Brand New: Song

Brand New: Song
A Message on Colossians 3:12-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 9, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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I suffered a big disappointment this past Wednesday. And no, it did NOT have anything to do with politics. (Although I am disappointed how politicians ON BOTH SIDES are acting these days…)

In preparing for this sermon I became aware that the song, “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” is not in the United Methodist Hymnal. Nope, it’s not there. I double checked. In the back of the hymnal there is an index of hymns listed by both title and first lines of the hymn. It wasn’t there. I even looked under authors. Nope. Nada.

So I grabbed a trusty ol’ Cokesbury Hymnal, and sure enough, beautifully printed on page 231, is “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.”

And then it made me realize that a person (or several persons) sat around a table while working on the “new” UMC Hymnal (which came out in 1989 by the way) and made the decision, “Nah, let’s don’t include ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow’ in the new hymnal. Let’s leave it out.”

If I had been in that room I would have… let me be careful how I phrase this… vehemently protested. Actually, I would have had a conniption fit. I might have yelled, “Now let me get this straight. You want to remove ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow” but you want to put in a hymn titled, ‘Jaya Ho’ that starts out with ‘Jaya Ho, Jaya Ho, Jaya Ho, Jaya Ho…’ What’s wrong with you people!”

(And that’s why I’m not on the hymnal revision committee.)

To me the hymn “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” is a beautiful, wonderful hymn. I especially like the chorus:

(get guitar and sing)
I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
For his eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

I bring up that hymn because today as we continue our sermon series on “Brand New” we are going to look at the subject of “song.” In the scripture we read today the apostle Paul writing to the believers in Colossae and encouraging them not to give in to worldly thinking.

Back then, as now, some of the people calling themselves Christians were finding themselves facing different beliefs and teachers.

The followers of Jesus were still trying to figure out what it meant to be a follower of Christ. They had a few writings, but didn’t have the guidance of the entire Bible like we do today. (Which means we should be doing better than they did back then, right? Hmmmmm.)

But in Chapter 3 of Colossians he starts talking about the “new life in Christ, saying “set your mind on things above…” and “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly…”

In this midst of his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes this: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” — Colossians 3:16

I want to focus today on the last part of that sentence: “…with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

Have you ever been so excited about something that you just have to make some sort of vocalization or shout something out? I have. And I sometimes still do!

A lot of my exuberant guttural vocalizations occur when I am kayak fishing, and it’s probably a good thing because usually there aren’t many people around to witness it. But if I catch a decent size fish that really puts up a good fight, and I get it to the boat without it getting unhooked, I get so pumped up that I’ll let out a loud, “Wooooooo hooooooooooo!” Or maybe, “YESSSSSSS!”

I get so excited that I just have to let it out. If I try to keep it in I feel like I will explode.

That’s the kind of excitement that Paul wants us to have about being a follower of Jesus.

One of the ways we can “let out” the excitement of being a Christian is through music. We sing songs that express the way we feel both through the lyrics and music.

If you think about it, we use music to express things that are difficult to express just in words. Take love for example. How many songs are there that have been written about love? I dare say millions!

Check out the charts. Nearly every song is about love, about relationships. I would play and sing some of them but in checking the lyrics of the top 40 songs many of them have some language that I’m reluctant to use in church. Well, I won’t use that kind of language outside of church as well.

Something mysterious happens when we put words to music. When they are combined they become something unique, something that speaks to and from our souls. It expresses our joy, our pain, our emotions in a very unique way.

We as Christians we should be so full of the love of Jesus that we sing about it as well!

Our Bible contains a hymnal, by the way. It’s called the Psalms. These are words written to be sung with music. Unfortunately there was no way back then of saving melodies or music when they were written, so we don’t have the music part of them, but the psalms are the lyrics to that music.

John and Charles Wesley discovered the power music has to spread the Gospel. They took the tunes of some songs sung in the taverns and bars of that day and put different lyrics to them. People in the bars were familiar with the music, and before long they were singing the religious lyrics other than the ribald ones.

Here’s a somewhat modern example of what that might look like. How many of you are familiar with the song “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” written by Steve Goodman and sung by David Allen Coe? It’s also known as the “You don’t have to call me darlin’, darlin” song. Some of you my age and older may remember it.

But if we do the Wesley thing with it it might sound something like this: (Get guitar and sing to the tune of “You Never Even Called Me By My Name”)

Well I was lost until I found my savior Jesus
My life was filled with strife, sin and pain
But when I turned to Christ, I hit my knees and said, “Save me, Lord!”
Then I started living a brand new way

So I’ll love you, and I’ll sing my praises to you
Cause Jesus, your love makes me want to sing
Oooooh thank you God, for sending your only son, Jesus
My life will never ever
No my life will never ever
My life will never ever be the same

“…with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

The Bible has many verses that talk about singing.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” Psalm 100:1-2

“Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.” Psalm 147:1

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” James 5:13

“O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” Psalm 95:1

“What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.” 1 Corinthians 14:15

And those are but a tiny fraction of the verses in the Bible that talk about singing.

