UMC Prayer Guide

Saturday, February 23

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him.

1 Chronicles 16:11

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What’s Happening:

  • Praying for United Methodist Church

Prayer Focus:

  • God’s will be done
  • Spirit of charity reigns in all

UMC Prayer Guide

Friday, February 22

I have called you by name; you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1b

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What’s Happening:

  • Final Delegates arrive (especially USA)
  • Registration
  • Caucus Meetings

Prayer Focus:

  • Committee on Presiding Officers
  • Presiding Delegates
  • People in the Pool to be elected Chair, Vice Chair, or Secretary of Legislative Group
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Prayer Vigil

Prayer Vigil

Saturday, February 23, 2019

9:00 am – 3:30 pm

First United Methodist Church – Jacksonville

Sanctuary

The Called General Conference for the United Methodist Church begins Saturday, February 23. The opening day of the General Conference is devoted to prayer with a two-fold focus: Prayer for the Special Called General Conference and for increased effectiveness in the mission of the United Methodist Church.

As a means of supporting the ministry of the General Conference in St. Louis, the Sanctuary of FUMC-Jacksonville will be open for prayer during the same hours the delegates and leaders of the General Conference are praying.

Come and go as you are led by the Spirit. Prayer guides will be available.

[Feature Image Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash]

UMC Prayer Guide

86E7E3AC-5386-4C66-87DC-C6BEA483EA0BThursday, February 21

Well then, what shall I do? I will pray in the spirit, and I will also pray in words I understand. I will sing in the spirit, and I will also sing in words I understand.

1Corinthians 14:15

 

What’s Happening:

  • Delegate Travel
  • Africa Initiative

Prayer Focus:

  • Worship teams
  • Audio/Visual teams
  • Workers at venue
  • Volunteers from Local Annual Conferences

UMC Prayer Guide

Wednesday, February 20

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.

Proverbs 16:9

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What’s Happening:

  • Delegate Travel
  • Africa Initiative

Prayer Focus:

  • Wisdom for all delegates to understand plans, petitions, and implications

UMC Prayer Guide

Tuesday, February 19

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.

Deuteronomy 31:8

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What’s Happening:

  • Delegate travel
  • Preparations

Prayer Focus:

  • Bishops and spouses
  • Caucus Groups
  • Volunteers
  • Removal of anxiety from all worried about outcome

UMC Prayer Guide

As we approach the Called General Conference this weekend, we feel called to pray. Join us as we approach the throne room of God for the United Methodist Church.

For the next 14 days you’ll find a post to guide you in your prayer time here on the blog. Each will contain a picture, information about what’s happening, a scripture and prayer focus. We invite you to use these to guide you in prayer as we join together to lift up the United Methodist Church.

Monday, February 18

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.

Psalm 37:23

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What’s Happening:

  • Delegates travel
  • Conference preparations
  • Logistics

Prayer Focus:

  • Traveling preparations
  • Translators
  • Staff of General Board and Agencies

Wesleyan Roots: “The New Birth”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The New Birth” #45

A Message on John 3:1-21

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 25, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

John 3:1-21 NRSV)

 

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

 

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

 

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There is a comedian out in YouTube land, and other places, that goes by the name of Michael Jr. That’s it, no last name, just Michael Jr.

 

The thing I like about him is that he is a clean comedian. There is no cussing, no nastiness, just good ol’ funny things. He is so clean that he performs in churches a lot.

 

And he talks about being in church. He tells about when he was a young boy how his grandmother used to take him to church. He remembers getting in trouble one time. An older woman was getting into the service and jumping around and suddenly her wig fell off. He thought it was one of the funniest things he had ever seen so he started laughing. His grandma reached over and pinched him, and then twisted. He said “I can understand the pinch, but the twist? That’s the devil.”

 

I was watching him on YouTube this past week and he was talking about babies. He said, “My wife and I have a new baby. Yeah, we have a new baby because that’s the way they come, is new.”

 

He said they had gotten to the point where the baby was sleeping through the night, and he was so glad because “I was so tired of getting up at like three in the morning… to wake up my wife.”

