Sunday, September 23, 2018

I would pray but… isn’t it just like talking to myself? September 26, 2018 FUMC

I would pray but… isn’t it just like talking to myself.
September 26, 2018
Have you ever browsed the self-help aisle at the bookstore?  Here are a few choice selections…
Act Like a man, Think like a Lady… by who else but Steve Harvey,
 How to Poo on a date, the lover’s guide to toilet etiquette.
 How to write a “How to write” book.
 Or how about  How to lose a person’s interest in 10 seconds: the secret to having no friends by 2012
Really? Now, these are not representative of all the self-help books, but they illustrate how silly the self-help industry has become.
 Christianity is not a self-help religion. Our faith is actually based on the premise that we can’t help ourselves. When it comes to important things we are completely dependent. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”(John 15:5)
I would never deny that there are ways to improve our lives and I would never deny human free will. From a Christian perspective, however, “self-help” is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp,” “Christian self-help” makes no sense.

 So, what are we to do?  We would do well to know the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous: “Admit that we are powerless.”
Imagine you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed to be done. How could you show your gratitude to that friend if a stranger came to see you?
Would you honor his generosity and strength by saying, “I can do it myself” and trying to get out of bed to carry him on your shoulders like an MVP at the end of the game?
No! You would say, “Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me?” And then you would say something like “Thank you.  I don’t know what I would do without you.”
From that, your guest would see the generosity and dedication of your friend.

Friends, the truth is, as Jesus says, we can do nothing without him… at least not anything important. That doesn’t stop us from trying though does it?
We are driven by the urge to self-help. We try to live life on our terms. We try to fix ourselves, try to make our own decisions, and like 2-year-olds we cry, “I can do it myself.” But the truth is we are more paralyzed and powerless than we even realize.  Jesus doesn’t say “apart from me you can’t do much.”  He says “apart from me you can do nothing”… nada…zilch… zero. 
On the other hand, in Matthew 19 Jesus looked at the disciples and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Take your pick… nothing or all things… powerless or all power.  It is up to you.

 Even since I have started this series on prayer I have heard folks describe how strange prayer seems.
“Isn’t prayer just like talking to myself?”
“It is hard to talk to an invisible person.” 
“I just feel self-conscious and don’t know what to say.”
Let me tell you, prayer is as far from talking to yourself as you can get.
Prayer has nothing to do with talking to an invisible person.
There is no reason to feel self-conscious. Over ½ the people report praying daily, and ¾ pray at least once a month.

Last week I said that we were made to pray… this week I want to add we need to pray. Until we admit our powerlessness, we are alone…trying to do it ourselves. Once we admit our powerlessness, we can reach out to the one who is more powerful than we can imagine.

 Our story from Acts is a great example. Paul and Silas were in jail.  Let me tell you why. On Paul’s second missionary journey he left Caesarea and headed for modern day Turkey. As he made his way through turkey he seemed to be blocked in every direction. Then he had a dream of a  man from Macedonia standing on the shore calling to him.  He immediately set off toward Macedonia, modern-day Greece. There he met and baptized Lydia.
When he got to Philippi, there was a slave girl who worked for her master as a psychic. She kept bothering Paul. He eventually cast a demon out of her and she was no longer psychic.  Her master was furious and brought Paul up on some trumped up charges. The man incited the crowds against Paul and Silas and they were stripped, beaten, and imprisoned in a maximum security cell with leg irons and extra guards.
That’s where our scripture reading picks up. At midnight, they were still praying and singing.  The other prisoners were amazed… and probably a little irritated that they couldn’t sleep.
Then the miracle… as they were praying and singing there was a great earthquake… and every door in the prison flew open.  No accident I would say. I smell the hand of God there.  The prisoners could have run, but they didn’t.  When the jailer saw the doors all open he was about to take his life before the governor did it for him.  Paul said, “No, we’re all here.  No one has run.” 
The guard was amazed at the faith of these men and he asked, “What must I do to be saved.” They began to tell the guard about Jesus. The jailer took them to his house where they taught about Christ all night. In the morning they baptized his whole family.  The message Bible says “it was a night to remember.” I’ll bet it was.
But notice how powerless they were… in prison,  maximum security, leg irons, guards… powerless. Paul and Silas could have lost hope.  They would almost certainly die there, right?  Powerless.
They prayed. They didn’t lose hope.  They prayed and sang. Prayed and sang!
They were powerless. But they prayed right there in front of the guards and prisoners and everybody. They prayed because they believed in the power of prayer.
And what happened… an earthquake. Not just an earthquake. A huge powerful earthquake. And suddenly everything was different.  Paul and Silas were no longer prisoners. Neither were the others in jail.  The guard thought life was over but his life was saved, physically and spiritually by what? The power of prayer.  Paul and Silas’ prayer set in motion this whole chain of amazing events that ended with everyone being free, everyone being saved, everyone coming to Jesus.
 Prayer changes things. In this story, it changed everything, but it can change your life too.