So we should sing! That’s what I want us to do right now. And I really want you to sing out. Our Chancel Choir is awesome and we have great singers in it, but I want you to sing so that they can hear you. I want you to sing in celebration of what Jesus Christ has done in your life. I want you to sing as a way of worshipping our God, who sent his only son to die for each one of us, to redeem us. I want you to sing with excitement and with joy! (Get guitar and lead songs)

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

All creatures of our God and king
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
O praise ye! Alleluia!

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus
Sing his mercy and his grace
In the mansions bright and blessed
He’ll prepare for us a place

When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory

So my challenge to you this week is to sing! Sing songs of God’s love for you and your love for God. Sing with music and voice, but also by behavior and deed. Let the whole world know that:

(Sing) I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
For his eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

And if you have the chance to recommend me for the hymnal revision committee, I’d really appreciate it.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Brand New: Children of God

Brand New: Children of God
A Message on Romans 8:12-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 26, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 8:12-17 (NRSV)

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

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Years ago there was a television personality and author named Art Linkletter who hosted a show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” It ran from 1952 to 1970, which is a long time in the television world. Art ended up interviewing more than 20,000 kids!

The show had a very simple format: Art would ask young kids questions and some of their responses ended up being very funny. Sometimes they would just say things that were funny.

For example, Art asked one boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy answered that he wanted to be an actor. So Art said, “Let me give you a little test. Have you ever done any acting?” “Yeah,” the boy replied. Art said, “Well, let me hear you say ‘Art Linkletter’ like you’re mad.” The boy put on an angry face and said, “Art Linkletter like your mad”!

Another time Art asked a young boy named Thomas what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said a bus driver or a pilot. Art said, “Well suppose you are a pilot on a big airplane, and all of a sudden all four engines stopped. What would you say?” The boy thought for a moment, bowed his head, and said, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

He asked a little girl what her favorite Bible story was, and she said the story of Jesus turning the water to wine at a wedding. He asked her what we can learn from that story, and she replied, “The more wine we get, the better the wedding is.”

Children have a way of perceiving things that adults just don’t have. I think we all had childlike characteristics when we ourselves were children, but as we get older and have life experiences those child-like characteristics become fewer and fewer until, sometimes, they go away completely. And that’s a shame.

The scripture we read today from my favorite chapter in the Bible, Romans 8 (you knew that, didn’t you?) reminds us that in terms of our relationship with God, we are all “Children of God,” no matter how old we are.

If we go back to the first part of Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the church members in Rome (and thus the name of the book, “Romans”), we find that Paul is discussing the dichotomy of the flesh and the spirit. He says this, for example: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” — Romans 8:5

Paul is pointing out that because of Jesus Christ, we are no longer just flesh and bone subject to the natural laws of the earth. The things of the earth live, grow old, and die. The things of the earth focus on meeting our physical needs: food, water, shelter, clothing. The things of the spirit, however, see into another dimension, one not limited by time or space, one filled with light and love.

And thus Paul uses the metaphor referring to followers of Jesus Christ as “Children of God.”

Why children?

If you think about it, children are dependent on their parents, especially during the early years of their life. Babies can’t feed themselves. They can’t clean themselves. They aren’t mobile until they learn to walk and then crawl. Communication is pretty much limited to crying when they need something.

Then over time babies become children. Children start doing things by themselves but still need help. They say “I do it by MYself.” They begin to dress themselves, they get to where they can go to the bathroom by themselves. They can feed themselves. But other than simple things they can’t cook for themselves. They depend on parents for transportation. They struggle to understand abstract things.

I can remember when I was a kid thinking that the cost of something was based on the size of the object. I guess I deduced this from spending time at the toy section of the dime store in my home town of Cooper. The larger the toy was, the more expensive it was. Sounded good to me.

Then I learned about things like jewelry and diamonds, which, although small, have much value. My theory was blown to bits.

Another thing I thought was that the sun set somewhere around Commerce, Texas. I new what Commerce was west of where we lived in Klondike, Texas, and as I would watch that big, hot, sphere set on summer evenings I could see it go down in the west. So I figured it set somewhere a little north of Commerce. I thought there was a great big burned spot on the ground where it set. After all, the sun is hot, you know.

