Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sermon Sketches ~ Gen. 39:1-23--God with Us.


How easy it is, when no one is looking, when no one is checking...to do just what we want to do. No one will miss a few items from the storage room when there are so many things in there; no one will notice some food items missing from pantry, it’s so full; no one will catch that I misrepresent my assets on my income tax return; no is going to see me cheat on this exam; no one is going to see what happens when I’m out of town—after all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That’s the attitude that we have far too often...and how far from the truth we have wandered.

Joseph has been through some hard times. If anyone deserves to have a chip on his shoulder, it’s Joseph. Sure, he had those amazing dreams of his brothers all bowing down to him. That didn’t settle well in the family. Then, Dad (Jacob) gives the boy this crazy-wild outfit to wear...and that only makes the brothers more jealous and angry. Finally, they’ve had enough and decide to kill the boy. Now that is jealous and angry to an insane degree! But, one brother intervenes—"let’s just sell the guy into slavery and tell the family he’s dead;” that way, no search party...and he’ll be gone forever. Out in the pasture, they toss Joseph in a deep well, rip and shred his precious cloak and splatter it with blood from a sheep they slaughter for supper, and then take the cloak home to show that Joseph has been killed by some wild animal. And Joseph is gone.

When we read the stories of the dreams, Joseph doesn’t seem braggadocios—at least not in my reading. He seems rather matter-of-fact in the whole thing, and he is not recorded as droning on and on about it. He has a dream, tells the dream...and moves on. Does he deserve the hatred his brothers have for him? Probably not that degree of hatred. So, he’s sold into slavery...and ends up in Egypt where a fellow named Potiphar buys him and brings him home.

Young, healthy, handsome Joe is not only strong and able; he has a good mind. He organizes. He plans. And, he has a way with people—there are some leadership qualities there. Soon, Potiphar puts Joe in charge of the household—over the other slaves, over purchases, upkeep. He holds the keys to home. He does his job well. He doesn’t take a little here and a little there. He doesn’t turn away when other slaves are out of line—he corrects them. He is what we would call a man of integrity.

Integrity has been defined and articulate in various ways:

Merriam-Webster defines integrity as 1) a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values, 2) an unimpaired condition, and 3) the quality or state of being complete or undivided.

Others have said...

 “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”   ― Oprah Winfrey

 “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” —Chinua Achebe

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”  ― Abraham Lincoln

Integrity is the teenager in California who this week found a purse beside the road that contained $10,000...and took it to the police station and saw it returned to the owner.

Integrity is the politician who graciously concedes defeat and walks away.

Integrity is not taking advantage of people, situations, and laws...just because you can.

Integrity is selecting the best person for the job rather than the person who’s related to so-n-so. (And integrity is firing the person who is not doing the job.)

Integrity is as simple as the person who promises to be there, who gets through with work after a long day and is tired...but shows up anyway because he or she promised to be there.

Oh, to have people of this character in public life today!

Joseph adhered firmly to code of living, he allowed nothing to impair him, and he was complete and undivided in his determination. And, not even the mistress of the house was going to deter him from his path of life, his way of living.
     “Joe, come...let me show you something.”
     “Joe, you look tired—just lie down here with me a while.”
     “Joe, no one is around, no one will know. Potiphar won’t be home for hours.”
Joseph’s response? “No.” And he said “no” over and over and over.

Why? What led to this firmeza de conciencia (strength of conscience)? Could be that Joseph was keenly aware of what we see over and over again throughout this narrative, a truth that comes through time and again in Scripture? At the beginning and end of this passage, we hear “...the Lord was with him....” Could it be that Joseph was very aware that God was with him...there...and everywhere? Could it be that he learned something powerfully important in his experiences—that at the bottom of that well he sensed God’s presence with him? As he trudged along beside the other slaves headed for Egypt, did he feel God was with him? As brought order to Potiphar’s home, did he know God was with him...right there, with him?

The Psalmist sings of this presence, this inescapable presence of God, in Psalm 139 (NIV):
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Wherever Joseph goes, God is there. When Joseph is part of the slave caravan, God is there. When he is in Potiphar’s house, God is there. When he is thrown into prison, God is there.
When we get to the New Testament, God is there as well. In fact, God breaks into our world in a new and amazing way:

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”) (Matthew 1:23).
In Jesus, God with us...God now walks among us.