What imprisons you? What has you cornered? What keeps you from being the best you can be? What holds you back? What doors won’t seem to budge?
Is it your attitude? A relationship that sucks the life from you?  Your job or one of your classes? The tricks your brain plays on you with depression or anxiety?  Is it an addiction? A compulsive worry? What is the name of your prison? Is it “unforgiveness,” “grief,” “fear,” “pain,” “envy?”  What shackles your legs and keeps you from jumping for joy? Is it business? Is it regrets? Is it .. good grief I don’t know. What is it that you need to change in your life?
Admit that you are powerless.  Admit that you need to pray. And let the power of God lose through prayer.
Don’t get me wrong. Prayer does not absolve us from doing everything we can including learning, and growing, and medical care, and taking responsibility, and doing our best. But my point is no matter how much you do you can’t change the world, other people, chronic illnesses, unforgiving friends, or a thousand other things.  You can’t change those things but God can… if we pray.
Maxie Dunam asked a question 35 years ago that has just haunted me. It has also driven me to an unshakable belief in the power of prayer. He asks “What if, there are some things that God will not or cannot change until people pray?” Just consider… what if?
 Far from talking to yourself or talking to the invisible man, prayer is the key for you to unlock the most powerful force in the universe. Prayer is the means by which God works in you, through you, around you, because of you, and even in spite of you to do his will on earth just as it is in heaven.  Prayer is the door through which God accesses your human imagination, your will, your knowledge, your cooperation, your relationships in order to make us and the people around us more like him. And prayer is the power by which God takes people like us and changes the world.

Your choice… sit in prison feeling sorry for yourself… or unleash the earthshaking, door jarring, chain breaking, prisoner freeing, life-changing power of prayer into your life and world. What will you do?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

September 16

I am not posting a text week because God worked on the sermon so drastically since I wrote it on Thursday.  Please go to the facebook feed  to watch the service to see this week's sermon. 

When it is posted on the website ( I think Vimeo) you can watch there too


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Mirror, Mirror on the wall do I look like Christ at all? CFUMC 9/2/18

