as being written by King David as a prayer for his son. And we begin the third section of Psalms in chapter 73. This next section has only 17 chapters (73-89), of which only Psalm 86 is ascribed to King David.

Psalms has a couple of functions: as a hymnbook and also as a book of poetry. Songs that can be identified as such in the Psalms include songs of thanksgiving (e.g., Ps 30), hymns of praise (e.g., Ps 117) and royal psalms, which may have been used in coronations and weddings. Identification of some psalms as prayers is also seen within the text, for example in the conclusion to Psalm 72, "The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended." The largest category of Psalms, though not grouped as such in the text, is that of lament (expressions of complaint and pleas for help from God).

May God add his richest blessings to the reading, the hearing and most importantly the living out of his holy Word! Amen.

Here is the schedule:

17, Sunday - Psalm 52-55

18, Monday - Psalm 56-59

19, Tuesday - Psalm 60-63

20, Wednesday - Psalm 64-67

21, Thursday - Psalm 68-71

22, Friday - Psalm 72-75

23, Saturday - Psalm 76-79

Stay safe!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Fives

1. Preaching Series - I want to invite you to join us, this Sunday at 10:30am, as we continue our preaching series celebrating a few of the prominent Women of the Bible. Our sermon will focus on 
Ruth, a woman whose concern for others, combined with her ability to love, and loyalty to God inspired those around her.  Invite and friend and I look forward to seeing all of you there.


2. Church Website - I am happy to announce the redesigned website for the church is up and running. I encourage you to take a tour of it and see all that it has to offer. We have menus across the top for our various fellowship, community outreach, and ministry areas. There are also links to the church calendar, the pastor's blog and even a place for the weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter. One great feature is the news feed that runs down the left hand side where we can update the news of the church instantly.

The address is http://www.druidhillsocala.org

I hope you enjoy it and find it informative. Bookmark it and visit often!



3. Meeting Night - This Wednesday night is our monthly meeting night; Trustees at 5pm, Finance at 6:30pm, and Church Council at 7pm.  If you are a member of any of these committees please make plans to be in attendance so we can accomplish the tasks set before us.


4. GoodSearch - Here's a new easy way to raise money for our church. Just start using Yahoo! powered GoodSearch.com as your search engine and they'll donate about a penny to our church every time you do a search!

In addition, do all of your shopping through their online shopping mall, GoodShop.com, where you can shop at more than 2,000 top online retailers and a percentage of your purchases will go to the church. You pay the same price as you normally would, but a donation goes to us!

Here's the web site — http://www.goodsearch.com. You can also read about GoodSearch in the NY Times, Oprah Magazine, CNN, ABC News and the Wall Street Journal.

And if you download the GoodSearch – Druid Hills United Methodist Church toolbar, our church will earn money every time you shop and search online - even if you forget to go to GoodShop or GoodSearch first! Add the Druid Hills United Methodist Church toolbar by clicking here


5. Ocala  Health and Rehab – This Sunday is our week to go and minister to the residents of Ocala Health and Rehab.  I want to extend an invitation to all of you to come and join us, Sunday at 2pm.  Ocala Health and Rehab is located just down the street from the church on the corner of Lake Weir Road and SE 24th Road.  We begin with a few hymns, I give a brief devotion, and we wrap it up with a few more hymns and a prayer.  It is a wonderful time of fellowship and spreading the love of Christ.  I am sure you will enjoy it and be glad you participated!  I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Midweek Moment

It has been hot and muggy these last few weeks. I can walk from the house to the church and the sweat is just dripping off my nose by the time I reach the office. The fast food eateries in town have noticed this warm weather and there are frozen drink signs everywhere!

Parker keeps seeing these advertised all over the place and he has really wanted to try one. So earlier this week we went to an ice cream shop and we let him get one. As they made it I watched very closely to see how it they created this frozen concoction. I watched them put the sherbert in. I watched them walk over to the fountain dispenser and add Sprite. I watched them go over to the mixer and mix it all together. I also watched them walk it over to the counter and hand it to Parker. I thought to myself, I can mix sherbert and Sprite together, probably a whole lot cheaper myself.

