December 4

Keeping Focused

 The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.”

Matthew 1:23

When I was in my twenties and thirties, I dreaded Christmas because I saw it mostly as busyness and stress that I didn’t need. I had no appreciation for Jesus as the “Word made flesh” because I paid attention only to getting through the season.

After two decades, I found God again and our church family! My wife, Peetie, got me to attend Christmas Eve Communion for the first time. My attitude about Christmas was changing as I grew in my faith. Still, it seemed a challenge to not be overwhelmed by the busyness of the season.

I decided I needed to be more intentional about focusing on Christ coming down to live among us during the Christmas season. I have tried to simplify by reducing dates and commitments and to focus more on the real meaning by deflecting or ignoring a lot of the commercialization of Christmas.

I started reading Advent devotionals leading up to Christmas. I began praying for a spirit of gratitude for receiving the most wonderful gift. I have become more aware on a daily basis of what Jesus did, making himself vulnerable to our cruel world by coming to earth as a baby just to save us.


[Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash]

I look forward to reading Advent books again this Christmas season. There are many good ones. I am planning to reread The Heart of Bethlehem written by our FUMC friend, Carol Weaver. I also plan to attend my 24th consecutive Christmas Eve Communion at FUMC Jacksonville.

Father God, please help us to focus this Christmas season on receiving the Greatest Gift! Amen.

 Russell Edwards

Additional Scriptures: Hebrews 10:23-25, Psalm 121:1-2, Psalm 118:26-29

December 3

Advertising Christmas

“…And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Luke 1:45-49

Christmas is extremely commercialized, isn’t it?

Come on down and get a good deal on       (insert Christmas essential)       !

It’s what we now hear starting Thanksgiving Day.

Advent-Advertising-Christmas-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash]

Consequently, the coming of Jesus was, in some sense, advertised as well. You had the Old Testament prophets and scribes that foretold His coming. The birth of John the Baptist also pointed towards the birth of Christ. You had the star which led the wisemen, as well as angels who sang about His birth. News was going around and people were preparing themselves.

Why don’t we “advertise” too? As we move on in the season of Advent, let your lives and actions advertise and proclaim our foretold Messiah.

Andrew Thompson

Lord, bless us with the words and deeds to let others know You came to save us. May we be good advertisements for receiving the Greatest Gift ever given.

 Additional Scriptures: John 3:16-17, Romans 10:12-15, Colossians 3:12-15

Advent: Get Ready!

Advent: Get Ready
A Message on Luke 1:26-38
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Dec. 1, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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Today marks the beginning of the Christian season of Advent, which is the first season of the Christian calendar. So, Happy Christian Calendar Year! Who’s got the blackeyed peas, collard greens, and corn bread? Let’s celebrate!

And yet we don’t think of Advent as being the beginning of a year, but it is. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin term adventus, which is the Greek translation of the word parousia, which roughly means “coming.”

For Christians Advent is a season of preparation, a period of looking forward, of anticipating and getting ready for the birth of the Christ Child.

In the scripture we read today from Luke we find the angel Gabriel telling Mary about what is going to happen. Mary is shocked, to say the least, and tries to point out the biological impossibility of what Gabriel is saying, but ends up accepting her role and being willing to serve God in a very unique way. She knows she and Joseph have some preparing to do.

I believe it is very unfortunate in our society that we have lost sight of the fact that Christmas is a religious holiday. Instead we are bombarded and overwhelmed with advertisements to shop and to buy. The only message we get in preparing for Christmas is to rush and make sure we buy the perfect presents for our loved ones. The message distorts and misrepresents love, convincing us that people will love us if we buy presents for them. And it’s a lie. A big fat lie. Fake news, if you will. But we believe it.

We believe it so much that we go deep into debt trying to make it happen. According to the InCharge Debt Solutions website it is anticipated that Americans will spend $730 billion (with a “b”) buying presents this Christmas season (based on information from the National Retail Federation). The average American will spend about $925 on gifts, and three out of four people will use credit cards to pay for some or all of those bills.

Say someone spends that $925 on gifts this year. If they make the minimum 2 percent payment on that amount that debt will be paid off in 2026, seven years from now. Not only that, but in addition to the original $925 they will be paying an additional $610 in interest costs, bringing the final total to $1,535! [Source:]

Bah humbug!