 

Life changes when babies are born, doesn’t it. I remember my dad giving me some advice when Pam was expecting Sarah, our first born. He said, “Sleep as much as you can now, because you will never be this rested again the rest of your life.”

 

New births change lives.

 

I have a friend that I think I have mentioned to you before. Her name is Beth Bethard and she worked in the main office at Perkins School of Theology when I was going there to seminary. Beth developed a heart condition that worsened, threatening her life. Eventually she was hospitalized and things didn’t look good.

 

Then, on Nov. 8, 2008, she woke up in the cardiac ICU unit at Medical Center, Dallas, with a new heart. This is how she put it in a Facebook post earlier this month. “By the grace of God, exceptional medical professionals, and the gift of life from my heart donor, Catherine, I am alive and doing exceptionally well. Grateful for life and family, for health, for every breath I take. Thank you God. And thank you Catherine’s family…for my second chance at life. I love you and my prayers are with you today.”

 

Beth considers Nov. 8 to be her second birthday.  She buys flowers and puts them on the altar at her church on the Sunday closest to Nov. 8 every year to honor her heart donor and celebrate her new life, her second birthday.

 

Our own Paula Travis knows how Beth feels, as she is also the recipient of a heart transplant.

 

While they may celebrate more than one birthday, the “second” birthday they celebrate is metaphorical, not literal. But it is just as important.

 

In the scripture we read today we find one of the Jewish religious leaders, Nicodemus, coming to Jesus at night (he was too scared to go see him during the day), intrigued by what Jesus was teaching. Jesus tells him “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

 

Now Nicodemus (Tony Evans calls him “Nicky”) had trouble following Jesus metaphorical language and took his words literally, asking how a person can be born again once they have been born.

 

Jesus is not talking about a literal birth, of course, but a metaphorical one, a spiritual one. A new birth by water and the spirit.

 

When we baptize someone in the United Methodist Church we do so with… can you guess it?… water and the spirit. We place the water over the head (or pour, or immerse) and say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

 

But it doesn’t end there. I then hold a hand on their head (or make the sign of the cross with the water on their forehead) and say, “The Holy Spirit work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

 

Water and the spirit. It comes from Jesus being baptized with water, and then, when coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove. Water, and then the spirit.

 

But it also is symbolic of the birth process.  As a baby is being formed in a mother’s womb it is surrounded by what is called amniotic fluid. It protects the baby and does some other stuff that I have forgotten. When a woman’s “water breaks” before birth is it the amniotic fluid.

 

And the Holy Spirit is referred to in the Bible in terms that mean wind or breath. The Greek word is “Pneuma.” So when that baby is born and takes that first breath, it is like the breath that God breathed into Adam, like the “tongues as of fire” that appear above the apostle’s heads at Pentecost.

 

So both water and spirit are involved in the birth of babies, and are also involved in being “born again.”

 

Wesley recognized the connections between a physical birth and a metaphorical spiritual birth. Here’s what he said:

 

“Before a child is born into the world he has eyes, but sees not; he has ears, but does not hear. He has a very imperfect use of any other sense. He has no knowledge of any of the things of the world, or any natural understanding. To that manner of existence which he then has, we do not even give the name of life. It is then only when a man is born, that we say he begins to live. For as soon as he is born, be begins to see the light, and the various objects with which he is encompassed. His ears are then opened, and he hears the sounds which successively strike upon them. At the same time, all the other organs of sense begin to be exercised upon their proper objects. He likewise breathes, and lives in a manner wholly different from what he did before. How exactly doth the parallel hold in all these instances!”

 

Now let’s talk terminology. It is from this scripture in John that we get the phrase  “born again.” It’s not so much in use now but just a few years back people used the term “born-again Christian” quite a bit.

 

Now if you ask me that term is a bit redundant. If you are a Christian then you are reborn.

 

The term is nothing new, though. It was even used in the 1700s when John Wesley was around.

 

In his sermon on “The New Birth,” Wesley talks about the term “born again” and gives us a bit of a history lesson.

