Monday, July 30, 2012

Mowing the Grass

  So there I was...

  I was out mowing the weeds (there isn't much grass there) the other day when the mower suddenly cut out and started smelling like a burned-out motor.  (I have an electric mower.  Not a big fan of hauling the cord around, but I don't have to worry about gasoline or routine maintenance.)  I stared at it for a little while in hopes that it might fix itself, so I called Black & Decker to see what they had to say.  I thought they might have some helpful suggestions that might fix it.  Instead, since it's still under warranty, they told me they'd send a prepaid label so I could send it to the nearest authorized service center, which happens to be in Knoxville.

  So I have to mail my lawnmower to Knoxville.

  All this led to me borrowing my neighbor's lawnmower to finish mowing my half-mowed lawn.  It was really nice to not have to haul a cord around or worry about running over it.  The nicest thing, though, is that it was self-propelled.  All I had to do was pull a little lever and the mower would then haul itself up the hill rather than depending on my strength to push it up the hill.

  But I was so accustomed to not having such a feature that I kept forgetting to pull the handle, so I was manhandling this thing up a hill that it would have climbed on its own.  Not very bright, am I?

  How much time do we spend in our walk with Christ refusing to pull that lever, refusing to accept Christ's grace because we're determined to do it on our own or because we forget that it's there?  We live in a country that loves a 'can-do' attitude, that elevates the self-made man into a hero, and so we try and achieve the same thing in our faith--we believe that if we are good enough, if we pray hard enough, if we go to church enough, then we'll really be living the life that God has called us to live.

  But we're getting it backwards.  Christ's grace comes first--and we need to accept it.  We cannot achieve justification before God on our own efforts.  It is impossible.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  But we need not despair--through Christ we have access to grace undeserved, to love unbounded.  Through Christ we are justified, deemed worthy.

  Or we can stubbornly push forward with our own efforts.  At some point we will realize they are futile, that we'll never make it on our own strength, that accepting Christ's grace is the only way to be justified before God.  I suspect I'm not the only one that struggles with that.  It is my prayer that the American church, that each and every one of us, lets go of our efforts to earn God's love and instead lets the love of God wash over us, and that such a decision transforms each life into a model of Christ's selfless love.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sermon for July 29

John 6:22-40

The Bread from Heaven

 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the lake saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’

Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’

If you were watching the Olympics yesterday, you saw over 100 men ride 155 miles on their bicycles. The women get their chance today. The man who won did this is just under six hours. The math works out to around twenty five miles an hour. If, by some strange chance, I ever lost a bet and had to ride 155 miles, I certainly wouldn't be moving at close to 30 miles per hour by the end of the race—I'd be moving so slowly that you'd be able to walk alongside me. That, or I'd be dead.
But I couldn't help but think about how that cycling race relates directly to the topic at hand today—Jesus as the bread of life. The reason for this is that I was wondering what these guys all ate for breakfast. If I was going to go ride my bicycle for almost six hours at 25 mph, I'd want to eat a hearty breakfast. I wouldn't spend a lot of time eating Frosted Flakes. I'd want the proper nutrition to ensure that I was prepared for the race.
Moving away from the Olympics back into our own lives, what we eat matters. Eating healthy food makes us feel better and gives us energy for the day. Eating unhealthy food has a negative effect on our bodies and on how we feel. Sometimes we'll eat a big meal of unhealthy food and know we'll feel bad later—and when we do, we wonder why we ever chose to do that, as good as it may have tasted at the time. What we eat has a direct result on our lives—if we fuel ourselves well, we'll be better off. If we choose the wrong things, we will pay the consequences for that.
As we turn now to this week's Scripture, let's keep this simple relationship in mind—good food makes us healthy, bad food makes us ill.

Just before our Scripture from today, Jesus has fed 5,000 people. They're amazed at his ability to do this, and they also really like the idea of free food because, well, people love free stuff. Have you ever noticed how much better food tastes when it's free?
So in the beginning of our Scripture, Jesus has disappeared from where the crowds thought he would be. They went in search of him and when they find him, they ask him how he got there. Rather than tell them that he walked across the lake, he delves into a much deeper conversation about bread. In summary, Jesus tells them that they came looking for him because he fed them with a bunch of free food, but then he goes on to tell them that they need to come to him for more than that. He moves from a conversation about physical bread into one about spiritual bread.

