Faithbook: “Likes”







Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Likes”
A Message on John 3:27-30

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 26, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

John 3:27-30 (NRSV)

John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”


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Today is Back to School and Blessing of the Backpacks Sunday. School for Jacksonville ISD starts tomorrow and parents throughout the district will either rejoice or be sad, or more likely a combination of both.


Now you may be thinking that the scripture selection for today can’t possibly have anything to do with back to school, and to tell you the truth I had times this past week when I felt the same way. (“Why in the world did I pick this scripture?”) However, let’s keep moving forward and perhaps at the end I can convince you–and myself–that there is a lot we can learn from it that can help us not only if we are a student or a teacher, but also in life.


The scripture comes from the Gospel of John. John’s gospel is different from what are called the “synoptic” gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. “Synoptic” from a similar view or perspective, and while there are some differences between them they are very similar. John is different.


Like Mark, John says nothing of the birth of Jesus. Matthew and Luke give us the original Christmas story, but Mark does not. John starts off with emphasizing that Jesus was God, which he calls the Word, or Logos, and that Jesus was with God in the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)


John also talks a lot about light, about how Jesus is the light of the world. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:3-5)


In the scripture we read today we find John writing about another John, the person we know as John the Baptist. Now some people mistakenly think that John the Baptist wrote the Gospel of John but that is not the case. John the Baptist meets an untimely death at the orders of King Herod.


In antiquity there was a belief that the writer of the Gospel of John was also the writer named John who wrote what we refer to as Revelation, but most scholars today believe that the two are separate people.


So John is writing about John the Baptist. He introduces John in the 1st chapter this way: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:6-9)


In the scripture we read today from the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John we find John the Baptist explaining the fact that he is not the messiah.


Here’s the situation. John the Baptist was baptizing folks, and then when Jesus came on the scene and was himself baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples started baptizing people as well. As most things do because of human nature, it kind of started being viewed as a competition between John the Baptist and Jesus over who could perform the most baptisms. Here is The Message paraphrase of John 3:25-26, “John’s disciples got into an argument with the establishment Jews over the nature of baptism. They came to John and said, “Rabbi, you know the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan? The one you authorized with your witness? Well, he’s now competing with us. He’s baptizing, too, and everyone’s going to him instead of us.”


John’s response is what we read today: verses 27-30. Here’s The Message paraphrase: “John answered, ‘It’s not possible for a person to succeed—I’m talking about eternal success—without heaven’s help. You yourselves were there when I made it public that I was not the Messiah but simply the one sent ahead of him to get things ready. The one who gets the bride is, by definition, the bridegroom. And the bridegroom’s friend, his ‘best man’—that’s me—in place at his side where he can hear every word, is genuinely happy. How could he be jealous when he knows that the wedding is finished and the marriage is off to a good start?  That’s why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.”


Football season is kicking off. Most of you will know this NFL player. It’s Jacksonville’s own Josh McCown. He has had a long and well-traveled record in the NFL, playing now for his 11th professional team.


Last year he started at quarterback for the New York Jets. And he did great. He had 267 completions, a 67.3 completion percentage, 2,926 passing yards, 18 passing touchdowns and 5 rushing touchdowns. And he did all that at 39 years old.


I saw an article on him and some of the other quarterbacks on the team were talking about why Josh has not only lasted so long in the NFL but why he is so successful. It seems that Josh is an extremely intelligent player who has used his journeyman status to glean wisdom from every team he has played for.


And wherever Josh was, he wasn’t jealous of the starting quarterbacks. In fact, he helped them, sharing his wisdom with them for the benefit of the team. He made himself less so that the starter could be more. He didn’t make it about himself.


With school starting one of the things that students will be dealing with, especially at junior high and high school levels, is peer pressure.


I don’t know of any kid that doesn’t want to perceived as “cool” and well-like by her/his classmates. The reality is that there is a sort of pecking order social hierarchy in schools, and as young people start exploring who they are and how they fit in the world they become classified on the scale of “cool” to “uncool.”


There are even social groups that develop based on these different classifications. You know what I’m talking about. And even with dress codes it’s pretty easy to tell who belongs to what group just by looking.


Our society today tells us that your value is determined by how much the spotlight is on you.


As a kid I remember so desperately wanting to be the best in the world at something. I didn’t care what it was, I just wanted to be the best at it. I wanted to be in the Guiness Book of World Records. I wanted the spotlight to be on me.


At one time I was hoping to be able to get in there for holding the record for how many quarters I could stack on my elbow, like this [demonstrate], and then catch like this [demonstrate].


I got to where I could do a huge stack but it was still far from the world record. My name never got in the book. Sigh.


As I matured physically, emotionally, and most of all spiritually, I could look back and see that my desire for fame was, from a Christian viewpoint, misguided and really kind of a waste of time and energy.


One of the things that helped me come to that realization was the scripture we read from John. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Less of me, more of you.


It’s hard to do at any stage of your life, but it’s especially hard when you are in school. So much attention is given to the star athlete, the trumpet player who can hit a “super C,” the dancer who can get the most height on a jump, or the cheerleader who can do the most backflips.


We don’t hear about the student who makes a B in English even though that’s not his/her primary language. We don’t hear about the welding student that can lay down a really great, consistent bead. We don’t hear about the junior high student who has a C average that gets his/her younger siblings up each morning, cooks them breakfast, and makes sure they are dressed and ready when the school bus comes. We don’t hear about the second or third-string football lineman who is always sore because during practice he lines up as the opposition against the A team. We don’t hear about the third part trombone player who plays the notes as best as she/he can in order to provide the harmonies that the music requires.


You get the idea? We don’t hear about those people, yet they are just as important as the “stars” in a school


John the Baptist insisted he was not a “star.” He knew that his role was to prepare the way for Jesus. And he was okay with that. He wasn’t the lead actor in a play, he was a supporting role.


So one point I want to make today for all the students going back to school is to know that it’s okay not to be the star. As a matter of fact, it’s okay to not be the most popular kid in your class, or the star athlete, or the best musician, or other things that you think will put you in the spotlight.


When classmates do something good and the spotlight shines briefly on them, be happy for them, not jealous of them. (And truly be happy, don’t fake it.)


Now I’m saying to be okay with mediocrity or that it’s okay if you don’t try your best. No. But I am saying to be happy where you are. Bloom where you are planted. Enjoy the small little moments that happen outside the spotlight.


I know it is hard for you to believe (because I found it hard to believe when people told me this when I was your age) but those things that you think are important now really aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. Enjoy your time in school, but seek the treasures of heaven not the treasures of earth.


And adults, this applies to us as well. That school-time competitiveness puts on some different clothes after you graduate but is alive and well in the business world. If you are stepping on top of people as you climb the corporate ladder then you are seeking earthly treasures, not heavenly ones.


Think less of yourself and more of others. Celebrate the person who gets the promotion that you were hoping to get. Work with people instead of against them. Put Jesus as the number one priority in your life and then live in such a way that proves it.


On Facebook one of the things a person can do is to “Like” someone’s post or photo. And then those “likes” show us as a little icon.


Unfortunately our society places such an emphasis on being liked that there is a temptation–a very real one–to base our self worth on how many “likes” we have on our Facebook page.


There are even sites online where you can buy “likes.” Yep. You get 1,000 likes for about $10. Get your credit cards ready.


Here’s a question for you: Do you give more “likes” than you receive? Do you “like” the posts of others more than you receive “likes” on your post. In other words, do you focus on others more than on yourself?


As Christians, we should be like John the Baptist both when it comes to following Jesus and also in being like Jesus to others. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”


As followers of Jesus, we should be like Jesus. Jesus put our needs before his own. He willingly went to the cross and endured its pain and humiliation so that all of humanity, each one of us, can be reconciled to God. He did what we cannot do on our own.


So my challenge to you this week, and for the entire school year, is to “like” more than you want to be “liked.” Don’t focus so much on having the spotlight shine on you, but be happy for others and share the joy of it shining on them.


And remember John the Baptist’s words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”


And if you want me to show you how to do the quarters on you elbow thing, just see me after the service.