Mirror, Mirror on the wall do I look like Christ at all?
 CFUMC 9/2/18
When you look at your reflection in the mirror, what do you see?  What do you see?  Do you see a beautiful woman? A handsome man? Do you feel pleased about the reflection that stares back at you?  Or do you always find an imperfection?  Do you always find something that needs to be changed, or removed?
 Some people do not like to look at them self in the mirror at all, because it reminds you of all those things that need to be changed.
Others spend a lot of time in front of the mirror trying to fix those things.
Others spend hours in front of the mirror to admire themselves.
Still others just don’t care enough to pay attention to the mirror at all.
Looking in the mirror is not always pleasant, like first thing in the morning. I understand mirrors in bathrooms, but really? Is that what I want to see first thing in the morning?  Creases on the face, hair like a wild animal, eyes half open, Really?  More and more I wonder who that old guy is looking back at me.
Mirrors are brutally honest. Sometimes a little too honest.  They don’t compromise.  They don’t gloss over our defects. They don’t spare our feelings.  They don’t give empty compliments.  They show us every wart, wrinkle, freckle, scar, gray hair & pimple.
So why do we all have mirrors?   We need them. We need them precisely because mirrors don’t lie.
 We all know the line “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all.”  It comes from Snow White where the mirror could not tell a lie even if it was not what the wicked queen wanted to hear.
Mirrors will not lie to us either. We are not always honest with ourselves. Our egos may distort our perception. We may wish things were different. We may make excuses. We may try to gloss over our weakness. But whether we like it or not, for good or for ill, the mirror tells the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And even if it seems like a kick in the seat of the pants we NEED to see ourselves as we are. We need that moment of complete honesty. We need checks and balances for both our self-image nor the cultural image in order to see ourselves as we really are.
            Spiritually, scripture and prayer are our mirrors.  We stand before God’s holy word.  We bare our hearts to God in prayer…and we come face to face with our true selves whether we like them or not.  That is what James is talking about at the end of the first chapter.
  “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”
As Christian disciples, when we look in the mirror what should we see?  We ought to be able to see a little bit of Jesus.  Thin: sermon on the mount. Think: the way he treated everyone including women and foreigners. Think gentle strength. Think intimate connection to God.  That is what we ought to see in the mirror.
I think James has two scenarios in mind when he wrote this. One is the disciple who looks into the mirror and does not see Jesus. In the preceding verses, James talks about things that we should not see.
  Starting in verse 19  James writes, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;  for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”
I look at that list as I look at my image in the mirror and I see a lot of blemishes and wrinkles.
How often do I speak before I finish listening, or at least I am formulating my reply instead of listening?  … I am afraid I am way too quick to talk sometimes.
 Anger… we won’t even go there… anger is like a big glaring zit on the end a person’s nose that is pretty hard to hide or ignore.  I suspect I am not alone.
Sordidness… we might not know what it means, but we are pretty sure it is ugly right?  Well, it is. Webster defines it as “baseness or grossness.” The Greek word means “filth or pollution;” particularly moral filth and moral pollution. That helped me to understand because we all know pollution is something that doesn’t belong where it is. It spoils the land, water, or air.  Are there things that don’t belong in me as a Christian?
Even worse is the “rank growth of wickedness.”  Has your life been taken over by weeds?  Is it overgrown with things that should not be there?  I know I occasionally find a weed or 10 in my life.
James is talking about looking in the mirror and finding ourselves coming up short and Then we read that famous line,  “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” 
 These folks look into the law … they look into the scripture and know that they don’t measure up.
They know that we are to be  “imitators of God, as beloved children”
They know that they are to “present themselves to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed”
They know Paul writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
     They know that we are to “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
  They know that we are “not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind
They know they don’t measure up but they walk away and forget.
Like looking in the mirror and seeing your hair is all wild and wooly but by the time you look away to get the brush, you forget how bad you look and you go on with your day.
Like looking in the mirror and seeing a big stain on your shirt and by the time you get to the closet you forget what you were doing and go on your way.
            Notice the problem is not what they see, but their lack of response to what they see.

 Then James goes on to another scenario, “25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.”
Those who see their faults, their pollution their weeds and do something…. What does James say?  They will be blessed in their doing.
This is a simple call to action. a call to active discipleship. In other words, keep growing.  Keep seeking to look a little more like Jesus every day. Keep striving to have the mind of Christ. Keep working to live with the heart of Jesus.  Keep trying to live with the acceptance Christ exhibited.  Keep seeking a more intimate relationship with God in prayer.
Christians are not perfect.  No one especially God expects that of us in this life.  But we ought to be on our way to perfection. We call that sanctification. Sanctus is the Greek word for HOLY.  Sanctification is the process of the Holy Spirit helping us to become more and more holy each day.
Those who see their spiritual flaws in the mirror and do nothing are resisting sanctification.
Those see their flaws and try to be more like Jesus each day… are on the way.

So which are you?  Are you a hearer that forgets, or a hearer that acts?

