Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sermon for June 29, 2014



It is approximately 1,500 miles from Cincinnati, OH to Nova Scotia.  To give you an idea of how far it is, it’s a little bit less than the drive from where I’m standing to Phoenix, Arizona.  It’s a fair piece.
So if you had a week and two children that didn’t get along that well, you probably wouldn’t imagine that driving from here to Phoenix and back is a great idea.  My parents, however, really wanted to see Nova Scotia, I guess, because one family vacation found us driving from Cincinnati to Nova Scotia and back.  What I learned on that trip is that spending an entire vacation in a car is not a great way to spend an entire vacation. 
There were some pleasant parts to that vacation, but mostly it consisted of the general idea that it was time to get back in the car.  We had a destination, and we weren’t close to it, so it was time to get back in the car.
My family spent a lot of time facing the fact that it was time to get back in the car.  Growing up in Cincinnati while your family was on the west coast meant that going to see Grandma entailed 3 days in the car.  Each way.  If you’re curious, Kansas does actually take forever to drive through.  I’ve done scientific measurements that confirm this.  Many mornings consisted of one focus—how quickly can we get back in the car.
What I discovered is that such a model makes for lousy vacations.  If all you remember is how many hours you spent in the car, that’s not so relaxing.  If all you can think about is that you don’t want to get in the car for another week, that’s not relaxing. 
Just as a vacation in constant motion doesn’t allow for true rest, a life in constant motion never develops spiritual rest.  We don’t practice Sabbath because we are too busy moving.  The impending pressure of what must be done presses in on us to the extent that we are unable to relax, unable to let God take over and lead us into the meadow.  We are the sheep, and the shepherd commands us to rest—have you ever considered how important it is that obeying the Sabbath is a commandment?  It’s not just a suggestion—it’s a command.  10% of the commandments are dedicated to helping you rest. 
When we live in constant motion, the danger is that everything becomes transient.  We don’t slow down enough to develop deep roots.  We don’t build relationships when we’re moving at warp speed, because we’re too busy thinking about what comes next to listen to the person next to us.  We’re so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we become unavailable to the people around us.  When we are in constant motion, we miss out on the life God has in store for us.  Constant travel and motion is a bad thing.  When we think about Paul’s life, we think about all the places he went, but he usually spent months, if not years, in a city, investing in the life of the church there, teaching and preaching and leading the people into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ.  He loved the people, and they loved him, and this was made possible by the deep commitment he made to the people.  If he only stayed for a few days, preached a few nice sermons and then moved on, I don’t know that Paul would have impacted the people in the same way.
But what was Paul’s impact?
Paul came, in the first verse of chapter 20, to encourage the disciples.  The church needed encouragement—there was much chaos in the world around them, and they were all discovering what it meant to live as Christians in a world that wasn’t particularly friendly to Christians.  Many of their relationships were affected by their new faith, so they needed to hear Paul encouraging them to bind themselves together around the Lord Jesus Christ.
Beyond that, Paul talked.  A lot.  We’re told here in Acts 20 of a young man who came to hear Paul, doubtless eager to hear what the famed man had to say.  Of course, that probably wore off after a few hours, and soon the man fell asleep, apparently in a somewhat precarious position, as he soon tumbled a few stories to his death.  It is here that Paul performs a miracle, giving life back to the man he just bored to death, and then goes right on talking.  What a guy!
From there, Paul goes on to meet the elders of the church of Ephesus.  Paul had spent three years in Ephesus, building deep roots and deep relationships with the church there, and it is here that we see the depth of that love.  Paul warns the people of the danger that will surely come, and he reminds them that his sole purpose is to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Paul had a solitary focus, and he invested much time and energy in helping the people see Christ as the son of God.  Finally, Paul charges them with a mission—to care for the weak, and to remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Friends, today is the last sermon I will give at New Hope.  For 6.5 years I have done my best to labor faithfully, to point to Jesus Christ at work in our midst.  I have given roughly 300 sermons, but more than that, I have had the blessing of developing deep relationships.  You all have opened your hearts to me, and I am eternally grateful for that gift.  I am thankful to have been here long enough to let my roots sink into this place, not to jump straight back into the car and head off to the next place.  Chattanooga, New Hope, has been home to me.
In that time, I have encouraged you.  I have encouraged you to know that Jesus Christ is Lord of all of life, and that nothing in this world shall separate you from his love.  The love of Christ knows no bounds, and as we deal with the world around us, it takes a lot of work to figure out just how God is calling us to live.  It’s not easy, but it’s critical that we encourage one another to stay faithful, to recognize that we are not alone, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is constantly with us as we seek to be faithful to our calling.
Also, I have talked a lot.  I am grateful that we do not have a balcony here, so that we don’t have to worry about anyone falling asleep and falling to their peril.  I love that Luke includes this story in Acts—Paul must have hoped everyone would forget about the time a guy died because he fell asleep listening to Paul.  It gives all pastors courage, for we know that no sermon we give will put anyone’s life in danger if it gets too boring.
 Friends, I do not know exactly what lies ahead for me.  I know that I am being called to get back in the car and travel somewhere else, down the road of ministry.  I believe I am being called into a life of ministry and service, and that I will continue to use my gifts to encourage and preach and teach, but I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like.  As I leave, I will share Paul’s charge, for I can’t think of a better way to go.
As disciples, we are called to care for the weak, and to remember that our blessings are not meant for us—they are meant to be shared, to be given freely to those in need.  Every blessing you have, from the very life within you to the money in the bank to the voice and talents you have, is given with a single, solitary purpose—to bring glory to God.  When you share those gifts, I believe we multiply how much glory is given to God, because then others join with us in praising God.  May we have hearts open and available to look for the weak around us, and to admit our own weaknesses, and may we go out into the community and seek those who are broken, those who are struggling, and may we seek to share our gifts with them, that they may come to recognize Christ as work in and through us.
May we not shine for our own glory, but may the light of Christ burn brightly to beat back the darkness and invite all to come into the light of Christ’s love that is seen fully on the cross, and may we glorify and serve God, and God alone.