To have an honest conversation about what it means for Jesus to be the bread of life, we have to define both of these terms, bread and life. They're both pretty basic until Jesus gets hold of them—then they take on a whole new meaning, and Jesus challenges us to live into these meanings, rather than just the basic meanings. Jesus wants to address a deeper hunger in people that goes beyond a simple physical hunger and a physical life. He wants to talk about our spiritual lives.

So when we talk about life, what is life? Culture would define life as growing wealthy, as being popular and well-known, as being surrounded by people who adore you, as gaining power. Culture defines life as going to the grave with the most toys.

That's not what we were created for, though—we were created for an abundant life, for an eternal life, for a life lived in the fullness and richness of communion with God. We were created to live free from fear, free from anxiety, and in the wealth of God's love. We're supposed to be rich in good works, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love and serve God in everything we do. It doesn't mean everything will always come up roses, but it means that we can tackle whatever is before us because God is with us, and that we won't fear death because we'll trust that it has been defeated. This is the life that we were created to live, and this is the life that Christ is trying to get us to turn back toward. So when Christ says he's the bread of life, that's what he means by life.

What does he mean by bread?
Well, just like we talked about how important it is to eat good food if we want to be physically healthy. It's important to eat the right spiritual food if we're to be spiritually healthy. How can we expect our spiritual lives to develop as they're intended to if we don't feed them with the right food? It would be like expecting to be healthy even though we never take a bite of healthy food in our lives. It just doesn't make sense.

So Jesus is the bread of life—he is the nutrition we need in order to live the life that God has created us to live.

How do we do it?

Lucky for us, the crowd asked Jesus the same thing, and there was someone around to write down the answer!

They ask him exactly this—“what must we do to perform the works of God?”

Jesus' reply? That you believe in him who he has sent.

The crowd goes on to ask for assurance so that they'll know Jesus is truly the Son of God, and Jesus replies that he is the one who gives life to the world. In his death and resurrection, we see the ultimate sign of his identity.

So our task is to believe. Most of us want to complicate this, to figure out a way to try and earn it, to work so hard that we are given the bread of life as compensation for our labors. But Christ tells us here that our task is to believe.

Believe. Believe that the food Christ gives us is ample enough to provide for us. We don't need a plan B—we don't need to purchase some external security that will be there in case Christ falls through. Christ spends the remainder of this passage assuring us that he will never let us down, he will never disappoint, he will never lose or forsake us. If we believe in him, that is enough—we won't find ourselves out in the cold—but will have eternal life, just as he promises. Everything else in life may abandon or disappoint us, but Christ assures us that whatever storms in life we may face, we will endure, because he will not leave us.

Our work is to believe—Christ's work is to secure a place for us, to provide life to us, to lead us beside still waters and nourish our souls. The more time and energy we invest in drawing ourselves closer to Christ, the more we tap into this abundant life. The more of our life we spend focusing on him, the richer our lives will be. The more we trust in him and the less we trust in the world, the stronger our communion with God will be.

Christ has done the work for us. Think about the food you eat for breakfast—do you spend your time worried and anxious about whether or not it will do its job? Do you try and break it down in your stomach, or do you simply trust that the food will digest and provide you energy?

In the same way, trust Christ to hold up his end of the bargain. Our work is to believe, to trust in the God who has come to bring us to life, and to abundant life. Trust in him, and the food of life will feed us from now until eternity.
Let us pray 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sermon on Work

I don't know what your image of heaven is, but I believe that it's all about God. I can't even begin to describe what it might be like, but I think that it is centered on Almighty God, all-powerful and magnificent, and we spend eternity worshiping him. That's enough for me—I want to end up there. I'm not in a big hurry to get there, but I do believe that's the goal of humanity—complete union with God, existing within a loving relationship with no sin or brokenness present.
Now, the original disciples wanted to be in heaven, too. They were looking forward to Jesus establishing the Kingdom here on earth. We can debate until we're blue in the face exactly what they meant when they talked about the Kingdom, but we can all agree that whatever the Kingdom of God looks like, it's better than what we get when humans are in charge.

Now, Jesus told the disciples that it wasn't for them to know when the Kingdom would come in its fullness, and then he ascended into heaven. The disciples remained where they were, staring up into heaven in awe and wonder at Jesus Christ.

This is a good image for what heaven will be like—staring in awe and wonder at Jesus Christ.