As I got older and began to understand the scale of sizes, and as I developed the ability to comprehend abstract concepts, I came to a better understanding of sunsets.

The same kind of thing happens in our spiritual walk. As children we learn Bible stories, we learn about David and Goliath, about the walls of Jericho that come crumbling down, and that Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

But as we grow we learn about the Christian faith with a deeper understanding. We don’t perceive God as being an old man with a long, white beard that lives in the clouds, but, to quote Anselm’s ontological argument, we come to comprehend that God is that which there is nothing greater. (Okay, or maybe somewhere in between.)

We grow in our faith. And sometimes when our faith grows it loses some of its childlike characteristics. I think that it is a shame to lose some of those.

What are some of the characteristics that children have that adults don’t?

Children are curious. They want to know about things, how things work, what things are called.

How many of you parents remember your children going through the “why” stage. This is when they keep asking why over and over.

“Why are tree leaves green?”
“The chemicals in the leaves absorb all the colors of the spectrum except green.”
“Why?”
“Well, that’s just the way it is. The leaves produce the chemicals such as chlorophyll that causes them to appear to us as green.”
“Why”?
“Because that’s the way God made it.”
“Why?”
“Well that’s something you’ll have to take up with God.”

It’s good to be curious as a Christian. For example, when reading the story of David and Goliath, for example, it’s good to be curious why David picked up five smooth stones. Why five? He only needed and used one. Why five?

Why did Jesus have a breakfast of fish roasted over a charcoal fire ready for the disciples when he appeared to them on the seashore after his resurrection?

Curiosity may have killed the cat but some curiousness is good as a Christian.

Children are also trusting. They trust adults. They don’t yet have the emotional scars of being lied to, of being betrayed, of being emotionally hurt.

Instead they trust. What adults tell them is the truth. They may not understand everything (and because they are children, they probably don’t understand everything,) but they’re okay with that.

Children don’t have to know the details of something in order to believe it.

They don’t have to understand the principle of gyroscopic inertia that keeps a bicycle upright when ridden. They just ride it and have fun.

The children who got up here and sang earlier in this service don’t know about music theory and notes. They don’t know about time signatures or the difference between regular and syncopated rhythms. But as you saw that didn’t keep them from bopping up and down to the beat and singing and having fun.

As adult Christians we are reluctant to believe something unless we know all the specific details about the subject. Especially now that we have the Internet we can research topics on our own and have a plethora of information available to us. Now it’s not all true, of course, but we can sift through it to discover the truth. (Although there is a tendency for us to call “truth” that which tells us what we already want to believe.)

So you see there are childlike characteristics that we as Christians need to have. Instead of being weaknesses I think they are strengths that help us to mature in the faith. I also find ironic that childlike characteristics help us mature in our faith. I think it’s just more proof that God has a sense of humor.

Another thing I think is important about being Children of God is the relationship between children and their parents.

In the scripture we read today Paul writes, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”

Now if you were around pop music in the 70s you might think of a Swedish pop group with the name ABBA. (And you might even be singing the song “Dancing Queen” right now…) But that’s not the Abba we are talking about today.

This “Abba” is an Aramaic word for “father,” but it’s more than that. It’s not a stiff, formal term, but more of an intimate, sort-of nickname. I believe it is better translated for our East Texas culture as “Daddy” or “Papa” or other term of endearment.

Here’s the way I think of it. When our girls were little and I would get home from work, they would yell, “DADDY!!!!” and come running to me, jumping into my arms and giving me a great big hug.

I think that applies well to us as Children of God as well. Our God is one that we can be excited to experience, and we can run and jump into his arms, giving him a big hug and receiving a hug in return.

Now we also need to keep in mind that our Abba is also the God of everything, the creator of the universe, the one who transcends time and space, the one who never had a beginning and never has an end. And yet even though God is that powerful, he loves us as a father loves his children.

He loves us so much that was willing to send his own son to earth, to teach us “children” how to live, how to love each other and God, and allowed that son to be brutally killed on a cross so that all his children’s sins could be forgiven and we could be reconciled to our heavenly father.

So my challenge to you this week is to live as a “Child of God.” Bring out those childlike characteristics that can help us mature spiritually. And renew your relationship with your “Abba” Father. Have frequent conversations with your Abba (known as prayer), read his words with a renewed interest and curiosity, sit in his lap and be comforted, knowing that you are loved. Be a child of God.

After all, kids say the darndest things.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Brand New: Strengthened

Brand New: Strengthened

A Message on Isaiah 40:28-31

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Jan. 19, 2020

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Isaiah 40:28-31 (NRSV)

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

    and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

    and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

    they shall walk and not faint.

