Sunday, September 30, 2012

9-30-12 Sermon on Elijah

1 Kings 17:1-7

Elijah Predicts a Drought

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lordthe God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’ The word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go from here and turn eastwards, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’ So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

I love action movies.  I find them entertaining and amusing, and you’re not required to think too much.  A few weeks ago I was home sick, laid up on the couch unable & unwilling to move, so I say around and caught up on movies I’d missed when they first came out.  I watched Captain American and Thor and the third Transformers movie, which seemed an awful lot like the first two Transformers movies.  If you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t rush out and watch it.  To be honest, I wouldn’t even walk out to go watch it.
The thing about an action movie is that you can never judge it by the first five minutes.  The first give minutes are almost always the same—there is some huge fight, a big explosion, some drama, or, if you’re Michael Bay, all three.  The special effects budgets of some of these movies probably exceed $10 million in the first five minutes.  The best way to judge the movie is by what happens next—what happens in the next five minutes, the next half-hour.  That’s where the quality and depth of the movie is determined.  In some movies, excellence is sustained, drama is heightened, suspense raised.  Some movies fall apart completely. 
When we look at the lives of Biblical characters, we also have to look beyond the first five minutes of the story to see what kind of depth there is.  Often, characters make a big splash in the beginning—but the formative work is often yet to be done.  We have David killing Goliath early on, Abraham leaving everything he knows behind, Jesus being pronounced as the Son of God during his baptism, Elijah and his pronouncement of drought for Israel.  These are big splashes, huge ways to make an entrance—but what happens next?
Well, for Elijah, just as there is for Jesus, there is a wilderness time.  Time alone in the wilderness, time alone with God, formative time.  For us, too, there is wilderness time. 
See, we want our call to be all about mountaintop experiences.  We want to leap from one dramatic moment in ministry to the next.  We want the spiritual highs without the spiritual lows—the tangible, palpable presence of God to dwell with us every second of the day. 
Except there’s just one problem—that’s not Biblical.  God promises to be with us, to always abide with us and to not let anything separate us from him—but it doesn’t mean that a life of ministry is always going to be fun and exciting.  It’s going to be tough sledding at times.  That doesn’t mean that God isn’t happy with you or that God doesn’t love you—it just means that God is preparing you for something else.
We can go back to movies for this—movies constantly set us up for what comes next.  There’s a small scene, something that we don’t understand at the time, but later on it becomes apparent how important that scene was.  Something happens in a character’s life, and we don’t recognize how important it is, but later on that takes on monumental significance.  We, the viewer, were being prepared for what would happen later.
God does the same thing to us.  God uses events in our lives to prepare us for what comes next.  Our life in ministry is about a series of events, each one preparing us for the next.  I can stand up here and say that God used some of the deepest troughs of my life, the darkest canyons through which I have wandered, to prepare me for what was to come.  I didn’t see it at the time—I often wondered exactly where God was—but I now know that God was teaching me.
The same can be said for Elijah.  He makes this huge splash, going before King Ahab, a lousy king that is so bad he manages to stand out against a backdrop of pretty bad kinds, and saying it’s not going to rain.  This is significant because Ahab is allowing the worship of Baal, a false God, who is said to control the rain.  God uses Elijah to teach Ahab that Baal isn’t in control of the rain—only God brings the rain.  So there’s going to be a little drought. 
You can imagine that this doesn’t make Ahab very happy.  Kings and other people in power don’t like to be opposed.  So God has Elijah run and hide—in a streambed, out in the middle of nowhere, far from everyone else.  So far from everyone else, in fact, that the only way to get food is to depend on ravens who bring bread and meat, morning and night.  Great delivery service, but this isn’t exactly a glamorous life of a religious leader.  Do you remember that old show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?  They didn’t chronicle Elijah’s life, did they? 
But God was using this time in the wilderness to teach Elijah about depending on God alone for sustenance.  God was using this as a formative time, a time when Elijah could sink deep roots into God’s love and learn about how God sustains us in good and bad times.  God was using this time to form Elijah into the kind of disciple he would need to be in order to make it through the challenges that were ahead of him. 
He did the same for Jesus Christ.  Jesus was baptized and immediately led into the wilderness, where he fasted and prayed for 40 days.  Jesus had challenges ahead of him, and so it was important to be formed as a disciple before he faced them, because if he was weak and not totally dependent on his Father, he would struggle. 
God did the same for the Israelites.  After leading them out of Egypt, it was apparent that there was some spiritual formation that needed to happen.  The people didn’t depend completely on God.  So God led them through the wilderness for 40 years, feeding them with manna every morning, teaching them to depend on God, in the hopes that when they arrived in the Promised Land they wouldn’t immediately forget about God and his sustaining hand.
So God leads Elijah into the wilderness, sustaining him using ravens. 
Want an example of what happens in the wilderness times when you don’t depend on God?  Look at Nebuchadnezzar.  He went into the wilderness without a deep relationship with God, and he went crazy, until he finally came to terms with God’s Lordship and came back into his right mind.  The wilderness can drive you crazy if you’re not dependent on God.
So God leads us into the wilderness, too.  We may not like it, but God wants to teach us to depend on him, and on him alone.  If our faith is formed there, out in the wilderness, we’ll be ready to remain faithful in the face of the challenges that await us.  Otherwise, we’ll fade under the heat of the noonday sun, reaching out to anything that promises relief.
Want an illustration of this?  In Ghana, they have water problems.  There aren’t a lot of rivers there.  As a result, farming during the dry season is nearly impossible.  I had lunch on Wednesday with two pastors from Ghana, and they said a well drilled during the rainy season goes down about thirty feet and then stops because they hit water.  Water gushes everywhere, and everyone rejoices. 
But in the dry season, the water table drops, and suddenly that well isn’t deep enough.
World Vision only drills wells during the dry season.  They drill down up to 200 feet until they hit water, and they know that if they drill it during the dry season, there will always be water, as opposed to the momentary joy of a wet-season well that will not last into the tough times.  A deeply-drilled well, drilled when the water table is lowest, will always provide water, while a shallow well will not.
So which type of faith do you want?  One that fails when you need it most, or one that sustains you through each and every season, each and every trial of life? 
If you want the latter, you need to spend some time in the wilderness, letting God feed you, shape you, form you, into the type of disciple that can face any challenge and keep a strong faith in God.
Let us pray