 

“The expression, ‘being born again,’ was not first used by our Lord in his conversation with Nicodemus: It was well known before that time, and was in common use among the Jews when our Saviour appeared among them. When an adult Heathen was convinced that the Jewish religion was of God, and desired to join therein, it was the custom to baptize him first, before he was admitted to circumcision. And when he was baptized, he was said to be born again; by which they meant, that he who was before a child of the devil was now adopted into the family of God, and accounted one of his children.”

 

So, Nicodemus, being a Jewish religious leader, should have known this, and should have been familiar with the “born again” concept. So, was Nicodemus asking the question about being born again because he really didn’t understand it, or… did he know, but asked the question to push Jesus on the topic?

 

Hmmmmmm.

 

Wesley summarizes the new birth toward the end of his sermon. “In a word, it is that change whereby the earthly, sensual, devilish mind is turned into the ‘mind which was in Christ Jesus.’ This is the nature of the new birth: ‘So is every one that is born of the Spirit.’”

 

So how should being born again affect the way we live our lives today?

 

Back in the 1700s Wesley saw a connection between being born again and, of all things, happiness. Yes, happiness. He said, “For the same reason, except he be born again, none can be happy even in this world. For it is not possible, in the nature of things, that a man should be happy who is not holy.”

 

I find that very intriguing. There are a lot of self-help books on the market today on how to achieve happiness. Some of them I find to be nothing but bad psychology. But as I have said before, I think Blaise Pascal hit the nail on the head by saying that there is a God-shaped hole within each of us. When we try to fill that void with material possessions of this world, with wealth, with vanity, with popularity, or any of those things, we won’t find happiness and contentment. Those things won’t fit in that God-shaped hole. Only Jesus does. New birth does, indeed, bring happiness.

 

It is only by surrendering ourselves at the foot of the cross that we find purpose, find meaning, and find, ironically, freedom.

 

Paul expresses the new birth in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

 

So my challenge to you this week is to live into your new birth. Whether you were “born again” this past year or 80 years ago, live as a new creation. Live a changed life. Live a life filled with love of God and love of others.

 

Like a baby, live out your new birth. Because that’s how they come is new.

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Almost Christian”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Almost Christian” #2

A Message on Acts 26:24-29

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 18, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Acts 26:24-29 (NRSV)

 

While he was making this defense, Festus exclaimed, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. 26 Indeed the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” 29 Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

 

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Let’s start today by looking at the scripture and figure out what is going on.

 

Let’s go back several chapters in Acts to the 21st chapter. There we find Paul arriving in Jerusalem after traveling. He meets with the apostles, meets with James, and then things go downhill.

 

Some Jews from Asia start stirring up trouble for Paul, saying he is teaching false things about the Jewish religion. The crowd becomes violent and tries to kill Paul, but the authorities come and take him away for questioning.

 

After spending some time away from the crowd, Paul asks to address the crowd, which he does. He tells the story of his conversion and how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures, but they didn’t believe him and shouted for this death.

 

The Roman tribune then had Paul strung up to be whipped, which they called “examined,” (yeah, right) but before the Centurion could begin Paul told them that he was a Roman citizen and, therefore, it wasn’t legal for them to whip him. So they stopped.

 

They brought Paul before the Jewish Council, including Ananias, the high priest, and asked him questions. The Jews were still against Paul, taking a vow to fast from eating until he was dead. So the tribune had soldiers take Paul to Caesarea to the governor there.

 

The governor, Felix, has Paul brought before him and Paul again makes his defense. Felix is intrigued by what Paul says, and sends for him and talks to him frequently, but doesn’t free him.

 

This goes on for two years. After that period of time Felix is replaced by Festus.  (And no, not the Festus on the TV series “Gunsmoke.”)

 

Festus listens to Paul’s case and offers to send Paul back to Jerusalem to stand trial, which is what the Jews wanted because they were going to ambush Paul along the way and kill him. But Paul, at that point, appeals to the Emperor, meaning he wanted his case tried before the emperor in Rome. And Festus grants Paul’s request.

 

While Paul waits in prison, King Agrippa, the Roman ruler over the Judea area, comes and visits with Festus. So Festus arranges for Paul to come before King Agrippa to state his case, and Paul does.