One more thought here. What does God see when God looks at us?  Imagine that the mirror is actually a one-way mirror. As we are looking at ourselves, God is looking at us from the other side. What does God see?
God, of course, sees us as we are, pollution, weeds and all. God knows your every flaw and weakness.  God knows your every slip and omission.  God knows us better than we know ourselves and God sees us perfectly.  Honestly. Completely.
The good news is that when God looks at us in the mirror God sees more than the pollution and weeds. God sees beyond our flaws and weaknesses.  God sees past our slips and omissions.  God sees us more truly than we see ourselves. God sees us perfectly.  Honestly. Completely.
And what does God see? God sees beloved children,
The story in Genesis goes like this: “Then God said, ‘Let us make people in Our image, to be like Ourselves; they will be masters over all life, the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals and small animals.’ So God created people in His own image.  God patterned them after Himself.  Male and female, He created them.  God blessed them (gave them the blessing of creation) … and the passage concludes  “And so it was. Then God looked over all that He had made, and He saw that it was excellent in every way”
Hear that… when God looks through the window at us, he sees us as excellent in every way!
In some ways what we see is irrelevant compared to what God sees. No matter what we see.  No matter the ugliness.  No matter the failure.  No matter the wrinkles and blemishes.  God sees the most excellent you and the most excellent sons and daughters.
When I look in the mirror I can be pretty hard on myself… but God’s view is a different view… it comes not from the law of should’s and ought’s that we all have playing in our minds.  God’s view comes from “the perfect law that gives freedom” James says.   The way I read that it is the law of grace.
What does God see when God sees us in the window?
Consider this… no matter what you see, God sees one of the beloved creatures that he declared “very good” at creation.
No matter what wrinkles we see, God sees the inside that is made new in God’s love.
No matter how mussed our hair, or scarred our face, God sees the heart that more than anything wants to be like him.
You are beautiful to God, because God designed you, and God created you, just the way God wanted you to be. In God’s image.  You are God’s child, and you’ve been created in God’s image. And nothing can change that. No amount of sordidness or wickedness in our lives can disguise the fact that we are made in God’s image.
Mothers are universally proud of their babies. I’ve never known a mother who didn’t think her newborn baby was the cutest, most wonderful, and most beautiful in every way.   That’s the way God is too.
I once knew a family who had a baby with a cleft palate.  A wonderful child, but not what the world considers perfect or beautiful. Do you think the mom had any qualms about showing off her “beautiful” baby?  Not a bit. (and I respected her for that.) In her eyes, her baby was more than what the world saw on the outside.
In God’s eyes, we are more than we see on the outside when we look int the mirror.
I want you to know, today, no matter what you see God sees you through the window of his love and grace.  God loves us, and each one of us is beautiful, BEAUTIFUL in His sight.
I am not saying that what we see is unimportant. It is very important that we seek to be more like Jesus every day. What I am saying is that no matter what you see good, bad, or ugly… God loves you including your good, bad, and ugly.

Mirror mirror on the wall… do I look like Christ at all?
To be honest with you, yes but not as much as I would like. How about you?
So I have to remind myself and I remind you, “Mirror mirror on the wall, God’s excellent love is in us all.” AMEN

Monday, August 27, 2018

Known by our fruit: self control August 26, 2018 CFUMC

Known by our fruit: self-control
August 26, 2018 CFUMC
This is our last week with the fruit of the spirit. Can you name them with me? The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,... and the last two are gentleness and self-control.
 As I studied the fruit, I felt like gentleness had kind of been covered in other fruit.
The one thing I want to point out is a specific application for gentleness, and that is in our public discourse.  Our culture has really lost touch with what it means to be gentle with each other.  There is so much blaming, finger pointing, divisiveness, and vilifying “us vs them” language everywhere from capitol hill to Main street Carroll that I think gentleness is a forgotten art.
As Christians, we cannot forget our gentle savior. You may know that we are 5 months from the special Called General Conference which I pray will resolve the 40 year long unholy war over human sexuality and what full inclusion in the church means for anyone… specifically homosexuals and other members of the LGBTQ community. These next months must be an exercise in gentleness. Gentle listening, gentle understanding, gentle sharing, and gently loving each other through this even if we disagree about the details. We have plenty of opportunities to practice gentleness and I will frequently remind you.  