Thursday, September 27, 2012

9/27 E-News


Wednesday Night SuppersWe had a great start last night! Plan to join us each week for supper & study!

East Brainerd ElementaryOver the last two weeks, your donations have provided food for 50 kids over the weekend!! Thank you!

Pizza & Ping-PongThe youth & their friends are invited to the Geerlings' house on Oct. 6 for an evening of pizza & ping-pong. Please RSVP to Janet.

PotluckThe first fall potluck will be on October 7th. We'll have another on the 21st!

New Hope News

Sermon Series—We begin a new one, entitled Biblical Lives. We'll follow the life of Elijah over the next few months.

Sunday School—We'll explore Amos this Sunday @ 10.

Sunday Evening Prayer ServiceJoin us Sunday @ 6

Pray for:

The church, that we might be faithful to God's will

Joseph Townley, who underwent surgery this morning to remove that pesky appendix

Jo Darby, who mourns the loss of two sons

Pray for those who do not see the hand of God at work in their lives


Book Recommendation

If you've not read Bruce Feiler's Walking the Bible, I cannot recommend it highly enough. (Used copies are plentiful and start at $0.01, plus shipping) He follows the path of the Israelites through the wilderness, visiting the sites mentioned in the Bible and discussing what archeology has found. My mother gave it to me for my 21st birthday, and I can say without hesitation that it changed my life. It gave me a hunger for the Biblical text—it brought the stories to life and helped fuel my own search for what God was doing in my life.

Random Thoughts

I drink a lot of tea. If I'm in the grocery store and it's on sale, I'll buy 4 or 5 boxes without thinking twice. I like to buy the teas that sound exotic (it gives me much needed excitement in my life.) This morning I had green tea with superfruit in it—I don't know which fruits in it were so super, but they had fancy names that were hard to pronounce, so I'm sure they're very super.

The amazing thing? I couldn't tell you what that cup of tea tasted like. I have no idea. I absent-mindedly drank it while I did ten other things, and next thing I know I was tipping the cup up, having just finished it, with no idea what flavors it contained.

Now, this isn't particularly sad—the fact that I drank a cup of tea without paying attention to it is a minor detail in the face of life. It doesn't matter much at all.

But how many things in life because we're too caught up in the other ten things we're doing?
How many big things, important things, do we miss because we're distracted? Is Caleb going to grow up before my eyes, yet I'll miss it because I'm distracted by so many things? Is life going to slip away, day by precious day, for some of us who are too busy to notice?

God is at work in the world. God is at work in your life. But if we don't slow down enough and focus on trying to discern where and how he is working, we won't notice it. We'll miss the grace and love and peace of God that surrounds us. We'll miss windows of opportunity and mission because we're distracted.

Pay attention. God is on the move. You don't want to miss this.