Let us pray

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Psalm 59:6-17

  Well, today's a big day.  This will be the last devotional sent out to members of New Hope.  It has been an honor to serve as your pastor, and these devotionals are a labor of love, done in the hope of inspiring hearts and minds to wonder at the great love with which God loves us.  May the Lord richly bless you and keep you, and may the Spirit direct your vision outward to join in with what God is doing in the world around us.  
  Thank you.

Psalm 59:6-17
The Message (MSG) 


  Some people act like they're the center of the universe, like they're bigger than God, like there is no justice beyond what they believe.
  For the record, I don't think God trembles in fear at such folks.
  People, no matter how big and famous they may seem to us, are miniscule when it comes to God.  Our minds cannot even begin to fathom God.  Unless God reveals himself to us, we wouldn't even have the slightest idea of how great and wondrous God is.  Fortunately, God chooses to reveal himself to us in many ways, primarily in the person of Jesus Christ.
  So let's remember our place, and trust in God that the prideful will be brought low.  And may our small size, in comparison to God, cause us to wonder all the more that God chooses to love each and every one of us as his precious, individual, hand-crafted creations.  Despite how small I am, God loves me as if I were worthy of all the love God has to give, and God feels the same about each and every one of us.

  May you be amazed at the love of God today!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Psalm 59:1-5

Psalm 59:1-5 
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Click the above link for the text


  Often, we try and figure out why some evil thing has fallen into our laps.  Sometimes, there is a reason, but it's important to accept that often there is no good reason.  When I was younger and started doing yoga for the first time, I got a cold and assumed that it was God's reminder that I shouldn't do yoga.  I no longer do yoga, but not because I think God doesn't want me to, but rather because I can't seem to make the time for it.
  When we get sick, it's not because God is angry.  When bad things happen, when relationships fall apart, when tragedy strikes, it's often no one's fault.  Sometimes, these things just happen.  This is part of living in a fallen world, and while it's hard to accept, it's important, because then we don't spend all our time and energy beating ourselves up and assuming that God is angry with us, and we're free to receive the love and grace God wants to continue to pour into our lives, even in difficult times.
  So don't close your hands out of frustration or regret.  Open them up to the Holy Spirit, and God will continue to lead you through.

May you accept unconditional grace today

Monday, June 23, 2014

Psalm 58

Psalm 58
The Message (MSG) 


  This world is a messed up place.
  I could start a list of all the problems in the world, all the chaos that entangles the innocent, the wars that devour lives, the crooked and greedy that take advantage of others, the entitled who bully others, etc.  The list would be seemingly endless.  If I was being honest, I'd have to place myself on that list--for I, too, am sinful, broken, and acceptable to God only through the blood of Jesus Christ.
  We wait for the Lord to set things right.  We call upon his name and pray that he will take the evil from this place.  We beg the Lord to come down and destroy evil and those who cling to it, that we might live in the full goodness of God.
  When this happens, we will rejoice.  We will dance in the streets, cheer on the name of God!  How beautiful it will be when God finally sets things right.
  Until then, in the midst of a chaotic world, we wait with hope, and we work with God to redeem the world.

May you trust in God's timeline today

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A sermon for June 22, 2014


I don’t know if many of you have ever spent much time riding a city bus, but if you have, there’s one very, very important piece of information posted on a bus, without which you probably wouldn’t board it.  It’s the one word posted on the front that tells you where the bus is going.  Now, this may not be your particular destination, but if your destination is on the way, the bus will drop you.  If you get on a bus with the wrong destination, you’re in big trouble.  If you just get on any old bus, who knows where you might end up?  Could be exciting, right?
We like certainty in this life.  We like to know where the bus, airplane or car is headed.  We like to be very clear about where we are going.  You don’t just get on any old bus.  You don’t go to the airport and board any old plane.  You don’t take any random exit off the freeway just to see where it might lead.  We have tickets and GPS and maps for a reason—we like to know where we are going.
So we come to church and worship a God who isn’t always exactly clear on just where we are going.  Now, we’re all very clear about the final destination.  There is no doubt about that.  God promises that those who acknowledge Christ as Lord and King will dwell with him forever.  Period.
But on the way, well, it’s a little less than clear.  I’d like to read a selection of passages from Scripture: 

Genesis 12:1-4
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Matthew 28:16-20
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


