Palm Sunday: Start Spreading the News!

Palm Sunday: Start Spreading the News!
A Message on Mark 11:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 28, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 11:1-11 (NRSV)

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

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If you haven’t figured it out by now, today is Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

This event is recorded in all four of the gospels. We find it also in Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:28-40, and in John 12:12-19. And I’ll give you a little theological inside information: If it’s in all four gospels, it’s important.

Jesus has been in ministry for about three years. He’s about 33 years old. He has traveled, taught, healed, performed other miracles (such as raising people from the dead), and stumped and stymied the smartest religious of the time. He had pretty much turned the religious world upside down. He has people who believe he is the long awaited messiah, while other people, especially the religious leaders, not only hate him but want to kill him.

If there had been social media in the first century Jesus would have been trending. Talk of him had gotten around and people were very curious about him. Was he the messiah? But how could he be? He was from little ol’ Nazareth, after all. But he was impressive with the miracles and healing all those that were ill. But word was that he healed lepers by touching them. Surely the messiah wouldn’t be touching “unclean” people, because that would make him “unclean.”

And then you have that whole “walking on water” thing! And calming storms just by talking to them. And bringing dead people back to life. Wow!

So excitement was building about Jesus of Nazareth. There was quite the buzz going on about him.

In the previous chapter of Mark we find Jesus telling the disciples, for the third time, that he will be arrested, beaten, and crucified. And that three days after he is dead, he will rise from the dead.

Now this had to have puzzled the disciples. If this guy really was the messiah, surely he wouldn’t let that happen, right? What’s all this talk of death and rising from the dead?

The disciples just didn’t get it. Immediately after Jesus tells them, again for the third time, that he is going to die and then rise from the dead, two of the disciples, James and John, ask Jesus to name them as his favorites. Really? Did you not hear that death part?

Then Jesus heals Blind Bartamaeus, who immediately becomes a follower of Jesus.

And that’s where the scripture we read today comes in. Jesus knows his time is limited. He knows what awaits him. And he knows that the time has come. It’s time. It’s time to enter Jerusalem.

Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem becomes what we know as Palm Sunday. We call it that because people were so excited Jesus was entering Jerusalem that they tore branches off of the trees along the road and laid them down for the donkey to walk on.

Now that kind of sounds weird to us. But for first century folks it was a way of showing that someone important was coming down the road.

During Bible Study this past week at Mini Methodists we were talking about this with the kids. I asked them why they thought people were laying palm branches in the road for Jesus’ donkey to walk on. They came up with some great and creative answers. Close, but not quite.

Then I asked them if they knew what a red carpet was. They knew that. It was for famous people to walk on, people like movie stars and pop music stars. (Ariana Grande was mentioned by name, by the way. Not sure how I feel about that…)

I told them that the palm branches were the red carpet of the day in first century Jerusalem. It was the way people set certain people above others. It was their way of saying “This person is someone important!”

But Jesus’ ride at the time was not a big, shiny limousine with a well dressed chauffeur. Nope. It was more like an old Super-C Farmall tractor.

One of the expectations of the messiah was that he would restore the kingdom of Israel. At the time the people were living under the rule of the Roman Empire. Rome had an excellent army, and through military might they conquered not only the Holy Land, but much of the known world at the time. They were the big dog of the world at the time.

The thought among the Jewish people was that the messiah would come in and overthrow the Romans. And how was the messiah to do that? Human reasoning said that the way to overthrow a military power was with an even bigger and more powerful military power. They were hoping the messiah would come in with an army of angels armed with swords that would brutally attack the Roman army and devastate them.

Because of this, most thought the messiah would come riding a stallion, a large, muscular, fearless horse. That is what military leaders at the time rode, either that or a big, fancy chariot.

But Jesus doesn’t roll into town in a Hummer or even an M1A1 Abrams tank. He doesn’t ride a huge, fearless stallion. Instead he arrives on a donkey.

Now the scripture we read today from Mark simply says “colt,” as does Luke. But in the gospel of Matthew, we find that it says, “a donkey tied, and a colt with her.” And in John we find Jesus’ steed described as “a young donkey.”

Just to make sure what I learned from my upbringing in Delta County was right, I Googled what the correct terminology was for a young, male donkey. Any guesses as to what it is? Yep, it’s called a “colt.” Specifically it said that “A colt is a young male donkey which is less than four years of age.”

So even though the writers of the different gospels may have used different terms, they are all referring to the same animal: a young donkey.

So Jesus gets on a young donkey that has never been ridden. Now this is significant for a couple of reasons. One has to do with the purity laws of the time. I won’t go into specific details, but you can look them up in Leviticus 15 if you so desire.

Another reason is that it is symbolic that something new is about to happen. Brand new. It’s similar to a VIP rolling up to the red carpet in a brand new limousine compared to a used one. This colt still had that new donkey smell.

Another reason, and the one that impresses me the most, is that the donkey was not “broke.” Being the farm boy that I am, I am familiar with “breaking” horses. This means training them to have a rider on their back.

My dad had a firm belief in breaking horses while they were young. Being the compassionate man that he was, he didn’t want to hurt the young horses by climbing up there on them himself, especially when he had a son that was small and light. Yep. He delegated it to me to break the horses. (Wasn’t that nice and thoughtful of him?)

I faced a choice: crawl on the horse, knowing it would be rodeo time when I did, or face a beating from Dad if I didn’t. (Wasn’t really much of a choice, was it?) I still vividly remember the feeling of flying through the air like a ragdoll knowing that the impact with the ground was coming and knowing that it wouldn’t be pleasant when it did.

Breaking horses takes time, persistence, and a willingness to get back up on that horse again and again. Some horses broke quicker than others. Some horses convinced me that they were the spawn of Satan. But I never had one that didn’t buck any at all.

But Jesus does. He gets on the young donkey and it doesn’t try to throw him off. Instead he humbly carries the Messiah into Jerusalem. (I thought about that a lot as a kid. I always wished Jesus was there to help me break the horses without them bucking.)

So Jesus starts into the city on a donkey. Again, it would be like him riding a Farmall tractor instead of a large military vehicle.

So why a donkey?

A donkey is a beast of burden. It was, and still is in many parts of the world, used to carry things or to pull things. It was an animal used for work.

A tractor is similar. Although we do live in East Texas and will occasionally see people driving the tractors to town as their primary mode of transportation, for the most part tractors are work vehicles. They are used to cultivate fields, to feed livestock, to make hay, and those kinds of things. And while today some of them are super fancy with air conditioning and heat and even GPS computers in them, for the most part they are still humble machinery.

Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem is an expression of humbleness. Just as a donkey works for others, not itself, Jesus also humbly gives himself for others. I think it’s important to remember that just a few days after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus celebrates the passover meal with his disciples, which has become known as the Last Supper. And in John’s gospel Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, a very humbling act, especially when you consider that he washed the feet of his betrayer, Judas.

As Jesus says in Matthew 23:11-12, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

That is why Jesus rode victoriously into Jerusalem on a donkey. And on Palm Sunday it is a good time to remember that.

The voices that cry “Hosanna!” (which means, “Save us,” by the way), will in a few days time will be the same voices yelling “Crucify him!”

Our mission, as disciples of Jesus Christ, is to share the Good News with others. To quote that old Frank Sinatra song, we are to, “Start spreading the news…” We are to tell others about the difference Jesus Christ has made in our lives so that others may experience it for themselves.

So my challenge to you this week (and every week, actually), is to “Start spreading the news.” Invite someone to attend Easter services with you next week. Invite them to attend Sunday school with you, to become a part of one of the many ministries we have here at the church, to basically become a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ rides into Jerusalem victoriously, humbly riding on a beast of burden. He knows what is coming, what will happen that week, how he will be betrayed and killed. But he rides into town anyway, out of love for you. Out of love for me. Out of love for all of humankind.