But we're not there yet, and there is a world around us that needs to hear the Good News, and so we are sent to proclaim this Good News to the world, to live like we're in heaven here on earth, to let God do a work in and through us. In the case of Acts, the angels serve as the reminders to the disciples to stop staring into heaven and get to work.

The world around us seems filled with reminders that we aren't called to just stare into heaven. We need to take time to worship, but we need to take plenty of time to do more than worship in our sanctuaries. We are called to be lights in a dark world. Someone has described the church as a colony of heaven in a country of death. Well, this particular country of death has plenty of it. I can't help but mourn at the thought of what has taken place in Colorado, in Tuscaloosa, this past week. It's senseless. It's death and destruction, the taking of life, and it's human brokenness on full display. It's tragic. It is a too present reminder of the reality that we are not secure in this life, that danger and chaos lurk in every time and place, and that God alone can deliver us from the hand of evil. May we hold the country in prayer in these turbulent and chaotic times, and may we work for peace as much as we pray for it.

The world around us is filled with brokenness, filled with sin. Our work, too, is a reminder to us of the fall of humanity. When Adam and Eve were in the garden, they weren't busy working—they were communing with God, enjoying God's good creation. It was only after the fall that they were commanded to work, to toil, while they were alive. It would no longer be easy, God said, and work was one of the consequences of their sinful choice. And so we work.

I want to talk about work today—and why it's important.

Our work is important for a number of reasons. First of all, work is good stewardship. God has given us each gifts to use, and often we find uses of these in our work. Romans 12 talks about the different gifts God has given each and every one of us—and called us to use these gifts so that the body of Christ is filled with a diverse witness. Some are called to be teachers, while others ministers, while others artists, and so on and so forth. There is practically no end to the list of vocations to which we are called—the trick is to figure out what our gifts are and then discover a way to use them. One person described our vocation as the place where our greatest passion meets the world's greatest need. I like that definition—because the world needs each and every one of our witnesses. The church needs them, too.

So it is good stewardship to work. It is also a faithful example to work hard. 1 Thessalonians 2:8-10 describes how Paul endeavored to work hard to support himself when he visited the community in Thessalonica. They didn't want to be a burden to the community there. It's not a sin to rely on the community—Jesus himself relied on the economic support of individuals who worked hard. But if you have the gifts to support yourself and choose not to use them, Paul describes this as a sin in 1 Timothy 5. Your hard work is a witness to those around you of your integrity, of your trustworthiness. Our hard work can earn money that supports our family, that supports missionaries, that supports the church and helps to meet urgent needs around the world. Our hard work is important.

But the point I want to leave you with today is that our work is a chance to glorify God. We are called to do everything for the glory of God, and our work is included in that. It isn't just something we do to earn a paycheck—it is an opportunity to glorify the living God. Indeed, we believe that God is at work in the world today, bringing all of creation toward himself, and so when we work it's a chance to join in with the work God is doing. Whether you are sweeping a floor or giving a speech to an executive or tutoring a child, this is an opportunity to glorify God. Brother Laurence talked about how he could peel a potato to the glory of God. Imagine having such a mindset—so that each task was an opportunity to glorify God. This is what we should aspire to in our work—to see to glorify God in all things.

I'm going to close with a quote from Martin Luther. You may have heard of him—he is given credit for launching the Protestant Reformation some 500 years ago. He talks about this very idea, glorifying God in all that we do, and indeed, he takes it a step farther in an idea that this new father can certainly appreciate: he talks about how changing a diaper is an opportunity to be reminded of how everything is an opportunity to glorify God.

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, “O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers. or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.”
A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works. . . .
Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.

Friday, July 20, 2012


  Until this morning, I'd never heard of Aurora, Colorado.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who had not.  Now, the city, its residents, the victims and their families are lifted up in prayer by me & many others who lament the terrible and tragic violence that took place in that dark and chaotic movie theater.  In place of what was intended to be a celebration of story-telling and artistic abilities, a slaughter broke out, and violence brought havoc, devastation and destruction to the real world.  (An author at RedLetterChristians reflects on the violence in the theater and on the screen)

  I was listening to the radio this morning and they were reporting on how a certain bloc of voters was going to vote a certain way because the politician was believed to be able to 'protect' their interests.  There is a whole world of lobbyists who look out for certain groups--they try to protect their interests, their gains.  It's not just political--we all seek protection from the chaos of the world, from the violence that runs rampant to the uncertainty that seems to loom within every day, embedded in what it means to be human.  We want protection and we want security, and we're thankful to those in the world who offer it to us.