Text for Sunday, September 30

1 Kings 15:1-7

Elijah Predicts a Drought

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’ The word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go from here and turn eastwards, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’ So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vision for 2013, part I

  In the 4.5 years I've been at New Hope, I have failed to cast a vision of what it means for us to be faithful disciples.  I will own that shortcoming (and many more, but I'm trying to keep this post focused), but I am working to cast a vision that will guide the church in the coming year.  Below is an early draft of what I am hoping will guide us.  It's long, but it is an expanded version of a much shorter, simpler vision:  God's kindness leads us to repentance.  Through repentance, the Holy Spirit transforms us, and this transformation grows disciples who delight to do God's will.

2013 @ New Hope

The phrase 'so that' appears over 1,000 times in the Bible. The phrase serves to demonstrate that a particular action was taken with purpose. God has a singular purpose—to enable all of creation to praise and worship him. God has acted with this purpose throughout history, and I believe he continues to act with this purpose now. The God of Abraham is no different than the God of Peter & Paul—while he uses different means, the purpose is the same.
God's purpose for all of creation has always been the same, and to that end, God showers us with kindness. I don't believe this kindness is meant to be a dead-end, an opportunity to hoard blessings and riches and live comfortably. Rather, as Paul states in Romans 2:4, God's kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. Rather than build up individuals, God is seeking to assemble a congregation that will praise his name in response to the gifts poured out upon them. We also see this in Genesis 12:2, when God reveals to Abraham that God will bless him so that he will be a blessing. In him, God says, all the families of the earth will be blessed.
We have been similarly blessed. Our blessings are different than Abraham's, but they are familiar. We have been blessed with the gift of life, with family and friends to surround us, with money and with freedom, with love and health. All have blessings of different variety and magnitude, but we have all been blessed beyond what we deserve. More important than any other blessing, we have been graciously blessed with the gift of eternal life, of peace with God, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through faith in him, we are restored to a right relationship with God that would otherwise be impossible. Without the blessing of Christ, we would be dead, but instead we can boldly claim life through the free gift of God. This is the pivotal act in human history, the prime example of God's goodness to us. It is undeserved, but we are called to receive it with grateful hearts.

As Paul says, this kindness is not for us to hoard, to store up somewhere safe to serve as a security blanket in times of need. It is not meant to be an insurance policy that is cashed in when we die in the hopes of obtaining our one-way ticket to the pearly gates. It is given with purpose. God's kindness is poured out upon us so that we might repent.

Upon recognizing the kindness of God that surrounds us, each of us should recognize the disparity between how we live and how we are called to live. None of us is perfect, for only Christ achieves that lofty goal—all of us have sinned and fallen short of the life we were called to lead. Some of these sins, such as robbery and corruption and drunkenness and gossip, are public and open to the world's reprimand. Such sins often lead to public repentance as part of a recognition that such patterns of behavior are obviously incongruous with a faithful life. Some of us may have such sins in our own biography, past or present.
Whether or not we are committing such public sins, we all have sin. Christ tells us that hatred is equivalent to murder, that lust stands on equal footing with adultery. He directs us to examine our hearts and find the sins that are there. He calls us to root out such sin tirelessly, efforts that often lead to the sin of pride. None of us escape guilt—even if the public would not gasp at the size of our sins, they are enough to separate us from God, rendering each of us unworthy of standing before God. Our guilt and shame should keep us from lifting our eyes to prayer.

But they do not because of God's kindness. Even when we inhabit the depths of sin, God still loves us. God promises, over and over again, that nothing shall separate us from the endless love of God. To the sinful residents of Israel and Judah, whom the prophets accused of neglecting their worship as well as the least of society, God promised to visit his wrath upon them in one verse and then reminded the people of his undying love in the next. God's love is more than we deserve, and when we recognize this, we are called to repent, to examine our own lives and see how we are falling short of offering our full life, with all of its gifts and blessings, back to God.

When we repent, our lives are laid bare before God. This is difficult for us, but it is an opportunity. We think of Jonah visiting the great city of Nineveh, a city that was destined for destruction without the voice of a prophet to call them to faithful living. They were presented with an opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to transform their lives, and they seized it with more energy than any could have expected. Well, Jonah expected it, and we can find his evident bitterness in Jonah 4, but the point is that Jonah pointed them to their own sins and, upon recognizing that they were living lives that were not being offered back to God, they repented and were transformed. Life in Nineveh was not the same as it was before Jonah's visit.
When we repent, there is an opportunity for transformation. Those habits in our lives, those sins that separate us from God and one another, however big or small, are seen as diversions from the narrow way that leads to abundant life. We can then turn back and find the true path that leads to life, the life that Jesus Christ modeled for us, the life that God longs for us to be on, the life that leads to complete joy and eternal life. In repentance, we are changed. God does a work in us, pointing out the things that need to go, directing us toward healthy spiritual practices. We find God's kindness everywhere we turn, and we pledge to lead a life soaked in the awareness of God's abiding presence. We are transformed by God.