Start spreading the news.

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

Spiritual Disciplines: Self Examination

Spiritual Disciplines: Self Examination
A Message on 2 Corinthians 13:5-6
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 21, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

2 Corinthians 13:5-6 (NRSV)

5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed.

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There is a story about a couple that had been married for four decades. As happens with aging their bodies were changing. The husband began to be worried that his wife was losing her hearing.

One night he decided to test it out and see if what he suspected was true. His wife was in another part of the room and was behind him. In a quiet voice he said, “Honey, can you hear me?” No response.

So he tried again by increasing his volume to that of a normal speaking voice. “Honey, can you hear me?” He waited, but again, heard nothing.

In a much louder voice he tried again, “Honey, can you hear me?”

His wife walks around until she is in front of him and says with some irritation, “For the third time, yes, I can hear you!”

The humor in that joke is that while the husband thought that his wife was losing her hearing, if he had done some self examination he would have discovered that he was the one losing his hearing.

Today we are going to continue our sermon series on spiritual disciplines. In this series we have looked at study, prayer, fasting, and stewardship, and today we will conclude this series by looking at self examination.

Spiritually speaking, self examination is taking stock of where you are in your spiritual life. Are you practicing spiritual disciplines regularly (and not only on Sundays)? On your spiritual journey are you moving forward toward God? Do you have a deeper spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ today than you did at the beginning of Lent? Than six months ago? Than a year ago? What is your current status?

Self examination is kind of like doing a personal inventory. When I was in college one year for Christmas break my brother and I worked for the local hardware store in my hometown of Cooper to do inventory. This is where a business takes stock or an accounting of all the merchandise they have for sale. Our job was to count the items on the shelves, and then write down how many of each specific item there was in the store.

Today it’s done by scanners and computers, but back then we did it all by counting it and writing it down on paper. It wasn’t difficult, but it was time consuming. I remember getting to the part of the store where there were bolts and nuts and washers in these little bins, and we had to count each one. I didn’t think we were ever going to get through! But we did, and as a result the store owners knew how much merchandise they had in the store, down to the last bolt.

In a similar way, it’s good for us as part of our self examination to do a kind of spiritual inventory of ourselves. What are the gifts God has given you, and are you using those gifts to do God’s work? How is your prayer life? Are you reading the Bible regularly? Attending worship regularly, either in person or online? Are you tithing? How is it with your soul? You get the idea.

There is another aspect to self examination, and that is to discover when something isn’t as it should be.

Most of you know that two of my three sisters have been diagnosed with breast cancer. My youngest sister, Delinda, had surgery in December and my oldest sister, Diane, had surgery this past Monday. They both have had regular mammograms, but the tumors didn’t show up on mammograms. They both had several other tests, and the tumors didn’t show up on those tests, either. Nope.

They both discovered the tumors by self examination. That’s how they discovered them. And it may have saved their lives.

In the scripture we read today we find the Apostle Paul saying that spiritually it is important to self examine ourselves.

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves.” 2 Corinthians 13:5

To better understand this scripture we need to look at the background of the church in Corinth and Paul’s relationship to it. Let’s back up to around the year 51 AD or so. Corinth was a bustling city, prosperous because it was at a crossroads of sea and land travel routes.

Because of those reasons it was also a crossroads of religion. A wide variety of religious beliefs were present and practiced. It was officially a city in the Roman Empire, so it had a large representation of the Greek gods and temples to them. It was a wild place, with prostitution becoming so rampant at some of the temples that loose women around the world became known as “Corinthian women.”

It was into this world that Paul walked into in his mission to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. And into this powerful pagan maelstrom Paul starts a church of followers of Christ. We can read all about it in Acts 18.

Now even though the scripture we read today comes from what we refer to as 2 Corinthians, in all probability Paul wrote four letters to the Christians in Corinth. He visited Corinth twice: once when he established the church, which lasted about 18 months; and a second time to get them back on track when they were experiencing some pretty serious challenges.

Frustrated by the members of the Corinth church for failing to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, Paul, after he leaves Corinth for the second time, fires off what is known as the “severe letter.” It’s pretty much what it sounds like. And some scholars believe the scripture we read today is part of that “severe letter.”

Being a Christian isn’t easy. And being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t easy, either. (Those should be the same things, by the way…) The world and it’s temptations are like the sirens in Homer’s Odessey whose songs lure sailors to their doom. The world’s songs are very alluring and the temptations are great, but so is the destruction.

Now the world is cunning and patient. It sings it’s siren song over time, causing small but serious changes within us. And over time those small changes turn into big changes.

As the musical group Casting Crowns points out in their song, “Slow Fade,”

It’s a slow fade
When you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade
When black and white have turned to gray
And thoughts invade, choices made
A price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade

That’s why it is important for us as Christians to self examine ourselves. Just as cancer slowly grows without us realizing it, sin can also start off small while growing slowly and imperceptibly in our spiritual lives. It’s a slow fade.

But by performing a self examination we can detect those areas in our life where things aren’t right, identify what is wrong, and then take steps to correct it.

Lent is a good time to have a spiritual self examination. Just as we will clean our house if we know that company is coming, Lent is a season for cleaning our spiritual homes for the coming celebration of Easter.

But self examination is not just for the season of Lent. It should be done regularly throughout the year. While not fun or even enjoyable, it is a good spiritual discipline habit to form.

It is a good habit to establish during Lent, but also to continue after Lent. And here’s a good way to do it.

Beginning the Sunday after Easter we are asking all of our congregation members to be a part of what we are calling Discipleship Groups. These are small groups, with no more than 12 people, that will meet weekly for about an hour to encourage one another in our spiritual journey and hold each other accountable.

These groups are not Bible studies, not gossip sessions, but for the members to meet and answer three questions:

  1. This past week when did you feel closest to Christ?
  2. What did you do this past week in response to God’s call to be a disciple?
  3. Discipleship Denied: When was your faith tested this week through failure?

And that’s it. Simple. Not complicated. The meetings can be done in person, by zoom, by telephone. These small groups can meet at the church, at homes, at a restaurant, and can meet in the mornings, at noon, afternoons, evenings, or whenever.

The purpose of these small groups, described by Kevin Watson in his book, The Class Meeting, is discipleship. Originally started by John Wesley in England, a class meetings is “A small group that is primarily focused on transformation and not information, where people learn how to interpret their entire lives through the lens of the gospel, build a vocabulary for giving voice to their experience of God, and grow in faith in Christ.”

Why do this? There are a few reasons. First is for each one of us to grow in faith in Christ, to grow deeper in the faith. Another reason is to grow the Kingdom of God. The great commission given by Jesus is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Churches with active small groups are growing and vital churches. And we want this church to grow and be vital!

Another reason is that it causes us to pause and self examine our spiritual lives.

One integral part of being a Christian is self examination. Listen to Paul’s words again: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed.”

So my challenge to you today is to test yourself during this season of Lent. Do a spiritual self exam to see “whether you are living in the faith.” As Christians, Jesus Christ should live inside each of us. That way we not only pass the test, but can help lead others into the Christian life as well.

And that’s much better, and much less humiliating, than testing our spouse’s hearing.

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

Spiritual Disciplines: Fasting

Spiritual Disciplines: Fasting
A Message on Matthew 6:16-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 7, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 6:16-18 (NRSV)

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

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Today we continue our Lenten sermon series on spiritual disciplines by looking at the topic of fasting.