  I can't help but hear the words of Jesus from Luke 12--this very night, your life may be demanded of you.

  There is no protection in this world big enough to stave off death.  We can delay it, hide it, pretend it does not loom at the door... but it's always near, and it will ultimately claim us all, no matter how much protection and security we believe we have obtained.  Our life is like a mist.  Only by the power of Christ do we find a security that is greater than death's power--this is the reason that Paul is able to taunt death, O death, where is thy sting?

  And so what does real protection, real security look like?  How do we live rooted in Jesus Christ, trusting him alone, while at the same time living in this world, a chaotic world filled with violent people and too many guns?  What does it look like to have our security in God, while confronting the violence that roams the streets, claiming too many lives?

  How does the church stand up and say enough is enough?  The church has been described as a colony of heaven in a country of death.  How do we display our true values, our true residency, and offer another narrative, one of peace and hope, rooted in the grace and love of God?

  I can't say exactly why that shooting happened last night.  I know that sin is at the root of it, the brokenness that is a part of all of us, individually and collectively.  It is a brokenness that can only be healed by a Savior stronger than death, by love greater than the powers of sin.  We wait for the day when all will be made whole by him, and until then, we lift up in prayers those whose lives are shattered by the powers of sin and darkness, and we search for the presence of the light, hoping that our own lives reflect that light of love into the world, that hope may still reign in these dark and broken times.


  So I don't have all the answers. I think I've mentioned that a time or two. But lately, I've been asking a lot of questions. Big questions. But they're not original--most of them originate in the prophets of the Old Testament, prophets who looked at the world around them and declared that something was not right in the lives of the people of Israel. They began to take the covenant God gave them for granted, living however they wanted, ignorant of justice, trusting that the temple rituals would assure God's grace.

  I can't help but look around this country and wonder if we, too, are making a colossal mistake in the way we live, in the choices we make.  Do we take seriously the words of the prophets, who I believe would have harsh words for us today?  Do we take seriously the Biblical mandate to care for the poor and the oppressed?  Do we take seriously God's heart for the least of these?  What would happen if we started to do so?  What changes would you need to make?  What changes would I need to make.  What would life look like in this country, in Chattanooga, if the Christian community allowed ourselves to step back and examine everything we do, every choice we make, in light of Christ's call to total discipleship?  What would happen if we stopped pursuing more 'stuff' and started using the money we spend on disposables and extras and put that money to work for God's Kingdom, rather than empty entertainment or mindless consumption?

  I think God is doing some pretty amazing things in the world today.  I think God longs for each and every one of us to abandon the desire for worldly security and to seek it in him alone, to let him transform us and let ourselves be led out into the world, to be agents of transformation, to let Christ's light and love shine through us.  The video below is an amazing example of one person who let Christ do some pretty radical things.  Her choices aren't necessarily the choices we all need to make.  But I know that God is calling each of us to things that aren't always easy, that aren't always clear and safe.  How do we hear that call?  How do we silence so many other voices and let God speak to and through us?  How do we let go of decades of conditioning to aspire for worldly success and honor and allow the love of Christ to reign in every part of our lives?

  Like I said, I don't have a lot of answers.  But I think the questions are a good place to start.

   Here's a link to Sara's story.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

7/19 E-News


VBS—It's almost that time! VBS begins Monday morning. If you can't volunteer, will you commit to praying for the teachers and the kids next week? We hope & pray that this week is a blessing for them.

School SuppliesIf you want to bring some school supplies Sunday, Mary McMillan or Marilyn Suber can take them Monday down to Room in the Inn, a shelter for women and children.
Family CampRegistrations are due by August 1. We need to know if you plan to come to stay, or even if you're only going to come for the day!

New Hope News

Sermon SeriesWe're at the last sermon in the series What the New Testament says about... This week we're focusing on work.

Sunday School—We'll explore Proverbs this Sunday @ 9:45.

Sunday Evening Prayer Service—We're back this week! 6:00

Have you signed up for Cursillo yet? Oct. 10-14 is the next date. Sign-up info can be found here.