This transformation has a purpose. In our transformation, we then begin to see how God is always reaching out to others. We recognize that Jesus Christ lived a life of selfless actions, seeking out the lost and pouring out God's love upon them. We repent from our selfish habits and actions and seek to live a life that emulates this selflessness. In this, we are transformed into disciples, and faithful living requires us to serve one another. This means that we seek out ways to serve in the places we already are, such as our homes and our neighborhoods, our places of work and play. We live a life that points to Christ and his selflessness. We build relationships that are not solely for our own benefit, but seek to benefit others, individually and communally, so that others may see our works and give glory to God.

In so doing, we show God's kindness to others. As others experience God's kindness, they see the need for repentance. They profess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and they let the Holy Spirit do a work in them, transforming them for the benefit of God's kingdom, radically re-shaping their lives to orient towards selfless love and pouring out God's kindness on others. God uses each of us, pouring his love into and through us for the benefit of the world. As we experience God's kindness and open our eyes to a constant awareness of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, God sets a chain of events in action that will change the world, using ordinary people as extraordinary disciples, tools for the glory of God and the benefit of the Kingdom of God.

May we have the wisdom and humility to look for God's kindness everywhere, allowing this to lead us to repent, so that we may each be transformed and reveal God's kindness to others, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the death, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Monday, September 24, 2012


  I just wrote a letter, sealed it an envelope, addressed it and put a stamp on it, all without a second thought as to whether or not it will reach its intended destination.  I am not filled with anxiety about the journey it will make to a distant city, concerned about whether it will ever reach its recipient, even though it is a request for reimbursement.  If it fails to arrive, it will be a hassle to dig up the old receipts and re-submit the request.  But I'm not concerned.

  Why not?

  Because I have used the Post Office in the past, and they have proved reliable.  Their past reliability leads me to trust them in the present.

  We don't trust institutions and people who fail us time and time again.  Eventually, we learn to stop trusting them.

  When we study the Bible, we learn of God's faithfulness over the years.  We read stories about God's faithfulness, about his reliability, and we learn to rely upon God in the present and the future.  We learn about how God does not fail to keep his promises, and in so doing we know that we can trust God in the present and the future.  If God did not have a track record of faithfulness, perhaps then we could claim suspicion.  However, God always keeps his promises and God never abandons us.  None of this means that we'll fully understand everything that God does, and it doesn't mean that we can never question God--it simply means that somehow, someway, God is always at work, remaining faithful, loving us and abiding with us in the joys and sorrows of life.

  I trust God because he has never abandoned me.  Just as God was faithful to Daniel in the lions' den, to the Israelites in the wilderness, to the first disciples under persecution, God will be faithful to me, to each of us, because he is reliable.

  Thanks be to God.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sept 23, 2012 Sermon

John 15:1-11

Jesus the True Vine

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunesto make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

When we were in Niagara Falls a few weeks back we found this fabulous little restaurant.  It wasn’t on the main drag and required a bit of a drive, but I read all these reviews that said it was the best food in Niagara Falls, so we had to go.  We journeyed over there for our final dinner in Canada and found out it was a 30 minute wait.  Typically, that wouldn’t be too bad, but we now have to decide if Caleb can make it through a 30 minute wait.  We decided to stick it out, believing the food to be worth it, and we were glad we did.  The food was incredible, and the price was amazingly low.  For food that good, I would have expected it to be twice as expensive as it was.  As I finished my last bite of the best strawberry shortcake I have ever had, I thought to myself, this restaurant is almost perfect.  The only thing that would make it better is if it wasn’t 800 miles from home.
We all have experiences like this.  Most of them probably don’t involve strawberry shortcake, but we know what it feels like for something to be almost perfect.  Maybe we have a gathering and we think about how great it was, but it would be a little better if only there was a certain person here.  Maybe we eat a meal and think it was wonderful, but it just needed a little something extra.  Maybe your job would be better if only one responsibility was lifted, or perhaps a day would be great if only you didn’t have allergies. 
We know this feeling—it’s almost perfect, but not quite.
What’s amazing is that God wants us to experience a life that fills in that gap—to have a complete joy.  So many of us go through life thinking of God as some imperial taskmaster, trying to deny us the really fun things in life in favor of tough and boring tasks.  The church probably hasn’t done what it should to lift up the idea that God wants us to celebrate life and enjoy God’s gifts.  Christianity isn’t all about denying ourselves every pleasure—it’s about living each moment in celebration of God’s grace and glory.  There are certainly things we cannot do as Christians, but there are good reasons for all of them—because there’s something better we should be doing.
So Jesus is trying to teach us how to have complete joy in today’s text.  He wants this for us—God wants us to be joyful, to be filled with gratitude and rejoice at the abundance present in life.  This is what God wants for you—and Jesus even tells us how.
There are two main components to this text that I want to address.  When we read this section, these are the two words that jump off the page, and these are the two concepts we need to understand if we’re going to move toward the complete joy that Christ offers us.  The first is abide—we need to know what it means to abide in Christ.  We talk about it a lot, but I’m not sure how much time we spend explaining it.  The second is fruit—what does it mean to bear fruit for God’s kingdom?  We’re going to focus on these two words today, and I’m hopeful that by the end of this sermon we’ll have solved the world’s problems and all go forth in everlasting joy.  Right?