 The last fruit of the spirit, however, is different. When we hear Self-control, we probably all feel just a little guilty because none of us is exactly who we want to be. How many of you join me in confessing that you struggle with self-control when it comes to deserts. Perhaps your self-control battle is waged at against alcohol, pornography, overspending, overeating, gossiping, over committing or some other area where we are tempted to go over the top of reasonable.
That is only the surface of self-control. Behavior control is not the same as self-control so we have to go a little deeper. 
Behind behavior control and leading, every battle for self-control is the word “self.” Self.
Behind every battle for self-control is a distorted perception of the importance of the self.
Our culture is one that puts self first. Do you remember “you deserve a break today, so get up and get away to McDonalds?” you are dating yourself. The idea that our selves are so important that they DESERVE something better, something special, in fact, we deserve whatever we want…customized and delivered to our door within 24 hours. We are encouraged to put ourselves first.
The Bible is filled with stories of people who put themselves first.
Adam and Eve, humanity before the flood, kings who lead the nation to worship Baal, the people Amos described as “fat cows of Bashan” because they cared for nothing but their own comfort, and the hated tax collectors. Jesus taught that the great are those who know they are not the first but consider themselves to be last. Jesus called us to get outside of our own self-interest and take up the cross. Paul reminded us that we can’t all be the head of the body, one of us has to be the armpit of the body of Christ. But I’m pretty sure that you are convinced that I should be the armpit and I am convinced that you should be the armpit because as hard as we try our self-importance is hard to control.
In the very simplest terms bearing the fruit of the spirit of self-control is knowing “it is not about you!” and living with the knowledge that it is not about you.

Let me share 3 things that might help keep our self-importance under control
 Nothing is really yours… it was all given to you.
Psalm 24 and 1 Cor 10 remind us that
The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains The world, and those who dwell in it.
One of the best examples is Job. He loses everything… everything he had is taken away and he complains to God. Actually, the language used is legal terminology metaphorically he files a lawsuit against God and hauls him into court.
Then in Chapter 38 god calls job on the witness stand.
38Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
   I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
   Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
   Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
   or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
   and all the heavenly beings* shouted for joy?
How do you answer those questions… you don’t because God is God and we are god’s children.  We have to know our place and act like his children.
I saw a skit once at a youth event.
A young man was pretty proud of himself and his new car. God speaks to the young man in a dream saying you know that car is not yours.  It is mine and I am letting you use it.
The teenager argues that he bought it and God replies the money he had was not his but God’s and God was letting him use it.
He continues to argue that he earned it has his summer job. To which God replies, my summer job that I let you have.
The conversation goes on
My clothes? God says no my clothes that I let you use.
My family? God says no my family that I give to you as a gift.
Finally, the young man looks up sheepishly and says “my girlfriend?  God hesitates and says, “oh, she is your girlfriend, but remember she is my daughter.”
All those things that are important to you: the house, the boat, the job, the nice car, the money, the clothes, the collections. All those things we think are so important… it was all really on loan to us from God. Nothing is really yours.

In Luke 18, Jesus give us another lesson on controlling our self-importance
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
 In other words, God is not impressed by your resume. God is not impressed by what you do.
It is human nature to want to impress people. Face book is filled with pictures of the dinner someone prepared, the vacation we just took, the kitchen we just remodeled. It has announcements of promotions, the birth of babies, and weddings. If we have something nice we share it. There is nothing wrong with sharing it with our friends. Be very clear what we do does not make us who we are. And nothing we do… no matter how important we might think impresses god. 
Godsus was not impressed with the Pharisees resume, “I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”  Jesus blows it off in favor of the man who made no claim to his personal achievements but threw himself on God’s mercy.
If I pray “OK God, listen to me because I’m the pastor of the best church in town or I have been on more mission trips than anyone I know.” God is not impressed. First that’s not my character, but second we a,re saved by faith, not by works and God is simply not impressed by what we do.

If we want to keep our self under control, we have to remember that
nothing we have is really ours,
nothing we do impresses God,
 And finally, we are merely passing thorough this life.
Isaiah 40 says all people are grass; their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
We would like to think we leave a mark on the world, but the truth is most of us are lucky to make a difference for one or two people. We are hardly a blip on the course of history. We can make a world of difference to the people around us.  They will remember us, but honestly except for those few people whose lives I have touched the world won’t even notice when I die.
 If we were to take the whole history of the universe and compress it into one day with eh big bang starting at midnight.  The clock would pass noon and no humans, 6pm and no humans, 9 pm and no humans.  11 pm and no humans, 11:59 and still no humans.  It would be 11:59 and 56 seconds before humanity came into existence. Those 4 seconds represent the last 200,000 years.  None of us are even born the last1/1000 of a second.
The end of the creation story reminds us “from dust we came and to dust we shall return.” So from God’s perspective we a,re just passing through this short life.