Now, here are just a few examples of calls from God.  Sometimes, God can be quite specific, as in the case of Moses or Jonah.  Sometimes, however, God is pretty vague.  Abraham didn’t get an end destination.  He didn’t get much information at all—only a call to go forth to an unnamed land and a promise to make of him a great nation.  At the age of 75, this was no easy journey, but the Lord said go, so Abraham went.
In the same manner, the disciples aren’t given a lot in the detail department.  They are charged with making disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe everything Jesus has commanded over the past 3 years, but the specifics are a bit fuzzy.  How exactly they’re going to accomplish this is left in the margins.  But they’re still called to go.
As Christians, this word ‘Go’ is an important one, but one I think we have minimized over the years.  Go is a challenge, one that should perk up our ears and fix our vision forward on the next step in our lives.  Go is an indication that we should not stay, that we are being called to a new location.  Go is a word from God that should be heeded.
For centuries, the Presbyterian church has heeded this call.  We’ve sent missionaries around the world to establish churches and schools and hospitals.  The legacy of our work is often incalculable, and millions have come to know Christ as Lord and Savior through the dedicated work of missionaries.  They continue to go forth today, often setting forth into unknown lands and situations in the hopes of proclaiming the Gospel with faithfulness.
We as a church continue to go.  The question for us today, is whether we go as individuals or not.
For the last 6 weeks, we’ve talked about Rich Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life.  Through that experience, I hope you’ve taken the chance to explore what it means for you to live with purpose for God.  Today, I’m hoping to wrap up the entire book, and there’s no better word to do so than ‘Go.’ 
God sends Abraham.  God sends the disciples.  God sends you. 
As people, we are programmed to seek comfort and stability.  We like that.  I think it is part of our DNA, and when we were living in a cave hoping that the next meal might wander into a nearby trap, comfort and stability seemed like a great thing.  They still do, only we get overly drawn into a life of comfort.  In short, we stop growing.  We stop going.  We let others do the work, and we stop looking for the places into which God has called us next.  Each and every person today is continually being called forward, called to grow in faith, called to explore new relationships and engage in new challenges.  We’re called to take bold steps so that the work of the church may advance, so that God’s Kingdom may expand, so that others may come to know Christ as Lord and Savior.
How are you contributing to that growth?
Are you willing to go forward in your personal life of faith, to go forward in mission and evangelism, to go forward in selfless love of others?  Are you willing to go?
Or do we reach a place where it’s easier to stay?
It’s always going to be easier to stay, but think of Abraham at the age of 75, leaving everything behind to wander into a new life.
Think of the disciples, standing on the mountain, watching their Lord and Savior ascend to the heavens, left with a command to go and evangelize the world but no idea of exactly how to do so.
The key to all of this is in Christ’s final words.
“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If we have to figure this out on our own, we’re lost, abandoned, and may as well never even try.  How could we possible do this by human strength?  We may as well stay.
But we can go, and do so with conviction and courage, because we have the promise of Christ to be with us.  He’ll never abandon or forsake us, and he’ll never be more than a moment away.  You are in his hands, and he will lead you forward, and will protect you on the way.  We go because He goes with us, and his power and Holy Spirit lead us.  The disciples would have fallen down laughing had they had to figure this out on the way, but instead they could go back and join in prayer, trusting that God would reveal the next step for them.
We are the same.  If we have to figure it out, it’s a massive task, far beyond what our tiny minds can imagine.  But if Christ is with us, we don’t have to figure it out.  It’s like a corn maze, which are so popular around here.  We don’t have to see the whole maze.  We only have to go forward with prayer and humility, trusting in the leadership of Christ with each and every decision, continuing to move forward rather than hovering back in fear, and we trust that each and every decision will lead us closer to the faithful life, closer to the life to which we are called.  We simply continue to go, and trust that we will end up where God wants us to be.
Let us pray

Friday, June 20, 2014

Psalm 57

Psalm 57 
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


  Caleb left his bear at school the other day.  He has about 4,298 stuffed animals, but there are a few that he keeps particularly close.  Somehow, he notices if just one of them are missing, but there are several that he does not cope well without.  Last night, we realized as we got home that his bear had been left at school.
  It did not go well.
  That bear gave him a sense of peace, a refuge in a crazy world.
  We are called to treat God in the same way--to cling to him, and allow his peace to prevail in our lives.  God is a constant presence for us, giving us something to cling to in the midst of the storms and chaos and busy-ness of life.  No matter what comes, God can be our refuge, and nothing shall tear us from him.

  May you feel the peace of God's presence today

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Psalm 57

Psalm 57
The Message (MSG) 


  Go back and read verse 4.  Then read verses 9-10.

  Amazing, isn't it?  The Psalmist is in the midst of enemies who are tearing him apart, and yet he is still able to praise God, to thank God.  This takes a lot of courage and dedication to the Lord, but God promises that the darkness shall not overcome the light, no matter how threatening it may be.  Good will overcome, and when we place our trust in the Lord, we, too, shall overcome--by God's power, not our own.  So don't doubt your ability to muddle through, for it is not enough.  But by God's hand, we shall triumph!

May you celebrate all that God is today

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Psalm 56

Psalm 56
The Message (MSG)

  1-4 Take my side, God—I’m getting kicked around, stomped on every day. Not a day goes by but somebody beats me up; They make it their duty to beat me up. When I get really afraid I come to you in trust. I’m proud to praise God; fearless now, I trust in God. What can mere mortals do?
  5-6 They don’t let up— they smear my reputation and huddle to plot my collapse. They gang up, sneak together through the alleys To take me by surprise, wait their chance to get me. 7 Pay them back in evil! Get angry, God! Down with these people!
  8 You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book. 9 If my enemies run away, turn tail when I yell at them, Then I’ll know that God is on my side.
  10-11 I’m proud to praise God, proud to praise God. Fearless now, I trust in God; what can mere mortals do to me?
  12-13 God, you did everything you promised, and I’m thanking you with all my heart. You pulled me from the brink of death, my feet from the cliff-edge of doom. Now I stroll at leisure with God in the sunlit fields of life.


  I think verse 12 is the key to this--God, you did everything you promised.  The only reason this shouldn't jump off the page and give us deep joy and hope in our hearts is because of our short memories.
  It's only human to forget.  The Israelites forgot that God liberated them from slavery in Egypt.  Once they lived in the Promised Land, they forgot all that God had commanded them.  The disciples forgot about Jesus' promises to rise from the dead.
  We forget God's promises.
  If we constantly remembered that God has promised us eternal and abundant life, that God has promised us hope and peace in him, that God has promised that he will always be with us and that nothing will separate us from him, we would be a people overflowing with joy, because we would remember that the strength of the Lord is working within us to bring all things together for good.
  Instead, we often forget, thinking that God has forgotten about us or is not near.
  So remember.  Remember the promises of God, and that God is a promise-keeper.