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


Faithbook: Biblical Truths for the Digital Age, “Friends”

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Friends”
A Message on John 15:12-17

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 19, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

John 15:12-17 (NRSV)


“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.


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Raise your hand if you have friends. Go on, don’t be shy. Raise them up there.


Now leave them up of you have really good friends. I’m talking true, true friends, the kind that you know would do anything for you.


Now if you have a spouse hopefully there is a friendship there but it’s a special kind, and not the kind we want to explore today. Today I want us to look at friends, true friends, those that will hold your hair back if your are sick and throwing up, those that know things about you that you don’t share with anyone, those who will tell you if you have something stuck in your teeth or if you’re wearing an outfit that doesn’t match or if your breath stinks. Those kind of friends.


A guy named Josh Charles once said, “My dad said to me growing up: ‘When all is said and done, if you can count all your true friends on one hand, you’re a lucky man.’” [hold up hand with fingers out].


I am blessed. Let me tell you about some of those friends..


In 2004 I quit my job, moved our family to Carthage, Tx, and then began seminary at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.


Because of the distance (3 hours one way) driving back and forth daily wasn’t an option. Instead, I paid to stay in what was called the “commuter dorm.” This was a dorm room on campus right next to the seminary. It was a two, one bath dorm room, and four of us “commuters” stayed in it.


That’s when I met Tommy Earl Burton, Wade Lindstrom, and Dylan Cole. We were assigned to the dorm room by the university. I can look back now and see the hand of God at work in putting me with those three. (And I’m pretty sure there were times when the university officials regretted it.)


None of us knew the others until we began classes that August in 2004. We became good friends, though. Not Facebook friends (Facebook didn’t even exist then), but good friends.


In early January of 2005, before the semester began, my appendix burst early one morning and Pam drove me to the hospital in Longview where I had emergency surgery, followed by postoperative infections. I was in pretty bad shape and spent 10 days in the hospital. Dylan was in Oklahoma, but Tommy Earl and Wade drove to Longview to see me. There they prayed for me and just spent time with me.


One of the things the nurses said I could do to help my condition was to walk. I would get my IV pole, put on another hospital gown backwards over the one I already had on to keep me from mooning people, and then would walk around that floor of the hospital. Tommy Earl and Wade would go with me on my walks.


Being good friends, though, they did more than that. One time, right after we had passed the nurses station, Wade said in a loud voice (so the nurses could hear it), “No, Doug, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to get on the elevator and leave. You’re still pretty sick.” The nurses raised their heads from their paperwork and watched just to see if I was going to make a run for the elevator. And trust me, the shape I was in I wasn’t going to be making a run anywhere.


A couple of years later Tommy Earl and I were walking down the hall at the seminary when we saw the Dean of the seminary approaching us in the hallway. Just when he came within hearing distance Tommy Earl said in a voice loud enough for the Dean to hear, “No, Doug, I disagree with you. I think Dean Lawrence is doing a great job!” Ahhhh, such good friends.


Seriously, though, the laughter with those friends is what got me through seminary. I often wonder if I would have made it through if I had been put with some of the dry, humorless people I knew from my classes. I’m not sure I would have.


They were good friends. And they still are. We are all in different parts of the state (Dylan’s still in Oklahoma) and aren’t close geographically, but we’re still friends. Good friends.


In Facebook there are “friends” that you have. Most of the time not just anyone can post things to your page or see things posted to your page. They have to send you a friend request (or they send you one) and then you either accept or decline that request (or they accept or decline your request). If they (or you) accept, then you are “friends.”


It used to be a big deal years ago to see how many friends you had on Facebook. It used to list the number of friends (I don’t think it does anymore) and people would brag about it. “I have over 500 friends!” I always wanted to tell them, “Well, first of all, the term “over” is a preposition that indicates spatial relationships so the term you should have used is “more than” which indicates numerical value. And second, how many are those ‘friends’ are people that you don’t know and that you have never met? Just because someone accepts your friend request on Facebook doesn’t mean that you are truly friends.” That’s what a true friend would have told them. But I usually just kept my mouth shut.


Today we are continuing our sermon series on “Faithbook: Biblical Truths for the Digital Age” by looking at the topic of “friends.”


I saw a saying that said, “True friendship is walking into a person’s house and our wifi connects automatically.” While humorous, that is a rather limiting definition of friendship.


Friends, true friends, are almost a spiritual relationship, aren’t they? True friends laugh together, cry together, share struggles, and have connections that are difficult to explain.


In the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John, we find Jesus talking to his disciples. He is teaching them things that will be important once he is gone, kind of a final words of encouragement. Jesus knows that he will be arrested and crucified and he is trying to prepare the disciples for what is going to happen.


One of the things he tells them is that he considers them to be his friends. Theologically speaking, this is profound. This is big time.


Unfortunately our language has watered-down the word “friend” so that it doesn’t carry as much meaning as it should. We think of Jesus being our friend in this way. [Show Jesus action figure giving a thumbs up sign and a wink.] This figure is from the film “Dogma” in which the figure of Jesus on the cross is considered to “depressing” and so the church comes up with “Buddy Christ” which is more uplifting and positive.


Now there are a lot of people who prefer “Buddy Christ” over the real Jesus Christ. “Buddy Christ” isn’t judgmental, looks the other way with regard to sin, and pretty much lets you do whatever you want without having to feel guilty about it. He’s your friend, your buddy. He just wants you to be happy.


But is that really who Jesus is? Is that a Biblical truth of who Jesus is?


No. Jesus isn’t talking about that kind of friend in the scripture we ready today. Here’s The Message paraphrase of John 15:14-15: “You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.”


Did you catch that first sentence? “You are my friends when you do the things I command you.”  It’s not, “You are my friends because I think you’re funny.” It’s not “You are my friends because I like you.” It’s not “You are my friends because I like hanging out with you.” It’s not “You are my friends regardless of what you do.”


No. “You are my friends when you do the things I command you.”


The great commandment Jesus gives is to love. In the first verse we read today Jesus “commands” the disciples to love each other the way Jesus loved them. In the Great Commandment he tells them to love God with all that you are, and love others with all that you are. You are my friends when you love.


We are friends with Jesus when we follow God’s will. We are friends with Jesus when we love, truly unconditionally love.


Here are some other words of wisdom from the Bible on the topic of friends:


“Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” (Proverbs 18:24)


“A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)


“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.” (Proverbs 27:17)


“Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6)


“Those who withhold kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty.” (Job 6:14)


“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)


There is a contemporary Christian song that has been around a few years titled “Friend of God.” It was written by Israel Houghton and Michael Gungor and performed by Israel Houghton and even Phillips, Craig and Dean.


I remember when I first heard it I thought it was way off theologically. After all, I don’t want God or Jesus to be my friend. I want God to be my savior, my creator, the divine entity that is omniscient, omnipotent, powerful enough to create miracles or smite down those who get too far out of line.


But then I started listening to the lyrics.


Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me when I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me it’s amazing

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend

God Almighty, Lord of Glory
You have called me friend


Now notice something about these lyrics. They don’t say, “God is my friend.” No, they say “I am a friend of God.”


That was the part that I missed that caused me not to like the song.


Jesus tells the disciples that when they love one another they are no longer servants, but friends. There is no longer a master/servant hierarchy, but a more intimate one.


There is a saying that refers to a method of growing the kingdom of God, of bringing to Christ those who currently don’t have a relationship with Jesus. You will see it used in the Walk to Emmaus community. The saying is this:


Make a friend.

Be a friend.

Bring a friend to Christ.


Let’s look at that closer.


First, make a friend. When I was young I was shy. It’s true. I would get extremely anxious about calling someone on the telephone that I didn’t know. The thing that helped me out of that shyness was becoming a newspaper reporter. That forced me to start conversations with people I didn’t know. It was brutal for me for a while, but eventually I got over being shy. Now I have no problem walking up and talking to people I have never met.


The best way to make friends is to talk to people you have never met. And when I say “talk” I really mean “listen.” Talk some, but mainly listen. Truly listen to the person, try to remember their name, what they tell you about themselves. Make it be more about them than yourself.