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How many of you ever watched “The World’s Strongest Man” competition on TV? I can remember watching them when I was in junior high school and I was impressed. They would pull buses and pick up these huge rocks and throw things (they were beer kegs I found out later) and I was impressed. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be strong.

The trouble with that was that I was short and skinny. Now looking at my tall, pudgy figure now you may not believe it,but it was true. Very true. When I started high school I weighed 80 pounds. It’s hard to be a strong man when you weigh 80 pounds as a high school freshman.

I remember reading comic books (my generation’s version of an iPad) and seeing ads for the Charles Atlas fitness system. It showed a small, skinny guy getting sand kicked on him at the beach, but after he used the system he was all muscled up and buff and nobody messed with him. That’s how I wanted to be.

One day in junior high we went to the field house where the high school football boys worked out. They let us lowly junior high boys lift the weights and use the strength training equipment. As expected I didn’t do too well with the weights, which was very disappointing to me. I worked hauling hay in the summers and I had pretty good strength in my legs, but not my upper body. Everybody was lifting more than I could. Everybody. I was embarrassed.

During our rotations we came to one piece of equipment devised to increase grip strength. It had two handles, one on each side, and you squeezed one side and then the other. There was an adjustment in the middle which could be adjusted to increase or decrease the resistance.

I expected I would perform miserably at this machine as well. My time came and I started gripping, and then tightening the resistance, and then doing it again.

I ended up doing the top level of it, as high of a resistance as it could go. My classmates gathered around, not believing what they were seeing. I had trouble believing what I was seeing! Here’s this scrawny, small kid (who was still years away from needing to shave) who couldn’t bench press his own weight and he was squeezing this contraption at a setting the other boys (some of whom were shaving) couldn’t move.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why. See my dad believed in farm to table way before it was popular. We raised and processed our own beef. We had a big garden and canned vegetables. And we had a milk cow, named Brownie, and my job was to milk her by hand, twice a day, every day.

We drank raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk. Dad believed that pasteurizing and homogenizing the milk took all the “good stuff” out of it, so we a milk cow and had fresh milk to drink.

That day in the weight room I realized that all those days of milking Brownie had done something to my body. It happened very slowly over a long period of time, but day by day, even though I wasn’t aware of it, it strengthened the muscles in my forearms and made my grip strong. Very strong.

Today, many years later, my grip strength is probably only normal or maybe a little below normal. My grip strength didn’t last once I stopped milking a cow. I do still have the strength, however, to hold a fishing pole, drumsticks, and chicken wings, so I’m good.

Today I want us to explore the topic of strength as we continue our sermon series on being “Brand New” in Jesus Christ.

Now the scripture I just read come to us from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. You may remember that Isaiah was a prophet somewhere around the 8th century BC. As most prophets did, he tried to convince the Jewish people to turn from their evil ways and follow the one true God. In the words of the modern-day sorta-prophet musical group Santana, “You got to change your evil ways, baby…”

The book of Isaiah is filled with political references as well, dealing with kingdoms and power and nations fighting each other. Through it the prophet tells the Jewish people that their true loyalty lies with God, not with human forms of government. (Hmmmm. Not a bad reminder for us today, either, if you ask me.)

Isaiah also gives prophecies about the Messiah that was to come. One such prophecy (actually a series of four poems), known as the “Suffering Servant” prophecy, talks about how the Messiah will suffer at the hands of men before ushering in God’s kingdom.

The 40th chapter of Isaiah starts off offering comfort to God’s people. It reads,

Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your God.

  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and cry to her

that she has served her term,

    that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

But towards the end of the chapter the prophet again chastises the people of Israel for thinking they can do things that they believe God doesn’t see.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

    and speak, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord,

    and my right is disregarded by my God”?

   Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

And then we come to the end of the 40th chapter and Isaiah offers encouragement and hope for a people that have gone through difficult times.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I often choose the scripture I read today to read to those that are in the hospital recovering from hip and knee surgeries. I choose it because I think it’s good for them to hear that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

I really like what Isaiah does here. He uses the image of physical strength and uses it as a metaphor for spiritual strength.

The people of Israel had been beat up pretty well in the time of Isaiah. In about 740 BC or so Israel is invaded by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and were oppressed under their rule. It was tough times for God’s people.

Looking at that metaphor of physical strength representing spiritual strength I think it’s important for us to hear today. The world we live in also shows that God’s people, Christians, are also going through tough times, perhaps not physically (although unfortunately in many parts of the world it is true), but spiritually.

Our society in the US is becoming more and more anti-Christian. On some college campuses Christian groups are labeled as “hate groups.” The media and entertainment industry portrays Christians as uneducated buffoons that believe in superstitions and who are hateful and judgemental. We get beat up pretty bad as Christians nowadays, maybe not physically, but emotionally and spiritually we take some pretty serious blows.