So we’ll begin with a focus on what it means for us to abide in Christ.  The command in this passage is clear—we are to abide in Christ as he abides in us, and we can only bear fruit if we abide in him.  This is important to note the order here—if we rush off into the world, into our ministries, whatever they may be, without first making sure that we are rooted in Christ, we are in error.  Our first priority in life must be to tend our relationship with Christ.  We must focus on this first—it might feel selfish, but in actuality it is the most selfless thing we can do, because once we are rooted in Christ we recognize that we are sent out into the world for the benefit of others.  We begin to see ourselves as gifted for the purpose of blessing others.  Life then becomes outward focused—but only if we first abide in him.
So what does it mean to abide in Christ?
Let’s go back to talking about my dinner in Niagara Falls.  It was a great meal, so I don’t mind discussing it at length.  I started off with minestrone soup, and then moved on to the main course—a hulking steak, combined with some potatoes and vegetables.  After this we wrapped up with dessert.  It was a great variety of food, some of it healthier than others, but we know that the human diet needs a wide variety of foods to be healthy. 
But let’s imagine you could only eat one food—what would it be?  And what, do you imagine, would the repercussions be?  If you eat only one food for you entire life, you will not be healthy.  When I was a kid, my pastor talked about how he and his roommate believed that they could survive on nothing but oranges.  They bought this massive bag of oranges and ate nothing but for quite some time, until some gracious individuals left a hulking basket of diverse foods on their porch one morning.  Had they continued in this way, they would have doubtless run into major medical problems.  We’re not made to run on only one food.  We need variety in our diets to be healthy.
Plants, though, are a little different.  A branch is made to be attached to just one food source—this is the only way it can survive.  We know that grafting is a great way to blend two different plants—but have you ever seen a farmer graft a branch into a different branch each and every day to make sure it has a diverse experience of food sources?  This would be foolish—the branch would become confused from all the cutting and would soon wither and die.  Such a farmer wouldn’t last long.
In the same way, we are designed to be fed from one source—Jesus Christ.  Over and over again, he talks about the abundant life—think of the complete joy he mentions in this passage.  The only way to reach this state is to be focused on him alone, to receive all of our nourishment only from him.  Without proper feeding from the source, our soul withers and we become unhealthy.  It’s so important to be connected to the proper source—the right place from which to be fed.  Today, we often spend most of our time worshipping other gods—we worship money and success and power and entertainment.  It may not seem like worship, but we often exclude God from our thinking and strive for something other than him.  We turn from God and put something else in his place.  When this happens, we’re letting something else feed us, and that’s not healthy for us—w e begin to whither.  We don’t notice it at first, but we suffer because of our choices. 
So Christ is directing us to put God first.  Make sure that we’re receiving our nourishment from God and God alone.  And it has to be daily.  Sunday morning can’t be your only nourishment.  I have some plants in my house that don’t get watered enough, and you can tell.  It’s easy to notice their neglect.  We are the same way if we aren’t letting God nourish us every day.  This is prayer and Bible Study.  This is offering up our work and our play.  It’s watching tv and movies glorify God.  It’s making choices in budgeting that are grounded in faith.  It’s putting God first and seeing everything else through this lens—that’s what it means to abide in Christ. 
So once we’ve centered our lives on Christ, we can then talk about fruit.  And friends, I want to keep this part very simple. 
How many of you have ever seen a fruit-bearing plant in bloom?  Have you seen an apple tree with apples on it, an orange tree filled with oranges, a vine with grapes on it or a tomato plant dotted with ripe fruit? 
Ok—now, how many of you have ever seen this same plant reach over and eat the very fruit it is producing?
No one?
Ok—this is the purpose of our fruit—it is for others.  It is not for ourselves.  We do not produce fruit so that we can consume it.  A plant produces fruit to benefit others—for their enjoyment, for their health, to contribute to their life.  Fruit is good for you—we don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.  We’re supposed to be eating 7-13 servings a day! 
So fruit is produced for others.  In the same way, the fruit Christ is talking about is what we do for other people.  How do we know if we’re producing fruit?  Examine your relationships with other people.  You are called to impact others for good.  We are called to love one another, to serve one another—this is our fruit.  It’s simple—serve others.  I’m not going to dress this up or spend an hour explaining it.  It doesn’t matter how you serve others—just do it.  In your prayers, in your words, in your actions—serve and love others, just as Christ serves and loves you.  Examine your life—and take action.  Bear fruit for the kingdom.  Spend your energy and your money and your time for the benefit of others. 
Let us pray