No. Advent isn’t about presents. It’s about Jesus. It’s about preparing our hearts and souls for the coming of the Christ child.

Now the liturgical colors we use for Advent is blue, but that is a relatively new development. Prior to that the color was purple, and purple is still acceptable to use. Purple is the color of preparation. Purple is the color of Lent, that period of time before Easter which is also a season of preparation.

Advent is not a time to shop but a time to get ready. People get ready.

If Jesus was coming to your house, what would you do? I’m guessing that you would do some cleaning. You would vacuum the carpet and mop the hard floors. You would fold and put up the clean laundry that has been in the basket in your laundry room that you have been using out of until it’s all gone and that’s when you know to do laundry again.

You would empty the dishwasher of the clean dishes, which you have also been using out of, and then load it with the dirty ones that have been stacked up high in the sink. You would clean the bathrooms real well, scrubbing until that ring in the toilet is gone. You would put out the nice towels, not the ol’ ratty everyday ones with holes in them.

You would go to the grocery store and stock up on food, and you would buy the name-brand green beans, not the generic ones.

You get the idea.

Advent, in a way, is a time for us to clean the house of our souls for the coming of Jesus. We need to repent of our sins and throw them out with the trash. We need to sweep the floors of our habits and scrub clean those habits that move us further away from God instead of moving us toward him. We need to clean the cobwebs of our mind to get rid of those things that make us focus on ourselves instead of others. We need to dust our souls to remove the layers of dirt and grime our society subtly places there day after day, and we need to polish the image that God gives us as his children.

We need to get ready. God comes to earth at Christmas not with great fanfare and publicity, but as a baby child born in an out-of-the-way place to a common, ordinary couple.

Jesus, being God, comes to earth not for selfish reasons, but to put on flesh and walk among us to teach us, to love us, and to die for us. We need to remember that. We need to always be mindful that the birth of Jesus at Christmas leads to the cross at Easter. The prophets of old said it would be, and it came into being at Christmas.

My challenge to you this Advent season is to prepare your heart and soul with the same effort and intensity you would use to prepare your house if Jesus was going to stop by. Respond like Mary, saying “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Let us get ready during this season of preparation by reading the Bible, by daily devotionals, and by keeping the main thing the main thing.

Happy Advent, everybody.

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

December 2

Unto Us a Son

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Each year as the Christmas season nears, I turn to a splendid celebration of His birth – Handel’s Messiah. As I read the words of the Scripture above, I always hum the song in my head from this amazing work of art.

I think about the people before Jesus’ birth, having only the words of the prophets and the hope of God’s promise that a Messiah is coming. I am blessed to be alive on the “after” side of His birth and know that He is the fulfillment of these prophecies. I marvel that a Child was born to save me, that the government is upon His shoulder and that I can call Him Wonderful, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Although Handel’s Messiah celebrates all aspects of Jesus’ life, His birth, His death and His resurrection, we’ve come to appreciate it mostly in the days leading up to our celebration of His birth. It is during this time that I long to hear it, in its entirety. Every year I faithfully pop in the DVD I have and follow along in the musical score. As is the tradition, I MUST stand during the Hallelujah chorus! As I soak in the loveliness of the music, the orchestra, the choir, the soloists, the words, I know that Jesus’ birth is a miracle. I know that He loves me. I know my life would be totally different had He not come, or hadn’t yet come.

Although we are inundated with secular songs during Christmas (many of which I adore), it is Handel’s Messiah that I wait for. I once had someone tell me that if he was allowed only one item on a desert island, it would be Handel’s Messiah. It is glorious music and the words of our Lord, all in one place. It is divine.

So as I get ready for Christmas, I will celebrate the birth of my Lord and my King by watching and listening to this marvelous oratorio, again and again!

Father, thank You for the blessing of this magnificent piece of music. Thank You for continually speaking to my heart through these words and music. And most importantly, thank You for sending Your Son; He will reign forever and ever! Hallelujah and Amen!

 Vicki Gilbreath

(Find Handel’s Messiah on and join me this year. And don’t forget to stand up during the Hallelujah chorus!)