 

That’s where we pick up the scripture we read today. Paul tells of his conversion, of his preaching, and even has the audacity to try to talk the king into becoming a follower of Christ.

 

Paul asks, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”

 

Agrippa replies, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?”

 

In the King James translation of the Bible, which is what John Wesley would have been using, it is phrased as: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

 

Almost persuaded. And it is from this that John Wesley writes his sermon titled, “The Almost Christian.”

 

King Agrippa was almost a Christian, but not quite. Almost. Close. But not there.

 

Wesley uses that as a metaphor for people who may claim they are Christian, but really are not. Those who may claim to be Christian, but whose actions, deeds, and words are not in line with Christian beliefs and practices.

 

According to Wesley, being an “altogether Christian,” instead of an “almost Christian, requires “… a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God, that, by the merits of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God; whereof doth follow a loving heart, to obey his commandments.”

 

He goes on to ask a series of questions that he encourages people to ask themselves as a form of self examination, to determine if they are an “altogether Christian,” or an “almost Christian”:

 

“Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, ‘My God, and my All’? Do you desire nothing but him? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing? And is this commandment written in your heart, ‘That he who loveth God love his brother also’? Do you then love your neighbour as yourself? Do you love every man, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own soul? as Christ loved you? Yea, dost thou believe that Christ loved thee, and gave himself for thee? Hast thou faith in his blood? Believest thou the Lamb of God hath taken away thy sins, and cast them as a stone into the depth of the sea? that he hath blotted out the handwriting that was against thee, taking it out of the way, nailing it to his cross? Hast thou indeed redemption through his blood, even the remission of thy sins? And doth his Spirit bear witness with thy spirit, that thou art a child of God?”

 

Ouch. Pretty serious words there, John. But important reflections.

 

Our world today is full of “almost Christians,” people who claim the that they are Christians but who don’t live up to what it means to be an “altogether Christian.”

 

So, is it okay to be an “almost Christian”? There is a saying at “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” Does being “close” apply to Christianity, too? Is it acceptable to be “close enough”?

 

So let’s ponder some things in our world that are “almost.” I have some photos to help us visualize these things.

 

Is fixing a broken tooth with superglue “almost” like going to a dentist? (Dr. Brad Westbrook, a dentist and member of our congregation, tells me that he has seen people do this. He also says it never works out very well, either. So, please, don’t try it.)

 

Here is a fish I caught a while back. This “almost” a state record bass, right?

 

Here is a tattoo someone got. It is “almost” correct, right?

 

Here is a homemade auto repair to replace an air intake hose. It’s “almost” as good as that actual part, right?

 

Here’s a homemade hot tub. It’s “almost” as good as a store bought one, right?

 

Here’s another creative auto repair. Those wooden stools are “almost” as good as the original seats, right?

 

Here is a photo of an “almost” lion. It’s actually a dog wearing a fake mane, but it’s “almost” a lion, right?

 

Ahh, here’s a homemade pontoon boat. It’s “almost” as good as one you can by at Sadler’s Marine, right?

 

Now those are humorous but the point I want to make is serious: are you an “almost Christian”?

 

“Altogether Christians” are those who are completely devoted to fulfilling the great commandment to love god and love others. Not just “almost,” not just “sorta-kinda,” not just at certain times or certain situations, but all the time. Not just for certain people, but for all. It’s a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of discipline.

 

One of the things John Wesley was really passionate about was encouraging others to “holy living.” When we think of that term we might envision some monks or nuns in a monastery or convent, but that’s not what Wesley is talking about. For him holy living meant spending time each day in prayer, in reading the scriptures, and in doing things to benefit others. It wasn’t to separate oneself from society, but to live holy lives in society, serving as an example of the love of Christ.

 

Wesley saw small groups as the key to holy living. The small groups would meet together, discuss the scriptures, pray, and hold each other accountable, asking each person to profess the times when they let God down during the week.

 

We have gotten away from that today in the church, unfortunately. For so many Christians church is just another activity to check off on the list of activities. Go to church on Sunday: check. Go to work on Monday: check. Go to the grocery store on Tuesday: check. And sometimes church doesn’t even make that list.