Wherever we go, God is with us. When we are enslaved to addictions, God is there. When we’re home or at work or in between, God is there. When we are imprisoned in difficult situations or relationships, God is there. No matter what seemingly bottomless well we think we’re stuck in, no matter what strange situation, no matter how distant we may be from all that is comfortable and known, God is with us.

Perhaps knowing God was there is what gave Joe the courage to remain true, to do the right thing. Perhaps that idea that “no one will see” or “no one will know” is simply a lie we tell ourselves—because God is there. God is with us! God is with us and God loves us.

Too often, we imagine that if God is there, God is standing over us, waiting for us to screw up so punishment can be dealt. I think of Jesus...walking beside me. I think of Jesus, laughing, talking, interested in me, in you. He walks with us not to “catch” us; rather, Jesus walks with us because he loves being with us, he wants to share life with us...and, he wants to help us to live well, to live lives of love and care, to live with integrity.


Integrity is seeing those people, places, attitudes, beliefs and activities in our lives that are out of line, out of character, with who we are as Christians and deciding to remove them from our lives. Easy? NO. Not at all. If it were, we’d all be people of integrity all the time—integrity feels a lot better than the cheating, stealing, defrauding, lying, playing-favorites self. But, God with us! The Spirit of Christ is with us to help us, encourage us, cheer us towards a life of greater and greater integrity. Do you need to make changes? God invites us to a life of integrity. We can do what’s right, we can live well, because God is with us, empowering us to live that way, God’s way. 

~Amen~


(Sermon Sketches are the bare bones of sermons that are 'in-process' around the mid-week mark. I invite readers to build on what I've written, make suggestions, and ask questions.)

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Church Strong – Making Disciples


               One of my students, Karina, was telling me that she enjoys making tamales. She learned from her ‘abuelita’ (grandmother). She would stand beside her and watch. She asked her grandma why she did certain things, what spices were added. She watched as her abuelita mixed the ‘masa’ (dough) She watched as her grandma cooked the beans, chicken, or beef that went inside. She watched as the masa was spread in the dried corn husk, filled with meat or beans, rolled up and placed in the pot. As she got older, her abuelita put her to work, had her doing parts...adding spices...stirring this...mixing that. Today, Karina is in her early 20’s. She says, “Yeah, I can make a really good tamale...almost—almost! —as good as Abuelita’s.”

               Karina learned by watching, listening, practicing and asking questions. In fact, as I thought about it, that’s how anyone becomes proficient in a practice of any sort. Think about it—doctors, mechanics, artists and teachers all become proficient by doing the same things. Doctors spend a time as residents—after all the book learning—when they shadow veteran doctors. Mechanics go to work in a shop and watch and listen and try and learn. Artists watch and try and watch and learn. Teachers do the same—after classes are done, it’s time for that three-month “student teaching” when the student teacher works with and learns from a seasoned teacher.

               The mission of the United Methodist Church is clearly stated: 

        To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world

We could spend hours taking this a part; it’s a rich statement and a high bar we’ve set. But, it’s a thoroughly biblical bar. So, for today, let’s just take those first few words—to make disciples. How does one make a disciple? Well, just like all the things we mentioned above, only a disciple can make a disciple.

               We find disciples in the Gospels. They were those men and women (yes, there were women disciples) who walked with Jesus—watching, listening, questioning, and doing. At times, they didn’t understand the parables— “Lord, explain what you mean....” At times, Jesus sent them out...in pairs to the surrounding villages. For three years, they were there by his side listening, listening, learning, learning.

               There is a mistaken idea in many corners of the Church today that we are called to be Christians. The idea goes something like this: A person hears the Gospel and believes or accepts the message; that person prays a prayer (“Lord, forgive me; come into my heart....”); they are then baptized and recite the vows of membership...and voila! —they are now a Christian and they are done. First of all, this might be the FIRST steps of a life of faith, but this certainly isn’t the end. Then, in the Gospels, following Jesus doesn’t look anything like this. Following Jesus (being a Christian) is all about being a disciple—learning, listening, watching, reading, questioning, doing.

               And, being a disciple involves making disciples. Just take a look at Matt. 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. These are some of the last things that Jesus says to his disciples, to us, and it all involves making disciples, sharing the story.