Additional readings: Colossians 3:16, Psalm 40:1-3

December 1: First Sunday in Advent

Advent is here and with it comes the first light of hope. Anticipation fills the air as we prepare to celebrate The Light of the World. This day is the beginning of all our watching and waiting and hoping.

What are you hoping for this year? What waiting lies deep in your heart? What keeps you watching with anticipation?

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

Micah 7:7

(Light the first Advent candle.)

The first candle is called the Prophet’s Candle. Prophets in the Old Testament told the Israelites a Savior was coming. Isaiah and Micah spoke words of hope to God’s children and they waited and watched for the signs of the coming Savior.

We see signs of the day approaching to celebrate the Savior’s birth too. Stockings hang waiting to be filled, wreaths of green welcome us home, and the music of the season fills our ears. There’s just something special about this time of year. Smiles are brighter and eyes twinkle a bit more. This is Advent and with it comes the spark of hope that lights our first candle.

Yet our hope goes much deeper than presents under trees or the special foods we enjoy.

Read Luke 1:26-28

Gabriel’s greeting to Mary were words of hope, the same words of hope for us this season: You are favored by the Lord. The Lord is with you! (Luke 1:28)

The light of the first candle reminds us we are favored by God. We are chosen to watch and wait with hope for the coming of the King. The words of Micah ring true. God hears us and is with us. This is our hope. This is the hope of the world!

Sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, Thou Day-Spring

Come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel

Lord of Hope, fill us with the light of Your love this Advent. Help us to shine hope into the world. Thank You for hearing us, for being with us. Amen.

Additional Scriptures: Psalm 119:81, Isaiah 40:30-31, Jeremiah 29:11

Advent 2019-Devotional-FUMC

[Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash]

The Advent Wreath: A Brief History

Merriam-Webster’s defines advent as “the arrival or coming of something.” For Believers it is the season we prepare to remember the birth of Jesus.

Arrivals usually come with signs. Spring arrives with showers and wildflowers. Summer with red ripe tomatoes and hot days. Autumn with changing leaves that fall to the ground. Winter brings shorter days and long nights. When you enter the sanctuary tomorrow — the First Sunday of Advent — look for the signs of the season. One consistent sign of the beginning of Advent in our sanctuary is the Advent Wreath.

While the tradition of the Advent Wreath is observed in our corporate worship, it was originally created for home devotions. Originating in German and Scandinavian homes, families lit candles to observe the corresponding weeks of Advent, marking the coming of Christmas with a time of prayer, either at dinner or in the evening.

The color of the candles was insignificant, and the configuration of the candles did not matter — whether they were in a straight line or a circle. What mattered was the marking of the weeks and the increased light of each additional candle in the face of the increasing darkness accompanying the winter solstice. (

Creating an Advent Wreath at home is a wonderful reminder of the reason we celebrate. A way for families to prayerfully mark the days until the time of celebrating the arrival of the Babe in the manger. Each Sunday’s devotional is designed to use as you and your family gather around your Advent wreath to celebrate the light of Jesus coming into the world.

Advent Wreath-Devotional-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash]

Gather your family together and create an Advent “wreath,” whether a circle or line. A quick Google search provides countless ideas to get you started. No matter how you make your wreath you will need four candles and a heart prepared to seek God: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Grow Team


Preparing Hearts, Minds, and Homes for the Christmas Season


It’s almost time for First United Methodist Church Jacksonville to celebrate Advent!

Members and friends of this church have written daily devotionals. There is a devotional for every day during the season of Advent, which runs from December 1 to December 25.

Advent is a time of preparation, a time of contemplation. Our prayer is that through the stories and Scriptures you will prepare your heart and soul to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

I encourage you to create time within each day to sit down and read these devotionals, looking up the Scriptures in your Bible, and contemplating the miraculous event that changed the world that is known as Christmas.

Come, let us adore Him!

Rev. Doug Wintermute, Pastor of Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Meeting Jesus: The Gerasene Demoniac

Meeting Jesus: The Gerasene Demoniac
A Message on Mark 5:1-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 17, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Mark 5:1-20 (NRSV)

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

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Today’s scripture from the Gospel of Mark is somewhat troubling. It portrays a man in a very bad state: mental illness and/or demon possession.

Now in the United Methodist Church we don’t talk about demonic possession very much. And there are some United Methodists that don’t believe that it is real, that it’s only mental illness.