May you find joy in Christ today

Monday, June 16, 2014

Psalm 55:12-23

Psalm 55:12-23
  The Message (MSG)

  12-14 This isn’t the neighborhood bully mocking me—I could take that. This isn’t a foreign devil spitting invective—I could tune that out. It’s you! We grew up together! You! My best friend! Those long hours of leisure as we walked arm in arm, God a third party to our conversation. 15 Haul my betrayers off alive to hell—let them experience the horror, let them feel every desolate detail of a damned life.
  16-19 I call to God; God will help me. At dusk, dawn, and noon I sigh deep sighs—he hears, he rescues. My life is well and whole, secure in the middle of danger Even while thousands are lined up against me. God hears it all, and from his judge’s bench puts them in their place. But, set in their ways, they won’t change; they pay him no mind.
  20-21 And this, my best friend, betrayed his best friends; his life betrayed his word. All my life I’ve been charmed by his speech, never dreaming he’d turn on me. His words, which were music to my ears, turned to daggers in my heart.
  22-23 Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders— he’ll carry your load, he’ll help you out. He’ll never let good people topple into ruin. But you, God, will throw the others into a muddy bog, Cut the lifespan of assassins and traitors in half. And I trust in you.


  Here, the Psalmist laments betrayal at the hands of a close friend.  What could be more painful?  What could hurt more?
  So the Psalmist runs to God.
  When life hurts, when its pains cut us deeply, we run to God, and we trust in him.  Life will disappoint us, time and time again--in all these times, we run to God.
  We run to God when we are confused and don't understand, and we run to God when we are hurt and do understand.  We recognize that God is the source of our strength, that God & God alone can heal and forgive and redeem and save.  Only God will never let us down.  Only God will stand with us forever.
  Thanks be to God.

  May you trust in God's eternal goodness today

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sermon on Evangelism for 6-15-2014 (John 4)



When we moved into our house, we inherited a phone number with a history.  All phone numbers have histories, but ours has proved particularly interesting.  For starters, it’s very close to the phone number for the local Papa John’s.  I finally looked up the Papa John’s number so I wouldn’t feel like I was disappointing people when I answered the phone.  Secondly, it used to belong to a man named Joe.  Now, when we first moved in, Verizon called for Joe quite a bit, and no matter how many times I told them I wasn’t Joe, they kept calling.  After a year or so, they finally gave up.  Recently, a medical billing agency started calling again for Joe.  They seem pretty determined—I doubt they’ll give up easily.  I have a hunch that even though they have the wrong phone number, they’ll eventually find Joe.  You know the old saying—if you feel like no one notices you, just miss a few bill payments. 
Now, if we believe that debt collectors are this determined about finding us, how much more should we believe that Jesus Christ will seek us out?  If Verizon and various medical billing companies are going to call and call and call and call and eventually use their limited powers to find Joe, I think God will do even more to seek out his beloved creations, even if they have run far from him.
So when we talk about evangelism, we need to begin with the understanding that God is actively seeking us out.  No matter what we have done, no matter where we have run, no matter how far we may think we are from God, God will seek us out.  God never gives up on us, never writes us off as a lost cause.  God pursues, to the ends of the earth and beyond.
So let us be careful about this idea of taking Jesus to people, of bringing Jesus to another person.  When we stop and think about it, we need to recognize that it is not we who bring Jesus to anyone.  We help them see that Jesus is already there, pursuing them, wildly and passionately in love with them.
That’s how our story today begins.  Jesus has come to Samaria, and he’s plopped down by a well at noon, the hottest part of the day. 
Now, anyone who is anyone would come get their water in the morning, when it was cool outside.  If you have a choice, you’d rather labor outside when the weather is cool than when it is hot.  You wouldn’t plan your chores for the heat of the day.
We can safely assume that this particular Samaritan woman isn’t getting water at noon because she likes being outside when it’s hot out.  She’s an outcast, an outsider, a woman with a history who avoids the crowds and the awkward looks they likely give her.  For a while they may have actively shunned her, but now she’s probably settled into a routine, a way of life that simply avoids the disapproving glances of others.  She’s living with a man outside of wedlock, and she’s isolated from the community.
To this woman, Jesus arrives.  He doesn’t make her seek him out, though, because she might not even go looking if he did that.  Instead, he places himself into the middle of her life and her routines, making himself impossible to miss.  Then, he reveals deep and abiding truths about himself to her.
Now, this woman didn’t show up looking for spiritual truth.  She simply came looking for water.  So when Jesus starts talking about living water, it takes her a while to come around to his side of the story.  But she eventually does, and she recognizes that she has had an authentic interaction with the Messiah.  This changes her.
So when we talk about evangelism, we start with ourselves.  How can you talk about something you’re not experiencing?  How can you encourage others to have a relationship with Christ when you’re not building yours?  How can you invite someone into a house that you’re not living in?  If you want to do evangelism, you need to start with yourself, and you need to ensure that you’re building space in your own life for encounters with the Messiah.  Is there room in your own life for Christ, or are you so busy gathering water and doing chores that you miss his presence in your own life?  If so, you need to correct that before you rush out and point out his presence to others.
The second half of evangelism is when we interact with others.  Now, everyone in this room has a picture in their mind of what evangelism is.  Often, it’s a picture of evangelism done poorly, or a picture of what we don’t want to do.  We all know about this.  But do we have a positive view of it?  Because it’s critical in the lifeblood of the church.  If the church is going to grow, it requires people who believe the Gospel to tell others about the Gospel.  It’s that simple.
Think, for a moment, about your favorite restaurant.  Now, how many of you would call a place your favorite restaurant because someone else told you it was great?  Ok—now how many of you have a favorite restaurant because you went there and the food changed your life?
We get this idea about evangelism that the interaction we have with others has to convert them, that we have to have the right words to say and we have to do the right things or else they won’t come to faith. 
But you’re not trying to give them your relationship.  You’re trying to tell them about the Messiah in the hopes that they will have their own relationship with them.  You’re not bringing them to faith.  You’re trying to help them open their eyes to what God is already doing in their lives.  You don’t have to get Jesus there—he’s already there, I promise.
Listen to the story of this woman, this outcast woman who is probably shunned by many.  She’s not a trained evangelist, and she doesn’t have a long history of bringing people to faith.  What she does have, however, is an authentic story of an interaction with Jesus Christ.  What does she do?  She leaves Jesus in verse 28, goes to the people in the town and invites them to go see Jesus, a man who told her all that she ever did.  Her proclamation is a question—Can this be the Christ?
She isn’t even certain, but she’s experienced enough to invite her to go and see for themselves.  And they are curious, and we learn later that her story was enough for many people to believe.  What is even more effective, though, is that many more believe because they have heard for themselves.  Her simply story and her big question led others to interact with Christ, and they came to believe for themselves.  They recognized Christ, who was already in their village, and heard for themselves.  It was nothing dramatic she did—she simply invited them into their own relationship.
Friends, God sends us out into the world to share the Gospel message.  Our life is to be used building our own relationship with Christ and then inviting others to have their own relationships.  So may we make room for what God is already doing, and may we trust God to be at work in the lives of those around us.  God has done and will do all the heavy lifting—what he needs is people willing to open their lives up to be an invitation to others to come and see for themselves, to come to the well and find the living water, Jesus Christ.