 Now, I don’t want anyone to be depressed or discouraged. Because this is all part of God’s amazing love.  In spite of the fact that we have nothing, can’t do anything, and won’t be here for long… god loves us more than we can ever imagine.  To me looking at the great starry Milky Way and realizing how small I really am… how insignificant I really am… is part of what keeps control of myself.  Helps me with my self control. And remembering that God still loves me makes God’s love absolutely unbelievably amazing. And it is God’s love and only God’s love that makes us important.
The fruit of the spirit that is self control is not letting our self’s get out of control.
The fruit of the spirit of self control is knowing that it is not the ME or the SELF that is important in the New testament.  It is the “One anothers” “love one another”  “don’t judge one another." "Don’t put a stumbling block in the way for one another”  “build one another up”  and “live in harmony with one another … [and] welcome one another” . “bear one another’s burdens”  to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another”  and to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”  In sum, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” 
Not me, me, me, but one another, one another, one another.
Bear the fruit of the spirit that is self control… control of the importance of our self….and the practice of self control will naturally follow.
And you know what?  I for one would be glad to be even the armpit of the body of Christ.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Known by our fruit: generosity John 4:7-15, 39-42 Carroll First UMC 8/5/2018

Known by our fruit: generosity
John 4:7-15, 39-42
Carroll First UMC 8/5/2018

              The fruit of the spirit is Generosity…
               Charles Dickens' “Christmas Carol” has an ungenerous character we all know… what is his name… scrooge.
               Dr. Seuss also has a book about a character that stole Christmas.  What was his name?  The Grinch.
Even in our culture in which the drive to get more, be more and have more is considered a valuable character trait, I have never heard anyone say that stinginess is good.
 Even in that culture stories like that of Eileen Taylor go viral. Eileen was an out of work Physicians assistant when someone in the drive-through line at heavenly donuts paid for her order. The next day she paid $12 for the order of the family behind her, who paid for the car behind them, and on and on until a total of 55 drivers paid it backward over the next 2 ½ hours.  Generosity is contagious.
Did you see the story not long ago about the Detroit man, James Robertson, who walked 21 miles and took 2 buses to get to his job? A 19-year-old college student raised $355,000 in a go fund me campaign and a dealership donated a new car. Generosity is contagious.
I grant you these stories make the news because they are unusual, but they warm everyone’s heart because at a basic level people know that generosity is good. Even non-Christians understand that Christians are to be generous, and rightly so they are quick to point out the hypocrisy of a supposed Christian who behaves selfishly.
Certainly, you would be hard-pressed to find a person who thinks “selfishness” is a fruit of the spirit. Paul writes, “The fruit of the spirit is Generosity.”
 The Bible says it over and over.
            “Do nothing from selfishness,” Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi (Philippians 2:3, NASB),
            Adding in his first letter to the Corinthians that love “seeks not its own way” (13:5, KJV).
            Christ Himself put this concept in the boldest of terms, proclaiming that “whoever desires to save (HOLD ON TO) his life will lose it, but whoever loses (GIVES AWAY) his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25) I think many people blow this verse off because they don’t understand it, frankly it sounds a little crazy, but to hear it in the context of selfishness and generosity changes the whole thing doesn’t it.
            The rich young ruler was told “Go sell all that you have and give the money to the poor” before he could be Jesus’ disciple. (Mark 10:21)
            Mary is affirmed for her generosity in using an expensive bottle of oil to anoint Jesus’ feet.
            God is described as a vineyard owner who is so generous that he pays everyone a whole days wages and asks the question, “Do you begrudge me my generosity?”
            The gospel itself is based on God’s generosity in “giving his only begotten son.”  The hymn says “What more could he give… oh, how he loves you, oh how he loves me, Oh how he loves you and me.”             
God’s generosity is the foundation… our generosity is the fruit of the Christian gospel.