Pray for:

Joseph Townley

David Smith


Book Recommendation

Ever wondered why they called it the land of milk and honey? Or what it means for Jesus to be a shepherd? Or the vine? Margerat Feinberg has a wonderful book called Scouting the Divine that explores these metaphors and offers some deep insights into the heart of God through these images that are so foreign to our modern ears.

Random Thoughts

Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him, and he will act. (Ps. 37:5) I've been living with this verse a lot lately. I can't help but wonder how much I really trust in the Lord—I say that I do, but when I step back and examine my life it looks a lot like someone who may trust in God but sure has a lot of backup plans in place! My lips confess my trust in God, but my choices reflect a fear that God may not always come through.

Of course, anyone who's looked back over human history would say that putting my trust in God is a lot wiser than placing trust in myself. I'm a fallen, sinful, imperfect human. I have my bright, shining moments, but there are also plenty of moments where I have fallen short, where I have displayed my humanity. God, on the other hand, has never broken a promise and is always faithful. He won't answer every prayer the way I may think I want it answered, but he has promised that nothing shall separate me from him, and also that love will defeat evil in the end. He hasn't eliminated evil yet, but his light continues to shine, even in the darkest chapters of human history. God has earned our trust.

So there is a choice to make. Will I trust myself, building up defenses against life's impredictabilities? Or will I trust God, who will be faithful to the end, and right through it, who is stronger than death and the only one to whom nothing is a surprise?

And once I have made that choice, will I continue to choose to trust God, each and every day, so that my baptismal promises will be fresh on my mind each day, so that my faith may be renewed and my spirit strengthened by the one who has come to save?

Text for Sunday, July 22

1 Thess 2:8-10

So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

 You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Meditation for a Prayer Lunch

My son Caleb is now almost ten months old, and it's been an interesting few months. We have discovered that he is allergic to sweet potatoes—not by him developing a rash or some other fairly easy method, but rather through the process of him throwing them up every time he eats them. We decided that after the third time, we wouldn't try it again! We're slow learners at our house.
Now, if you know anything about baby food, you know that sweet potatoes are generally regarded as the safe food, as the first food to try and the one that almost all babies can eat. We never considered the idea that Caleb wouldn't be able to eat sweet potatoes, and we still find it incredibly curious that he can't eat sweet potatoes. But we're not going to keep force feeding the kid sweet potatoes. I don't exactly enjoy cleaning up vomit.
When I think about the Christian life in today's world, this brings an important point to mind. See, we all want to have great spiritual lives. We want to feel like we're alive and dynamic, on fire for Christ. We see the spiritual fire that is lit in another person, and we believe that they have exactly what we need. We want their life, their spirituality, and we think that's the best thing for us.
But it's not. There may be spiritual practices or habits that work for 90% of the world's Christians, but that doesn't mean they have to work for you. Each and every one of us is different, unique, made in the image of God for a relationship with God. God loves each one of us and has given us different gifts. You shouldn't feel pressured to try and copy someone else's spiritual life—what works for them might not work for you. There may be parts and habits and practices that you can copy, but the exact thing can't just be photocopied into your life. Maybe the person I want to be like can sit in silent prayer for an hour every morning. Me? I can't sit still for more than about five minutes before every part of me starts twitching. Silent meditation isn't my thing. But that isn't an excuse not to pray—it simply means that I need to find another way to pray. It means I have to examine how God has blessed me and use that method to let myself be drawn into a relationship with God. It's easy to use our differences as excuses—it can be hard work to find what works. But I promise that the work is rewarding.
My son can't eat sweet potatoes. I'm not going to spend my time and energy cramming sweet potatoes down his throat just because sweet potatoes work for some other kid. In the same way, don't pick up some spiritual practice that you hate just because somebody else says it works for them. Let God help you see what works for you, what types of practices and habits will draw you closer to God. If you notice the way that Jesus approaches people in the New Testament, it's rarely the same from person to person. He honors the differences in us—and knows that we are unique. He is, after all, the one who designed us. Since Jesus can approach us as unique, perhaps we would be wise to let each and every one of us take the time and the energy to develop our own spiritual lives, drawing on Scripture to lead us into a faithful path of discipleship to Jesus Christ our Lord and our God.

Romans 12:4-8

 4-6In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't.

 6-8If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

July 15 Sermon

Romans 15:22-32

Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome

 This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things.So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf,that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.