               As disciples today, we keep an eye on the Gospel and an eye on one another. We watch Jesus and we watch those who have been walking with Jesus longer. We listen to Jesus and we listen to those who have listened longer than we have. We question Jesus and we question those who have questioned Jesus through the years. We begin to live the changed, transforming lives that God calls us to. This is how we BE disciples. And at some point along the way, someone is watching, listening and questioning us...and we begin to MAKE disciples—to invite people to live that changed, transforming life that God calls us all to.

               For the last four weeks, we looked at those holy habits—prayer, presence, giving, service. We insist that when we make these habits part of our lives, we have a Church Strong...and we have stronger lives of faith. But, why? What for? Why do we want a ‘church strong’? Why do we want stronger lives of faith? So we can be disciples and make disciples for the transformation of the world.

               Will you commit to being a disciple—to learning from, watching, listening to Jesus who transformed you and me through his life and death and resurrection? And, then will you make disciples? Keep coming, keep gathering, keep being present, keep praying, keep giving and keep serving...and God will give you the wisdom and ability and the opportunity to share your faith with others—for the transformation of the world.

~Amen~

A Church Strong – Talents


               My friend James was on a flight from Dallas to Raleigh when the fellow sitting beside him slowly leaned over and collapsed on James’ lap. James is an officer in the US Army. He has seen combat in Afghanistan and served in several over-sees settings. And, he’s a medical doctor. He immediately sat the man up and checked his pulse. None. By this time, the flight attendant was there and they maneuvered the man into a prone position on the floor of the aircraft. James administered CPR. Soon, the fellow was breathing again. The story ends well. At the end of the flight, the James walked the man off the plane to his awaiting family. James says that the best he could determine was that the fellow had had a ‘cardiac event.’

               James has a gift—he’s a physician. He understands the human body and how it works. He knows what chemical compounds will have what effect on the body. He knows how to increase the likelihood of healing. He has a gift that most of us don’t have. If I were flying from Dallas to Raleigh and had a ‘cardiac event,’ I’d want James beside me!

               We all have talents, gifts, abilities, skills. Some are born with these things—they just have a “knack” for something. Some work for or earn these things—they put in the time, the hours, the practice. Some are God-given, divine—God gifts us for the work we’re called to.

               The Apostle Paul writes especially about this last category—gifts given by the Spirit of God to the people of God. Every Christian, everyone who has received the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, through faith has been gifted by God. Take a look at I Cor. 12:1, 4-6. Different gifts are given to different people—and only God knows why one receives one gift and someone else receives another.

               However, one thing is clear—we don’t receive gifts so we can be better people. God does not give us gifts so I can be a better me. Rather, I Cor. 12:7 points out that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Not for my good—for the common good...the good of all.

               What would have happened if James responded to the situation on the plane like this: “Uh...you know, I’m an Army doctor, so, I just do my doctor-thing when I’m on base, in uniform. Sorry....” What would happen to my friend, Marcos, if when he got home the A/C goes out and his wife asks him to work on it, and he responds, “Oh, I do HVAC at work; not at home. I’m tired....”

               How many skilled, gifted, talented people DO take that attitude? We have educators, accountants, organizers, singers, painters, electricians, musicians, cooks, gardeners...people with the gifts of wisdom, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, guiding, encouragement, giving, generosity, hospitality, leadership, mercy. And how often do these gifted and talented people separate their lives into compartments, drawing lines—this is my work; I don’t do this at church. This is my spiritual gift that I use at church; I don’t do this in the community. What has happened to the idea of ‘common good’? Why do we not use our gifts, talents and abilities everywhere we can?! Imagine how strong our congregation would be! Imagine how our communities would be impacted!

               So, let’s remember yet again those words we’ve read several times already over the last few weeks:

Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?

Our service—our use of talents, gifts and abilities—is to be a habit in our Christian lives. Sadly, all too often people do not bring their gifts and talents to the church. And, sadly, all too often the church has been possessive, guarded...not allowing everyone to bring their service to the church. If our congregation has been this way, please forgive us. From this day forward, we are the ‘open’ congregation God meant for us to be, and we want you to bring your gifts and talents to the needs of this fellowship. (If you are interested in knowing more about ‘spiritual gifts,’ just let us know—we have an inventory/worksheet that can point you in the right direction...)
When we serve out of our strengths—our gifts and talents, we have a Church Strong...and our lives of faith are stronger as well.