So as a surprise, last night the boys and I attempted to make Frozen Blasts with Sprite and orange sherbert. We had gone to the store and they had picked the orange sherbert and took turns carrying it to the check out lanes, because as Wesley put it, “it cold!”. Anyway, we get home and I get out the blender and a spoon. The boys are so excited they can barely stand it. We put in the sherbert. We put in the Sprite. We mix it all together. I pour it in a cup. They taste it. And the boys look at me like I had just committed a crime. Parker immediately asked me, “Dad, what did you do wrong!?!” Wesley echoed Parker's feelings with his comment, “Yuck!”. I tried it and could not argue. It was not good. It was not thick. It was not sweet. Everything about it was in sharp contrast to what we experienced the other night at the ice cream shop. In trying to do it myself, I failed.

How many of us have tried to live our lives on our own, convinced that we can do all things better on our steam. You know, things like relationships, finances, personal growth, and a whole host of other things. We think that we have it all under control. We have watched other people do this life thing and it did not look so hard. We have all the right ingredients, we mixed it together in the right amounts, and yet when we pour it out in a cup and taste it, we cannot help but respond with a “yuck!”.

I thought I could make a Frozen Blast on my own, with no help, no assistance, just using my own steam. It did not work out so well. Life is the same way. We can try to do it out on our own, and live with the result. Or we can turn to God, turn to our church family, and get help. I do not believe that we were meant to live life alone, in solitary, on our own steam. I believe that we were meant to live it together; working together, loving each other, supporting one another. That connected type of life, I believe, is more rewarding, more exciting, and more fun. God never meant for us to be alone. God wants us to be connected. In fact Jesus tells us in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” It is not that we are worthless apart from God, but rather we can do amazing things when connected. God understands loneliness and does not want that for us. God loves us so deeply that God sent Jesus to model for us what it means to be connected!

I encourage you to be connected, stay connected, and thrive in connection. Give it a try...I think you will like it!

Have a great week and I will see you Sunday!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Women of the Bible: Esther – Esther 3: 8-14 and Esther 7:1-10

Introduction
Pretty somber and bone chilling words from the story of Esther this morning. Let us unpack these a bit together, shall we? Today we are going to continue our preaching series focusing on the lives and examples of a few prominent women in Scripture and as we look to these women, I believe you will see their great acts of faith and devotion in how they lived their lives. Last week we focused on the story of Deborah and how her faith in God and her ability to be humble, allowed her to deliver the Israelites from certain defeat. This morning we will turn to Esther, a woman who was a head of state, who helped the Jewish people maintain their personal freedoms, and a Jew who became queen over the Persians who held the Jewish people in exile. Many people may have heard of Esther before, but what gets lost about this incredible woman is the impact she had on the Israelite people. For us today, Esther is a lesson in courage and faith.

Esther's Story
The book of Esther is only ten chapters, but it’s a fascinating tale of mystery and politics. The story actually begins many years earlier when the Jewish people had been carried off into captivity by the Babylonians. Eventually the Babylonian Empire fell to the great and mighty Persian Empire.

We learn about Esther because of the downfall of the Persian queen Vashti. She snubs her husband King Xerses in front of a huge throng of very important people. For this, she is banished, and a search begins throughout the entire Persian Empire for a beautiful replacement. Hearing about this, a Jewish man named Mordecai talks to his beautiful orphaned niece Esther about presenting herself as a replacement for the queen. At first Esther argues, saying she would never be chosen because she is Jewish. But Mordecai tells her not to reveal her heritage. It’s fitting – for Esther’s name means “one who is hidden.” Esther becomes part of the search, and she impresses the people in charge, not just because she was incredibly beautiful, but also because she was charming and friendly to all she met. Esther caught the attention of King Xerses and just like a fairy-tale, she became the next queen of the Persian Empire.

But there were some problems in empire. There was a man named Haman, who was the king’s chief minister. He got the king to make a law that everyone had to bow down when he passed by. Everyone obeyed except Mordecai, who as a good Jewish person believed that you should only bow to God. This made Haman mad not only at Mordecai, but also at all the Jewish people. So he deceived the king to pass a law that would kill all the Jews. The king agreed, not knowing that his own wife would be one of the people targeted. Mordecai went into mourning wearing sackcloth and ashes when he heard. He also sent a message to Esther urging her to go before the king and plead for the Jewish people.