It was fun during Bible study at Mini Methodists this past week when I asked the kids what the first meal of the day was called. They correctly replied that it was called “breakfast.” I then asked them to spell it, and they spelled it correctly: “breakfast.” I then asked them why it wasn’t pronounced the way it is spelled.

You could tell they hadn’t thought about that and quickly started pronouncing “BREAK-fast.” I then asked them why it was called that, and they replied with some good guesses. I finally explained that basically we are mispronouncing it when we say “brek-fast” and the it should be pronounced the way it is spelled. I also explained that it meant that a person was “breaking” their “fast” from overnight. We don’t eat while we sleep, and so when we eat something after we wake up we are breaking our fast. (A couple of them said they did indeed eat while they were asleep, which worries me just a little bit.)

We don’t talk about fasting much anymore in our world. We think of the term as an adjective, like saying a car is fast, or an adverb, as in he was driving too fast, but rarely as a noun or a verb. And that’s a shame.

The reason that this season of Lent is 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) is in recognition of Jesus fasting for 40 days and nights in the wilderness before beginning his ministry. (The confirmation kids freaked out over that, wondering how he could survive that long without food and especially water. I told them that what is impossible for man is possible for God.)

Lent is a time where to reflect on our spiritual lives, to repent of our sins, and to draw closer to God during the time leading up to Easter. It’s a great time to focus on the spiritual disciplines, and one of the spiritual disciplines we can practice during this time is that of fasting.

You’ve probably heard about fasting without the specific term “fast.” When people talk about “giving things up for Lent” they are talking about fasting. If you give up drinking soft drinks for Lent, for example, then you are fasting.

The idea is to give up something that is important to you, something that you value. If you hate broccoli and say you’re going to give up broccoli, that’s not true fasting. (I love broccoli, by the way.)

Several years ago I gave up fried foods for Lent. I knew it would be difficult, but I thought it would be a good thing to do so I did. The trouble was that I forgot that tortilla chips are fried. Yep. And I do love me some tortilla chips.

At the time the Kiwanis Club was meeting at a Mexican food restaurant here in town. The first meeting day in Lent I walked in and sat down and saw the chips and salsa and thought, “Uh oh.” I had forgotten that tortilla chips are fried.

Janice, who works at Austin Bank, used to sit across the table from me and we would always kid each other about the chips and which of us ate more. (It was usually me.) That day she saw that I wasn’t eating chips and asked me what was wrong. I told her I gave up fried foods for Lent and so I couldn’t eat them. Janice was real supportive, crunching on a big chip and saying, “Oh, these taste so good…” Thanks, Janice. Thanks a lot.

In the scripture we read today we find Jesus criticizing the religious leaders of the day because of the way they were fasting. They were following the letter of the law by fasting, but their motivation behind fasting and what they felt in their hearts was wrong.

The religious leaders were fasting to impress others. They were disfiguring their face to impress upon others how holy and religious they were. One of the things they would do is sprinkle ashes all over their head and faces, especially on their cheeks under their eyes so that their tears (which I suspect they faked) would leave visible trails that other people would see.

They were fasting to impress people, not out of obedience to God.

Jesus calls them on the carpet for doing this, exposing their hypocrisy, for their putting themselves and their egos before serving God.

Jesus doesn’t say to not fast. No. What he says is to not do it to impress others. Do it with the proper heart and motivation as a spiritual discipline to move your closer to God.

“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:17-18

So my challenge for you this week is to fast during this season of Lent. Be sure and check with your doctor, however, if you are going to fast from food or water. There are other things to fast from besides that. You can fast from social media, from certain tv programs (or tv altogether), from unhealthy foods or drinks, from non-productive habits.

It’s a good idea to add something in addition to giving up something. Add daily Bible reading, intentional prayer time, spending more time with loved ones, writing letters or emails of support, or even watching Bible study videos on RightNow Media (which are free for our church members).

Use this season of Lent to clean out those things that separate us from God, and practice those spiritual disciplines that draw us closer to God.

After all, the spiritual disciplines are much better than tortilla chips. (And tortilla chips are really good!)

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

Spiritual Disciplines: Prayer

Spiritual Disciplines: Prayer
A Message on Matthew 6:5-8
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 28, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 6:5-8 (NRSV)

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

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Today we continue our Lenten sermon series on the spiritual disciplines by exploring the topic of prayer.

As United Methodists we believe a spiritual discipline is “any habit or activity done with intention that helps us be more ‘in touch’ with our spirituality and with God.” [Source: https://www.umc.org/en/content/spiritual-disciplines-and-giving-thanks]

Prayer is one of those spiritual disciplines.

At its simplest, prayer is simply having a conversation with God. And that is an awesome thing. It’s always on, doesn’t need batteries or electricity, isn’t affected by the weather, and is free. Really free. We can pray to God anytime, anywhere, and short of rendering one unconscious, nobody can stop us.

But prayer is also so much more than that. Prayer is holy. It is an expression of God’s grace, given to us by God. And it is one of the spiritual disciplines that we should practice not only during Lent, but at all times.

Prayer is ancient. We read about it in the Old Testament scriptures.

Psalm 34:17 reads, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.”

2 Chronicles 7:14 reads, “…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Proverbs 15:29 reads, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”

Prayer is also a very important topic in the New Testament writings as well. Here are some examples:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” James 5:13-16

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

One of the challenges of prayer is that people will say, “I don’t know how to pray.” I remember as a kid thinking that prayers had to be in “church language,” and since I didn’t know how to use all those “thees” and “thous” and “supplications” and “firmaments” that I couldn’t pray. I didn’t speak God’s language, so I couldn’t pray.

If I could go back and talk to my young self I would explain that kind of thinking was wrong. God, after all, knows all languages, and even understands East Texas dialects. It’s not the fancy or religious words that God cares about, it’s about the heart. The heart is the heart of the matter, so to speak.

Not only can we pray to God anytime and anywhere, but we have help even during those times when we are so exasperated or overwhelmed that we really don’t know what to pray. Yep. It’s called the Holy Spirit.

Listen to these words that the Apostle Paul writes in the letter we know as Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

So prayer can be very powerful even when we lack the words to know what to say.

In the scripture we read today from the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus talking about prayer. Not only does he talk about it, but he points out important distinctions on how we should and should not pray.

I have heard someone say before (and I have to admit that it may well have been me) that there’s no wrong way to pray. I don’t think that is true. And the scripture we read today is one of the reasons I don’t think it is true.

Here’s the situation. Jesus comes onto the religious scene and sees that people have distorted religion to serve their own purposes, not God’s. The Jewish priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes have taken prayer and twisted it so that it served their purposes.

These religious leaders were using prayer to make themselves look good. They were doing it to impress other people with just how religious they were and to satisfy their own egos.

A long-standing Jewish tradition was for the religious leaders to pray formal, liturgical prayers. These were either written out or memorized, or both. At some point these leaders started adding at certain spots spontaneous self-created prayers. And at these spots the leaders would “ad lib,” to take a term from the musical world, and the “ad lib” parts started becoming longer and longer and longer.

The leaders started using these “ad lib” parts as an opportunity to show those hearing the prayers just how religious the person praying was. It became a performance, a spectacle, a “look-at-me-and-how-holy-I-am” opportunity that was too good to pass up.

A good example of this is found in the Gospel of Luke where he tells this parable. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 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!’ 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.” Luke 18:10-14

In this parable we see that prayer is about the heart. The Pharisee had his nose stuck up in the air and looked down on all those he considered to be the dregs of society, thinking that because he was so religious, he was much better, much holier, than those lowly people.

And his prayer, ironically, reflected that “better-than-thou” attitude. “Thank you, Lord, that I’m not like these scalawags and sinful folks.”