I’m not one of those. I believe that though it is rare, there is such a thing as being demon possessed. I believe that there is evil in this world, and I believe evil forces such as demons exist as well.

Part of the problem is how we define evil and demons. Just yesterday I read an article on Facebook about surgeons performing a double lung transplant on a 17-year-old young man whose lungs were destroyed by vaping. In the article Dr. Hassan Nemeh, the surgeon who led the team of doctors, said this: “What I saw in his lungs is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’ve been doing lung transplants for 20 years. This is an evil I haven’t faced before.”

So is vaping an evil, a demon? Maybe. Is mental illness an evil, a demon? Maybe.

My personal opinion is that I think that mental illness and demonic possession are two different things. Demonic possession can disguise itself as mental illness, but certainly not all mental illness is demonic in origin.

Sometimes what we think are demons really are not. Back when we were in seminary there was one time when my roommate, the esteemed theologian and all around great guy Tommy Earl Burton, thought demons were after him. Here’s what happened.

One of our other roommates, Wade Lindstrom, had bought an electronic whoopee cushion. This was a modern electronic device, complete with a remote control, that… well… made flatulence noises, if you know what I mean. (If you don’t know what I mean, talk to me later and I’ll explain it.)

One night Wade, being the trickster he is, hid the sound-producing part of the machine under Tommy Earl’s bed. The idea was to wait awhile and then, when Tommy was lying on his bed, hit to remote to make it sound like Tommy Earl was… well… you know…

Well as it turned out Tommy stayed up late working on a paper. Wade forgot about the devise and went to bed and fell asleep. That was all fine and good except this electronic whoopee cushion had a program to remind you that it was on. After a certain amount of time it would make a sound, BRRRRRRP, to remind the owner that it was still on. It did this every 15 to 20 minutes.

Well Tommy Earl finally went to bed. He would just barely be asleep when the electronic whoopee cushion would go off with the reminder that it was on, “BRRRRRP.”

Tommy Earl, in a half-asleep and half-awake state, thought the sound was the sound of demons coming after him. He would wake up and start praying fervently, “Dear Lord Jesus, protect me from evil and remove these demons from my presence…” Then he would fall asleep and then, 15 to 20 minutes later, “BRRRRRRP,” the machine would go off again and the same thing would happen.

Apparently after about the fourth or fifth time this happened Tommy was praying out loud enough to awaken me. “OH DEAR LORD JESUS PLEASE RESCUE ME FROM THESE DEMONS TORMENTING ME!” I realized what was going on and told him, “It’s Wade’s electronic whoopee cushion making that noise. He put it under your bed.”

Tommy Earl got up, found the electronic whoopee cushion, picked it up, opened the door to Wade’s bedroom, and then threw it at Wade, who was asleep.

In the scripture we read today we find Jesus coming face to face with a man who wasn’t dealing with a pesky electronic whoopee cushion, but who was truly demon possessed. I have no doubt about this. The man didn’t live a normal life, but wandered among the tombs and exhibited bizarre behavior.

Now we need to remember that from a 1st Century Jewish perspective the man would have certainly been someone to stay away from. He was considered to be “unclean.” Simply coming in contact with a dead body made one unclean, and so you can see that living and sleeping among the tombs would make him very, VERY unclean, both physically and spiritually.

And the fact that he couldn’t be restrained by shackles and chains indicates that they had actually tried to do that, without success. And it also tells us that in that society, that’s how troubled people were treated: they were chained up.

So this unclean, crazy (literally), semi-naked man comes running up to Jesus as soon as Jesus gets out of the boat. If Jesus touches him, then Jesus will be unclean. And in reality, just being around him could make Jesus unclean. And besides, no self-respecting Jewish person of the day would in any way be associated with someone like the crazy, possessed man.

To quote a Monty Python movie, “Run away! Run away!”

But Jesus doesn’t. Instead Jesus heals the man, sending the demons to a herd of pigs that are nearby.

Now I find great theological significance in what happens here. The fact that there is a herd of pigs shows that in that area was a significant population of Gentiles. As you probably know, pigs are listed among the “unclean” animals in Leviticus and practicing Jews, and also Muslims, still today do not eat pork as a result. As Christians, we have the New Testament, specifically where Peter is told in Acts 10 to get up, kill, and eat. (And thank goodness for that, because I really love bacon!)