Now if you just sit back and passively wait for people to make friends with you instead of you taking the initiative of making friends of others, eventually you might make some friends. But not nearly as many as you would if you are the one initiating it.


Make a friend. And not just with people who look like you, who are in your social strata, who are your age. Leave your comfort zone and explore for friends. Walk up to a complete stranger and start a conversation. It really isn’t that difficult.


Second, be a friend. Be there for others. Care, truly care, about them. Check on them. Help them when they need it. Love them the way Christ loves us, the way Jesus tells us to love.


And then third, bring a friend to Christ. Notice that it doesn’t say “let them come to Christ on their own.” It says “bring” a friend to Christ. Statistics show that most people visit a church for the first time because they were invited by a friend. Be that friend. Bring a friend to Christ.


So that’s my challenge for you this week: Make a friend, be a friend, then bring a friend to Christ. Jesus tells his disciples that when they love others as he loved them that they are no longer servants but his friends. The same is true for us. When we love others as Jesus loves us, we are his friends. We can sing, “I am a friend of God.”


Now it won’t be easy, and it may be more difficult for some of us than others. But following Christ isn’t about being comfortable, it’s about being faithful and loving God with all that we have and loving others.


Take that step of faith and make a friend this week. Then be a friend to that person, a true friend, not a Facebook friend. And then, when the time is right, bring that friend to Christ.


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


Faithbook — Biblical Truths for the Digital Age: “Your Story”

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Your Page (Your Story)”
A Message on 2 Corinthians 5:11-15

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug.12, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

2 Corinthians 5:11-15 (NRSV)


Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.


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What’s your story?


On Facebook there is a section called “Your Story.” It is a way to share “your story” visually with all your “friends” on Facebook or only selected friends. And after 24 hours it disappears.


Now I do Facebook, but I don’t do Facebook Stories. I just don’t have the desire to post something that will disappear in 24 hours. I just don’t see the point.


But apparently people do. They have some unique camera filters that you can apply to your photos and I see some of them on Facebook, but I don’t go back and check in 24 hours to see if they’re gone.


The idea is to tell people about you, about your life, about what’s happening in your life.


Even if you don’t do the “Stories” section, what you post on Facebook tells a story about your life. And it can be good, or… well, you know.


As Christians we have a story to tell as well. We each have a faith story. Sometimes we tell our faith story. Sometimes we think that we don’t, and sometimes that is true. But sometimes by not telling our faith story we are actually telling, ironically, a faith story, and not a good one.


Back in August of 2000, which would be 18 years ago, I attended a spiritual retreat called “Walk to Emmaus.” It was a three day retreat that had a profound effect on my spiritual journey. During that weekend I heard some people tell some incredible faith stories. I heard a man tell his faith story on how he had overcome an addiction to drugs through the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I heard another man tell his faith story of how he treated his wife badly, having affairs with other women and not feeling guilty about it, and then after experiencing Jesus he turned his life around and now has a strong and loving relationship with his wife. I heard a man tell his faith story about overcoming an addiction to alcohol that cost him his family, his career, and money, and yet through a renewed faith in Jesus Christ he turned it all around and was now sober, employed, and repairing family relationships that had almost been destroyed.


I remember thinking that I must be missing something in my life. I didn’t have any of those kinds of dramatic faith stories. I grew up in the church. I have never been addicted to drugs or alcohol. I have been faithful to Pam. I thought I didn’t have a faith story.


But I was wrong. I have a faith story. You have a faith story. Everyone has a faith story. And those stories are important to tell. None are more important than others, and no two are exactly alike.


In the scripture we read today from the 5th chapter of  2 Corinthians we find Paul continuing where we left off last week. In the scripture today, however, he is talking about faith stories and how important they are.


“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others…” (2 Corinthians 5:11)


How do we as humans persuade others? We tell them our stories.


We have an essential oil diffuser in our bedroom that we use every night. Why? Because we had several people tell us their stories with essential oils. Their stories persuaded us so much that we bought a diffuser and some oils and tried it out.


(By the way, I am like the Christian comedian Tim Hawkins when it comes to essential oils. He says that his favorite essential oil is whatever kind they use a Chik-fil-a.)


When I go to buy something I look it up in Consumer Reports or on the Internet and read what people say about the product. I want to hear reviews, I want to hear their stories. Do they regret buying the product? Has it worked as advertised? How durable is it?


I want to hear their stories, and based on what they say, I make a decision to either purchase or pass on a particular item.


At the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians the new Christian movement was growing. It was growing because people were telling their faith stories. Paul himself had an incredible faith story as he went from someone so against the people of “The Way” that he persecuted them and even tacitly approved of killing them, to one of the great leaders of the church, suffering greatly along the way for this faith.


So Paul knew the importance of stories, especially the story of Jesus.


Each one of us as followers of Jesus need to be able to tell the story of Jesus. And we need to be able to tell the story of how we became a follower of Jesus.


One of the books recommended for one of the teams for the Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI) process we are going through is titled, Get Their Name: Grow Your Church By Building New Relationships. In one of the chapters the authors talk about the importance of knowing your “elevator speech.”


Now if you’re not familiar with that term it actually comes from the business world. If someone in the business world asks you who you are and what you do, you should be able to answer them in the time it takes to take an elevator from one floor to another. It’s about a two minute time period. Professionals say that you need to develop and practice your “elevator speech” so that when someone asks you who your are and/or what you do, you can tell them accurately and concisely.


The authors of the book say that we as Christians should have an “elevator speech” to be able to tell people why we are a Christian and why we attend the church that we do.


Now a part of me wants my “elevator speech” to be something like, “After you die you get on an elevator. Do you know if you’re going up or are you going down?”


But that wouldn’t be very effective, now would it? What I call “Jesus as fire insurance” doesn’t communicate the most important thing, and that is love. After all, God is love.


But if within the span of two minutes I can tell someone the difference Jesus makes in my life and why an integral part of my faith life is to worship at Jacksonville First United Methodist Church, then I will come a lot closer to fulfilling the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.


I’m going to put a two minute timer up and see if I can do my elevator speech. It might go something like this:


Hi, I’m Doug Wintermute. I’m a pastor at Jacksonville First United Methodist Church but I didn’t always want to be a pastor. As a matter of fact, I ran away from it for about 20 years. I even tried to be an atheist once after I got mad at God when one of my childhood friends committed suicide in his early 20s. But I wasn’t very good at being an athiest and I finally realized that I could be angry with God and still believe in God.


God was patient with me though and after some bad experiences at one church  in particular (not from the pastor, but from the congregation members) we started going to church again. My wife got me to listening to Contemporary Christian music. I bought a study Bible and started attending a lunch time Bible study. I got involved with the music program at the church and helped start a contemporary service. I went on a Walk to Emmaus which really changed my life. God really got ahold of me. I became a lay speaker and kept feeling the call to become a pastor. I visited with several pastors and then began the exploration process to confirm my call.


But most of all I changed. I went from being a part-time Christian to a full-time one. And it made all the difference in every area of my life.


Then 20 years after graduating from college I enrolled in seminary and became a student pastor. I’ve been a pastor now for 14 years and absolutely love my job and the church I serve. Come see us on Sunday and I’ll meet you at the church. It’s on the loop in Jacksonville. You can’t miss it. Be there by 9 and I’ll treat you to donuts and coffee.


Okay, see? Not very long, hits the important parts, and ends with an invitation. My elevator speech.


What’s your story? How is your life different since you came to know Jesus Christ as your savior? Or is it different?


In the scriptures we read today Paul writes to the followers in Corinth, “We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.” (2 Corinthians 5:12)


What can people boast about you? Would they boast of your “outward appearance,” the worldly ways that you live? Or would they boast of your “heart,” your faith and devotion to your savior? What is your story? What story does your life and the way you live it tell others?


One more point: make sure your story points to Jesus, not yourself. In the Facebook world it’s easy to make it all about you. And many people do just that. But as a follower of Christ it should be about Jesus, not about us.


Paul even says this in the last verse of today’s scripture. “And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)


We are not to live for ourselves, but for Jesus. Jesus Christ, being fully human and fully God, died so that our sins may be forgiven. That’s how much he loves you.