While he was thinking of himself as high and mighty, the tax collector in the parable knew he was a sinner. He didn’t shirk from the fact, or try to gloss it over, or rationalize it away, but admitted he had made some bad choices and had sinned.

This is particularly insightful because of the role tax collectors played in the society of that time. Tax collectors were considered to be the lowest of the low. They were considered by most of the Jewish people to be traitors to their fellow Jews because they worked for the taxing authority, the Roman Empire, which was the occupying force in the land at that time.

So not only were the tax collectors considered traitors to their own people, but they were considered unethical thieves as well. Tax collectors were paid a percentage of the taxes they collected. However, it had become commonplace at the time for them to collect more than was owed, thereby keeping some for themselves. They were profiting by cheating their own people. It was no wonder the Jewish people didn’t like them and considered them lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.

Knowing that, Jesus’ parable had to have a severe sting to the religious leaders of the day. And it reemphasizes the point that prayer is a matter of the heart.

Jesus’ words about prayer in the scripture from Matthew that we read today talks about how those religious leaders would pray in public to be seen by others. Their praying was self-serving, not God-serving. It was something they did for their ego, not as a spiritual discipline to God.

And Jesus says that because these “hypocrites,” which he calls the religious leaders frequently, are doing it for the wrong reasons, they have “have received their reward.” (vs. 5) They got a boost to their ego. They reinforced their unholy thinking that they are better than others. But that’s all they were getting.

To emphasize that prayer is about the heart, Jesus gives instructions on how to pray. “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

So does that mean we shouldn’t ever pray out loud in public or with others? No. I think Jesus is emphasizing the point that we should pray with proper intent. We shouldn’t pray to impress others, or even to impress God (after all, how can we even do that?). No. It’s about having the proper heart to communicate with God.

Prayer is a gift, a grace, given to us so that we can communicate with God directly. We don’t have to go through a high priest or a religious intermediary. Prayer goes directly from our lips (or thoughts, as it doesn’t have to be spoken out loud) to God’s ears.

And as Jesus points out, God “knows what you need before you ask him.”

Eugene Peterson correctly points out that “Prayer is never the first word; it is always the second word. God has the first word.”

So what should we pray? Unfortunately we get in the habit of praying for things. We kind of view God as Amazon Prime and prayer as a way to order online and then just wait for the delivery. Years ago Janice Joplin sang about the hypocrisy of this kind of prayer with her song, “Lord, Won’t You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz.”

We should pray for things such as wisdom, discernment, patience, and understanding. We should pray for others, for our community, our state, our country, our world. We should NOT pray to gain attention or to impress others.

So my challenge to you today is to consciously practice the spiritual discipline of prayer during this season of Lent. Turn prayer into a habit–a good habit–as you communicate with God. Focus on improving your prayer life as we travel through Lent toward Easter. As the song says, “Have A Little Talk with Jesus.”

Now let us have a little talk with Jesus
Let us tell Him all about our troubles
He will hear our faintest cry and we will answer by and by

Now when you feel a little prayer wheel turning
You’ll know a little fire is burning
You will find a little talk with Jesus makes it right

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

Spiritual Disciplines: Study

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: Covenant
A Message on 2 Timothy 3:14-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 21, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NRSV)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

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Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter, and during Lent we will be exploring some of the spiritual disciplines that are good to focus on during this season of preparation.

We start off today by looking at “study.”

Now for some folks that word brings back memories of school and some of those memories are not pleasant. I know folks that graduated from high school and college for whom the word “study” brings back bad memories. They figure that they had to study in school, and now that they’re out they’re not going to study unless it is a mandatory requirement for their job.

I find that sad. Somewhere along the way they never developed a love of learning.

My dad was a learning machine. He was Google before there was Google or even the internet. He was knowledgeable about more things than probably anyone I have known, and he stressed the importance of lifelong learning to all six of us kids.

I think the challenge of our educational system should be to focus on creating lifelong learners. It seems to me like we are focusing too much on passing grade level tests, which is how teachers and school districts are evaluated, than on creating a love of learning in students.

It’s almost like that fishing parable: Give a person a fish, and they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime. Teach a child the facts, and they may remember those facts for a while. But teach a child how to love to learn, and that child has no limits.

As Christians, we should be lifelong learners as well.

It amazes me how many Christians never read the Bible. Now don’t get me wrong, I know this because I used to be one of them. I grew up in the church and as an adult attended church regularly, but I just didn’t read or study the Bible. I’d listen to the preacher read from it on Sunday, but that was pretty much it.

I can point to the specific moment in time when all that changed for me. We were living in Kilgore and I was working in public relations at Kilgore College. The church we were attending, St. Luke’s UMC in Kilgore, offered a brown bag lunch Bible study. Not only that, they were offering Wesley Study Bibles (not the one that is out now but an older one) at a very affordable price. I bought one of those Bibles, started going to the Bible studies, and I really started to get a better and deeper understanding of the Holy Scriptures. I discovered what a “study” Bible was, how to use one, and it was awesome!

It’s amazing what you can discover in the Bible! When I first started reading through Song of Solomon I discovered some incredibly beautiful poetry which I wished I had known when I was a teenage boy trying to impress girls. (Then again, maybe it’s best that I DIDN’T know those scriptures then…)

There are many Christians who take strong stances on the Bible being allowed in schools, who want the 10 Commandments to be displayed in public, and maybe even protest things with signs that have scripture on them. Ironically many of those doing those things rarely or never read the Bible. That kind of strikes me as sad.

The Bible is the overall number one best selling book of all time. But unfortunately it’s not the number one best read book of all time.

Why is that? If we, as Christians, claim this book to be as important as we say it is, then why aren’t we reading and studying it more?

One of the things I get asked pretty often as a pastor is which translation of the Bible do I think is the best. My response, which is sort of a smart-alec one, is “The one you read.”

There is a reason that I give that answer. Research shows that 87 percent of American households own a Bible. The average number of Bibles per household is actually 3. But when it comes to actually reading the Bible, the numbers are much, much lower. [Source: https://lifewayresearch.com/2017/04/25/lifeway-research-americans-are-fond-of-the-bible-dont-actually-read-it/\

There is a research group known as the Pew Research Center that does all kinds of studies on the religious life of people. According to these folks, only about 35 percent of adults read scripture at least once per week, 10 percent read it once or twice a month, 8 percent read it several times a year, and 45 percent acknowledge that they read scripture seldom or never. (And there is 1 percent who responded that they “don’t know.” I really worry about those folks…) [Source: https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/frequency-of-reading-scripture/]

In the scripture we read today, the Apostle Paul is writing to his young protege Timothy and giving him some advice. Remember, Paul never met Jesus when he was physically on earth, but first encountered him on the road to Damascus when he (Paul) was on the way to arrest some Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to be imprisoned or even killed. Paul was a “bad guy” before he became a follower of Jesus.

So Paul’s knowledge of Jesus came from his experiences with the risen Jesus as well as the scriptures as they were at the time. Being a leader, a Pharisee, of the Jewish faith, Paul had an excellent knowledge of what we call the Old Testament. He knew the writing of the prophets about the messiah as well as all the Jewish purity laws. But he also likely had access to some manuscripts of what we know as the gospels, although they were probably not compiled together in what we know as the New Testament. (And Paul, after all, wrote about ¼ of the New Testament.)

In the scripture we read today from 2 Timothy he is telling Timothy just how extremely important the scriptures are for Christians.

Paul tells him that the “sacred writings” which Timothy has been exposed to since he was a child contain instruction “for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The scriptures tell the way to salvation.