~Amen~


Sometimes the sermons we preach do something to us, something we don’t expect. The preaching of this sermon actually changed the trajectory of my life. Because of this sermon, I really examined my life—my talents, skills, abilities—and asked if I was actually using my gifts and abilities for the ‘common good.’ I was not. I have determined to do things differently, to use my gifts and talents in ways that impact more people in more places. I’m grateful that God spoke to me in this way. God has again transformed my life!

A Church Strong – Giving


               Do you remember in high school or college when your first ran into that famous equation that Einstein gave us: E=MC2? Energy (E) equals mass (M) times speed of light squared (C2). Ronald Laskey explains this for us in an article found in Scientific American:

Consider a cubic hollow box at rest in space with sides of length D and a mass of M. This box is also symmetrical in its mass distribution. One of the faces inside the box is coated with a fluorescing material, and, at a given moment, a photon (i.e., a particle of light) is emitted from that material, perpendicular to its surface. The momentum of this photon causes the box to move in the opposite direction as the photon, and it continues to move until the photon hits the opposite wall. During this time the box moves a very small distance, Δx.
Newton's laws of mechanics tell us that the center of mass cannot move, because the box has not been acted upon by an outside force. However, in order to keep the center of mass constant, since the box has moved, some mass must have been transferred from the fluorescing side of the box to the absorbing side in the process of generating the photon and its striking the opposite side. Therefore, the photon must have a mass, m.
See: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/significance-e-mc-2-means/
What? Feeling a bit lost? This is a bit complicated, right? Somethings in this amazing world are incredibly complicated. God’s plan for the Church with regard to giving is NOT.

               When Abraham runs in the high priest Melchizedek in Genesis, Abraham hands over 10% of his goods as act of worship and good faith. In Exodus, as the people of Israel cross the wilderness to the Promised Land, the Law—Torah—is handed down and they are to bring a tenth of their goods to God. In Deuteronomy, we find a shift from a barter/goods economy to a cash society—in 14:22ff, God calls for a tithe, but allows that the distance may be too great to carry the goods, so they can convert the good into silver and bring that to Temple. And, of course, Malachi makes things very clear:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Mal.3:10)
               This idea of 1/10, 10% or a tithe was so clearly understood, such an ingrained part of the people’s understanding, that when Jesus comes preaching in the New Testament, he never has to mention how much. He reminds them of the blessing (Luke 6:38). When Paul writes to the congregations scattered around the Mediterranean (many of the people Jews of the Diaspora), again, the focus is never on ‘how much,’ but on the attitude (II Cor. 9:6-11).

               Today, most of the people who grew up in and around the Church know—they KNOW—that the starting point, the basic expectation for giving, is 10%, 1/10th, a tithe of our income. (Some folks are curious about whether this is pre- or post-tax. The rule of thumb in our house is simple—10% of what we receive.)

               So why don’t more Christians actually give 10%? Studies have been done that show that most Protestant Christians give 3-4% of their income. The numbers go up to around 6-7% for just Pentecostals. One of the interesting phenomena is that poorer people and poorer groups tend to give a higher percentage of their income. That’s something to think about. So, why don’t more Christians bring a tithe to God?

               Fear. Unbelief. Distrust. When we don’t do what God asks us to do, we are basically saying, “I don’t believe God’s Word; I don’t trust God to do what the Bible says God will do.” Yet, God could not be more clear— “...bring the tithe...and test me.” Wow. That’s a challenge! And, I’ll second it. Before my wife and I married, we discussed finances...and we decided 1) to put all our money in one account and 2) that we would always tithe—no matter what. The tithe comes off the top, from the front. We don’t wait to see what we have at the end; the first money out is the tithe. In 28+ years, God has always provided what we need. So, God’s Word challenges us, and I lay down the challenge as well—do what God asks us to do, and see if God does not provide and bless you. What the blessing looks like, how God provides—that, we don’t know and can’t guess. But, never in 28 years have my wife or I said, “I wish we hadn’t tithed this month....”

               Giving is one of the holy habits of Christians, a habit that builds our faith and trust, and leads to a Church Strong. Let’s open our hymnals once again to page 48:

Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?

We pray for our church—asking God to break-through with new visions and dreams, new avenues and places of ministry.

We are present with one another—encouraging one another in love and to do good works.

We bring our gifts, we give—we give out of habit, as part of the rhythm of our lives—because God has called us to and because through our gifts our congregations touch lives here and around the world.