So my challenge to you this week is to make sure you have your “elevator story” ready to tell. Sit down and write it our or just practice it in front of the mirror. And remember that it’s not too late to add to your story. Draw closer to God and he will draw closer to you. Read the Bible. Attend one of the Bible studies we will be starting this fall. Pray more. Volunteer. Tithe. You get the idea.


And when the opportunity comes for you to give your elevator speech, I hope you are going up, not down.


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


Faithbook — Biblical Truths for the Digital Age: “Home”

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Home”
A Message on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 5, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (NRSV)


For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— 3 if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

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Today we are going to talk about the subject of “home” as we continue our sermon series of “Faithbook: Biblical Truths for the Digital Age.”


If you are not familiar with Facebook there is a little icon that looks like a house that is used to tell people where your “home” is, where you live. And on the Internet the first, initial page that comes up is called the “home” page.


Let me make a confession to you: I am a homebody. I like being at home unless I’m out fishing. And even if I’m out fishing I don’t want to spend the night away; I want to be home each night.


Homes are associated with comfort, safety and security. It’s where we raise our families, where we can be ourselves, where we sleep, cook and eat meals, and bathe (at least I hope you bathe). Homes are shelter from the elements, places that are cool during the heat of summer, warm during the coldness of weather, dry places when it rains, and shade when the sun shines.


Homes are more than buildings or structures. There is an emotional component to home that goes beyond the structure of a house. The value and perception of a place being “home” is not directly tied to the quality of a structure. You can have a small, run-down house and feel more at home than a huge, massive mansion.


I’ve heard people tell of living in houses where you could see daylight through the cracks in walls or see the stars at night through holes in the roof, houses that were hot in summer, cold in winter, wet inside when it rained, and that had all kinds of critters living under them. And yet to the people who lived in such a house, it was home.


In the scripture we read today we find the apostle Paul writing to the church in Corinth and giving them some Biblical truths about homes.


He refers to our bodies as “tents” and heaven as buildings that God has prepared for us.


How many of you have ever been tent camping? Believe it or not back when Pam and I first married we did quite a bit of tent camping. We were young and fit and would load up a cabin tent and my canoe and head out somewhere (usually a state park) to camp.


We went through several tents. Before I met Pam I had a small, cheap pup tent that I used. It was small and light and great for sleeping in but that was pretty much it. After we got married we tried one of those dome tents but with all the fiberglass poles and things it was hard to put up and once we did get it up you still couldn’t stand up in it. Finally we bought an old fashioned canvas tent which was big and bulky but provided a lot of room.


We still have that tent, ironically, but I’m pretty sure that if we were to try and set it up it would probably just fall apart.


Tents don’t last as long as buildings do. Tents are temporary. Buildings are permanent.


In the scripture we read today Paul is telling us that our earthly bodies, our human lives, are tents, but that what waits for those who are followers of Jesus Christ are buildings.


John echoes this sentiment in the 14 chapter of his gospel. There we find Jesus telling his disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3)


Jesus was telling his disciples about his upcoming death and also his upcoming resurrection. And he was dropping some serious hints that because he was going to overcome death, that we as his followers can do the same.


As humans we don’t like to think about death. Us preachers don’t like to preach on death, which is ironic since we do preach funerals. I think part of it is societal. We kind of put death way back at the back of our minds as something we will think about later. We procrastinate the subject out of our consciousness because we think we have bigger, better, and more important things to focus on. Out of sight, out of mind.


And yet… None of us get out of this life alive. Just because it is uncomfortable and we don’t like to talk about it doesn’t mean that it will just go away.


Pam and I are both fans of sci-fi books and movies. A subject that sometimes comes up in futuristic sci-fi stories is the topic of eternal life. If a medicine or technology was developed that stopped the aging process and made it possible for you to live forever, would you? Would you want to live forever?


I don’t think I would want to live forever, even if it was scientifically possible. Ecclesiastes talks about everything having a season, and I think life has seasons as well. And for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ we know that something better is coming. We know that when our earthly tents wear out that there is a mansion waiting for us in glory.


Calvin Howell sang an old song earlier in this service titled, “This World Is Not My Home.” Most people from the time remember it being sung by Country Music legend Jim Reeves, but he didn’t write the song. His wife, Mary, did.


The first verse says this:


This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore


So does the promise of heaven mean that we can just take it easy in this life until that day comes when we trade in our tents for mansions? No, of course not.


I think Paul’s scripture is to written to give us hope during the tough times. Sometimes death comes suddenly to the young and middle-aged. Sometimes it comes slowly through cancer or other diseases. Sometimes the body continues to live while the mind deteriorates.


What ever tough times we face in our lives we can find comfort and, more importantly, hope, in the Bible’s promises that we have a home waiting for us. Whatever troubles we face in this world, it’s good to remember that we’re only passing through. This world is not our home.


We celebrate the Lord’s Supper to remember the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for all of humanity. He went to the cross to remove the power death has over us, to bridge the chasm between humans and God, and to give us grace we could never earn on our own.


Ironically once Jesus started his ministry he really didn’t have an earthly home, moving from place to place. He even made a comment about it in Matthew’s gospel: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)


While Jesus may not have had an earthly home, he does have a heavenly one. And the Biblical truth is that so do we.


So my challenge for you this week is to remember that this world is not our home, that we’re only passing through. Our true home, which is so wonderful it exceeds our minds’ ability to comprehend, is in heaven. And because of that we can live our lives fearlessly, knowing that whatever hardships we face that they are only temporary. We should live our lives to the fullest, take risks to love deeply, and boldly live out our faith every single day of our lives.


[Sing] “And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”


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


Faithboo–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “About”

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “About”
A Message on Philippians 2:1-10

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 29, 2018
By Doug Wintermute


Philippians 2:1-10 (NRSV)

2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,


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Today we are beginning a new sermon series titled, “Faithbook: Biblical Lessons for Life.”  Now notice I said “FAITHbook, not Facebook.” It’s a play on words where we will–hopefully–use some of the common aspects of Facebook to look at how the Bible gives us insight and instruction in those particular areas.


Today we are going to start with the subject of “About.” For those not familiar with Facebook, when you look at someone’s “home page” there is an option to select titled “About.” When you click it you are sent to another page where things are listed “about” that person. Some of these things include “Work,”, “Education,” “Places Lived,” “Contact Info,” Basic Info,” “Other Names,” “Relationships,” “Family Members,” “Life Events,” “Friends,” “Photos,” “Check-ins,” “Sports,” “Music,” “TV Shows,” “Likes,” “Events,” and “Reviews.”


That section allows us to post things “about” us. It gives details that define us, that let others know of the multiple facets of our life, both historically and in the present.


It’s kind of like an electronic resume of our life, isn’t it? It is a definition of who we are.


Our “Faithbook,” the Bible, gives us definitions of who we are as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ. Our scripture that we read today gives one of the most beautiful ones, in my opinion, that exists in the Bible.


The book of Philippians is a letter written by the apostle Paul to the believers in Philippi, a city in what was then Macedonia and what is now northern Greece. Paul and Timothy (and perhaps Luke) had visited the city around 49-51 AD during Paul’s second missionary journey and helped establish a group of believers there. It became one of the first, if not the first church, in Europe.


The letter to the Philippians was written about 10 years later, around 61 AD. The church there was very generous in supporting Paul in his missions, even though many of the church members were very poor.


In the section from Philippians that we read today, Paul is addressing some of the issues the church in Philippi was facing.


Believe it or not, even people in the early church didn’t agree on things. There were squabbles and debates and even downright arguments about theological matters as well as things non-theological. (Isn’t it sad to think that the church still having those still kind of issues now, several thousand years later?)


So the church was having issues, and Paul is basically telling them to stay focused on what is important and not to be distracted by the disagreements and squabbles.


In the previous chapter we hear Paul give kind of an overview of this advice: “Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.” (Philippians 1:27-28)


In chapter 2, the first part of which we read today, He continues in this theme. In East Texas we might summarize it something like, “Straighten up and fly right.”


Paul was  correcting the church members at Philippi for not living into their identity as followers of Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus, which we call Christians, have their primary identity in Jesus Christ.