If the people in the area were all Jewish, then it would have been useless to raise pigs. It would be kind of like being an organist at a Church of Christ.

So there is a herd of pigs, considered by the Jews to be nasty, unclean, unreligious animals, and Jesus sends the demons into the pigs. But then something interesting happens.

The pigs, about 2,000 or them, rush down a “steep bank” and into the sea, where they drowned.

Here’s the deal: pigs are actually pretty good swimmers. They really are. There’s even a place in the Bahamas known for its swimming pigs. People go there just so they can swim with the pigs. Honestly. Here’s a photo to show you I’m not making this up.

So if pigs can swim then why did they drown? I think it is because of the demons. I think the demons tormented the pigs so much that they drowned themselves in an attempt to get rid of them.

Here’s something else that is significant. Verse 14, “The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country.” The people watching the pigs, which would have been Gentiles, of course, were witnesses to the miracle that Jesus performs. And they go and tell everyone about it, which would mean both Gentile and Jewish people. Gentiles start spreading the Good News about Jesus, and people came to see Jesus, and were astonished to see the demon-possessed man sitting calmly, fully clothed, and in his right mind.

It also brings to mind the parable of the Prodigal Son mentioned in Luke’s gospel. Do you remember what the son was doing after he left home and blew all his money and became destitute? He worked feeding pigs, and the pigs were eating better than he was.

We find that Jesus often pushes against the norms of society at the time. Well, he does more than push against. He often blows them away.

Humans are good at putting people in categories. It happened in the first century and still happens in our world today. We see it in the debates about immigration. One side sees peaceful, loving families trying to enter our country to escape poverty and political oppression. The other side sees criminals and drug cartel members coming and taking advantage of our country. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, but good luck convincing either side of that.

In Jesus’ time there was a lot of “chosen ones” and “unchosen ones” in society. The Jewish people were the “chosen ones,” as God’s people selected to live in the land of milk and honey promised to Abraham and his relatives. Anyone not Jewish, in other words, Gentile, were not chosen by God. In the view of the Jews, the Gentiles were a lower form of human life. After all, they weren’t the “chosen ones.”

We saw a similar attitude in World War II with the German view of Jewish people. The Nazis considered the Jews to be sub-human, and we know that attitude lead to the deaths of 6 million plus people.

In the 1st Century Middle East, people with mental illness were also considered to be subhuman. They were certainly ostracized. Like those with leprosy, they were shunned, pushed to the edge of society, rejected, and physically and mentally abused. The Gerasene Demoniac was one of those people. And yet when he encountered Jesus, everything changed. He was given value, a purpose.

It’s interesting to note what happens after he meets Jesus. He wants to go with Jesus, to follow him, to become one of his disciples. Jesus tells him no. Instead, Jesus has something different in mind. Jesus tells him: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

Why would Jesus do this? I think it’s because that’s where they man’s testimony would be the most effective. The people in his hometown will know and remember how he used to be. They know his history, how he has lived all these years. And, in knowing that, when they see him as “normal” it will have a greater impact for the kingdom that it would have with people who had NOT known him.

Sometimes in our lives as Christians we get fired up and want to to great big incredible things for Jesus Christ. We have in our minds what we want to do for Jesus and, if we are truthful with ourselves, sometimes our egos sneak their way into those plans. We want to do great things for the Kingdom, but we want the spotlight to shine on us as we do it. We want others to see just how good of a Christian we are. We are proclaiming, “Look at Jesus, but look at me, too!”

Ironically, the most effective things we can do for the Kingdom are usually the small, ordinary, everyday things we do. Instead of being in the spotlight and proclaiming the Kingdom as a narrative to satisfy our egos, the best thing we can do is to walk humbly with our God. We can, and should, do as Jesus tells the Gerasene Demoniac: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

I have used this illustration before but I’m going to repeat it today because it really applies to this message. There is a young boy walking along the seashore at low tide. Every now and then he comes across a starfish that got stranded on the beach by the receding tide. When he did, he would stop, pick up the starfish, and gently toss it back into the water.