Our own denomination is causing angst and worries among those who call themselves United Methodists. The special called General Conference last year was supposed to decide the sexuality issue once and for all. It didn’t. Now the proposals coming forward for the upcoming General Conference in May all talk about separation, about splitting the church.

We live in troubling times, and our spiritual strength is taking a beating.

Often times when I visit congregation members in the hospital I will read to them the scripture we read from Isaiah. I like to point out that the scripture says, “…those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.”

It’s hard to wait for the Lord, isn’t it? We live in an instant gratification society. We want what we want and we want it now! You can order almost anything from Amazon and have it on your doorstep in two days for less. Remember the days when you would order something off of tv and it always said something like (use announcer voice) “please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery”?

We want instant gratification in our spiritual lives as well. For example we pray something like, “Dear Lord, give me patience, and give it to me NOW!” And we find that instead of God giving us patience, he provides us with opportunities to practice patience.

And it is in using those spiritual muscles regularly over and over we find that over time we are strengthened, that we are able to practice patience easier than we used to.

“…those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…”

On Wednesdays at 10:30 we have chapel time with our Readiness School. It’s one of the highlights of my week because I get to bring my guitar into this sanctuary and lead more than 100 kids from birth through 4-years-old in singing some songs.

Some of the kids think my name is Chapel. Yep. My first name is Chapel and my last name is Time. I will be walking by the playground while they are out playing and they will run up to the fence and yell to me, “Chapel Time! Chapel Time!”

Did you know that there are a lot of children’s songs that talk about strength. For example, Jesus Loves Me.

Jesus loves me this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to him belong

They are weak but he is strong

And you have to show your muscles like this when you sing “strong,” right? Here, show me your muscles!

And how about this one:

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty

There’s nothing my God cannot do (clap, clap)

See, we teach kids about the strength of God, a strength that is not necessarily physical, but a spiritual strength.

We we become Christians, when we make the choice to follow Jesus, one of the most powerful things we have to overcome is to come to terms with is how our weakness is made strong in Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul understood this. He writes about it in the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians. He writes:

“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

 — 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

For Christians finding strength in our human weaknesses is a part of the upside-down and backwards world of following Jesus.

When we go through tough things in our lives it exercises our spiritual muscles, sometimes even without us realizing it. Like when I was milking a cow, going through those tough time slowly, over time, builds up those spiritual muscles. We may not be aware of it, and just with physical exercise it takes time, but day by day we become spiritually stronger. It may not feel that way consciously, but it is happening.

And then when something happens in our lives we often find that we are stronger than we think we are. We discover that by patiently waiting on the Lord, by walking through the tough times with Jesus at our side, we have renewed our strength. We can start out walking and not faint, we can run and not grow weary, and before long we find ourselves soaring on wings like eagles.

One thing to remember about this is that it is important to remember the source of that strength. It doesn’t come from ourselves, but from God.

During the past five years here I have witnessed many of you going through some incredibly difficult things in your lives. Some of the things no human should ever have to go through. It breaks my heart to see good people going through such incredibly painful experiences.

I have attempted to minister to many of you going through those tough times, but often as I get in my car and head back to the office or home, I wonder just who ministered to whom. I leave feeling that I have just been in the presence of someone holy, someone who, even though they were distraught and in horrible emotional pain, kept going. They put one foot in front of the other, sometimes taking baby steps. And they got through it. Not over it, but through it, little by little, tiny step by tiny step.

Those people are my heroes. I feel that way because I have witnessed them living beyond the strength they themselves had. I am convinced they were able to get through it only by the strength of God. I have no other explanation other than the intervention of God’s strength.

These individuals are probably not aware of it at the time, but through their weaknesses, through their mourning, through their hurt and pain and sorrow, God has strengthened them. They have walked without fainting, run without growing weak, and will, at some point, soar on wings like eagles.

So my challenge to all of us this week is to look to God for our strength instead of trying to be strong by ourselves. God sent his son Jesus Christ to earth, and it is through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that we receive true strength that enables us to do things not humanly possible.

We may not be aware of the changes slowly taking place in us, but as new creations in Christ over time we become spiritually stronger. We strengthen our spiritual muscles through reading the scriptures, Bible study, prayer, fasting, regular worship attendance, acts of mercy, and by sacrificial giving of our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” And in doing so, we strengthen our spiritual muscles and are prepared no matter what life throws at us.

Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty

There’s nothing my God cannot do (clap, clap)

Oh, and if you want to increase your grip strength, I highly recommend getting a milk cow. Plus you get some great milk!