The same is true today. As followers of Jesus Christ we have an identity we are called to live into.


To use the Facebook analogy what will people who look at our “about” section in Facebook be able to know about Jesus Christ? How does our Facebook reflect Jesus Christ?


One of the negative aspects of Facebook is what is called “Facebook Depression.” It happens when we start comparing our lives with other people based on what they post on Facebook. We see the fabulous exotic vacations, the awards and the honors, the perfect children, and all the good things that people post. Instead of seeing those and being happy for those that post them we think that our lives are somehow not as valuable because we don’t do all those things or go those places.


What we fail to realize is that–as a general rule–people don’t post negative things about themselves on Facebook! You don’t see before and after photos if someone gains 20 pounds. You don’t see posts like “We’re living beyond our means so much that we are in serious financial trouble and are considering bankruptcy.” You don’t see anyone write, “Our marriage is stuck in a rut and we’re only staying together for the sake of the kids.”


You’re getting only half the information. People don’t post their whole identity on Facebook, only those things that are positive.


But as Christians our whole identity should be focused on Jesus Christ. Now it’s not easy. It’s hard. Real hard. But it’s the right thing to do according to our “Faithbook.”


“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:3-5)


Here’s The Message paraphrase of those verses: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.”


Okay, so let’s think about this for a minute. If we are to think of ourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself, what does that mean?


Well let’s look at it from our Facebook analogy: What would Jesus put in the “About” section if he had a Facebook page?


Work: Savior.


Education: Traditional 1st Century Jewish Education, but knows all things.


Places Lived: Bethlehem, Egypt, the Holy Land


Contact Info:, Available by prayer 24-7


Other Names: Messiah, Emmanuel, Christ, Lord, Master, Logos (The Word), Son of God, Lamb of God, etc.


Relationships: Seeks relationship with everyone. Unconditional love for everyone.


Family Members: Mary (mother), Joseph (earthly father), God (Father), James (step brother).


Life Events: Born in Bethlehem. Family moved to Egypt and then to Nazareth. Began ministry at 30 years old. Crucified at age 33.


Friends: Twelve disciples, billions of followers


Check-ins: Barn in Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth, Galilee, Jerusalem, Calvary


Likes: Obedience, Love, Compassion, The Texas Rangers (Okay, maybe not the Rangers…)


Events: Crucified on Calvary, Resurrected three days later. Ascended into Heaven.


You get the idea? Now, how well does your “about” page match up with Jesus’? “About” how much are you like Jesus’? Hmmmm?


What it really comes down to is how do we live in the tension between God’s world and the world we live in?


Our world says to look out for yourself, but God’s world says to regard others a better than ourselves and to put the interest of other people before our own.


Our world says it’s what on the outside the counts, while God’s world says that it isn’t the outward appearance but what is inside a person that counts.


Our world says that what you put on Facebook defines you, that it is what others think about you that is important. God’s world says that we should have the same mind in us as Christ Jesus, living humble, obedient lives filled with love for God and love for each other.


So my challenge to you this week is to reflect on what your life is “about.” What defines who you are? What is more important to you, the “about” section of Facebook or your relationship with Jesus Christ as a Christian? Jesus gave his life on the cross not so we could be self centered and do just whatever feels right, but that we could have treasures beyond this world, treasures different than what our world has to offer. They are treasures which allow us to be the presence of Jesus Christ in our world.


There is a group call Citizen Way that has a song out titled “Evidence.” The lyrics say this:


It’s not a flag on a field
It’s not a sign in my yard
Not a cause that I join
Not a phrase on a coin
It’s the change in my heart

Mercy and grace and compassion
They’re only words without action

I need hands that are open
Reaching out to broken hearts
Cuz’ that’s the only way this world
Will ever know who You are
Love is the evidence
Love is the evidence

Might be the pain that you share
Might be the time that you spend
Or the war you don’t fight
Backing down from your pride
After all in the end

My life wasn’t changed by an argument
That never would have been enough
My life was changed by the evidence of love


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

Fruit of the Spirit: “Self Control”


Fruit of the Spirit: “Self Control”
A Message on Titus 2:11-15For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 22, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

Titus 2:11-15 (NRSV)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

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Today we are finishing up our sermon series on Fruit of the Spirit by looking at the last fruit Paul mentions in his list of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5. (Everybody say, “Awwwwwwwww.”)


You remember the fruit of the spirit, right? Just remember the song: [sing] “For the fruit is…. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” There are nine of them, and today we are going to explore the last one: self control.


Let’s start off by looking at the scripture we just read from the second chapter of Titus.


The book of Titus is an epistle, or letter, written by the apostle Paul. (Some modern scholars dispute that Paul himself wrote it, but for the sake of argument I’m going to say that Paul wrote it.) Unlike some of Paul’s letters, which went to a group of believers in a particular city or region, this letter is one of three of what are called the “pastoral epistles” which are written to a particular individual. (The other two are 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy). So Titus is a person, not a place.


It is believed that Titus was a Greek and also a Gentile, which meant anyone not Jewish. It seems after hearing Paul speak he not only became a Christian but also traveled around with Paul, assisting him, and became a very important leader in the early church, especially on the island of Crete.


So in this pastoral epistle written to Titus, Paul is offering advice on how to not only live as a Christian but how to grow in the faith and keep the faith while surrounded by people who ether have no belief in God and engage in lives of debauchery and self interest, or people who call themselves Christians but act the same way as the unchurched. (Hmmmmm. That sounds kind of similar to today’s world, doesn’t it?)


Titus is a short book. Only three chapters, and yet within those three short chapters we see the word “self control” used four times! That’s more than once per chapter!


Here’s where Paul uses the word “self control” in the scripture we read today: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly…” (Titus 2:11-12)


“Self-controlled, upright, and godly.” How many of us can use those words to describe the way we live our lives?


One website I looked at describes self control as doing the right thing even when you don’t want to. It relates is to driving a car that is out of control. Doing so can not only harm you but it can harm others. Self control is using the steering and brakes to drive the journey of life, saying “no” to some things in order to have something better later on. [Source:]


The Bible has a lot to say about self control.


Proverbs 25:28 says “Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control.”


1 Corinthians 10:13 says “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”


2 Peter 1:5-7 says: “For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.”

And then who can forget in Genesis where God tells Adam and Eve that they can eat from any tree but one: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I often wonder if Adam and Eve, after hearing this, said “Now which tree is it?”


A great example of self control was Jackie Robinson. Jackie was the first African American to play Major League Baseball back in 1947 when he played 1st base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. (For you young folks I know that today they are the Los Angeles Dodgers but before that they were in New York and were the Brooklyn Dodgers.)


The president and general manager and of the Dodgers back then was a guy named Branch Rickey. He wanted Jackie to play for the Dodgers, but also knew that Jackie would face a backlash of criticism and worse because of racism. He had a three hour meeting with Jackie about what could happen and how he wanted Jackie to respond to those things, and Jackie promised Branch that he wouldn’t respond with violence to people taunting him.


So Jackie joins the Dodgers. He gets called a lot of derogatory racial terms and taunted not only by the fans but by other players as well. He went through a lot of things that no one should have to endure. Cruel, horrible things. But he did it, and he did so by using self control and fighting back on the baseball field, not with his fists.


There was a movie that came out a few years back about Jackie Robinson. It was titled, “42,” which was the number Robinson wore.


In one of the scenes Jackie is talking with Branch. Jackie says, “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?


Branch replies, “I want a player who’s got the guts NOT to fight back.”


Jackie then says, “You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.”


One of the other great lines of the movie is this one when Branch, talking about Jackie, says, “He’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. And God’s a Methodist. We can’t go wrong.” [Source:]


Self control is a fruit of the Spirit for a reason. Like most of the other fruit, it is a characteristic that is not easy but downright difficult to do. It results from living a life following the Holy Spirit. Yet despite the difficulty I think the world would be a better place if more people practiced it.


One of the things I see happening in our society today is what I call reactionary yelling. People do what my dad used to describe as “motoring off their mouth without putting their brain in gear.”