A older man saw this and, after observing the young boy for several minutes, approached him. “Why are you tossing the starfish back into the ocean? There are thousands of them stranded on the beach. There’s no way you can help all of them. You can’t expect to make a difference with so many of them.”

The young boy didn’t say anything, but reached down and picked up a starfish, tossed it gently back in the water, then looked at the man and said, “I made a difference for that one.”

That’s the way we should be as Christians. We should bring the Kingdom of God to the earth one person at a time. We don’t have to have demons cast out of us or do big dramatic things in order to have an impact on this world, we simply need to bloom where we are planted.

This is a photo I took a while back. I don’t even remember where it was. I was fascinated by the scene, however, as these flowers were growing and blooming in the midst of hard pavement. The flowers bloomed where they were planted.

Likewise we should “bloom” where we are planted. We should show and share the love of Jesus Christ with the people we come into contact with on a daily or weekly basis. Little things for the Kingdom add up over time to become big things.

There is a challenge called the 365 day money challenge. It’s pretty simple. The first day you deopist a nickel, 5 cents, into your savings account. Then, you add $0.05 to your deposit on day two, making that deposit worth $0.10, bringing your total savings to $0.15.

On each subsequent day, you add a nickel to the previous day’s deposit. That means, on day 10, you deposit $0.50. On day 100, your deposit is $5.00. On the last day, number 365, your deposit is $18.40.

So $18.40 is the largest amount you will deposit. That’s as big as it gets. But all those small amounts add up at the end of the year. Any guesses how much you save if you start out with a nickel a day? The answer is $3,339.75. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of money to me!

Work for the Kingdom has the same kind of exponential multiplying affect. Little things we do for Jesus add up over time, building up lives one person at a time but having a profound effect on the Kingdom over time.

So my challenge to you this week is to do like Jesus commanded the Gerasene Demoniac: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

Create an everlasting impact on the Kingdom not by the big things you do, but by the small, everyday things. Let people cut in front of you in traffic. Hold the door open for someone. Bite your tongue instead of saying negative comments about someone. Delete that snarky social media comment instead of posting it. Tip waitstaff the way you think Jesus would tip them. Live the way Jesus lived, and love the way Jesus loved.

And if you ever buy an electronic whoopee cushion and put it under your roommate’s bed, be sure and turn it off.

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

All Saints Sunday Meeting Jesus: Martha

Meeting Jesus: Martha
A Message on John 11:17-27
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 3, 2019 (All Saints Sunday)
By Doug Wintermute

John 11:17-27 (NRSV)

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

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Today is All Saints Sunday, the first Sunday after All Saints Day, which is Nov. 1.

As a matter of fact, the holiday we just had, normally associated with candy and costumes, gets its name, “Halloween,” from a contraction of “All Hallows Eve,” the day before All Saints Day

In Mexico, especially the central and southern areas, there is a cultural celebration of Día de Muertos, or “Day of the Dead.” According to the always helpful resource Wikipedia, “The multi-day holiday involves family and friends gathering to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and helping support their spiritual journey. In Mexican culture, death is viewed as a natural part of the human cycle. Mexicans view it not as a day of sadness but as a day of celebration because their loved ones awake and celebrate with them.”

As Christians we don’t necessarily believe that our deceased loved ones awake and celebrate with us, but we do have something that we do celebrate: resurrection.

Resurrection means raising from the dead, the restoration of life. Someone died, and yet they are brought back to life through their faith in Jesus Christ.

In preparing for this message I realized something: us preachers, particularly myself, don’t preach on resurrection as much as we should. I think I know why. We preach it at funerals, which is important, but that leads us into a false belief that we have covered the topic pretty well. The problem with that is than many of you in our congregation can’t or don’t attend funerals.

So today, All Saints Sunday, we are going to talk about resurrection.

Resurrection is at the heart of Christianity. I will go so far as to question whether you are a Christian if you don’t believe in resurrection. As we say in the Apostle’s creed,

“I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.”

In the scripture we read today we find that Jesus shows up at Bethany after being informed that his friend, Lazarus, has died. Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary, who Jesus also considered as friends.

We usually look at this section of scripture and focus on the fact that Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, even though Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. Today, however, I want to focus on something Jesus says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Lazarus being resurrected from the dead foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection. But he proclaims to Martha what will happen after his own death, except he says it in present tense, which means he already has the power of resurrection.