 I am so grateful to be in a church that is very generous with money, and mission giving, community outreach and special needs. I am honored to be part of a church who practices generosity toward one another.  I have heard story after story of how you generously care for one another, how the food pantry is grateful for your generosity, how the school is grateful for your generosity. I have seen it as I have been able to help a couple folks with the special needs fund. I heard about it in the capital campaign. This is a very generous congregation in some wonderful concrete ways. I thank you, the community thanks you, and I believe God smiles as we pass God’s generosity on to others.  Giving generously and being part of a generous community makes us feel great, doesn’t it? Do you want to feel even better?
Let’s not make the mistake that some make when they think that generosity is only about money and stuff.  There is so much more to generosity than money. 
 Mother Theresa said, “Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go.”
Let’s look at how Jesus practiced generous living in the story of the woman at the well… no money changed hands, but look at how Jesus was generous!

 First Jesus had a generous attitude toward the woman. Most Jews would pretend not to see the woman. Jesus had such a generous attitude he not only saw her, he treated her like a human being. He interacted with her. He didn’t judge her for being a Samaritan, for being married 7 times, for living with a man, or for not understanding what he was talking about.
To whom do you have the most difficulty having a generous attitude? People with different political ideas?  (Like the Samaritan woman?) People of a d different race? (Like the Samaritan women?) People with different religions? (Like the Samaritan woman?) Is it hard for you to have a generous attitude to the poor? (The Samaritan woman was not rich, after all, she had to get her own water.) Someone who lies to you? (Like the Samaritan woman?) 
In spite of all those strikes against her, Jesus showed an extraordinarily generous attitude.
To whom do you have the most difficulty havening a generous attitude? People who don’t dress like you do? Their hair is longer or more purple than yours? People who don’t speak English well? People whose kids misbehave? People who are here illegally? Someone whose hygiene is not up to your standards?  People with a negative attitude about the church?
When is it hardest for you to have a generous attitude? Jesus was always pushing the borders and he calls us to break down the borders and barriers that divide and have a generous attitude to people who are like us and unlike us.

Along the way, in their conversation, Jesus realized the Samaritan woman was thirsty… metaphorically speaking…and he offered help. Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
 Jesus showed her a generous heart, open to really hear the other person. This is going one step further than a generous attitude.  This requires you to generously invest your time and listen.
When God created humans, God was more generous with ears than God was with mouths. Does that say something to you?  But listening is not just with our ears, but it is also with our heart.
When we say “How ya doin' ” most people don’t really want to know. A generous heart really does want to know. Do you really… I mean REALLY generously listen to the people around you, or are you too busy planning your next words or your next chore, or how to get away from this person?
If you listen you will find almost everyone carrying some pain and some joy, (just like we do) you will find everyone has dreams and hopes (just like we do).  You’ll find that everyone has fears (just like we do.)  You’ll find that everyone has some emptiness…  (you guessed it just like we do.) 
Having a generous heart that really… I mean really connects with others is a fruit of God’s spirit living in us.

 A generous spirit, A generous heart, finally Jesus shows what generous love is.
When Jesus hears her hurts and discovers her thirst he invites her to something better.  He invites her into relationship with himself.  She doesn’t get it. He invites her again. She still doesn’t get it. He invites her again. She still doesn’t get it. He invites her again, and finally says I am the one.  I am the living water. I am the messiah you are expecting.
None of us are Jesus but we can all love others generously. What better way to love than to share the best thing we have: Jesus. Come with me to worship and meet the one who can heal your hurts, calm your fears, and lift your burdens. Come meet my friends and let us introduce the Jesus we know.  Come and see.
How many times do we invite… how many times did Jesus try to invite the woman? As many as it took. A generous attitude, a generous heart, a generous love never, never, never gives up.