 

Here at Jacksonville FUMC we have between 900 and 1,000 members on the rolls. Those are official members. And yet look around. This sanctuary can seat 500 people comfortably. And yet our average Sunday attendance last year was 233. This year it is beginning to look like it might even be lower than that.

 

Why? I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this (but you know I’m going to say it anyway), but I believe it’s because we have too many “almost Christians.” Now I know every person can’t make it to church every Sunday, but when the lay leadership committee (what used to be the nominations committee) was going through the official roster of members looking for people to serve in different leadership positions, the phrases, “I didn’t know they were members,” or “I’ve never seen them at church,” or “Why are they on here?” were used way too much.

 

How many of our members are seeking to live holy lives? After all, Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

 

Now I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you think I’m coming down to hard on our church members remember that the person the preacher preaches to the most is himself or herself. The scriptures convict me, and Wesley’s sermons convict me. But I think it’s something we all need to hear. We have to stop being “almost Christians.” We are commanded to be “altogether Christians.”

 

So my challenge to you–and me–this week is to be an “altogether Christian.” Let us not be like King Agrippa, an “almost Christian.” To paraphrase Wesley, let us:

 

Share the love of God that is in our hearts. Let us make God our all, desiring nothing but him. Let us be happy in God, making him our glory, our delight, our crown of rejoicing. Let us write the commandment to love god and love others on our hearts, loving our neighbor, which is everybody, even our enemies and the enemies of God, as we love ourselves, the way Christ loved us. Let us believe that Christ not only loved us, but gave himself up for us. Let us have faith in his blood, believing that Jesus, as the Lamb of God, has taken away our sins and thrown them away to the bottom of the sea, that he has erased our sins by nailing them to the cross. Let us remember that we are a redeemed people through his blood, which erases our sins. And let his Spirit be found in our spirit, what we are children of God.

 

That is what “altogether Christians” should look like.

 

And please, if you break a tooth, don’t try to superglue it back on yourself. You only “almost” fix it.

 

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

Wesleyan Roots: “Scriptural Christianity”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Scriptural Christianity” #4

A Message on Acts 4:23-31

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 11, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Acts 4:23-31 (NRSV)

 

After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, 25 it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:

 

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,

   and the peoples imagine vain things?

26 The kings of the earth took their stand,

   and the rulers have gathered together

       against the Lord and against his Messiah.’

 

27 For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

 

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Today I want to start off by telling you about a young man who grew up in California as the oldest of three sons. He loved his family and he loved football. He was good at football, real good, and he led his high school to a championship. He started looking at colleges and secured the last remaining scholarship to Arizona State University in 1994.

 

This young man excelled as an outside linebacker and during his junior year helped the team go undefeated. He was good in the classroom as well, completing a degree in marketing in three-and-a-half years with a 3.85 GPA.

 

After graduation the young man was drafted in the 1998 NFL and was selected by the Arizona Cardinals. In the NFL he moved over to the position of safety and was very successful. He even turned down a 5-year, $9 million offer from the St. Louis Rams simply out of devotion to the Cardinals.

 

In May of 2002, eight months after the 9-11 attacks, this young man turned down a $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals and instead enlisted in the U.S. Army, trading the cleats of a football player for the boots of a soldier. His younger brother gave up a professional baseball contract and enlisted with him.

 

The young man saw combat in the first invasion of Iraq. After that he entered Ranger school and graduated as an Army Ranger in November 2003.

 

He was deployed to Afghanistan and, on April 22, 2004, was killed. Initially it was reported that he was killed by enemy combatants but later it became known that he had been killed by “friendly fire,” gunfire from our own forces.

 

The young man’s name, if you haven’t guessed it by now, was Pat Tillman. It was a sad situation. Tillman is considered a hero and was awarded many military medals after his death for his service. He made many sacrifices to serve his country.

 

I bring that up today because today is Nov. 11, what is known as the traditional Veterans Day. It was first known as Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I. It’s easy to remember because the armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, exactly 100 years ago today. (The year was not 1911, but 1918.)