Listen to this paraphrase from The Message: “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.”

Did you catch that last sentence? “And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.”

This All Saints Sunday we recognize those of our congregation who have died since the last All Saints Sunday. It’s a pretty long list, and there are so many long-time, faithful, members’ names on that list. We miss them. We mourn their passing.

And yet we are comforted because we know that’s not the end of the story. We know about the resurrection of the dead, and that not only comforts us, but it gives us hope and courage for the future. Death does not win. Love does.

So my challenge to you this week is to remember and celebrate that we are a resurrection people! That gives us hope! That gives us joy, not only for ourselves but for all the saints that have gone on before us.

And that gift, that grace, is given to us by Jesus Christ, God’s only son, who willingly went to his death on a cross so that we might have that grace and hope.

So as we mourn those who have joined the church triumphant, we remember the words of the old hymn: “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus we’ll sing and shout the victory!”

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

Meeting Jesus: The Widow’s Offering

Meeting Jesus: The Widow’s Offering
A Message on Luke 21:1-4
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 27, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 21:1-4 (NRSV)

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

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Today as we continue our sermon series, “Meeting Jesus,” we are going to turn to the 21st chapter of the Gospel of Luke and look at a poor widow who gave two “mites,” or two small copper coins, at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now this is also found in the 12th chapter of Mark, but today we’re going to focus on Luke’s account.

Now I am aware that technically the widow doesn’t specifically “meet” Jesus. But Jesus does see her and remarks about her to those around him, so I say that’s close enough.

We need some context, though, as to why Jesus is saying this, and perhaps more importantly, who he is saying it to. If we back up one chapter in Luke we find that Jesus is dealing with the religious leaders of the day who are upset with him because he is bucking the status quo. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes were very much “this is the way we’ve always done it” kind of people, and Jesus was upsetting the religious apple cart.

Chapter 20 begins with Jesus in Jerusalem where he is teaching in the temple. The chief priests, scribes, and elders come to Jesus and try to trap him with questions. They ask him by whose authority he is doing all the things he is doing. He responds by asking them a question about the baptisms John was doing, whether it was of heavenly or human origin. They were afraid to answer, so they didn’t.

Then he tells the parable of the wicked tenants, about how they not only wouldn’t pay the appropriate share to the landowner, but beat and even killed those sent to collect it.

Then the religious leaders send spies to ask Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. Jesus asks for a coin, asks them whose image is on the coin, and then tells them to give to the emperor those things that belong to him, and to give to God the things that belong to God.

Then some Sadducees come and asked Jesus about resurrection. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection, so they had all their arguments lined up to counter him. But he answers them in such a way they are afraid to ask him any more questions.

Then Jesus asks them how David’s son can be the messiah, before completing the chapter with this charge against the religious leaders:

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:46-47

It is then that Jesus witnesses the widow placing her two coins in the treasury and commends her for it within hearing of the religious leaders.

Now the scribes were the ones that interpreted the scriptures for the people. We have to remember that printing presses were not available in the 1st Century Holy Land, and the scriptures of the Old Testament were written on scrolls. So the scribes not only kept these scrolls but also interpreted them for the people.

Now some people today, especially the TV preachers, have interpreted the passage of the widow giving her last two coins to mean that people should give all they have to their ministry. They say that if you give everything to them then God will bless you financially, as if God is an investment firm that will provide a great and generous return on your investment.

No. If the love of money is the root of all evil, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy, then why would God try to give us more? Now don’t get me wrong, I think there are blessings received when we give to God, but it is extremely rare that those blessings turn out to be financial.

I think that what Jesus is saying in observing the widow giving her two coins, her last two coins, is the hypocrisy of the scribes who guilted the widows into giving everything they had to the treasury.

Now today is Commitment Sunday, and you may be thinking, “That’s a weird thing to say on Commitment Sunday.” And in all probability our financial secretary, Sarah Hugghins, is probably having a spell of high blood pressure right now, wondering where I’m going with this, but I want to make something perfectly clear: If you are down to your last two cents, don’t give it to the church. Instead come to our food pantry on Thursday (actually see me after worship) and the church will give you some food.

I don’t want to guilt you into giving to the church. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t give to the church. What I am saying is if you only have two pennies then don’t give them to the church.