Some denominations emphasize what is called the “Romans Road.” This is a series of readings from the book of Romans (written by Paul) that point out the need for salvation, how God provides salvation, how people can receive salvation, and then what we are to do after receiving salvation. In one single book in the Bible are the instructions necessary for salvation.

Of course that is an oversimplification, but you get the idea.

John Wesley emphasized the importance of the Bible. “I want to know one thing, – the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be [a man of one book].”

He also wrote, “I am determined to be a Bible Christian, not almost, but altogether. Who will meet me on this ground? Join me on this, or not at all.” [Sermon #116 “Causes Of The Inefficacy Of Christianity”]

How many of us are willing to meet John Wesley (and Jesus) on this ground? Is your Christian faith important enough to you that you will make it a priority in your life to study God’s word?

Our Grow Team is providing every member (and even guests) with an incredible resource for Christian study. It’s called “RightNow Media” and is an online Bible study service.

Here’s how it works: this church pays a monthly fee to RightNow media, which the Grow Team has worked into their annual budget. In paying that fee, which is based on our average attendance (pre-COVID), every member (and guest) of the church is given access to all the materials in the RightNow Media library. They currently have more than 10,000 Bible study videos available from a wide variety of teachers, such as Max Lucado, Jennie Allen, Francis Chan, Tim Tebow, Louie Giglio, Tony Evans, Les and Leslie Parrott, Matt Chandler, and on and on and on.

While most of these folks are not United Methodists, I think it is still good to hear what they have to say and then reflect on that from a Wesleyan perspective. I’ll be glad to visit with you on any questions you have.

And they have videos based on age groups as well. They have some awesome children’s studies, teenage studies, college and young adult studies, and of course, adult studies.

And it’s free to you. Like salvation, the price has already been paid. To quote the Turbo Tax commercials, it’s “Free. Free, free, free. Free.”

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

Paul knew the value of the scriptures. We should too. If they are as important as we say they are (and they really are), then we should study them, and the season of Lent is a great time to start if you haven’t already.

So my challenge to you this week, the first full week of Lent, is to study the Bible. Take advantage of the RightNow bible studies online. And if you are not an online-type-of-person, I will be glad to offer suggestions to you in the form of books, study bibles, or reading plans (such as reading through the Bible in a year.)

If the Bible is as important to the Christian faith as we say it is, then we need to be studying it. Become trained in righteousness. Study the Bible.

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

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: Covenants

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: Covenant
A Message on 1 Peter 2:9-10
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 14, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Peter 2:9-10 (NRSV)

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

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Today we will conclude our sermon series on the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer that we have been exploring since the first of the year. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, and we will be starting a new sermon series next Sunday.

But for today, let’s stand as your are able and recite this Wesleyan Covenant Prayer together:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Today we are going to focus on the last part of that prayer: “And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

Wesley mentions the word “covenant” in that last part. So what exactly is a covenant?

A covenant is a promise, but it’s more than that. It is a contract, like a legal contract, between two parties. The wording of the covenant lays out what each of the two parties has agreed to do.

It’s like when you buy a car or a house. All those papers you sign (hopefully after you read them) give specific details on what both parties, the seller and the buyer, are obligated to do. And if either the seller or the buyer doesn’t hold up their end of the agreement, then they can be taken to court and forced to not only do what they signed up to do, but pay penalties as well. There are consequences for breaking a covenant.

There are five main covenants in the bible.

There is the covenant God made with Noah after the flood that he would never again wipe out all the inhabitants and animals on the earth with a flood. The sign for the covenant is the rainbow.

There is that Abrahamic covenant that God made with Abram/Abraham. This is the covenant that Abraham’s heirs would be more numerous than the stars or the grains of sand on the beaches, and that God would give Abraham’s offspring land for them to live and prosper in. The sign of this covenant was circumcision.

Then we come to the Mosiac covenant, the covenant God made with Moses. This is the covenant that was established on Mt. Sinai when Moses gets the 10 commandments and also the covenant law which is listed in Exodus right after the 10 commandments. The sign of this covenant were the stone tablets which God wrote on himself and which were kept in the arc of the covenant (and thus the name).

Then comes the Davidic covenant, the covenant God made with David. This covenant says that if the people will keep the commandments and law then a descendent of David will forever serve on the throne as king. This happens for a few generations but then the people mess up and start worshipping other false gods. As a result the Jewish people are invaded and led off as captives.

And then we come to the covenant that Peter is talking about in the scripture we read today: the “new covenant.” This is the one that Jesus establishes, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. Jesus, the only son of God, comes to earth and gives his life so that our sins may be forgiven and we, who are sinners, can be reconciled to God.

In the scripture we read today, Peter is reminding us that when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, we become part of the new covenant. Our citizenship and loyalty become larger than a country or political ideology, we become like Jesus and therefore, holy.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The Apostle Paul points this out beautifully in Romans 8. Here is just a small portion of that:

“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.” — Romans 8:14-17

When we make the decision to follow Jesus Christ we become Children of God through the covenant that we make.

In our United Methodist Hymnal it describes the baptism service as a covenant service. “The Baptismal Covenant is God’s word to us, proclaiming our adoption by grace, and our word to God promising our response of faith and love. Those within the covenant constitute the community we call the church…”

When we are baptized, we publicly renounce sin and profess our faith. It is only after doing those things is the water applied and baptism happens. Afterwards, each person professes that he/she will be loyal to the church, faithfully participating “in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness.”

I love having baptisms on communion Sundays, like we did last week, because while our action of publicly proclaiming to follow Christ is our part of the covenant, in the Lord’s Supper we are reminded of God’s part of the New Covenant: Jesus saying of the cup, “Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

I like the way John Wesley ended his covenant prayer: “And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

The entire prayer reminds us that when we agree to accept Jesus as our savior, it’s not a partial agreement we make, but a whole one. We are to be fully devoted to Christ, not just on Sundays, not just when we get emotional goosebumps, but full time, 24-7.

It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is the Christian thing to do. Every word we say, every action we take, every comment that we post on social media, should be through the love of Christ.

Our focus for the season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday with Ash Wednesday, will be on discipleship. We will be starting a new sermon series next Sunday based on discipleship. The goal of this is for us to be closer to God on Easter than we are today.

So my challenge to you today is to remember your baptismal covenant every day that you wake up.

Remember the vows you made at your baptism and live your life fully for God.

Remember Peter’s words that “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Be willing to proclaim those mighty acts!

And, as John Wesley said, may the covenant you make on earth be ratified in heaven.

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

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: Trust

Artwork by Alex Levin.

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: “I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.”
A Message on Jeremiah 17:7-8
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 7, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NRSV)

7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

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Today’s message will be short. We have had a baptism and celebrated the Lord’s Supper both today, and I’ll gladly trade sermon time for those two sacraments.

We continue our Wesley Covenant Prayer sermon series today by exploring the topic of “trust.” And as we do every week, let us now stand (as you are able) and recite the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer together:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Our scripture for today comes to us not from the New Testament, but from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah.

Now Jeremiah is a good person to listen to when it comes to learning about trust. Jeremiah was a prophet who lived in Jerusalem somewhere between 650 to 570 BC who God called to tell the Jewish people that they needed to change their evil ways or bad things were going to happen to them.

Jeremiah lived in Judah, in Jerusalem, during the time of the divided kingdoms. The people at that time had drifted away from the true God. They got caught up in the worship of other gods (with a lowercase “g”), represented by carved wooden objects overlaid with gold. Or worse, the fake god (again with a lowercase “g”) Molech. As part of their worship of this pseudo-deity they would sacrifice some of their children by burning them alive in a fire.