Esther replied back, you didn’t just go before the king without being summoned. To do so meant death, unless the king extended his royal scepter as you approached. But that didn’t happen often. To add to the problem, it had been over thirty days since Esther had last been called before the king. But Mordecai told her that because she lived in the palace she would be spared. And then he told her, “Who knows but that you have come to this royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Then Esther asked Mordecai to gather all the Jews in the area and ask them to fast for three nights and days. She and her maids would do the same. And at the end of the time, she would approach the king, even if it meant she died because of it.
When the king saw Esther, he was pleased and extended his royal scepter to her, saying he would grant her whatever she wished, even up to half the kingdom. Esther invited the king and Haman to a special banquet she hosted that very night. When the king asked her that night what she wished, she once again invited Haman and the king to a banquet the next night. On his way home, Haman saw Mordecai, who still wouldn’t bow for him. So he had a gallows erected on his property from which to kill Mordecai. At the banquet the next night, when the king asked for Esther’s request, she told him, “If it pleases your majesty, then may my life be granted at my petition and my people at my request?” (Esther 7:3)

The king was stunned as Esther explained her Jewish heritage and how Haman had deceived the king and plotted to kill all the Jews. The king was so angry that he had to leave the room to walk for a moment in the garden. Haman began begging Esther for his life, even falling upon her on the couch where she sat. But when the king walked in and saw him, he became even more enraged. So the king ordered Haman to be hung on the very gallows that he had built for Mordecai.

Because the law ordering the death of the Jews had been signed by the king’s seal it could not be taken back. But because of Esther’s bravery, the king wrote a new law allowing the Jews to band together and protect themselves against their enemies. This ensured their survival, by basically discouraging anyone from going after them in the first place. Even today, Jewish people still celebrate the Festival of Purim (poo-rim) commemorating this time when they were saved from destruction.

And this means...
Looking at this story, the drama, the characters, and their behavior, Esther can teach us many things.

Feel free to add to this list but for me one thing we can learn is that in a time of crisis, we must have courage. To those of us who have lived in the democratic republic of the United States, the act of a queen approaching a king may seem insignificant, certainly not anything requiring courage. But in the Middle Eastern culture, where ruling kings have absolute power, the possibility of assassination was very real. Hence the law that no one could approach the king without being invited seemed reasonable.

Esther, the orphan Jewish girl, and one of the generations of Jews forced to live in captivity, naturally would be hesitant to approach the ruler of her country. In addition, she had been queen for only a short time and she didn’t want to die. It was her faith, and the three days of prayer and fasting held by her and her fellow believers, that imbued her spirit with wisdom and courage. In the crisis, she was able to rise above all thoughts of herself and seek the common good.

As I reread the story of Esther this week, I was reminded of Corrie ten Boom, a brave Christian woman from the Netherlands who, because of her faith, risked her life to help many Jews escape Hitler’s death edict for the Jews during World War II. Because they believed that this was wrong, she and her family in Holland hid Jewish families above her father’s watch shop. Eventually they were arrested and Corrie and her younger sister were sent to a concentration camp. Corrie’s sister died there, but Corrie was released in 1945. She began to establish rehabilitation homes in Holland for concentration camp victims, as well as homes for refugees in Germany. Through writing and speaking, she told the story of her experiences and bore witness to her faith in Jesus Christ. It was Christ, she said, who gave her the courage to help her Jewish neighbors and who encouraged her in her imprisonment.

Today you and I are not unlike Esther. We must live out our faith in a secular culture surrounded by a great diversity in religious beliefs and faith. Although I believe we must be respectful of the faiths of others, it is important for us as Christians to know what we believe, stand up for it, and have the courage to present our faith in an intelligent and attractive way. Even more courage will be required to stand against secular practices that are destructive – especially for our children and youth. But as representatives of Christ, we must do it! Mordecai’s question to Esther echoes through the ages: “Who knows but that you have come to this position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Another lesson taught to us by Esther is that in a time of crisis, we must be cleaver. Esther was clever as well as courageous. She used her head, even though her heart was heavy with fear for her own life as well as for the lives of her people. In her time of prayer, she obviously was given a plan. Then she carefully set about arranging the details before approaching the king.