Thursday, September 20, 2012

9-20-12 E-News


Wednesday Night SuppersHooray!!!!! Next Wednesday, the 26th, we begin again!!!! Dinner at 6—hot dogs fresh from the grill are provided by our grilling experts. Please help out and bring a side item to share. We'll be studying 1 Peter, so feel free to read ahead!

East Brainerd Elementaryare you interested in helping out at East Brainerd? They need someone to volunteer as a kindergarten assistant—doing tasks like cutting things out, laminating, etc.

Pizza & Ping-PongThe youth & their friends are invited to the Geerlings' house on Sept. 22 for an evening of pizza & ping-pong. Please RSVP to Janet.

Dinner for 8There's still room! This small-group discussion will take place this Sunday from 5-5:50.

New Hope News

Sunday School—We'll explore Hosea this Sunday @ 10.

Men's BreakfastSaturday, Sept. 22 from 8-9. We're going to begin a Bible Study called Quiet Strength that was written by Tony Dungy.

Sunday Evening Prayer ServiceJoin us Sunday @ 6

Pray for:

Those in mourning

Jacob Geerlings, as he continues his seminary studies

Pray for those who do not see the hand of God at work in their lives


Book Recommendation

I love God. I like Guinness. So when The Search for God and Guinness crossed my path, I felt somewhat compelled to read it. It's a history of the brewery and the family that started it all, but it focuses on the family's strong desire for the brewery to make a positive impact on society. Guinness brewery wasn't simply another brewery among many—Arthur Guinness and many of his descendants felt a strong call to improve society and care not only for their own employees but also for the residents of Ireland. It's an easy read, but can be an important lesson about how to let God use you in a corporate setting.

Random Thoughts

So there I was...

I was just about to leave for church on Sunday morning when I noticed a wet piece of cardboard in the basement. Upon doing some research, I discovered that the source of the water was the shower drain. (It just occurred to me that I'm not 100% sure that the drain I've been trying to fix all week is the problem...) Being determined (read: cheap), I then proceeded to take the shower drain cover off and stare at it the (very dirty) innards of the drain for a while.

A few YouTube videos later, I knew that I needed to unscrew the part inside the shower drain in order to remove & replace it. So I tried to unscrew it. The video makes it look very easy.

It's not.

A screwdiver, some pliers, several wrenches and my bare hands later, it still hasn't budged. Somehow, I've avoided major injury (so far).

Back to YouTube, I discovered there's a neat little tool that was made just for this job. They even include it with the new drains. Without it, I'm hopeless. But with that specific tool, I can fix the possibly-broken drain. (Well, if it wasn't broken beforehand, it definitely is now!)

There are two purposes to my relating this story. The first is that YouTube is a great place for home repair tips and hints when working on projects. (Also, kitten videos are cute)

The second is to remind you that you were created with a purpose. God made you just the way you are so that you might join in with God's work to spread the Kingdom. You have a specific role, a part you were called to play, and no one else can do it for you. You have unique gifts and talents that enable you to share Christ's love. It might be a role you can play in your workplace, in your neighborhood or your school. It might be a certain relationship that provides a path to discuss faith with someone close to you. It might be the way your example of faith and integrity speaks to someone. There are any number of ways God can use each and every one of us—but we have to let God use us, to empty ourselves so that Christ might fill us, to let our lives be an offering to Christ. (This is turning into a sermon, isn't it?) We have to play the role we were called to play, to let God work through us, so that others might know Christ by our works.

Don't let your life slip by without letting Christ rule your mind, your heart, your hands, your feet, your every action. Let's join in with what God is doing.

Text for Sunday, September 23

John 15:1-11

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sermon for Sept 16, 2012

John 14:1-14

Jesus the Way to the Father

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

I'd like for you to think a moment about your 16th birthday, or whatever age you were when you first got your driver's license. What are the words that come to mind when you think about that occasion? How would you describe the feelings that came with the ability to drive?