During Mini Methodist Bible study this past Wednesday I actually told the children about this practice. Talk about getting their attention! Some of them reacted vehemently, loudly exclaiming that this was wrong, it wasn’t very loving, and how could parents do this, and things like that. It was pretty impressive how strongly they objected to this and how even they knew that it was not what the true God wanted. They just couldn’t conceive how any parent could do this to their child.

And yet it was done in the ancient world, all in the name of worshiping a false god. They trusted in the wrong things, and murdered their own children as a result of that trust.

Today I want us to explore the topic of trust. The two scriptures we read today, one from Proverbs and one from Jeremiah, tell us a lot about trust.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

And from Jeremiah: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”

Jeremiah saw the results of misplaced trust. He saw people worshipping false gods and killing their own children. And so he tried to get them to stop it and turn back to God, to place their trust in God. But they didn’t listen, and the country was invaded and the people who survived were driven off into exile.

Trust is an interesting thing. We use it a lot, every day. When we drive down the road we “trust” that the person driving the vehicle coming toward us in the other lane will stay in that lane. And that person trusts that we will stay in our lane.

We trust our spouses and significant others. In those instances where infidelity takes place it’s not that act itself that is so damaging to a relationship, but the damage it does to trust between the two people. That’s not saying that couples can’t work through infidelity, but it is very difficult, painful, and takes a lot of time.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, knew about trust. In the verse of his Covenant Prayer that we are looking at today he says, “I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.”

I believe that phrase is about trusting God.

Now we might say we trust God, but do we really? And how important is it to trust in God?

Trust involves the unknown.

At Mini Methodist I invited one of the kids up to do a “trust fall.” A “trust fall” is when someone intentionally falls backwards and a person or group of people catch them. If you are the one doing the falling it can be quite unsettling because you are falling backwards. You can’t see and you really can’t catch yourself if things go bad.

The kids I did the trust fall with kept looking over their shoulder behind them to make sure I was there. Why? They trusted that I would be there, but our human nature is that we want details, we want confirmation of the data, before we make ourselves vulnerable.

Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Chariots and horses were the tanks and fighter planes of their time in military terms. A greater number of chariots and horses greatly increase one’s chances of winning a battle. But chariots and horses are earthly things, and although we live on earth our focus should be in heaven. We trust in the Lord.

So my challenge to you this week is to trust in the Lord. Not just sorta kinda, but fully trust him. Don’t be turning your head around and trying to see if he is there to catch you before you do a trust fall. Trust in his word that when he says he will be there, he will.

Freely and heartily yield all things to God’s pleasure and disposal. Trust him. Really trust him.

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

Wesley Covenant Prayer: Treasure

Chris Clayton (left), my wife Pam’s sister, and James Donham, their father.

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: “Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”
A Message on Matthew 6:19-21
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 31, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 6:19-21 (NRSV)

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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Today we are going to be talking about treasures as we continue our sermon series based on the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. But first, I’d like to do what we have every Sunday of this sermon series (except the one Sunday that I forgot), and that is to stand (if you are able to) and let’s recite this prayer together:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

The verse of that prayer that we will be exploring today is “Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”

The scripture we will be using to guide us is from the sixth chapter of Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples–and us–that where our treasures are so are our hearts. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Now the word “treasure” is an interesting one in our language today. On Wednesday during Mini Methodist Bible study I asked the kids to describe treasure. One of them said “You know, that kind of money that is round and made out of metal.” “Coins?” I asked. “Yeah! Coins!”

Another said gold, one said a video game console, one said parents, one said family, and several said Jesus and “God.” (Which many of them think is the answer to any question I ask, and hey, a lot of times they are right.)

Of course they also brought up pirates, right? Pirates look for buried treasure. By the way, a pirate’s favorite letter isn’t “Arrrrrrrrrrr.” Nope. I looked it up. It’s X. That’s because X marks the spot of the buried treasure.

And algebra teachers are actually pirates. Yep. They always have you looking for X but it’s only because they are pirates and want you to lead them to the buried treasure. (By the way, they never found it by my work…)

Treasures. We have treasures today. It may be a house or houses. It may be automobiles. It may be a status or position. It may be money. It may be jewelry. It may be fame. It may be physical beauty. And it may actually be that money that is made out of metal. You get the idea.

As humans it’s easy to get caught up in a quest for treasures. Just as years ago pirates traveled great lengths and took great risks in their quest for treasure, today it’s easy for us to get caught up in a quest for treasures, isn’t it?

And yet we are reminded by scripture, and my John Wesley’s prayer, that maybe we are looking for treasure in all the wrong places. “Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”

To truly pray this part of Wesley’s prayer takes a lot of courage. I think one of the reasons for that is that as humans we have a passion for “things.”

This past week Pam’s sister, Chris, and her dad, James, came to Jacksonville and visited with us. Chris made it her quest this week to help us clean out our garage so that we can actually park cars in them. (Shocking, I know.)

You see the problem is that I am a pack rat. And Pam is a pack rat (although not as bad as I am). So between the two of us we find it hard to get rid of things. So we tend to just put them in the garage and… well… forget about them.

The result was a huge mess in our garage as things just stacked up and stacked up out there. If we bought something that came in a box, chances are we still had that box… in the garage. I am pretty good at rationalizing that behavior, too. Here’s how I do it: “If that item broke or quit working, we might have to return it, and they might not let us exchange it or give us our money back if it’s not in the original box, right? So just in case we better keep that cardboard box… for like… I dunno… six years or more.” Sigh…

Chris was truly heroic as she and Pam sorted and cleaned an unbelievable amount of “stuff.” They got rid of so many “things,” including an embarrassing amount of cardboard boxes, packing materials, and just plain ol’ junk.

Pam and my quest for “things” resulted in a garage so cluttered that we couldn’t even use the garage to protect some of the most materially valuable things that we own: our automobiles. Yep. Our cars (which are certainly not expensive but rank close to the top of the list of things we have of monetary value) sat out in the weather. Ironically just a few feet away in the dry protection of the garage sat “things” (mostly junk) protected by enough empty cardboard boxes to absorb the kinetic energy of the impact of a fast-moving, heavily-loaded freight train.

I think that as humans we can fall into a similar trap with our priorities. We give priority to things of the earth that never seem to fully satisfy us. Oh they may for a while, but before long something else comes along that seems to be newer and better and so we put the old thing into the garage of our heart along with all the packaging that came with it. And before long we have so many earthly “things” in our heart that they clutter and junk it up, forcing us to keep the truly important things, the things that last forever, outside in the weather.

This isn’t a new problem, either. In the first Century Jesus cautioned people against placing too much importance in the things of this world. Even though the people then lived much more of a subsistent existence than most of us do now, there was still a temptation to place the things of the world over the things of heaven.

Here is The Message paraphrase of the scripture we read today from Matthew’s gospel: “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

Next door to the west of here at Autry’s Funeral Home they have a real nice hearse. And if you examine it closely you will see that there are no luggage racks on top of it. There’s not a trailer hitch on the back of it, either. The old saying is true, “You can’t take it with you when you go.”

The apostle Paul knew what it was like to have lots of earthly “things” and what it was like to not have those things. In Philippians he writes, “…for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11b-13

Jesus knew the temptation of the world. Remember how he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness? He knows the power of worldly temptations. And he knows that those temptations can be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. (He quoted three different scriptures from the book of Deuteronomy to the devil during the temptation.)

John Wesley also was tempted by the world. He became relatively wealthy in his lifetime, mainly from the sale of his books, so like Paul he knew what it was to have plenty. And also like Paul, he knew what it was like to have little. Wesley was so self disciplined (and an argument can be made for being so spiritually disciplined) that he pretty much gave away all that he earned. (I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a garage full of “things.”)