Let us pray

Friday, June 13, 2014

Psalm 55:1-11

Psalm 55:1-11
  The Message (MSG)
  55 1-3 Open your ears, God, to my prayer; don’t pretend you don’t hear me knocking. Come close and whisper your answer. I really need you. I shudder at the mean voice, quail before the evil eye, As they pile on the guilt, stockpile angry slander.
  4-8 My insides are turned inside out; specters of death have me down. I shake with fear, I shudder from head to foot. “Who will give me wings,” I ask— “wings like a dove?” Get me out of here on dove wings; I want some peace and quiet. I want a walk in the country, I want a cabin in the woods. I’m desperate for a change from rage and stormy weather.
  9-11 Come down hard, Lord—slit their tongues. I’m appalled how they’ve split the city Into rival gangs prowling the alleys Day and night spoiling for a fight, trash piled in the streets, Even shopkeepers gouging and cheating in broad daylight.


  The biggest question we wrestle with, I think, is the presence of evil.  We wonder why God allows it.  We wonder why God doesn't step in and intervene, why God doesn't destroy evil and allow peace on earth to reign.  What is the purpose of suffering and death when God has the power to prevent it?
  I don't have the answers to this.  I believe that God will one day vanquish evil, and that eternal life with God is available to all who believe.  In the beginning, we walked away from God and chose evil, and we're still suffering the consequences of that decision.  God gives us free will to love him, which means we have free will not to love him.  I don't want God to force me to love him, but it sure would be nice if God got rid of the violence and hunger and disease.
  That's just it... I want God to get rid of the evil, but I still want my free will.  I can't have both right now--I have just as much evil in my heart as anyone else on earth, for I am sinful and fallen.
  God will redeem.  God will emerge victorious.  We have to wait on the Lord and trust in him, but it isn't easy.  We have big questions, and so I give thanks for a faith that allows me to ask these questions of God and believe that he is big enough to have answers.

May you trust in God's grace today

Thursday, June 12, 2014

June 12 New Hope E-News


St. Paul's Episcopal is hosting a reception for Charlie Hughes, who is retiring from the Community Kitchen after 25 years of service. It will be Tuesday, June 17 from 5-7 (brief remarks at 5:30).

Purpose-Driven Life!-- This Sunday will be our last week summary as we focus on evangelism. Next Sunday (6/22), we'll wrap up the whole experience. If you have feedback or want to study particular chapters/topics more, please speak with Andy Sanislo.

New Hope News

Sunday SchoolFor the next three weeks, we'll be studying the first 6 chapters of Nehemiah.

Pray For:
Norma Capone

For Steve Hayner, the president of Columbia Seminary and one of the best men I know.


Keith's Random Thoughts

Our house is pretty clean.

This is a rare thing in our lives. Neither Rachel nor I are obsessive about a clean house, and we both have more than enough on our plates to push dusting and cleaning way down on the list of things to do when we have some time and the kids aren't screaming or placing their own lives in imminent danger.

But with the cats gone, that has drastically cut down on litter dust and cat hair. With the big move coming up, we've had to de-clutter and clean counters and rooms and make the house look presentable. We keep walking into rooms and being amazed and surprised at how clean they are. We wonder why we didn't do this sooner.

We realize that we didn't clean sooner because nothing was forcing us to. There was no external impetus driving us to clean the house. Now, though, that strangers are going to be wandering through my bedroom deciding whether or not they want to make it their bedroom, there is a reason to clean it.

This isn't the only time this happens in life. I think it happens quite frequently—we refuse to change until we have to. Doctors tell us to change our lifestyles, but we just don't get around to it until some drastic event forces us to change. In school, I was always waiting until the deadline to write a paper, often staying up late into the night because there hadn't been enough of a drive to finish it early. Often, I write my sermons on Saturday night, because on Thursday there is still so much time...

The temptation in our spiritual life is to never examine what we're doing and change. It's easy to drift along, not pushing ourselves forward to grow, because there often isn't an impulse. We don't feel pressured to change or grow, so we stay in the same spot. The danger is that we can grow stagnant, gather moss, and find that in a moment of crisis our faith hasn't grown deep enough to be a true resource when we most need it.

It's not easy to push ourselves to grow, but it's necessary, I believe, that we continue to encourage one another and push ourselves to grow in faith, that we recognize the importance of continuing to become more like Christ each and every day.

Text for this Sunday (Click on Link below to read)

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Psalm 54

Psalm 54 
The Message (MSG)

  1-2 God, for your sake, help me! Use your influence to clear me. Listen, God—I’m desperate. Don’t be too busy to hear me. 3 Outlaws are out to get me, hit men are trying to kill me. Nothing will stop them; God means nothing to them.
  4-5 Oh, look! God’s right here helping! God’s on my side, Evil is looping back on my enemies. Don’t let up! Finish them off!
  6-7 I’m ready now to worship, so ready. I thank you, God—you’re so good. You got me out of every scrape, and I saw my enemies get it.