Jesus warned us about what we are likely to be up against in the world when he said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocents as doves” (Matt. 10:16). It seems to me Esther did both. She was aware of who she was up against, Haman, a ruthless, deceitful, egotistical opportunist. Yet she didn’t run to the king, whining, crying and accusing Haman behind his back. Instead, she staged the banquet in her own setting. The invitation to her two banquets inflated Haman’s ego so that he was totally unprepared for the factual accusation she gave the king in Haman’s presence. Esther gave Haman enough rope to hang himself easily and he did.
Where did Esther get her cleverness; her control and wisdom? I believe the three days of prayer prepared her. James tells us: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1:5). Unlike Esther, we often charge into a situation without having our emotions in control, without having throught clearly or asked God for wisdom, especially when a crisis takes us by surprise. But if we will take time to call upon God, he will give us the wisdom we need.

Life’s a balancing act. We must be wise, not na├»ve, in the ways of the world. Only then will our voices by heard. Yet we must stand firm on our Christian convictions so that we can be as innocent as doves. This is what it means to be in the world but not “of the world” (John 15:19). Like Esther, we must be wise and yet innocent.

Go and Do Likewise
Esther was an underprivileged orphan, raised by her uncle, living as a minority in a foreign country. According to Scripture, she was “lovely in form and features” (Esther 2:7). But Ether didn’t only possess physical beauty, she also had a good mind, kindness and humility. You might call it charm, something that attracts and delights people.

Yet for all her beauty and charm, Esther never could have been so courageous and wise and influential in her own strength. It was the power of God at work in her life. Because she had a strong faith, she sought God’s direction and was willing to be used for God’s purposes (Esther 4:16). Her life and the life of her people were forever different.

God can take us, with all our mistakes and our idiosyncrasies, and, if we are willing and faithful, turn us into persons of peace, poise, and power. God is at work in our lives, though we often see it best in retrospect. Remember that God’s time is not marked by our calendars. Our job is to take time to listen carefully to God’s direction, to be steadfast in our responsibilities, and to trust God for the future.

Conclusion
Esther is remembered in Scripture for her bravery in the face of great personal and religious crisis. She put her status as queen and her very life on the line to try and save the lives of her people. From her we can see the benefit of having courage and being clever in times of crisis. And we also can see how we need to learn to take the time to lean on the Lord for wisdom and guidance and trust that he can work through our own humanness and transform us. And that can begin right here, right now. This altar rail is here for you to come and either begin that journey or ask for strength to continue that journey. God is here, God is waiting, God is ready. I encourage you to not less this opportunity pass. Esther is for us a lesson in courage and faith. May we always remember her impact and her legacy. Amen.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bible Challenge 07/10 - 07/16

Greetings Bible Challenge Friends!

We continue on with Psalms. By the end of this week's reading, we will be 1/3 of the way through the book!!!

Remember in the original Hebrew, this book is divided into 5 sections. We finish up the first and oldest section with Psalm 41 and begin the 2nd section in the remainder of our chapters this week.

One of the interesting things about many of the Psalms in this week's reading are the connections that can be made to Jesus and the New Testament. Below is a partial list of references about the Messiah in these psalms and how they are answered in Jesus (this chart comes from The Messiah Revealed website).

Subject Prophecy Fulfillment
None of the Messiah's bones would be broken. Psalm 34:20 John 19:32-33
The Messiah's offering of himself would replace all sacrifices. Psalm 40:6-8a Hebrews 10:10-13
The Messiah would say the scriptures were written of him. Psalm 40:6-8b Luke 24:44
The Messiah would come to do God's will. Psalm 40:7-8 John 5:30
The Messiah would not conceal his mission from the congregation. Psalm 40:9-10 Luke 4:16-21
The Messiah's betrayer would be a friend whom he broke bread with. Psalm 41:9 Mark 14:17-18
The Messiah would speak with a message of grace. Psalm 45:2 Luke 4:22
The Messiah's throne would be everlasting. Psalm 45:6-7a Luke 1:31-33
The Messiah would be God. Psalm 45:6-7b Hebrews 1:8-9
The Messiah would act with righteousness. Psalm 45:6-7c John 5:30

May your reading of Psalms this week give you fresh eyes for the Gospels!