Ok—now for a somewhat related question. I promise this will make more sense later in the sermon. If nothing else, you'll spend the next ten minutes wondering when on earth I'm getting around to this. Often, you'll be driving down the freeway and come up on the shattered remnants of a massive tire that has been shed by a truck. Sometimes you'll come up on other debris left on the road. I once almost ran into a couch that somehow ended up in the middle of the freeway. What's the craziest thing you ever saw sitting in the middle of the road?

Just trust me—this will all make sense later.

Let's go back to those feelings you had when you first got a driver's license, or perhaps when you first got behind the wheel of a car. When I was 15, my dad let me drive a rental car in the middle of Kansas. It was straight, flat and boring, like most of the freeways in Kansas, but it's hard to think of something more exciting. I love to drive—I always have. The power is exhilarating to me, and the freedom of it brings me joy. When I drive, it means I'm independent—I don't have to answer to another authority, unless I get caught driving a bit too exuberantly. Driving is freeing.

Compare this with taking the bus. No one hits their midlife crisis and turns in their sports car for the chance to take the bus more often. Taking the bus is, to me, pretty boring. It means that you are depending on the skills of another, and you don't have control—you give up your power when you get onto the bus. On the bus, it's about the destination, whereas with a car, it's more about the journey.

Now, does anyone here remember using TripTiks? They're a relic of a day before there was a GPS in every car, before Google had turn-by-turn directions. Back in the day, you'd go to the AAA office and have them print out a TripTik, which would serve as your guide for the journey. You couldn't make it anywhere without one—because it wasn't enough to just know your destination. In a car, that doesn't do much good—you need to know the steps to get there. The destination is a small part of the journey.

On a bus, however, it's a different story. When you buy a bus ticket, all that matters is the destination. You don't have to know how to get there. You're trusting that the driver does. All you need is the ticket to step onto the right bus, and then you can relax, trusting that the one driving the bus will shepherd you to the destination. Taking the bus means you're released from the concern of step-by-step directions. Taking the bus means that you can focus on the destination without knowing exactly how to get there. You're trusting the driver.

There's a huge difference in the experiences. One focuses on freedom and independence. The other is about dependence. One is a relaxing journey, while the other requires constant attention and vigilence to arrive safely.

And these are the different journeys Jesus is lifting up in today's text.

Jesus starts out by telling the disciples that he is going to his Father's house to prepare a place for the disciples, and then he tells them that they know the way where he is going. Surely, he thinks, they've got it by now.

Thomas, however, says that they don't know the destination, so they can't possibly know the way. Thomas gets wrapped up in wanting to know the turn-by-turn directions. He wants to know exactly the route they'll have to travel to get there. He has an independent mindset—just like we do. We worry that if we don't know exactly what to do at every junction of life, we will stray from the way.

Jesus, however, directs Thomas' attention away from the steps of the journey. He doesn't want Thomas to get too wrapped up in the journey. He wants Thomas to trust in him. He wants all the disciples to trust in him. He wants you and I to trust completely in him. He says that he is the way, the truth and the life. He says that he is the way to God, and he is teaching the disciples to trust completely in him. He's like the driver of the bus—there's no need for constant anxiety on the journey—just trust that the driver knows the way, and board this bus—let faith lead you to abandon your desire for an independent journey, filled with freedom, and let Christ be your guide and your Lord of all.

Now, what this means is that we're not going to get turn-by-turn directions for every step of discipleship. We're going to know the destination, and we're going to trust in Jesus to lead us, but we may not know the complete details for every decision and every option in life. This is a big picture kind of thing—Jesus is Lord of the big and small decisions in your life, but you may not have complete and clear guidance over every decision. Trust in the Lord, and keep your eyes focused on the destination, on his Lordship. Don't get too caught up in the little details.

So, once we're on the bus, what is life like? The temptation is to sit back and enjoy the ride, right? Many of us like to travel with headphones and a good book—or even a bad book, if it means we don't have to talk to the person next to us. We like to be in our own little world, fully concentrated on reaching our destination with as little interaction as possible. As long as we make it, that's what matters, right?

Well, wrong. That's not what God has intended for our Christian life. It's not just me-and-Jesus -and-nothing-else-matters. Your personal relationship with Christ is deeply important, but it isn't just for your own benefit. The reason that Christ has blessed you and filled you with grace and love is to send you out into the world, to be a blessing to others.

So what does like look like on the bus? Well, the biggest thing is that we're freed from anxiety. Do not let your hearts be troubled, Jesus days. Believe in God, believe also in me.