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

December 25: Christmas Day

Love Came Down

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

On Christmas Eve when I was young my family traveled to my grandparents’ home. The house was always full of good food and fun. We opened presents and played dominoes. When it was time, one of the adults in the house proclaimed, “It’s time to go.”

We bundled up and headed over to my cousin’s church. Watching the houses decorated in lights go by, the loud of the day drifted away. The hush of anticipation filled the air as we took our seats in the sanctuary.

Cousins dressed as angels and shepherds made their way to the manger. I listened as they told about Mary and Joseph’s journey, and my heart overflowed when they placed the babe in the manger. I’m not sure how to express the love I encountered in that church. If it had a smell or a sound, I experienced it there. It was in that place I experienced what holy felt like for the first time.

I’m much older now, but I can still feel it. My heart overflows when I consider Love lying there in the manger. The same Love that makes its way to the cross to save you and me. Love that transforms hearts and makes us holy. Love so deep I cannot fathom, so wide I cannot cross.

Love came down at Christmas, and I will never be the same.

Don’t let this day pass by without lighting your Advent candles. Ring the bells! Sing out loud! Hug tighter and smile brighter.

Christmas-Love-Jesus-FUMC-Advent.jpg[Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash]

For this is Christmas Day! This is the day our hearts become holy with the light of Love, and it’s the most precious gift of all.

Stacy Boyer

Oh God! Your incredible love for Your creation overwhelms. To think of You – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – separating Yourself in such a way to make the Way for us to return to You is truly awesome. Fill us with the wonder of Your love for us and bless us with the faith to love others the way You love us. Amen.

Additional readings: John 1:14, 1Corinthians 13:4-13, 1John 4:9-10

December 24

Advent Excitement

When I was a young child growing up in Cooper, Texas, my family attended church that had a children’s choir. I remember one fall the children’s choir was going to have a singing performance as part of the church’s Advent celebration.

I am one of six children, so our family made up the bulk of the children’s choir. We practiced for weeks and weeks until the night of the performance came. I remember putting on our costumes. I was a shepherd, my youngest brother was a sheep, and my younger sister was an angel, complete with wings and even a wire halo.

Advent-Holy Spirit-Faith-Light-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Chris Sowder on Unsplash]

The performance was held at night and the last song was to feature each of us children holding a candle while singing. The plan was then for one member of the children’s choir to light the candle of a congregation member, and then the light would be passed around from member to member until the small sanctuary was beautifully illuminated by candlelight.

I remember being excited, even though my costume was itchy. As we stood in the choir loft looking out at the congregation, I remember looking forward to holding a lit candle.

When the time came, us children started lighting our candles. Everyone got their candle lit and we started singing our final song (I don’t even remember what it was). All went well… for a while. Then my younger brother, who was standing in the row behind my sister, somehow got his candle too close to the back of my sister’s head and set her hair on fire. My sister, unaware of the growing inferno behind her, continued singing while holding her candle in front of her. As the flames grew higher one of my older sisters, also standing behind, saw the growing fire and quickly slapped her hands together on the flaming hair, putting it out. The smell of burnt hair began to fill the sanctuary, but my younger sister, unaware that anything had happened, kept on singing.

Each Advent season I am reminded of that event. In remembering it I also learn from it. John Wesley purportedly once said, “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” I don’t advocate setting one’s hair on fire, but I do believe it is good advice to metaphorically set ourselves on fire with the Holy Spirit. When Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit amazing things happen, and people, especially the unchurched, take notice.

Another thing this memory reminds me of is to keep singing. No matter what happens in our lives, do like my sister did with her hair on fire and keep singing. Don’t let the things of this world keep us from singing our praises to God. Keep on singing.

God came to earth in human form at Christmas. The Savior is born not with great earthly acclaim, but in a small, humble way. And yet this Baby, the Savior of the world, changes everything. And that is worth singing about.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. …”

Matthew 3:11

Doug Wintermute, Pastor

Father God, fill our mouths with songs of praise for all You’ve done, are doing, and have planned for us as Your people. May we see the work of Your hand and glorify You in all we do. Amen.

 Additional readings: 1Thessalonians 5:19, Romans 15:13, Psalm 40:16

December 23

God’s Provision: The Magi

 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? … After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”

Matthew 2:1-2, 11-13

Recently, I read an article titled: What happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh the Magi brought Jesus? The article explores the incredible wealth Jesus’s family received from the Magi. The scholars who researched this question estimated in today’s dollars it was approximately $4,000,000.00. The Magi weren’t kings but priests and astronomers from an ancient religion practiced in Persia for a millennium. Their caravan probably traveled several months to years and arrived in Bethlehem 2-3 years after Jesus’s birth. They knew of the prophesies of a Jewish messiah from the exiled Jews living in Babylon. As interesting as this question is it occurred to me that the real lesson in this part of “The Christmas Story” is God’s provision for Jesus’s family. It shows details of God’s complicated plan for Our Savior, just think how many things God put in place so we could reconcile with Our heavenly Father.