Here is the schedule:

10, Sunday - Psalm 24-27

11, Monday - Psalm 28-31

12, Tuesday - Psalm 32-35

13, Wednesday - Psalm 36-39

14, Thursday - Psalm 40-43

15, Friday - Psalm 44-47

16, Saturday - Psalm 48-51

Have a great weekend and I will see you Sunday!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Fives

1. Preaching Series - I want to invite you to join us, this Sunday at 10:30am, as we continue our preaching series celebrating a few of the prominent Women of the Bible. Our sermon will focus on the importance of faith and courage as expressed in the story of Queen Esther.  Invite and friend and I look forward to seeing all of you there.


2. Church Website - I am happy to announce the redesigned website for the church is up and running. I encourage you to take a tour of it and see all that it has to offer. We have menus across the top for our various fellowship, community outreach, and ministry areas. There are also links to the church calendar, the pastor's blog and even a place for the weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter. One great feature is the news feed that runs down the left hand side where we can update the news of the church instantly.

The address is http://www.druidhillsocala.org. I hope you enjoy it and find it informative. Bookmark it and visit often!


3. Spring Storms - Recently this country has been hit with a number of devastating and deadly storms. People have lost their homes, their lives have been turned upside down, and loved ones have died as a result. As United Methodists we have an arm of our denomination called UMCOR, United Methodist Committee on Relief. This organization puts people on the ground in these affected areas to lend assistance and bring hope.

One way we here at Druid Hills can help these people affected by these storms is to pray first and foremost. Another way we can help is to donate financially to UMCOR. UMCOR put out a release outlining several ways we can help.

Contribute to the Joplin Disaster Relief Fund

Donations received will primarily go to help the congregations, people and families affected. The Missouri Conference has established a fund to receive monies into the Disaster Response account #7465. Simply mark you check, Joplin Disaster Relief Fund #7465, and we will take care of the rest.

Contribute to the UMCOR Spring Storms

These funds help the communities affected by the Joplin tornado, the Alabama storms, and the flooding of the Mississippi. To donate to this fund mark your check, UMCOR Spring Storms #3021326, and we will take care of the rest.

Watch and Share Bishop Schnase's Appeal to our churches across America

Bishop Robert Schnase shares few words of encouragement and appeals to the churches in Missouri and across our country. Click here to watch his Joplin Relief fund appeal as well as his appeal for the UMCOR Spring Storms fund.

Please be in prayer for these people as they move through this time of grief, devastation, and loss.


4. GoodSearch - Here's a new easy way to raise money for our church. Just start using Yahoo! powered GoodSearch.com as your search engine and they'll donate about a penny to our church every time you do a search!

In addition, do all of your shopping through their online shopping mall, GoodShop.com, where you can shop at more than 2,000 top online retailers and a percentage of your purchases will go to the church. You pay the same price as you normally would, but a donation goes to us!

Here's the web site — http://www.goodsearch.com. You can also read about GoodSearch in the NY Times, Oprah Magazine, CNN, ABC News and the Wall Street Journal.

And if you download the GoodSearch – Druid Hills United Methodist Church toolbar, our church will earn money every time you shop and search online - even if you forget to go to GoodShop or GoodSearch first! Add the Druid Hills United Methodist Church toolbar by clicking here


5. YMCA Youth Camp – Summer day camp for the Marion County YMCA began this past Monday, June 13th, and will run through August 19th, from 6am - 6pm.  This is a wonderful chance for us to open our doors to the children of Marion County.  Things continue to go well! 

Today they had the Police SWAT truck and the K9 unit come out for a demonstration.  The excitement and cheers of the children was truly something grand to witness.

I ask that you be in prayer for this camp, the children, the counselors, and our church, that we can be a beacon of love, hope, and encouragement, and that God can use this opportunity to do mighty things within all the people involved.  This is such a great opportunity and we are truly blessed to be able to be a part of it.

Have an incredible weekend and see you Sunday!