  We worship God out of gratitude.  God acts first--always.  God reaches down to save us, before the cry for help forms in the depths of our hearts.  It feels as though the world is collapsing in upon us, and God reaches out, God reaches down, before we even recognize how deep our trouble is.  God reaches out, God acts first, and out of gratitude for his saving grace, we respond with grateful lives, with words and deeds of love, serving God by serving others.

  May you recognize God's saving initiative today

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Psalm 53

Psalm 53
 The Message (MSG)

  1-2 Bilious and bloated, they gas, “God is gone.” It’s poison gas— they foul themselves, they poison Rivers and skies; thistles are their cash crop. God sticks his head out of heaven. He looks around. He’s looking for someone not stupid— one man, even, God-expectant, just one God-ready woman.
  3 He comes up empty. A string of zeros. Useless, unshepherded Sheep, taking turns pretending to be Shepherd. The ninety and nine follow the one.
  4 Don’t they know anything, all these impostors? Don’t they know they can’t get away with this, Treating people like a fast-food meal over which they’re too busy to pray? 5 Night is coming for them, and nightmare— a nightmare they’ll never wake up from. God will make hash of these squatters, send them packing for good.
  6 Is there anyone around to save Israel? God turns life around. Turned-around Jacob skips rope, turned-around Israel sings laughter.


  When will we learn?
  We cannot save ourselves.  We don't proclaim with our words that there is no God, but we often act like it.  We live like we aren't accountable.  We build bigger barns, save like we'll live forever, focus on ourselves and ignore the presence and teachings of Jesus.
  When I read the Gospels, I get a picture of a life that looks different.  This life values property differently.  It values people differently.  It has different expectations and different goals.  It holds onto things lightly, recognizing their (and our) transient nature.  A Gospel-centered life is hard to describe or capture in a paragraph, but it's different.
  So the question I find myself asking is this:  Am I struggling to live differently?  Or am I just settling in and ignoring the places in the Gospel that challenge me?
  Fools say in their heart that there is no God.  It is just as foolish to proclaim Christ's Lordship with our lives and deny it by our lifestyle.
  May we be wise and live our discipleship daily.

May you hear the Spirit's call today

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Psalm 52

Psalm 52 
Revised Standard Version (RSV)

  52 Why do you boast, O mighty man, of mischief done against the godly? All the day 2 you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. 3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. 4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.
  5 But God will break you down for ever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. 6 The righteous shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, 7 “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and sought refuge in his wealth!”
  8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God for ever and ever. 9 I will thank thee for ever, because thou hast done it. I will proclaim thy name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.


  I don't think it's easy to believe that we are like green olive trees in God's house.  From the outside, it looks safe and sheltered, where we are well taken care of.  From the inside, we get anxious.  We wonder if God will care for us.  We wonder if our enemies will eventually triumph.  We wonder if our faith is in vain.
  It's like my goldfish--he gets very, very anxious about being fed.  If it's getting late and he hasn't been fed, he's anxiously darting in front of the tank at every sign of movement, worried he isn't going to be fed, worried he'll be forgotten.  But we feed him every night--his needs are always met.
  Now, if I can care for my goldfish, how much better will God care for us?

May you lean into God's faithfulness today

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Big Letter

Friends in Christ,

For the last 6.5 years, it has been a blessing and an honor to serve as your pastor. I have endeavored to do everything in my power to serve faithfully, and I can only hope and pray that my time here has been spent nourishing what was handed to me and planting seeds that God will water and grow to bear fruit in God's own time.
The decision to leave New Hope has easily been the most difficult and heart-wrenching decision Rachel and I have ever made. We have been embraced by your love and fellowship and been supported from the first day of our time in Chattanooga. It is not with ease or lightness that we leave behind such a gathering of the saints of the church. At the same time, we feel certain that our next step as a family carries us beyond the bounds of Chattanooga, and thus we have made the decision to move.

Our life has certainly changed since we arrived. We recognize that our two children drastically change the way we make decisions, and family is a very important part of our lives. As our children grow, it is more and more difficult to be a day's drive from grandparents, and so we have made the decision to move to Columbus, Ohio in the hopes of allowing our children to grow closer to their grandparents and for us to draw from the support of nearby family.
This move also allows me to pursue my dream of becoming more deeply involved in the mission work of the global church. From my time at seminary, I have a deep interest in how the church actively serves in the world, and I have a long-term goal of working with a mission agency such as World Vision. To that end, I'll be pursuing a business degree in the hopes of gaining corporate knowledge and experience that I can combine with my ministry and mission knowledge and skills.

I know that the transition will not be easy for the congregation, but I also know the Presbytery will do its best to support and encourage New Hope as it visions ahead for what God might have in store for this congregation. Many of you may have questions for me or questions about the future. I will do my best to be available and answer those, and I will keep the congregation in my prayers.
It is my genuine hope that someone more able than I will come along and help navigate New Hope through the challenges and opportunities that await, so that the Word of God will be richly proclaimed in Word and in deed, that this place on this busy corner will not only see a clear vision for its future but also pursue it with defined steps that will ensure the sustainability of the ministry in this place. May God continue to bless this congregation, that it may be a blessing to others.

Thank you, each and every one of you—for your time, your service, your dedication and faithfulness, and for your love and support. Where my efforts have been fruitful, I give thanks to God for his grace and wisdom. Where I have failed, in my leadership and in my proclamation, I humbly ask your forgiveness. I pray that the congregation will grow in faithfulness, and that the Holy Spirit will lead you all into the abundant and eternal life Christ freely offers to us.