What Wesley did teach was to earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. We like the first one, earning all your can; we do so-so with regards to saving all we can, and most of us are reticent and reluctant to do the last of those three: give all we can.

At the heart of it all is the… well… heart. Jesus tells us “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Of course he’s not talking about our physical heart, but instead is referring to our attitude toward those things that we value as important. Whatever we view as “treasure,” then that’s where our heart, our desire, our belonging (and I believe in some ways our souls as well), will be as well.

Now there is an important caveat to this. Things in themselves are not what we are talking about. Having nice things is not what we are talking about. It is about our desire for things, what priority the pursuit of earthly things has in our lives.

It’s okay to have nice things. It’s okay to have a nice house, a nice car, nice jewelry, or a nice bass boat. But if those things dominate our thinking and we become almost obsessed with them, if those things are at the top of our priority list, then that’s where we have a problem. It becomes idolatry, which as you probably know, is one of those Big 10 sins.

“Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”

Wesley’s point is that regardless of how many or how few earthly possessions we might have, we should put serving Jesus Christ at the top of our priority list. We should love Jesus and serve him the same if we are flat broke and have nothing, or if we are extremely wealthy and have many things. Our attitude about Jesus Christ should be the same.

Jesus, who was/is God and put on flesh and dwelled on earth among us. This one, the Messiah, God’s only son, who never sinned, went to the cross and died so that we, the sinful ones, could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

What were Jesus’ treasures? Nothing earthly. The scriptures don’t tell us of any possessions he owned other than the clothes he wore. He didn’t have a house, didn’t own livestock, had just enough money to pay his taxes (remember Peter finding a coin in a fish’s mouth?), and walked everywhere he went. His treasure was not on the things of this earth, but of things in heaven. We should be like Jesus.

So my challenge to you today is to metaphorically clean the clutter out of your soul. If Jesus is not the top priority in your life then get rid of the stuff that is getting in the way of making that happen. Be more focused on the things of eternity: loving God and loving others, than on the things of this world. As it says in 1 John 2:17, “And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

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

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: Work

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: “Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee…”
A Message on John 6:22-27
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 24, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 6:22-27 (NRSV)

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

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As we continue our sermon series on the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer I want to begin today by doing something that I forgot to do this past week, and that is to say the prayer together:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Now to understand today’s scripture from John’s gospel better we need to explore the backstory a little bit.

Back at the beginning of chapter 6 in John’s Gospel we have Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish, donated by a young boy. (Kind of the original Hello Fresh.) The people were there because of Jesus. As he traveled around doing miracles and teaching he drew quite a following. No matter where he went, crowds followed him.

For the human side of Jesus, it must have been overwhelming. We read in verse 15, “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

He did this often, just to get away from it all and pray to God. This time when he went up the mountain the disciples didn’t follow. They got in a boat that night and started rowing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias). After three or four miles a storm blows up and the waves get huge. This is when Jesus comes to them walking on the water, freaking them out. And as soon as he got into the boat the wind and waves calm down and they arrived at their destination.

So now Jesus and the disciples are on the northwest shore of the sea. You would think that they wouldn’t have to worry about crowds anymore, but that’s not the case. As we read in the scripture today the people find some boats and follow Jesus across the sea so that they continue to follow him.

So even though he crossed the sea he finds himself being followed by crowds once again. That’s when Jesus gives them a lesson about the important things in life, and he uses bread as a metaphor. Here is how The Message paraphrases Jesus’ words: “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” John 6:26-27

Jesus is using bread as a metaphor, which I think is brilliant.

I love bread, especially homemade bread. Mmmmmm, there’s nothing better to eat than the crispy heel of still-warm fresh baked bread with a little butter spread on it. Oh my, it tastes so good!

But bread doesn’t stick with you long, does it? You can eat bread until you are stuffed and then not too long afterwards you find yourself hungry again. The people following him are the same people who ate the bread he made at the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. And if Jesus made the bread, can you imagine how good it must have tasted? Oh man!

So they are showing up and hoping for a second course of some tasty bread, but Jesus, knowing why they are there, turns it into a learning moment,

Earthly bread lasts only a little while. You eat it and it’s gone. Then you have to get some more. But the bread of heaven…

Jesus tells them that instead of putting their efforts into things that are temporary they should be focusing more on the things that are eternal. And in addition to bread, he uses another metaphor: work.

Now some translations say labor, but the meaning is the same. Don’t work for temporary things, work for eternal things.

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

And that’s where the line of the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer that we will be exploring today comes into play: “Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.”

Now there are two meanings to the scripture and the line of the prayer when it comes to “work” or ‘employed.” The first is the literal meaning. Most of us have jobs, employment, occupations.

If you are young and still in school your occupation, your job, is to learn, to become educated.

For older folks it’s how we make a living. We perform a particular skill or ability and in return receive remuneration for it; we get paid, in other words.

If you are a cook at Dairy Queen, for example, your skill is to prepare and cook food to eat. You have the skill and ability to determine how long to leave a hamburger patty on the grill. If you leave it on too long it will be burned and not taste good, and if you take it off too soon it might still be raw inside, and that’s not a good thing. And in return for your services in cooking you get a paycheck from the owner of the restaurant.

That’s the first meaning, the literal meaning. The second meaning is metaphorical. What work are you doing for the kingdom of God? As a follower of Christ, how are you working for the bread of eternity, to make disciples (the mandate given by Jesus at the end of the Gospel of Matthew)?

Now many Christians separate those two things and think that their work, their occupation, has nothing to do with the work they do for the kingdom of God. I want to challenge that, however. I think that both meanings can “work” together to serve the greater good.

Back in the 1600s over in France there was a man that went by the name of Lawrence. He was known as Brother Lawrence because he worked as a lay worker in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, France.

He grew up in a poor family and when he got old enough he joined the army just so he could have something to eat and a place to stay. He fought during the 30-Years War, a bloody affair in central Europe, and was wounded, making him lame. After the war he worked for a while as a footman, but the horrors of war led him to revisit the religion of his upbringing.

At the age of 26 he entered the monastery as a lay member and was given the assignment of being a cook for the people living there. He served as a cook there until his war injury forced him to do something else, at which point he became a cobbler that made sandals for the monks.

Even though he was not one of the monks, he gained a reputation as someone who developed a very close relationship with God. He offered advice to others on how to do this, and eventually a big-wig in the Catholic church, Abbé Joseph de Beaufort, came and visited with him and wrote down those sayings in a book titled, The Practice of the Presence of God.

For example, Beaufort wrote, “The most excellent method [Brother Lawrence] had found for going to God was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men but purely for the love of God.”

Here’s another: “We ought not weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

Okay, let’s think about this. Here’s a guy working away in a kitchen in Paris, France. But unlike the movie Ratatouie, this kitchen isn’t in a fancy restaurant but a monastery. (For some reason I think of the movie “Nacho Libre” when I think of Brother Lawrence. “Can’t we ever have like a salad or something?”) I can just picture him there peeling potatoes or parsnips or whatever in a cold, damp kitchen, day after day after day. But instead of being dismayed and depressed by it, he is content and filled with a sense of well-being because he does his work while being present with the Lord.

Paul writes in Colossians, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

We can learn from Paul, from Brother Lawrence, from John the Disciple, and from John Wesley: no matter what our “work” is here on earth, do it to the best of our ability as if we were doing it for God.