Social media makes it so easy to do, too. Some of the mean, vindictive posts that I see are just downright disgusting. People will see a post and then respond with things that are not only un-Christian, but almost inhuman.


Here’s a tip for you: if you see something that really fires you up and makes you want to respond to it scathingly (and let’s face it, there are a lot of posts these days that do that), write out a response… and then delete it. Yep. Write it out, preferably in Word or Google Docs or somewhere other than the social media site. I mean really let them have it. And then delete it. If you feel you can’t do it right then wait a day and then revisit it and then delete it.


This does two things: 1. It creates an outlet for you to get the feelings out of your system, and 2. Allows you to practice the discipline of self control where the result is that your response causes no harm to yourself or others.


The Apostle Paul knew about self control. He went from being a Jewish Pharisee where he was at the top of the social ladder and had it made to being persecuted for Jesus Christ. We’re talking beatings, stonings, imprisonment many times, spit on, yelled at, called all kinds of names. And yet he responded with self control and love.


Jesus knew about self control. He told us the importance of self control. In Matthew 5 he says, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:39b-42) Those things demand a LOT of self control!


Jesus went through all kinds of negative experiences and, in the final week of his earthly life, was physically abused and then crucified to death on a cross. And yet he responded with self control and love, even asking God to forgive those who caused his death.


Self control is the only one of the fruit of the Spirit that is two words. I don’t know if that means it’s twice as hard to practice or not, but I do know that you can’t be a Christian without practicing it. It’s difficult. It hurts inside. It goes against almost everything our society tells us and what we, inwardly, want to do. It takes a conscious effort and concentration and can take years to develop as a healthy habit. But it’s the right thing to do. And a holy thing.


So my challenge to you this week is to focus on practicing self control. If something sets you off, write down a response and then delete it. When it is painful consider it to be like a vaccine that, while the needle hurts when you get the injection, is ultimately much better than succumbing to the disease.


Remember Jackie Robinson and how he used self control in the short term to win the battle in the long run over racism. Paul’s advice to Titus to live a life that is “self-controlled, upright, and Godly.”


And most of all remember Jesus Christ, who utilized self control as he endured the cross with you on his mind.


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



Fruit of the Spirit: “Gentleness”


Fruit of the Spirit: “Gentleness”
A Message on 2 Timothy 2:22-26

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 15, 2018
By Doug Wintermute


2 Timothy 2:22-26 (NRSV)

Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, 26 and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.


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Today I want to start off our exploration of gentleness being a fruit of the spirit by talking about silk.


Yep, silk.


As you probably know silk is a material that is made by a specific breed of  moth, the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori. Silk is produced when the larvae of the moth spins a cocoon in which to stay until it completes its metamorphosis into a moth.


Silk is smooth. It is soft. It feel luxurious to the skin.


But silk is also strong. Very strong. It is one of the strongest natural fibers. An ounce of silk is 5 times stronger than an ounce of steel.


Now if you are like me you have trouble reconciling that something soft can also be strong. But it’s true.


Back in World War I airplane pilots wore silk scarves. There were a couple of reasons for that. First it insulated them from the cold as they flew in their open cockpit airplanes. The layers of silk trapped air next to their skin and insulated them from the cold.


Plus the open cockpit planes made the pilot’s goggles fog up in foggy weather, and oil leaking from the engine could impair visibility as well. The scarf was used to clean the goggles. It also prevented chaffing on the back of their necks resulting from moving their head around searching the skies for enemy aircraft.


But there was another reason they wore it as well. It protected them from more than cold. Some pilots would wrap silk scarves up all around their head several layers deep under a leather helmet because they discovered that the material was effective at stopping flak, little pieces of metal. The softness of the material absorbed the energy of the speeding pieces of metal while the strength of the fibers were effective in sometimes keeping it from penetrating the skin.


Silk is known for both it’s strength and softness.


That’s kind of what “gentleness” is.  I like this definition given by Wikipedia: “Gentleness is a strong hand with a soft touch. It is a tender, compassionate approach toward others’ weaknesses and limitations. A gentle person still speaks truth, sometimes even painful truth, but in doing so guards his tone so the truth can be well received.”


Today I want to continue our sermon series on the “Fruit of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5 by today looking at “gentleness.” It is a characteristic a person has when he/she lives a Christian life led by the Holy Spirit.


Now there are some other words that different translations of the Bible use to describe this particular trait. The King James Version uses the term “meekness.” The Message translates it to a “compassion in the heart.”


Part of the problem of living in today’s world, and especially in our society in America, is that gentleness is seen not as a strength but as a weakness. It is not viewed as a positive attribute but instead as a negative one.


It’s very rare that you hear someone being commended for their gentleness, but Biblically there are many scriptures that speak about gentleness.


James 3:17 says, “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.” (James 3:17, The Message)


Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. (Proverbs 15:1, The Message)


Psalm 18:35 says, “You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” (ESV)


Titus 3:2 says, “…to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.”


Today’s scripture from 2 Timothy has Paul writing to his young protege Timothy giving him some excellent advice: “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:23-25)


Man, how would the world change if everyone claiming to be a Christian acted in that manner? It seems like today people quarrel for fun, especially on social media. It’s like their favorite past time. They are not “kindly to everyone,” they love to get involved in “stupid and senseless controversies” where they do not by any means “correct(ing) opponents with gentleness.”


I got to witness Biblical gentleness this past week at church camp. This last session of church camp (there were four of them) was the largest, with right at 1,000 youth from all over the Texas Conference in attendance.Our church took 59 youth and 11 adults, not as many as in years past but still a whole lot!


I worked the elementary camp where we had 250 kids and 50 adult counsellors.


One of those counsellors was our own Di Smith.  Now I didn’t get permission to talk about her today because she probably would have told me no. So I’m going to do it anyway and ask her for forgiveness instead of permission.


Di went to church camp last week with us and served as a counselor in elementary camp.  We had the largest age group of the camp: 250 kids, 3rd-5th graders, and 50 adults. It was hot, it was humid, it rained, it was crowded, we slept in bunk beds, walked everywhere we went, and the counsellors were with the kids pretty much all of the time without any breaks.


Di was there with them the whole week. She was in a room full of girls, one or two of whom were… how can I say this nicely… were quite challenging. But she did it, artificial knee and all. And what I appreciate the most was that she was a great example of gentleness.


I came across this quote about gentleness that I think exemplifies what Di did this past week. “Gentleness is not apathy but is an aggressive expression of how we view people. We see people as so valuable that we deal with them in gentleness, fearing the slightest damage to one for whom Christ died. To be apathetic is to turn people over to mean and destructive elements, to truly love people cause for us to be aggressively gentle.” ― Gayle D. Erwin, Spirit Style


Di was “aggressively gentle.” She worked the medicine runs with us. She went to the infirmary with injured or sick kids. She participated in almost everything the kids did. Here’s a video of her dancing to the song “Church Clap.” (Show video.) Way to bust a move, Di!


Being a counselor she gave advice to the kids. She gave advice to the other counsellors and to me. She helped us through some difficult situations that came up. She was willing to go to great lengths to help others.


One night for the evening activity we had “Carnival Night.” There were different booths set up and the kids could earn tokens for things like ring toss, sack race, football bowling (where you throw a football at bowling pins to see how many you can knock down) and things like that. The kids could then use their tokens for various things.


One of the things that the kids could do with their tokens was to have someone hit in the face with a shaving cream pie.  It took a lot of tokens to do that, though, more than most of the kids had. Some of the girls used teamwork and pooled their tokens together and selected as their “recipient” Di. And Di obligingly did it. (Show photo.)


Di was willing to humble herself in order to make other people, especially the kids, have a good time at camp. She was willing to be silk: soothing and comforting while at the same time strong.


There were two boys in our camp that each learned a lesson about gentleness. It was the last day of camp, Friday. We had already had the closing ceremony and kids were being picked up to go home. We were about 15 minutes away from camp being over without there being a serious disagreement or fight among the 250 elementary campers. I was breathing a sigh of relief. I should have known better.


We were putting up chairs when I heard a disturbance behind me. I turn around to see “Boy A” as we will call him on the concrete floor with “Boy B” on top of him just beating the thunder out of him. Boy B apparently knew how to fist fight and was landing some serious blows on “Boy A.”