If, however, you are not impoverished, and I mean truly impoverished, then I am asking you to give to the church. I am asking you to pray to God and then complete an estimate of giving card and drop it in one of the baskets on the altar rail in just a few minutes.

Why am I asking you to do this? It’s simple, really. We are working on the budget for the church for the coming year. In order to do that we need to have an estimate of giving so we can estimate what the income for the church will be. We then base the expenses of the budget on that estimate.

I think it’s more important this year than in years past. We have lost a lot of faithful saints this past year, either through death or from moving away from Jacksonville. Sarah as estimated how much those people gave, and it comes up to about $23,000. That’s a lot.

To quote that ol’ country song, “Who’s going to fill their shoes?”

Statistics show that for every long term church member lost, it takes five new church members to match that financial level.

The reality is that ministry takes money. The electric bill has to be paid every month. The water bill has to be paid. We have to have insurance on this wonderful facility. We have arguably the best children’s and youth programs in the area, but they aren’t free. Our Adopt-a-School program is making a difference in the lives of West Side Elementary Students as well as teachers and staff. Our food pantry feeds between 50 and 75 families every week.

We have an excellent staff here at JFUMC, but they need to be paid as well. As the Bible says in both Deuteronomy and 1 Timothy, “Do not muzzle the oxen when they are treading out the grain.”

Bottom line is it costs to be the church. It was that way in the first Century, it’s been that way throughout the years, and it’s still that way now.

Giving to the church is a spiritual matter. It is a matter of the heart.

I asked Sarah Hugghins to break down our giving in terms of how many people give how much. Here is a graph that shows that.

Out of 224 giving units, this is how they break down: We have six giving units that give more than $20,000 a year. These six giving units contribute more than 34 percent of our entire budget. (Thank you, by the way!) We have one giving unit that gives between $15,000 to $20,000, five who give between $10,000 and $15,000, two who give between $8,000 to $10,000, 15 who give between $5,000 and $8,000, 28 who give between $3,000 and $5,000, 54 who give between $1,000 and $3,000, and 114 that give between $1 and $1,000.

And we also have 69 people who, unless they give cash in the plates that Sarah can’t count, who don’t give any.

Now I want to be clear that as pastor I don’t know who gives what. That is by my choice. As a matter of fact, that goes against what us pastors are told by stewardship specialists. They say pastors need to know what everyone in the church gives. But the reason I don’t want to know is that I don’t want to even subconsciously treat someone differently when it comes to pastoral care.

So, as you fill out your estimate of giving card please know that I will not see it. Sarah Hugghins, our financial secretary, is the only one that sees them. The only one I see is the one that Pam and I fill out and turn in. (And yes, we do turn one in, in case you are wondering.)

Also be aware that the estimate of giving card does not obligate you by legal contract to give that amount to the church. It is an estimate of giving, and if changes in your financial situation changes happen during the year your estimate of giving can change. We’re not going to send some guy named Guido to track you down in hit you in the knees if you get behind. No. Sarah sends out quarterly statements, and that’s it. No guilt, no pressure.

Let’s talk about terminology for a minute. Let’s talk about tithes and offerings. The Bible tells us to give a tithe of our income. Well, what is a tithe? A tithe is 10 percent of your income. There is some debate as to whether that is gross or net income, which is something you need to decide for yourself. But a tithe is 10 percent.

Offerings are anything above that, those gifts that you give in addition to your tithe.

As Christians we are obligated to support the church with our giving. As United Methodists when we join we make a covenant agreement to support the church with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” We don’t get to pick and choose which those we want to do and which ones we don’t want to do. It’s all of them, and that includes gifts, both monetarily and in other ways as well.

Giving is a part of who we are as Christians, as United Methodists, and as members of Jacksonville First United Methodist Church.

So my challenge to you today is to be generous in your gifts to the church. Before you turn in your estimate of giving consider raising it one or two percent. You don’t even have to do the math. Just write “+ 2 percent” beside your estimate. Sarah will do the calculations for you. Help us to continue the legacy that those that have gone before us were instrumental in establishing.

And if you only have two pennies, let me know. I don’t want you to give it to the church. Meet me after church and we will get you some groceries. After all, we are the church.

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