The Magi find Jesus and his family living in Bethlehem in a house not a stable. Joseph is making a living as a tradesman, either as a carpenter or more likely a mason. Since they are still in Bethlehem two years after Jesus’s birth, it is unlikely they had the money to travel back to Nazareth. But God had a plan. First, He provides for the holy family material needs with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These treasures could be used to escape to Egypt and live. Then, He warned the Magi and Joseph of the impending danger to Jesus in separate dreams. Then the Magi and the holy family leave Bethlehem, maybe in the same caravan. The holy family traveling within a caravan of maybe a hundred or so people would have provided safety.

Prepare-Wisemen-Advent-Nativity-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Inbal Malca on Unsplash]

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus go and live in Egypt until God tells them it safe to return, approximately two years later. The treasure provides money for Joseph to buy tools to make a living while in Egypt. It also funds the return trip to Nazareth.

I believe it also provided for Jesus’s education and ministry, if we examine the Scriptures, they reveal Jesus as a very educated man in a time most people could not read or write but learned parts of the Torah from oral tradition.

Conclusion: God knew what was going to happen to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus years before it occurred, and He provided for them. God orchestrated the events in their lives for their good and His purpose. I believe God provides for all His children who love Him. Scriptures say God works all things for the good of those who love Him.  Think about it; all things: good, bad, godly, ungodly, natural and the miraculous. Sometimes God’s provisions come from unlikely sources; natural, everyday events, some may not seem godly. Usually God’s provision is not miraculous, but mundane everyday stuff. The next time you’re fearful or concerned about something in your life, pray and remember God already knows your concerns and has a plan in place. You just have to have the courage to follow God’s guidance. God will provide for your needs and desires before you know yourself.

Dear Father God, creator and owner of all things. We thank You for our blessings; our loved ones, spiritual gifts, and material wealth. Without You, we would be nothing. We thank You for Your provision in our lives. Most of all, we thank You for Jesus and His wonderful gift of salvation. AMEN.

 Jack Carter

Additional Scripture: Matthew 6:25-33

December 21

Life… It Happens

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6

As most everyone knows, I have had some “situations” in my life this year that have tested my ability to face them. For several years I have either flown or driven to Central Ohio to check on my mother every 6 weeks or 2 months. She was in a nursing home nearly 10 years as her health declined steadily. During that time, I have also gone to Ohio to attend the birthdays and funerals of my extended family for my immediate family as I am the oldest in my family.

All that pressure wore on me and made me question my devotion to my mother in Ohio and my family here in Texas. Every time I let myself question where I needed to be, God would show me that my mother and my family here supported me no matter where I was. It was at those stressful times that I would slow down and pray for help so that I would know where I belonged. (I pray at all times, but this was when I would stop and pray specifically about my concerns.)

Finally, on July 4th of this year, my mother joined my dad, the angels and God. I truly believe she is doing everything now with my dad as she plays piano, sews, crochets and cooks happily.

Life-Baking-Fruitful-Serving-Love-Advent-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash]

I thank the Lord that He has given me the peace and understanding of where I belong. I am glad to have done what I did, but I am glad to be here.

Jackie Gruber

Father God, life doesn’t stop for holidays and Jesus showed up in the middle of it all. Not many took notice of His arrival because of politics, religion, illness, financial needs, family concerns. Show us this Christmas season how You came to be with us in all of life. To show us the way through it and reveal Your love for us. May we find Your peace and put our hope in You as we walk through the daily drama of life both expected and unexpected. Amen.

 Additional Scriptures: 2Corinthians 5:14-15, John 10:9-10, Philippians 1:21-24, 2Thessalonians 1:11-12

December 20

The Season of Light

 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

Isaiah 9:2

Two times I’ve really paid attention to light versus dark. Well, maybe just one time as the other just hit me as I was writing this devotional.

The first was on a mission trip to Ojeto, Utah to help a sister church on the Navajo Reservation. We would go out on the Mesa for the evening devotions. One night as I was laying back, looking at the night sky, the stars stunned me. They were so close, so enormous and profuse. To me it seemed that they refused to be blanketed by the night sky, nothing could keep them from shining. It was like a curtain had been hung with holes in it that allowed the light to penetrate, so brightly it lit up the night.