Alright—we’re going to start out with a little physics quiz today—how many of you know how many laws of physics Newton came up with?
Ok—we’ll skip straight to the third one—for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Let’s do a quick quiz on this—what happens when you hear someone sneeze?
What do you do when you are driving and see a green traffic light turn yellow?
Ok—what happens when you walk through a spider web?
For each and every action, there is a reaction.  For everything that happens in our lives, there is a reply, a response, some change that occurs.  When the sun comes out, we put on sunglasses, and when the rain comes out we reach for our jackets.  When the world changes, we change right along with it, willingly or not.
This isn’t just a rule of physical actions.  It’s true of emotions as well.  When someone smiles at you, it changes the way you feel, doesn’t it?  When someone gives you a compliment, do you feel better about the world, about yourself?  If someone ignores you, how does that make you feel?  Our emotions are captive to this rule as well.
What I want to spend some time talking about today is how this rule should govern our spiritual lives as well. 
We’re going to begin with our example from Romans of the Greek community.  Paul lifts them up here in Romans 15 as an example of generosity—they’ve taken up a collection from their resources to share with the Jews in Jerusalem who are in need.  Paul says that they were pleased to do it, and then goes on to say that they did owe it to the Jews anyway, because it was the Jews who shared their own spiritual blessings first with the Gentiles in Greece.  See, when we look back on it, the whole movement of the Christian church originates in Jerusalem with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  From there, the movement spreads, but it all originated in Jerusalem.  They sent out missionaries to the rest of the known world to tell the Good News of the Gospel, and the Greeks have reason to thank them, because they now know the story of Jesus Christ.  They are so grateful for this spiritual gift that has transformed their lives that they are willing to give back.  The generosity of the first disciples, who shared freely the message of Christ at the risk of their own lives, cultivates a generous spirit in the Greeks, who suddenly see an opportunity to give back.  The action of the Jews prompted a reaction in the Greeks.  See, Newton knew what he was talking about.
So we begin with Newton’s laws of motion, discussing how actions breed reactions.  Then we move beyond motion and talk about how the generous action of the Jews caused a reaction in the Greeks.  Now we’re going to move onto an even bigger scale.
I want you to think back to what we talked about last week.  We discussed salvation.  Anybody remember what the point I stressed, over and over again, was?  If you don’t remember, the main thing we need to remember when we think about salvation is that it is a gift.  A free and generous gift.  You cannot earn it, you do not deserve it, you are not entitled to it—it is a gift, given by our loving, generous and merciful God out of his abundant grace.  You can only accept it. 
So salvation is a gift that is given to us by God.  This is the action.
What’s the reaction?
This is where we get into service.  The point I want to make is that salvation is a gift given to us by God.  God is the one who performs the initiating action—our lives are then intended to be the reaction.  We respond to God.  Now, there are ways that we can respond directly to God—we do this in our prayers and our worship.  There are also ways for us to respond in which we serve God by serving others.  This is what a life of service is intended to be—it is our response to God.  The generosity of God, sharing spiritual blessings, should cultivate within us a heart of generosity in which we look to share our blessings with others.  This may mean that we share our material blessings with others in the world, in our community.  It could mean that we share our time or our gifts to serve others.  It doesn’t necessarily matter how we serve—what matters is that we do it and why we do it. 
Why do we do it?  Again, it’s because we are so grateful to God because he has given us a free gift of salvation that we then want to give back.  We want to be a part of what God is doing, so we look for opportunities to join in with God’s mission.  Serving others should become our way of life, the way that our hearts beat.  The Greeks clearly picked up on this—though they received spiritual blessings, they gave back material blessings.  They weren’t necessarily able to match the kind of blessing they received, but they didn’t need to—those in Jerusalem had spiritual blessings.  They needed material blessings.  In the same way, we need to look for the needs in the world, in the community, and share our blessings.  Maybe we can share spiritual blessings, but let’s be sure we share our material ones as well. 
What does a life of service look like?  How could I describe a heart of service?  I don’t have time to answer those questions.  But let me say this—there are abundant opportunities for you to get involved.  What’s most important is that your service is rooted in your gratitude to Christ—that you let the Holy Spirit transform you, and you go forth in a spirit of gratitude to serve others.
Maybe you’re looking for ways to give your time?  There are ample places and ways to do that.  Maybe you have gifts that a nonprofit or other charity could use.  Perhaps they don’t need your money, or maybe you don’t have extra money to give, but I bet they could use your passion or your energy.  Some of you may feel limited in that you don’t have any extra time, or perhaps you don’t have the mobility you once did.  I believe prayer is a form of service—and every charity in this town could use some more prayer.  For those of you without time, maybe you could cut back on another activity and make some time to serve others, to show your gratitude to Christ by serving others the way he selflessly did.
I can’t answer every question you have today about a life of service.  But I want you to hear this—it’s so important that we, the church, let the Holy Spirit cultivate a heart of service within us.  We need to be looking for opportunities to bless the world.  We have had a free gift of salvation given to us—how are we going to respond?  What will be our response to this incredible action that God has taken?  Will we focus on us?  How will we let God turn our vision outward to the world, so that our blessings might be shared with others?  Will our lives tell the story of grace?  Or focus on ourselves?
Friends, our service does not and cannot earn our salvation.  That is a gift—but it invokes a response, and I pray that we may respond with passion and energy to show the world our gratitude through our works of love.
Let us pray 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