If you have not given before, decide today to begin giving. If you give some from time to time, decide today to give regularly. If you give regularly but you’ve never tried to tithe, take God up on the challenge and determine to tithe for two, three, six months—and see if God’s Word is true.

When we embrace these holy habits, our own faith grows stronger...and we have a part in building a Church Strong.

~Amen~

A Church Strong – Presence


               Actor/director Woody Allen—like him or not! —observed that “80% of life is showing up.”

               Over the years, I have talked with business owners and managers, and I have often asked them, “What is your greatest frustration?” The answer—workers or employees who don’t or won’t show up.

               We value ‘being present,’ showing up. Every school I know gives that coveted “perfect attendance” award (an award I never earned, he said sheepishly...). In our schools and in our culture, we value showing up.

               Often around town here and in other places we’ve lived, folks have had these big raffles. I almost bought a ticket when I was visiting my parents in south Alabama one time—I was absolutely certain, I felt it...I had a ‘premonition’ that this was it...I was going to win that brand-new BMW. I had my $10 in hand...and then I saw the small print: Must be present to win.

               I teach a couple of classes each semester at the local community college, and one thing I tell my students—I guarantee them! —is that if they will 1) show up and 2) turn in something every time something is due, they will pass my class. It’s that simple. Now, I don’t give anyone a grade—every grade is earned. But, what I learned long ago is that showing up matters. Just being in class every time almost ensures that the student is learning the material. So, with all confidence for the last nine years, I have told my students that if they just ‘show up’ and ‘do the work,’ they are guaranteed to pass my class. And it works—when they show up, they pass...earning every grade they get.

               Being present is really important. And, like prayer, presence is a matter of habit...one of those ‘holy habits’ that we find in our Methodist hymnals on page. 48. Let’s take a look:
          Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your  presence, your gifts, and your service?

               Where did these holy habits come from that we ask people to affirm as they are joining our congregations? They come from over 2000 years of Christian life and practice. They come from the Scriptures—seeing the habits and practices of Christians and other faithful followers of God through the ages. These are the habits that make for strong Christian lives...and for a Church Strong.

               In the Old Testament, in the Psalms, we hear the call to gather—Psalm 122:1 and Psalm 27:4. Jesus our Lord—our example, our guide—shows us that one of his holy habits was gathering with God’s people—Luke 4:16a. And, we have that well-known admonition from the writer of Hebrews—10:23-25. When we read this last passage closely, we realize that it’s not about you or me. I don’t ‘gather’ and God doesn’t call me to ‘gather with others’ for me. Verse 24 calls us to “spur one another” and verse 25 tells us to “encourage one another.” We gather because we need each other. Our faith is strengthened we come together—we are better, stronger, and more faithful when we gather together.

               In a perfect world, when this holy habit, this ritual, is part of our rhythm of life, the question in the Christian household will not be, “Are we going to church today?” Rather, it will be, “What time are we leaving for church today?” The going, the gathering, will be presumed.

               These little rituals, rhythms and habits—like making the bed—sometimes seem small and insignificant. But, they can have a huge impact on our lives and the lives of others. Just 5 – 10 minutes in prayer for our congregation can make a difference. One hour of presence in worship with God’s people can impact the other 167 hours of your week in ways we cannot imagine.

               May we decide to make these our habits, and may God help us to live in new rhythms and rituals. Our lives of faith will be made strong...and we will have a Church Strong.

~Amen~

A Church Strong – Prayer


               Every year in August it begins to happen in so many households—back to the routines! School starts, and the summer fun is all over. Back to bed-times, back to wake-up times, back to those rhythms, routines and rituals. Meals have to have be planned, laundry coordinated, chores decided, wake-up times programmed into the phones, who takes who where...and all of these things come back into focus.

               Sure, there are those homes and households that decide to skip something as seemingly petty and pesky as rituals and habits...and those households experience a greater degree of disorder, stress, frustration, and chaos!

               Those homes that embrace rhythms and rituals are often stronger, happier and less stressful.

               Admiral Wm. McRaven wrote a wonderful little book entitled, Make Your Bed—Little Things That Can Change Your Life...and Maybe the World (2017). A few years early, he delivered the commencement address at the University of Texas, and in that address, he stressed the importance of simply making your bed. That bit about making the bed got on YouTube and went viral—well worth the watch (beginning at 4:44). In a nutshell, the idea goes like this: you get up and you make your bed, you’ve started your day completing a task; you’ve done one thing, done it well...and that changes everything—you move on to the next task.