In Christ,

Rev. Keith Jones

Psalm 51:10-19

Psalm 51:10-19 
Revised Standard Version (RSV)

  10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
  13 Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.
  15 O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. 16 For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. 17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
  18 Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, 19 then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on thy altar.


  Everyone who wins the lottery has a plan, I think.  They think they know just how they spend the money.  The problem is that when they win, they get distracted.  They were going to stay just the same, but they got a bit distracted every day and eventually drifted from their original course.
  We get distracted, too.  If God answered the deepest prayers of your heart in the way you want him to, you would plan to spend your days praising him.  The reality is that we would all get a bit distracted.  We would do really well some days, giving thanks and glory to God.  Other days (most days, perhaps), we would get wrapped up in ourselves and forget about what life was like before God answered that prayer.  We might even forget about the dramatic thing God did.
  This is what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness.  It happened to the disciples, too.  They forgot.
  And so we pray for a new spirit, that we might not forget, that God's actions might lead us into prayer and praise, into lives of purpose lived for the glory of God.  We all fall short and get distracted--that's sin.  So we pray for a new spirit, for a clean heart, that we might focus on God and give him the praise and glory he deserves.

May you praise God today!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sermon for June 8. 2014

James 2:14-26



How many of you have ever had your fuel light on the dashboard come on?  It’s happened to all of us at some point, right?  Sometimes, I like to let mine come on just to be sure it’s working, so that I’ll know it’s there for me when I really need it.
So what do you do when the light comes on?  You get gas, right?  Nobody looks at it and disregards it, figuring that it’s not important.  If you want to keep driving, you get gas.
I once had the misfortune of being on a road trip with a guy who basically ignored the light.  I was sitting in the backseat and saw the light come on, and it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.  We kept driving and driving… I didn’t want to say anything, since it was hard to miss.  Pretty soon, the car ran out of gas.  No big surprise to me, but the first thing he said was, “It usually stays on much longer.”  I thought about pointing out that it had been on for the previous 60 miles, but that felt like rubbing salt in the wound.  Next thing we knew, we were riding along in a semi.
When the light comes on, we get gas.  In other words, we believe what the light is telling us, and it affects our actions.  This little marvel of engineering has the power to shape the way we behave.  You’d be considered a fool if you ignored the light, or if you believed the light but didn’t actually do anything about it.  No one would ride in the car with you, at least.
What I’m saying is that your belief in your fuel light shapes your actions.  Other beliefs shape actions, too.  If you believe the lady in front of you in the grocery store checkout line has a coupon binder, you’re going to find another checkout line.  If you believe the expiration date on your gallon of milk, you’re going to throw it away rather than take a chance.  If you believe that your call really is important to that company, you’re going to hold on the line. 
If all of these beliefs shape our actions, and they do, then shouldn’t our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the universe shape how we live and interact?  Shouldn’t our faith in Christ shape the way we live?  If we truly believe that Christ died on the cross out of love for us, atoning for our sins, and then rose from the dead to demonstrate his Lordship, then shouldn’t that belief shape the rest of our lives?  If the fuel light in our car has the power to affect us, how much more should our faith in Christ shape our lives?
This past week, we read about a life of ministry.  I think we’ve allowed the word to evolve over time to where it doesn’t quite mean what it could or should.  When we use the word ministry in the 21st century, it’s easy to let it simply refer to the minister.  The minister does ministry.  Period.  The problem is that this doesn’t accurately capture the essence of the call of the Body of Christ.  The minister isn’t called to go out and do ministry on his or her own.  The church is called to active ministry, which means that each and every person in the church is also called to a life of active ministry. 
Wondering how you’ll have time for a life of ministry in light of everything else you have on your plate?
Ministry isn’t setting aside time in the midst of your busy schedule to go save the world.  Ministry is allowing your faith in Jesus Christ to shape the way that you live and move and have your being.  Ministry is letting your belief change the way you live.  Ministry is about letting faith guide you on more than just Sunday morning.
See, what’s so tempting is to come to church on Sunday morning and believe your heart out, then leave this place and let the busy-ness of life overwhelm you.  Once that happens, it’s pretty easy to get so distracted that you forget about letting faith shape and guide you.  You’re probably just trying to make it through the day, through the week, and so you don’t really spend time reflecting on faith until you’re in the car on the way back to church the next Sunday morning.  It’s an easy pattern to fall into, and one I suspect many Americans live out each and every week.  Perhaps they even assume the minister is taking care of the ministering during the week.
But the church isn’t supposed to work like that.  The church is called to be a very flat organization, one with Christ at the head and everyone else hard at work, busy proclaiming the Kingdom of God in Word and deed.  We’re call called to be ministers, busy with the stuff of ministering in the midst of our working and parenting and socializing.  We’re called to share this life with one another, and we minister to one another as we go along.  We minister, we serve, we show the love of Jesus Christ.
Today is a holiday in the church.  Today is the day of Pentecost, a day where we celebrate the Holy Spirit going forth into the world.  The church grew rapidly that first Pentecost, adding thousands of believers, and each one had a role to play.  Each and every one of them was baptized into a new life in Christ that day, but there was still much for them to do.  Pentecost wasn’t the end of something, but it was the beginning.  Their belief in Christ was now beginning to shape the rest of their lives.  If all they had done was be baptized and then be done with it, the church would have looked very, very different. 
In our reading from James, this is the distinction being discussed.  It doesn’t make any sense if someone claims to have faith and yet doesn’t allow that faith to shape the rest of their lives.  That’s not real faith—it’s a fantasy, or an insurance policy, but it’s not faith that’s alive.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t call us to affirm Christ as Lord and then go about our business as though that belief doesn’t matter.  We’re called to affirm Christ as Lord and then let that belief change the way we interact with one another. 
Think of a phrase that is often used—‘take care’.  We say this to one another upon parting, but what does it really mean to take care?  Are we taking care of one another?  Are we truly caring for the world, for the least of these and for one another?  Do we care the way Jesus did, the caring that valued interruptions and was willing to go to any expense to demonstrate the love of God?  Do we care like that?  Or do we let the words pass our lips without ever making it to our hearts?
Friends, you leave this sanctuary today and go out into the world.  You do so as ministers, as baptized members of the Church of Jesus Christ.  If you truly believe that Christ died for sin and calls us to live in reflection of God’s gracious love, may that belief shape the way you live, the way you speak the way you work.  May it shape all you to, for the glory of God.
Let us pray

Friday, June 6, 2014

Psalm 51:1-9

Psalm 51:1-9
Revised Standard Version (RSV)

  51 Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
  3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
  6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice. 9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.