It doesn’t matter if we are the head of a Fortune 500 company or if we pick up cans on the side of the road, or even when we are unemployed (what Wesley calls, “laid aside”) when our hearts are set on God we serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is honor and dignity to be had in our work. Unfortunately we sometimes tend to look down on certain jobs and the people that do them. Take the people that pick up our trash and haul it off. It’s a hard job that they have to do in all kinds of weather. Can you imagine starting out before dawn on one of our cold winter days with a drizzly rain riding on the back of the truck out in the elements, stepping up and down off the platform at the back over and over again, emptying trash cans into the back of the truck? (Kind of like the original step aerobics.)

And there’s the messiness and the smell in addition to the physical exertion. And to top it off the job doesn’t pay very well, either, with very few paid holidays.

And yet, if those people didn’t do their jobs and pick up and properly dispose of our trash, can you imagine how our lives would change? Those workers are doing honest, honorable work, work that we ourselves don’t want to do. We should respect them for that.

You get the idea? No matter what we do, we can honor God by our labors. (With the exception of some illegal and immoral jobs that don’t count. If you are a human trafficker, for example, I don’t believe you can honor God by your labors.)

Remember Jesus’ words: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Remember John Wesley’s words: “Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee…”

So my challenge for you this week is to be present with God while you work. As you work for the “bread” that you pay your bills, also be working for heavenly bread that never goes bad. Work with your best effort, as if working for the Lord instead of for others, and while doing so praise God for all his blessings and especially for his son Jesus Christ.

Remember that God’s son, Jesus Christ, worked as a carpenter and also for his heavenly father. We should also.

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

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: Suffering

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: “Put me to doing, put me to suffering.”
A Message on James 1:2-4
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 17, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

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The book of James in the Bible can be a difficult book to read. It’s not necessarily because of big, sesquipedalian words or deep theological concepts, but because James doesn’t mess around with the information he wants to get across.

He just kind of hits you in the face with it. For example, he warns us that the tongue is like a fire, one that cannot be tamed, and that it is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8b). Gee, James. Tell us what you really think, would ya?

The scripture we read today from the first chapter of James, right at the beginning of the book, he does that as well. He says something that seems to be counterintuitive and… well… wrong.

“…whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy…”

I beg your pardon? Say what? Be joyful when we have trials? What kind of logic is that? It doesn’t make sense. When we’re having troubles, when we’re suffering, and we’re supposed to be joyful? You gotta be kidding…

And yet… that is what James is saying. Here’s The Message paraphrase: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

I think that the line of the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer that we are studying today, “Put me to doing, put me to suffering,” echoes what James is saying in his scriptures.

The apostle Paul, who became an expert on suffering after choosing to follow Jesus, tells us that “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:3b-5

King David, who was known as the man after God’s own heart, also went through periods of suffering (especially when King Saul was trying to kill him). David wrote in Psalm 34, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.”

Peter, the disciple also known as Simon, who Jesus told would become the rock that the church would be built upon, wrote “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10

Paul wrote this in the book we know as Philippians : “For he [God] has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well…” Philippians 1:29

Back in 1940 C.S. Lewis wrote a book titled, The Problem with Pain. (I highly recommend it, by the way.) In it he talks about why he believes God allows humans to suffer. “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I agree with him. I don’t believe God causes suffering, but I do believe he allows it. And I think that suffering is one way that God uses to get our attention.

When everything in our lives is going good, when we are healthy, have loving relationships, and maybe even have some money in the bank, then we tend to forget about God. He gets bumped down our priority list, pushed to the back of the cupboard and covered up with other things.

Oh, we still believe in God, but in the back of our minds we start to believe that we don’t need God. Things are going great, God. I got this.

But suffering refocuses us on God. We painfully come to the realization that we do, indeed, need God. Suffering moves God to the top of our priority list, moves him from the back of the cupboard to being out on the counter. Pain reminds that we are a broken people, that we aren’t as strong as we think we are, and that we need a savior. We need help.

Although thankfully it is rare, there is a medical condition that some people have that prevents them from feeling pain. Known as “Congenital Insensitivity to Pain (CIP),” or congenital analgesia, these people simply can’t feel pain. They can’t even describe it because they don’t feel it.

I have to admit that having such a condition sounds appealing at times, especially those times when we are hurting. But the reality is that CIP is life threatening. People die because of this.

For example, say a child has a cavity which causes a toothache. A normal child would feel the pain that creates and alert the parent, who would get the child to a dentist and have it taken care of. But if a child has CIP then he/she does not feel the pain and thus doesn’t know about the cavity. That cavity can get infected but again, not feeling pain, the child isn’t aware of it. And then that infection can spread to the point that it kills the child. Not a pretty picture.

I think that can be a good metaphor for our spiritual lives. If we don’t feel pain, if we don’t suffer, then we don’t turn to God.

Food tastes better when we’re hungry than when we’re full and not hungry, doesn’t it? A glass of ice water is much more refreshing when you are thirsty, isn’t it? A roaring fire in a fireplace feels much better when it’s cold outside, doesn’t it?

Suffering reminds us that we need a savior.

Now don’t misunderstand me and think that I am saying that suffering is a good thing. No. What I am saying is that because we live in a fallen world, each person will experience suffering in their life. Even Jesus tells us that “In this world you will have trouble.” My point is that when we as Christians do suffer, it is an opportunity for us to grow closer to God and to glorify God in our suffering.

“…whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy…”

“Put me to doing, put me to suffering.”

John Wesley knew about suffering. As a matter of fact, his best selling book, Primitive Physic, was a book of home remedies for various ailments.

But his lifestyle also included self discipline almost to the point of suffering. For example, he tried to eat no more than six ounces of meat per day. That’s not much. If you’ve ever been to a restaurant and ordered at 6-ounce steak, what they bring to you is not very much. And for Wesley, that was per DAY, not per meal.

He fasted twice a week. He took cold baths (and in England that meant REAL cold) not only because they were therapeutic but because he could give to the poor the money he would have spent on coal used to heat the water. He wore simple, plain clothing, didn’t believe in having lots of fancy furniture, and pretty much gave away all his money.

He got up at 4 a.m. every morning and went to bed at 9:30. He wrote letters, wrote sermons, had conversation with others, met with small groups, prayed, preached twice each day, read voraciously, and travelled a lot.

Many years ago Samuel J. Rogal wrote about Wesley’s daily activities and how much he traveled. It is estimated that between 1748 and 1790, John traveled a total of 225,000 miles and preached more than 40,000 sermons. Now 225,000 miles is a lot of miles, but when we remember that most of that was on horseback it makes it even more impressive. (I don’t think I would have wanted to buy a used horse off the man because the odds are that it would be pretty much worn out.)

Even in his 80s he kept a rigorous schedule, even though his body was starting to show the strain. He wrote in his journal, when he was close to being 87, a self-assessment of being “an old man, decayed head to foot. My eyes are dim; my right hand shakes much; my mouth is hot and dry every morning; I have a lingering fever almost every day; my motion is weak and slow. However, blessed by God, I do not slack my labour. I can preach and write still.”

Many of the places where Wesley preached he caused so much anger towards him that he was forbidden from preaching there again. Mobs ran him out of many of the places he preached and tried to cause him physical harm.

He had failed relationships with women and also marriage, with he and his wife never divorcing but living separately from each other.

And yet as part of his covenant prayer, he wrote, “Put me to doing, put me to suffering.”

Are you willing to suffer for Christ? Are you willing to continue to proclaim God’s glory when your life is falling apart around you, or you are seriously ill, or emotionally spent? When you are suffering or having a hard time, are you willing to “consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing”?

That is my challenge to you this week. Praise God in your sufferings. In this world we will have trouble. Jesus tells us that. But the troubles don’t have to win. Endure hardships with optimism, knowing that Jesus died for our sins and that no matter what this world throws at us, as believers in Christ and children of God we are promised that something better is coming.

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