Some adults pulled them apart by the time I got to the scene and I took “Boy B” aside mostly to remove him from the situation but also to find out what had caused this behavior. I remember thinking to myself, “15 minutes. Only 15 more minutes…”


After Boy B settled down I found out the story. Boy A had been picking on Boy B, calling him some very un-nice names and then hitting him and running away. He kept on picking on him and hitting him and picking on him and hitting him and then did it one time too many times. Boy B had all he could take. He ran Boy A down and commenced to put a serious beatdown on him.


The first thing I said to Boy B was “Where are we?” He replied, “In Copeland Auditorium.” “No, I said, “Where have all of us been this past week.” “Church camp,” he said. “Right,” I said. “There’s no fighting at church camp! It’s not a good idea to fight anywhere, but we absolutely don’t fight at church camp.”


And then I asked him, “What would Jesus do?”


“Walk away,” was his reply.


“Yes,” I replied. “And you could have walked away. You could have come and told a counselor of me or any adult what was happening, and then the other boy would have been in trouble and you wouldn’t have.”


I know it’s kind of cliche and some of my classmates from seminary would roll their eyes upon hearing it, but it really is a pretty good tool for us as followers of Jesus Christ to frequently ask, “What would Jesus do?”


Jesus was gentle. He wasn’t a pushover, he wasn’t powerless, and he had plenty of reasons NOT to be gentle. But he was. He chose to be gentle. He was “aggressively gentle.”


So my challenge to you this week is to be like Jesus (and Di Smith at church camp) and be “aggressively gentle.” Live you life in such a way that gentleness happens without you even thinking about it.


People are going to get on your nerves. People will mistreat you. People will manipulate you. People will try to walk all over you and take advantage of you. The world tells us to treat them like they treat you. But the Bible tells us to respond with gentleness.


Remember that Jesus prayed for forgiveness for the very men who took his life, the ones that beat him and tortured him and nailed him to the cross. And yet he allowed himself to be killed on the cross as a sacrifice for us, a sacrificial, gentle lamb, his love for us providing us with forgiveness of sins and life eternally. If Jesus can do that surely we can be gentle to our fellow humans.


Be like silk: gentle but strong. I’m pretty sure Di would approve.


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

Fruit of the Spirit: “Faithfulness”


Fruit of the Spirit: “Faithfulness”
A Message on Luke 16:1-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 8, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 16:1-13 (NRSV)


Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commend the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”


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On the surface this parable seems to be about money. But what if it uses money to make a point about something else? What if that “something else” is faithfulness?


Listen to what Jesus says after telling the parable. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?  And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)


Did you pick up that the word “faithful” was used four times in that scripture? Yep. I counted them. Twice.


Here’s my theory: Jesus is using money to make a point about faithfulness.


We have to remember who Jesus is talking to in these scriptures. If we back up to the beginning of the 15th chapter of Luke we find that the Pharisees were grumbling about Jesus. He wasn’t acting in religiously respectable ways. He was actually welcoming sinners and — horrors!– he was eating with them!


So when Jesus heard this grumbling and criticism of his behavior he responds with a series of parables, or stories.


First he tells the parable of the Lost Coin, about the woman who looks all through her house until she finds the coin she lost. From a religious standpoint it means that Jesus came to seek the lost and the lost was found.


Second Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father celebrates when the wayward son returns home, in spite of all the damage he has done to his father’s reputation as well as that of the family. Again, the lost was found and is celebrated.


And then we come to the parable we read today about the dishonest steward. It’s puzzling parable. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying it’s okay to cheat and steal and to put your own needs first before others.


But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying. I think it’s about faithfulness. He told a parable about money to point out that our faithfulness in this life can have an eternal effect.


Faithfulness is listed as a fruit of the Spirit by Paul in the 5th chapter of Galatians. We’ll be teaching the elementary church camp kids the fruit of the Spirit song: “Cause the fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.”


The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit we produce when we live our lives like Jesus. It is what happens when we live lives of righteousness and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. The fruit is nine attributes of living in the Holy Spirit.


Being a Christian is not a part-time activity. When we ask Jesus into our lives and make a public commitment to walk in his footsteps and the waters of baptism initiate us into God’s holy church that’s not the end of it. It’s a new beginning. And in making that covenantal oath we promise to be faithful. We practice faithfulness.


Remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the third chapter of Daniel in the Old Testament. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had captured pretty much of the whole world and three young Hebrew men, whose Hebrew names were Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria, were brought to Babylon to serve the King. He gave them new names and put them to work.


But then the King built a huge golden statue in the plain of Dura and passed laws that everyone in the kingdom had to kneel down and worship the statue. Anyone who didn’t would be thrown into a furnace and burned alive. Well This didn’t sit well with the Hebrew teenagers who knew the 10 commandments and the one about not worshipping any other gods. So they refused. Said, “Sorry, but we can’t do that.”


King Nebuchadnezzar got mad and decided to teach them a lesson. So he told the three Hebrews that they would be thrown in the furnace and they said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)


The King blew is top. The scriptures say he got so mad that his “face was distorted.” He ordered the furnace be heated up to seven times hotter than it already was, had the three Hebrews tied up, and then had his strongest men throw them in the furnace. It was so hot that the heat killed the soldiers throwing them in.


But then a strange thing happened. The King, who was so mad that he wanted to personally witness the demise of the three, saw four people walking around in the furnace. He couldn’t believe it. He called out to the three and told them to come out, and they did, unscathed. They didn’t even smell like smoke. Then the king made a decree that anyone who bad mouthed the God of the Hebrews would be torn limb from limb.


Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faithful, weren’t they? They were willing to die for their God they were so faithful. They didn’t know for 100 percent sure they were going to live through the ordeal so they said that even if they died they would not worship a golden statue.


It makes us question our faithfulness. Are we faithful to God as followers of Jesus Christ that we are willing to die for our faith? Are we willing to die for God? Or perhaps more importantly, are we willing to live for God?




When I was thinking about the scripture and the message for today about faithfulness, I kept thinking about the same thing. Or I should say the same couple.


This is Jimmy and Birdie Hines. Jimmy is 96 and Birdie is 88. They live down the street from me and I drive by their house frequently. Sometimes when I drive by, like this past Friday, I’ll see them outside at their carport. Birdie has some health problems that create some physical challenges for her. She’s in a wheelchair most of the time.


But almost every day Jimmy will roll Birdie out to their carport where he will gently lift her into his pickup. He then drives her out to their farm where they drive around and check on things. Then he drives home, helps get her out of the truck and back into her wheelchair, and wheels her into the house.


This couple has been married for 68 years. They both know grief and sorrow. Birdie’s first husband died in an accident, and Jimmy’s fiancé also died in an accident. Jimmy and Birdie found each other, and they have been together ever since, convinced that “The Lord put us together.”


I asked them how they have been so faithful to each other all these years. Birdie said one thing they do is to consider everything as belonging to them as a couple, not individually. She said, “It’s OUR money, OUR car. It’s never MY money or MY car.”


Jimmy said that the longevity of their marriage is “no secret.” “If I take an oath, then I am bound to it. I’m not going to break it.”


That, folks, is faithfulness.


What if we, in our Christian walk, were as faithful to Jesus as Jimmy and Birdie Hines are to each other? What if all Christians did that? How would the world be changed?


We should be faithful because God is faithful. But are we?


“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”


Yesterday Gene and Donna Brumbleow renewed their wedding vows. They once again said the words that created a covenant bond between them. They renewed a “vow.”


Years ago a guy named Geoff Moore, kind of a rock’n’roll contemporary Christian musician (he’s the one who recorded “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music”) wrote a song called “The Vow.” Here are the lyrics of the chorus:


Right here, right now
In the midst of the crowd
I stand alone and make my vow
Whatever it takes I will be faithful
Right here, right now
Let there be no doubt
Let every whisper, with every shout
Let the whole world know I will be faithful
This is my vow


So my challenge to you this week is to renew your vow to be faithful not only in your relationships with others, but also be faithful in your relationship with God. Keep your vows. Jesus Christ paid the ultimate cost on the cross through his painful death so that our sins may be forgiven and we are able to be reconciled to God, something we could never do on our own.