7/12 E-News


VBS—It's almost that time! VBS is just around the corner, starting in 11 days!

Family CampI know that Labor Day seems like a long way away, but we're already making plans for Family Camp at John Knox Center. We've got some exciting things planned for the year, so be sure to sign up early! Registration forms are in the Narthex.

New Hope News

Sermon SeriesWe've got two sermons left in the series What the New Testament says about... This week we're focusing on service.

Sunday School—We'll explore Psalms this Sunday @ 9:45.

Sunday Evening Prayer Service—We're back this week! 6:00

Pray for:

Joseph Townley

Judy Smith, as she recovers from her procedure

David Smith


Book Recommendation

Want to learn more about God? A.W. Tozer's classic The Knowledge of the Holy is a detailed exploration of different attributes of God. Tozer explores God's love, wisdom, faithfulness, goodness, etc. Each chapter is about 3-5 pages, so this makes for great reading right before bed.

Random Thoughts

The other night, I was lying in bed, feeling miserable. My stomach was acting up, and I didn't sleep very much. I had some medicine in the bathroom, but it seemed like too much trouble to drag my body out of bed to get it. So I laid there for another few hours before I finally broke down and got the medicine, and wouldn't you know it, I slept much better after that! The next morning, I couldn't help but wonder how much better the night would have gone if I had simply got out of bed earlier.

We do the same thing in our own lives all the time. We often know what we need to solve a certain problem in our life, but in order to get to the solution it requires something that will be painful or difficult, so we avoid it. The temporary pain is viewed as outweighing the long term benefits.

When we think about our spiritual lives, it's important to consider whether or not we're giving up long-term gains for short-term benefits. When we think about spending time in prayer, silence or study, it's always tempting to use that time for something else. Short-term, this may be rewarding, but in the long-term we're giving up the spiritual growth we all desire. Maybe it means you have to miss that television show or not read that article, but the gains we make over the course of our lives make up for it. Christ points us to the abundant life, but it will take some sacrifices on our part for us to walk the road of discipleship.

Text for Sunday, July 15

Romans 15:22-32

Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome

 This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. 

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things.

So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf,that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

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Friday, July 6, 2012


  An exchange that took place in our house last night around midnight: 
Rachel: What was wrong with him? 
Me: He was awake.

  Lately, Rachel and I have been talking about how much Caleb loves me.  It's amazing--every time I walk into a room, he smiles from ear to ear and begins thrashing back and forth, kicking his legs wildly.  (We interpret that as happiness.  It may well be the exact same thing an antelope does every time it sees a lion and begins to run for its life, only less graceful.  I don't know.  Don't ruin this for me.)  It's hard to be upset when you see such a sight.  Caleb's a cute baby anyway, but when he's smiling like that, every problem in the world seems to fade away.  I truly believe that his mission on this earth is to bring joy to others.  Well, that and to power the world through leg energy.  If only we could figure out how to harness that, we could disconnect our house from the grid.  Even when he sleeps, those legs are still going.  But I digress...