 And do you know what happens next?  Generosity became contagious, just like the woman at the drive-through window. She shared a generous attitude, generous heart, and a generous love for her neighbors by saying, “Come and see the savior I met.  And they do.” 
The passage ends, “ Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”  So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.  And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

That is the way it is supposed to work. The generosity is contagious, the gospel is contagious, but we have to be generous enough to “infect” our friends neighbors and relatives.
Everyone says they want to see more people here for our wonderful worship services. The question is what are you doing about it?  Are you bearing the fruit, a generous attitude, a generous heart, and a generous love to your friends neighbors and relatives? Are we bearing the fruit of the spirit of generous attitude, a generous heart, and a generous love?  Are we the kind of church where ALL kinds of generosity are contagious? That is the kind of church I want to have.  I hope that is the kind of church you want to be.
What kind of church do you want to be?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

“Known by our fruit.: kindness” July 29.2018 First UMC Carroll

The heart of this sermon was Walter Wangerin's  story The Rag Man.  I chose not to print it here out of respect for copyright concerns.  I have linked to a video of the author telling the story himself.  (He does a better job anyway)

“Known by our fruit.: kindness”
July 29.2018
First UMC Carroll
The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace patience… kindness.  This morning we are going to focus on “THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS . . . KINDNESS.”
In our series, “known by our fruit,” we have talked about how the church should be known by the way we love one another and by the Joy we show in worship.  We have talked about how the church should work for peace with justice and work to be a sanctuary where Patience and holy time can be experienced.
Today we explore what it means for the church to be a people who both experience and share kindness.
Interestingly enough the English word kind derives from Middle English and Old English words meaning “natural, native, or innate.”[1] Kindness then is the quality of being who we naturally are, who we were created to be, following the God created innate kindness within us.
That makes perfect sense since we are made in God’s image, because one of God’s primary characteristics in scripture is God’s loving-kindness.
So, we were created to be kind in the image of God’s loving-kindness.  So, what is kindness.
Listen to this parable.
I saw a strange sight…. (telling thestory) I stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing in my life, my street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for. Hush, child. hush now, and I will tell it to you.

Let me draw three lessons about kindness out of this story.
The center of kindness is personal relationship that never gives up on anyone. God’s kindness is not an abstract idea. It is not a theory. It is not an emotion.  God’s kindness is grounded in God’s personal investment in the lives of God’s people. And God’s kindness never gives up.
So, bearing the fruit of the spirit that is kindness starts with a purposeful, persistent, personal relationship with the other person. Kindness never gives up.
Not on a woman sitting with her arms and legs in a pathetic “x,” not on the girl with the bleeding head, not the man with only one arm, not the drunk, not you and not me.
No one is too far gone for gods kindness. We are likewise called to never consider anyone beyond the reach of the church’s kindness.

Second, we see that God’s loving-kindness is not limited to God’s favorite people.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back . . . because [God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” [2]Jesus doesn’t tell us to love our friends and treat them nicely. He says love your enemies and do good to them! Why? Because that is the nature of God’s lovingkindness. No one is shut out of God’s kingdom. God is kind to the ungrateful. God is kind to the wicked. God is even kind to those who have strayed off like a lost lamb… God’s kindness never shuts anyone out.
Kindness doesn’t shut out the immigrant, the poor family around the corner, the addict, the mentally ill person, the abuser, the convict or ex con or anyone else.  God’s kindness and therefore the kindness we bear as a fruit of God’s Spirit is a kindness that believes no one is too far gone.  No one is unlovable.  No one should be excluded from the kindness of the church’s ministry.

First Kindness never gives up. Second kind ness never shuts anyone out…
            Finally, Kindness makes a difference. By that I don’t mean kindness can change things… although it can… but I mean if you want to be kind, you have to be willing to change things.
The rag man took the tears, the wound, the disability, the affliction on himself… freeing those people. Kindness is not just feeling sorry for them, it is doing something about it… it means change.  Sometimes it is social structures. Sometimes it is economic or housing, or employment, or relationships. Kindness might be giving a bottle of cold water, insulating an old house, building a ramp, offering some money, or a better a job, giving a warm- or cool- place to rest, or a ride to the nearest shelter.
 or … or… most difficult of all… sometimes the greatest kindness is to change ourselves.  Change our biases, our prejudices, our assumptions, or our behavior. 
Kindness is not a feeling, it is not an emotion, it is not an idea… kindness is action.  Webster's definition of kindness as a noun is incorrect. The way I see it, Kindness is a Verb. It's an action. You have to do something in order to incite an uprising of kindness.
The fruit of the Spirit is kindness that never gives up.
The fruit of the spirit is kindness that never shuts anyone out. 
The fruit of the spirit of kindness that changes things.

[2] Luke 6:35 (NIV)