               If we make a habit of making our beds, then we begin a habit of completing tasks. Making our beds impacts our days. A week of good days impacts a month. A month of completion affects a year. You see, those simple, little, seemingly insignificant habits can in fact have a huge impact on our lives.

               Our congregation is a household, a family, a home. We have habits and rituals that make our household stronger, happier, and less stressful as well. We find them in the United Methodist Hymnal right there in the back of pew in front of you...just flip over to page 48. Let’s read this together:

            Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?

Some 26 years ago, my wife and I stood before the congregation of Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church just off the road heading north out of Cleveland, Georgia, and we responded to this question: We will.

               What we may not have fully understood then and what many, perhaps, don’t fully understand now is that these are to be habits, holy habits of our lives. We don’t pray one time, show-up one time, give one-time and use our talents one time. These are not to be occasional things. These are to be the common practice of Methodist Christians.

               The first one there is prayer. We pray for our church—every day.

               Sue Nilson Kibbey has studied what leads to the revitalization of churches. In the Ohio conference where she serves, she has looked at all kinds of churches to see what matters most for vitality and renewal and life. Is it the size of the congregation? No. Is it the financial strength of the church? No. Is it based on whether it’s a city church or country church? No. The single overwhelming factor that predicted health, vitality and renewal was whether or not the church was a praying church—more specifically, if the people of the congregation were praying for the church.

               She has written books about her discoveries—Ultimate Reliance introduces the idea of “breakthrough prayer.” Do we pray believing that God wants to do good work through us? Do we ask God to break into our lives and into our congregation with new dreams and visions, hopes and plans?

               II Chronicles 7:11-16 reminds us that if we pray, God will heal the land. Matthew 9:33-38 shows Jesus calling his disciples to ask God to send our workers to reach the hurting and the lost. And, Hebrews 4:14-16 challenges us to pray with boldness and confidence.

               How are we praying for our congregation? How are praying for this gathering of people that loves and accepts us, that encourages us in our walk of faith, that plants songs in our hearts and minds that carry us through the day, with whom we hear God’s Word proclaimed, where many of us first encountered God—this church, an instrument through which God changes lives, homes, communities...and the world?

               Do you believe that prayer makes a difference? Do you believe that prayer works? Do you want a ‘Church Strong’? When we make prayer a holy habit in our lives, when we begin or end each day in prayer, we are opening our lives and congregation to the change that God wants to bring. To help you begin this holy habit, we have a small card with a simple prayer—you may set this on your bed-side table, your kitchen table, keep in your Bible...I have mine in my planner—a booklet I open every day. Put it somewhere to remind you to pray for our church so we can be a ‘Church Strong.’  And, you know what? As we pray, we become stronger in the faith. We win, the church wins, God wins, the world wins...when we pray for one another.

Break-Through Prayer
Pray for our families, for ourselves, for those in need,
for the sick and for the searching.
Pray for our Church, our Congregation...that God might breakthrough with new visions, new dreams, new directions, new ministries, new opportunities, and that we would joyfully step forward in faith.
Pray in faith—put shoes on the prayers.
Prayer Changes Everything!

“...Approach the Throne of Grace with Confidence....”
Heb. 4:16

~Amen~

A Church Strong: Remembering our Vows


Every Fall, we—and a lot of churches in our tradition—do some sort of ‘membership’ reminder as well as a membership drive. This year (2018), I decided to wrap it all up in one five-week sermon series that would culminate with “Renewal Sunday”—a time of re-commitment, a time to respond to the Gospel, a time to renew one’s walk of faith.

We’re part of that great Wesleyan family called the United Methodist Church, and on page 48 of the United Methodist Hymnal (page 28 of Mil Voces para Celebrar), we find the membership vows that new members commit to as they come into our tradition and into our local congregation:

Leader/Pastor: Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?
New Member: I will.
Many life-long Methodists may recognize these same vows by the more easily remembered “prayers, presence, tithes, and talents.”

The ‘trick’ is keeping this all fresh and new and accessible year after year, is helping those who have heard these ideas too many times to hear with new ears. The following five meditations (taken from my studies and sermon notes) may help you as you strive to keep things fresh for your congregation...or even as you strive to find renewal of your own spiritual life within the community of faith.

Living in God’s Grace,
Jon A Herrin

A Church Strong: Remembering our Vows