  Are you rich?
  It depends on who you measure yourself against.  If you pick Bill Gates, probably not.  Unless you're Warren Buffet, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't read my devotionals.  (If so, Hi Warren)  If you choose to compare yourself against someone making a median wage in Haiti, you are very wealthy.  So it all depends.
  Notice, then, the first verse.  We ask for God to be merciful based on his steadfast love, according to God's mercy.  God is far, far more merciful than even the most gracious human.  God is far kinder to us than we are to ourselves.  And so we ask for God to base his mercy on himself, because we know that he will be more loving than we can possibly be.
  Take comfort, because God's love determines the outcome, not your own view of yourself.  God loves you.

May you take comfort in the peace and forgiveness of God

Thursday, June 5, 2014

June 5 E-News


St. Paul's Episcopal is hosting a reception for Charlie Hughes, who is retiring from the Community Kitchen after 25 years of service. It will be Tuesday, June 17 from 5-7 (brief remarks at 5:30).

Purpose-Driven Life!-- This Monday is Day 36! Want to continue the conversation? Reach out to Andy Sanislo if there have been particular days or topics that merit further conversation.

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them on the bookshelf.
Plastic Forks, Knives, Spoons
Dinner Napkins
Heavy Duty Sectional Dinner Plates
Dessert Plates

New Hope News

Sunday SchoolWe're going to wrap up Matthew with a study on the Great Commission this coming Sunday (Matthew 28:16-20)

Pray For:
Norma Capone

New Hope's session meeting this coming Sunday

For Steve Hayner, the president of Columbia Seminary and one of the best men I know.


Keith's Random Thoughts

So there I was...
I moved a bookshelf in the basement the other day, and there was a skink sitting in the place where my bookshelf had been. He was quite surprised to be in sudden light, and I took advantage of his momentary lapse in attention to capture him in a container so he could be released outside. Before he was trapped, I took a moment to contemplate his situation. He looked healthy and happy, but I knew that my basement was not the ideal place for a skink. (I don't think so, anyway) There aren't that many bugs down there, and it's not filled with trees and ponds and the like. (No predators, too, I suppose) As I let him go in the backyard, I had to imagine he'd be better off.
I've been reading Acts lately, and in Acts you get a good picture of the conflict between the early Christian church and the Jewish community. Peter, Paul and others are trying to help the Jews see that they need to make a move into a new environment, but the Jews are resisting. They have become comfortable, and they don't see the world the same way Peter and Paul do. They refuse the Good News, the revelation that a whole new way of life is calling them forward. They stick with the old, where it seems safe.
For us to flourish, we need to be willing to examine ourselves and our choices. There is always a part of us that will choose what is known, what is comfortable, over the unknown and the new. God is always calling us forward, and this isn't always easy. Change is tough. But it can also be a time of great growth if we're willing to let God lead and direct.
So may we examine our environment, and see how it fits. If we're still growing and feeling challenged, then we are in a good place. If we have grown comfortable and stopped looking for the next step into which God is calling us, then perhaps we need to reach out a bit, to set aside some time to listen for what God has in store.

Text for this Sunday (Click on Link below to read)

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Psalm 50:12-23

Psalm 50:12-23
The Voice (VOICE)

  12 I would not come to you if I were hungry, for the world and all it contains are Mine. 13 Do you really think I eat bull meat? Or drink goat’s blood? 14 Set out a sacrifice I can accept: your thankfulness. Be true to your word to the Most High. 15 When you are in trouble, call for Me. I will come and rescue you, and you will honor Me.”
  16 But to those acting against Him, God says, “Who do you think you are? Listing off My laws, acting as if your life is in alignment with My ways? 17 For it’s clear that you despise My guidance; you throw My wise words over your shoulder. 18 You play with thieves, spend your time with adulterers.
  19 Evil runs out of your mouth; your tongue is wrapped in deceit. 20 You sit back and gossip about your brother; you slander your mother’s son. 21 While you did these things, I kept silent; somehow you got the idea that I was like you. But now My silence ends, and I am going to indict you. I’ll state the charge against you clearly, face-to-face.
   22 All you who have forgotten Me, your God, should think about what I have said, or I will tear you apart and leave no one to save you. 23 Set out a sacrifice I can accept: your thankfulness. Do this, and you will honor Me. Those who straighten up their lives will know the saving grace of God.”


 It's been surprisingly easy to teach Caleb to say 'thank you'.  We've emphasized it from the start, and Rachel and I have tried to be aware to say it more often, but he knows it is the right thing to say.  We have to remind him often, but we want him to be grateful.
  Now I need to remember to be grateful to God.

  It's not that I am not thankful.  It's just that I get so caught up that I forgot what the big picture is.  I forget what it's all about.  I forget that I haven't done any of this on my own.

  God made me.  He made the world, and everything good in my life is a gift from him.  Even those things that look like I did them on my own--he gave me the ability and opportunity to do them.  None of this has been on my own account.

  Remembering this is hard work, but it also makes me all the more amazed at God.  What a generous God we serve and worship, and the more I recognize this, the more eager I am to worship him with all I am, for he is so good to us.

May you be grateful today