  Since Rachel grew up without any brothers, I was explaining to her how boys think their dad is the coolest person ever for the first ten years of their lives.  I have every intention of living this up--it's so much fun to be a source of joy for Caleb.  I want to be there for all the big events of his life, so that he knows that I support him and to give him a positive role model.  Later on, when he hits his early teenage years, he'll discover that I don't know anything, and he'll probably remind me of this quite often.  I'm not looking forward to that as much--so I just want to enjoy this time of his youth, when merely walking into a room can fill his soul with such joy that it overflows.

  Dads have an amazing responsibility to their kids, to support and love them as well as model what faithful living looks like.  I'm sure I'll fail at many points along the way--but I hope to succeed enough to exceed his expectations of what a dad should be, and in all these things point to the love of God, his Father in heaven.  It's a humbling, daunting task, but I'm excited about the opportunity to fill this role.  Each smile serves as encouragement for me to continue to show my love to him, that he may grow up and think the world is a good place, filled with people who need to be shown love, that his voice may add to the heavenly chorus the church sings when we serve and love one another.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

7/5 E-News


It's Hot—You may have noticed that it's a bit warm outside. Unfortunately, the church's A/C has decided that now is an ideal time to take a summer sojourn. To offset the heat (and whatever hot air may emanate from Keith), if you could bring a fan it would be appreciated. (Financial incentives to shorten the sermon will be considered)

Babies!Luke Gerrond Woods was born on the 4th of July to Rachel & Lance Woods! We thank God for a healthy child and ask for continued prayers for the family!

Family CampI know that Labor Day seems like a long way away, but we're already making plans for Family Camp at John Knox Center. We've got some exciting things planned for the year, so be sure to sign up early! Registration forms are in the Narthex.

VBS—It's almost that time! VBS will be from July 23-26.

New Hope News

Sermon SeriesWe've got four sermons left in the series What the New Testament says about... This week we're focusing on salvation.

Sunday School—We'll explore Job this Sunday @ 9:45.

Sunday Evening Prayer Service—We're back this week! 6:00

Pray for:

Joseph Townley (& family)--Joseph's appendix ruptured on Monday and he has spent the week in Children's hospital. It looks like he'll go home today (he's doing much better) and be on oral antibiotics for several weeks (the surgery to remove the appendix will not take place for another 8 weeks or so). Please keep the family in your prayers.

David Smith


Book Recommendation

  I've been reading a lot about the spiritual life lately, about the disciples and the overall steps we need to take to deepen our walk with Christ. Henri Nouwen has written a neat little book called Making All Things New that invites the reader into the first steps of the journy. It's a short book and worth the read if you're wondering where to start. Used copies start at $0.01!

Random Thoughts

  Caleb tried sweet potatoes for the third time this past Sunday. Unfortunately, it went a lot like the last time he tried them—let's just say we won't be trying them again anytime soon. It wasn't pretty. Rachel and I are now a bit gun-shy about giving him any new foods. We gave him bananas yesterday, and I don't remember a more nervous four hours than yesterday afternoon. Thankfully, he kept them down.

  We do this in our spiritual lives, too. We try to meditate, or we spend some time in prayer, and while it usually doesn't end with a puking infant, often it doesn't live up to our expectations. Sometimes we just get too distracted, and other times we wonder what we just did with that time. We wonder what we'll get out of it, and why we invest all this time when nothing tangible changes. Then, we drop the habit for a while because it didn't live up to expectations.

  But just like we can't stop feeding Caleb new foods (I think that his nutritional needs might be more than green beans and apples can meet), we can't stop working on our spiritual lives just because of one or two bad experiences. Our life of faith is always an unfinished painting this side of heaven—and we have to realize that it's God who holds the brush. He is doing a work in us—our job is to slow down enough to let the Holy Spirit work within us. 

  Often, we want to be in control, and we want immediate results. God usually doesn't work like that—he does a slow work in us, one that can take years and decades to see results, but we are still called to show up and let God work each and every day. It's not about winning the race in a week—it's about allowing God to fine-tune our hearts so that we are led by the Spirit in all we do. It's easy to give up after one or two disappointing sessions in prayer or study. It's a lot harder to show up every day and set time aside when it might not feel productive. But trust God to do a work in and through you—I promise you that God will not disappoint. He is always faithful and will be by your side every moment of your life.

Text for Sunday, July 8

Romans 3:21-28

The Message
God Has Set Things Right

21-24But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we've compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

25-26God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it's now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.

27-28So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counter-claims? Canceled? Yes, canceled. What we've learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We've finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.

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