Let's go back to driving. Driving is freedom and independence, right? Well, it's also a lot of responsibility. You're guiding a several-thousand pound vehicle down the road at high speeds. And guess what? There's stuff in the road. Couches, ladders and who knows what else is going to wind up in the middle of the road, and you have to be constantly on guard against it. You have to pay attention, and it's exhausting. If you take your eyes off the road for one minute, you could wind up in big, big trouble.
And this is what life is like for a lot of people—constantly in fear of one crisis or the next. Very, very afraid of what is around the next corner. Terrified of what might occur next.

But when you're on the bus and you trust your life completely to Jesus, you are freed from those anxieties. You don't have to worry about what's in the middle of the road. When you're on a bus, you don't spend your whole time leaning over the shoulder of the driver helping him navigate the freeway. You sit back and enjoy the ride, knowing that someone else is watching out for you. In the same way, Jesus has promised to bring us through every storm that life might throw at us. Do not fear, he says, over and over again. Do not fear, believe in God. Trust in him to navigate the road. He is the way, the truth and the life—you need not fear. All is well.

So you're freed from worry, right? You can then put on your headphones and pay no attention, right?

Again, that's not the point. Now that you don't have to worry about the trip and the perils of life, you can look around, pay attention. You can notice all the wonderful people who surround you. And you can talk to them.

When we let go of our demand for independence, we recognize that we aren't called to live as isolated beings. When we drive everywhere, it's all about us—and we're separated from our fellow travelers. When we lose that separation, we crash into one another.
But on the bus, when we let go of that independence, we can take time to invest in one another, to hear one another's stories, to let ourselves be affected and build relationships with those around us. We take responsibility for one another and learn about each other. It's not always going to be pleasant or easy—but that's what we're called to do. We're free from worry and anxiety, but we're also free to serve one another, to share the love that transforms us.

So Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Let us give up our stubborn demand for independence and our distorted view of discipleship that comes with that. Let's allow him to lead us, and may we be fully present to one another along this journey of faith.

Let us pray

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

9-5 E-News


Sunday School—New start time—We begin at 10:00 (kids & adults)!! We'll explore Ezekiel this Sunday @ 9:45.

East Brainerd Elementaryare you interested in helping out at East Brainerd? They need someone to volunteer as a kindergarten assistant—doing tasks like cutting things out, laminating, etc.

Pizza & Ping-PongThe youth & their friends are invited to the Geerlings' house on Sept. 22 for an evening of pizza & ping-pong. Please RSVP to Janet.

Dinner for 8A sign-up sheet is in the Narthex for a dinner on Sunday, Sept. 23 from 5-5:50. More details are on the sign-up sheet, but just take my word for it that you'll want to be there.

New Hope News

Men's BreakfastSaturday, Sept. 22 from 8-9. We're going to begin a Bible Study called Quiet Strength that was written by Tony Dungy.

Sunday Evening Prayer ServiceCanceled for the next 2 weeks

Road Construction UpdateWork continues. There is currently a large hole in the ground and lots of people looking at it. As of now, projected completion date is still November 10.

Pray for:

The workers on Shallowford Road, that they may be safe

Pray for those who do not see the hand of God at work in their lives


Book Recommendation

A concise overview of the Reformation, The Reformation for Armchair Theologians is a great place to start if you've always wanted to learn more about the movement that gave birth to the Protestant Church.

Random Thoughts

Life happens.

We spent most of Labor Day weekend on the couch. Not because we wanted to, and not because we hadn't made any plans, but rather because some sort of virus decided to take advantage of our apparently-generous hospitality. To be honest, it was a rather rude virus.

We had made all sorts of plans, and most of them flew out the window as we sat on the couch, watching the weekend go by. I was feeling better by Saturday, but Rachel took a bit longer to recover. Again, not what we had planned.

But life interferes with our plans. It reminded me of how important it is to be sure that we are relying on God first. Everything else in this world can let us down if we rely upon it—even our health, our own bodies, no matter how well we care for them. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes joints don't work quite like they should. Sometimes trusted people let us down. Sometimes organizations don't act like they should. Sometimes politicians make promises they don't keep.

I could go on, but I won't. You get the point. You know this to be true—human organizations, human institutions, humans themselves, let us down. If we rely completely upon them, we'll be disappointed.

God, however, will not disappoint. The Bible is a treasure trove of stories that remind us of God's faithfulness. Scripture points to a God who is completely reliable and will never abandon or forsake us. Every other person and power in the world may disappoint us, but God will be by our side, even if everything is our fault. God loves us, and God is faithful to the promises he has made. And what is that promise?

As Jesus says, 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 & believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day. (John 6:39-40)

Text for Sunday, September 9

John 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

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