The second was the realization that Christmas is all about lights. We put them on trees and houses and buildings. There is something so special about driving around the neighborhood, in the dark evening, looking at Christmas decorations. Lights everywhere… glowing, sparkling… they fill us with joy and wonder. We ride in the car with the kids and point, Oh, look at that one. (And wonder how in the world people got lights way up there).

Light-Jesus-Faith-Hope-Advent-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash]

Then there is the tree in the living room. A tradition. It goes up every year even though it seems like a lot of trouble. Drag out the boxes and haul them to the living room. The strings of lights are twisted and when plugged in don’t work. Argh! And, you thought romantically, sentimentally, that it would be a family affair. Think again, you are home alone. Then the strategy of placing each ornament in the perfect place. Tedious is the word that comes to mind.

But, then comes the evening and you plug the tree in and stand back, and well, it takes your breath away as you bask in the warmth of the glow. The feeling those glowing lights bring, of peace and hope, into the heart of where you live.

Yet, in all this time, all these years, I’ve never connected those lights to the fact that Jesus is the great Light for our souls. Bringing us out of spiritual darkness so we can embrace God’s love for us. And then we, like the stars, reflect the glory of God and shine God’s love to a dark world.

And we certainly can’t forget the star over the manger sent by God… the light that guided the wise men to the Babe in the stable. The light that celebrated this amazing event, God coming to dwell among his people.

There is a song:

Walk in the light, the beautiful light.

Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.

Shine all around us by day and by night.

Jesus the light of the world.

Jesus came as the Light. We as His disciples reflect His light. But mostly we thank God who sent Jesus, the Light, who takes us out of the darkness.

Linda Baker

Jesus, thank You for rescuing us from the darkness and making the way for us to come into Your Kingdom of Light. May we shine Your love and mercy like stars splashed across the night sky.

 Additional Scriptures: Genesis 1:1-4, John 1:1-5, Luke 1:76-79, John 8:12

December 19

Chosen to Share the Good News

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2:8-20

In the time that Jesus was born, shepherds were not considered important people, but God chose to tell them about Jesus’s birth. The shepherds hurried off to see for themselves, and when they saw Him, they were excited to tell others about the baby Jesus.

Sometimes, we may not feel like we are very important. But God does not see us the way we see ourselves. He knows everything about us and still loved us enough to send Jesus to save us. We should be like the shepherds when they heard the news from the angels about Jesus being born – we can be excited and hurry and tell everyone that Jesus is born, and He is all the reason we need to celebrate Christmas.

Paxton's Pic.jpg

Dear God, thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus. Help us to be brave like the shepherds and share the news of Jesus and of Your love for us all. Amen.

 Paxton Johnson

Additional Scriptures: Romans 10:15, Psalm 8, 1Peter 2:9

December 18

The Light of the World

We have observed His star at its rising and have come to pay Him homage.

Matthew 2:1

During this season of Advent, we are preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of the birth of our Savior: The Light of the World. We are remembering the beautiful stories of the announcement by the angel to Mary; the shepherds leaving their flocks to find this One being heralded by heavenly hosts and brightness all around; the journey of the Wise Men following the bright star. Seems all have been guided by a great light.

Light-Follow-Advent-Faith-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Unsplash]

It is not surprising that the arrival of Jesus is heralded by light as He is often referred to in Scripture as “the light of the world.” At Christmastime the oft told story of the Wise Men following a bright light in the sky should lead each of us to reflect upon the question: What light is leading me?

We must remember the light of Christ is the internal light of the Holy Spirit and is discernable to a dark lost world only when we allow the love of Christ to shine through us in word and deed.

Do I respond when God calls me? Oh, not through an angel who comes in the night to speak to me, but perhaps through the appearance of someone in a needy situation, someone suffering through grief in the loss of a loved one, the call to mend a friendship or enmity with a family member. When God calls to you do you wonder how to respond? Does God’s purpose flicker like a flame in a sudden breeze and go out by no response? Or does your flame (light) burn even brighter and strong, “Here I am, Lord.”?

Let each of us focus on the light of Christ within and keep it burning brightly, so that it can shine brightly through us to transform the world as we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Advent is a time of preparation of our hearts to remember:

  • He has given us eternal life.
  • He has given us His Holy Word.
  • He has given us His Son – His choicest gift.
  • He has given us the Holy Spirit.

 Therefore, we have abundant reason for joy and thanksgiving as we prepare our hearts and lives for the celebration of Jesus’s birth!

Dear Lord, allow me to focus on Your Light, stand in Your Light, and allow You to project Your Light through me. May I stay focused on YOU during this Season of Advent. Amen.

 Helen Drummond

Additional readings: Philippians 2:14-15, 1Thessalonians 5:16-22, Matthew 5:14-16