 

In 1947, after World War II, it became Veterans Day, a national holiday to honor all those who have served in the military. It’s common to confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day but the two are different. Memorial day honors the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in military service. Veterans Day honors all of those who have served in the armed forces.

 

Now I have a lot of preacher friends that believe Veterans Day to be a secular holiday and that it shouldn’t be recognized in a worship service. Obviously, I don’t believe that. And the reason I don’t is that I believe there are some strong parallels between the willingness as a soldier to put oneself in harm’s way for others and the call we have as Christians to sacrifice our lives for others.

 

In the scripture we read from the book of Acts we find Peter and John rejoining the disciples after being in prison. The Jewish religious leaders had become exceedingly upset with Peter and John for saying that the people they were healing were being done in the name of Jesus Christ and that Jesus offered resurrection to those who believed.

 

The religious leaders were frustrated, but the disciples had developed such a large following, about 5,000 people!, that the leaders were kind of intimidated. Plus, they didn’t really have any charges that they could bring against them. After all, it wasn’t illegal to heal people.

 

So after Peter and John had been held in jail overnight, the religious leaders called them in and chided them, telling them to cut it out and don’t be talking about this Jesus business anymore. Now you would think that Peter and John would say, “Okay,” and then go out and be a little bit quieter about Jesus.

 

But no. With incredible boldness they told the religious leaders that they couldn’t do that, and even got a little snarky with them. “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

 

So the religious leaders release them, reluctantly, and Peter and John rejoin the disciples. That’s where we pick up the scripture that we read today.

 

The disciples went boldly before the religious authorities, people who had political power over them, and they didn’t cow-down before them.

 

In a way they were like soldiers, but soldiers of love instead of soldiers of war. Their Commander in Chief was Jesus Christ and their orders were given in the Great Commission: go and make disciples.

 

In his sermon “Scriptural Christianity,” John Wesley talked about how during its early years the Christian movement took off and spread, even though those early Christians were persecuted and many gave their lives.

 

“They ‘approved themselves the servants of God, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours; in perils in the sea, in perils in the wilderness, in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness’ (2 Cor. 6:4ff.). And when, having fought the good fight, they were led as sheep to the slaughter, and offered up on the sacrifice and service of their faith, then the blood of each found a voice, and the heathen owned, ‘He being dead, yet speaketh.’”

 

Listen to how many military terms Wesley uses in that last sentence: “fought the good fight,” “sheep to the slaughter,” “sacrifice,” “service,” and “blood.” Even though Wesley was not a military man, he uses those terms to describe the early Christians.

 

In reading his sermon in terms of today’s world, I think it’s good for us to reflect on how we, as Christians, are willing to live out the great commission. Are we fighting the good fight, are we willing to give our give our lives as “sheep to the slaughter” if necessary so that others may come to know Jesus as their savior? What kind of sacrifice are we making? What acts of service are we willing to do? And, heaven forbid, are we willing to shed our blood if necessary so that others may come to understanding the power of the blood in Jesus?

 

And are we willing to pray what Peter and John prayed in the scripture we read today from Acts? “And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

 

To often we are passive Christians, which should be an oxymoron, or a phrase that contradicts itself. We are afraid to speak boldly about Jesus Christ because it isn’t politically correct. Someone might get upset with us. We might hurt someone feelings.  So we sit, quietly, the “frozen chosen,” while so many in the world around us live their lives without a savior. “Someone else will do it,” we say. “I’m not good at talking to people.” “I don’t know what to say.” “It makes me uncomfortable.”

 

Any veteran of the armed forces will tell you that being a soldier means doing what is uncomfortable, doing what is necessary for the success of the mission. As Christians, we are called by Jesus Christ to do things that are uncomfortable, to do what is necessary–in love, of course–for the success of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to go and make disciples.

 

So my challenge for you today, in recognition of Veterans Day, is to be a soldier for Christ. Be willing to follow Jesus, our Commander in Chief, whose orders are to go and make disciples. Be willing to make sacrifices in service to others, speaking boldly like the disciples and facing challenges without fear.

 

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