God is faithful. Let us be faithful.


And if you get a chance to stop by and see Jimmy and Birdie Hines, do it. Thank them for being faithful.


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


Fruit of the Spirit: “Goodness”


Fruit of the Spirit: “Goodness”
A Message on Romans 8:28-30

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 1, 2018
By Doug Wintermute


Romans 8:28-30 (NRSV)


28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

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In continuing our sermon series on “Fruit of the Spirit” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) we come today to the sixth item:“goodness.”


But what is “goodness?”


It’s a fair question in the Biblical sense in that the word “goodness” is not used in all Bible translations. If we look at the NRSV translation for the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, for example, we don’t see “goodness” but “generosity.”


Huh? To me those things aren’t interchangeable. In my mind there is a difference between “goodness” and “generosity.” Generosity is good, no doubt about that, but goodness seems to me to have different denotations, connotations, and overtones than “generosity.”


I checked The Message paraphrase to see how Eugene Peterson translated it. He describes it as “a sense of compassion in the heart.”


Well, that’s more like it, but it really didn’t satisfy me, so I got online and looked up the Greek word used in the list of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5. (Yes, you no longer have to have big, expensive English/Greek dictionary books. It’s all available free online.)


So the Greek word used is agathosune. And it has to do with morals. It defines the moral quality of a person. And it is only used four times in the New Testament.


I really wasn’t satisfied with that so I kept looking. In the Easton Bible Dictionary it described agathosune as something in a person that “is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)


I kept researching. And then I found this: “Goodness is righteousness in action. Goodness boldly does what’s right, and encourages others to do good as well.” [Source: Jeffrey Kranz,]


So are you getting the idea of what “goodness” means with regard to Fruit of the Spirit?


Here’s something else you may not know about the word “goodness.” How many of you say phrases like, “Goodness gracious,” or “My goodness?” Well I got to wondering, “What does that really mean”?


Well I did a little research and found out. It turns out that in the English language “goodness” is often used as a euphemism for God. Here’s what the Oxford English Dictionary says about the matter: “In various exclamatory phrases, in which the original reference was to the goodness of God, as goodness gracious!, goodness (only) knows!, for goodness!, for goodness’ sake!, in the name of goodness!, (I wish) to goodness!, surely to goodness!, thank goodness!, etc., or simply goodness!” [Source]


So “goodness” is a substitute word for God!


Knowing that, let’s look at some scriptures from the Bible about being “good.”


“So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)


“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)


“Trust in the Lord, and do good;
   so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.” (Psalm 37:3)


“Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
   and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
   and find rest for your souls.
But they said, “We will not walk in it.”  (Jeremiah 6:16)


“He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2:14)


“O taste and see that the Lord is good;
   happy are those who take refuge in him.”  (Psalm 34:8)


And of course we have Paul’s writing from Romans 8 that we read today: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)


Now this scripture has been interpreted many ways by folks. Some people think that it means that if you love God that you will have some kind of a force field of protection around you and nothing bad will happen to you, only “good” things.


I disagree with that interpretation. Following Christ doesn’t mean bad thing won’t happen to us. Bad things can and will happen to the holiest of people. It certainly happened to the disciples.


No. I think Paul is saying that the things that happen to us in this life can build our faith, can make us “good” and willing to do the “right” thing no matter our circumstances. By being “good” we are trying to be righteous like God. Now that doesn’t mean we are trying to BE God, mind you, but to seek to live like Jesus, God’s son, in righteousness. Even though we are imperfect, unlike Jesus, it’s still a “good” goal to become a righteous as we can. (Not in a negative way, like “self-righteous,” but in living like Jesus.)


God is good.


There is a phrase said in some churches that is like a call and response. One person will say, “God is good,” and the other person or persons will say “All the time.” Then the first person will say, “And all the time…” and the other person or persons will say “God is good.’ Let’s try it. (Demonstrate)


We even say “God is good” in the prayer that we teach kids: “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” (Never mind the fact that “good” and “food” while spelled alike don’t really rhyme.)


We have hymns about the goodness of God. “Lord You Are Good and Your Mercy Endureth Forever” is one such more contemporary hymn.


Charles Wesley wrote in the hymn “I Want A Principle Within”:


From thee that I no more may stray,
no more thy goodness grieve,
grant me the filial awe, I pray,
the tender conscience give.


Even “America the Beautiful,” which we sang earlier, has the lyrics:


“America! America! God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.”


God is good. And we are made in the image of God and are called to live righteous lives, to be “good.”


All things do work together for good for those that love God. Not because we are trying to create an impression that we are “good,” but that we are deep down inside trying our best to live righteous lives, and in doing so, we become “good.”


So my challenge to you this week, as we celebrate the birth of our nation, is to be “good.” Live life in such a way that goodness is created as a fruit of the Spirit. Seek to be a righteous follower of Jesus Christ, not in a “better than thou” kind of way, but walk so closely to God that you become righteous, you become “good,” without even realizing it.


And remember, God is good. (Congregation answers “All the time.”) And all the time… (Congregation answers: “God is good!”)


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

Fruit of the Spirit: “Kindness”


Fruit of the Spirit: “Kindness”
A Message on Ephesians 4:29-32

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 24, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

Ephesians 4:29-32 (NRSV)


Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

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In continuing our sermon series on “Fruit of the Spirit” I want to start off today with two different stories about “kindness.”


Here’s the first story.


Out in Virginia City, Nevada in the 1950s, two neighbors got into a dispute. One of the men built a new house. When he did, his neighbor bought the lot next to him. He, too, built a new house. But when the second neighbor built his house, he built it close to the first neighbor. Like real close. Very, very close. As in less than 12 inches close. The second neighbor did it on purpose to deprive the first neighbor of a good view and of breezes to cool the house off during the summer. (This was before air conditioning.) The house became known as the “Virginia City Spite House” and is still standing today. (Show photo) []


Come to find out, there are a lot of “spite” houses in the US. Some are built to spite governmental entities (one man, who had his property taken by the city for a street, built a very skinny house that hangs out over the street) or their neighbors (one couple painted their house with big, loud, red vertical stripes after the neighbors complained about them).


But they were done because of spite. They went so far as to spend a great deal of money just to aggravate their neighbor.


Now, the second story.


There is a doctor that lived in Gainesville, Florida, who had to give one of his patients, Jimmy, some bad news. Tests came back and showed that Jimmy had pancreatic cancer. The doc gave the news to Jimmy and they talked about options, which for Jimmy were few and not good. Jimmy didn’t have long to live


Later that day the doctor was walking through the parking lot to his car when he noticed an elderly gentleman who was handing tools to someone working under the car. The person under the car said he was finished and crawled out from under the vehicle. It was Jimmy.


“Jimmy, what are you doing?” the doc asked him


Jimmy dusted off his pants. “My cancer didn’t tell me not to help others, Doc,” he said. He waved at the elderly man to try starting the car, and it started right up. The man thanked Jimmy and then drove off. Jimmy went and got in his car and drove off as well. []


There is quite a contrast between these two stories, isn’t there? In the first one, the story about the “spite” house, someone goes out of their way to make someone else’s life worse. In the second one, about the man with terminal cancer working on someone’s car, someone goes out of their way to make someone’s life better.


One person exhibits kindness, the other the exact opposite.


The Bible is very clear what kind of people we, who are followers of Jesus Christ, are to be like. We are to be kind.


Paul packs a lot of theology into the scripture we read today from the fourth chapter of Ephesians. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)


Paul is writing to the followers of Christ in Ephesus, which is a city on the Mediterranean Sea in what is present day Turkey. It was an important city in its day for travel and commerce and was important militarily to the Roman government.


People in the early church fussed and feuded just like people do today. Unlike us, though, we have to remember that the people Paul is writing to didn’t have the Bible like we do today. They had a few writings and some letters that were circulated around, but the Bible as we know it wasn’t compiled until later.


So there is no owner’s manual on how to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Some of the disciples say that you have to first be Jewish because, after all, Jesus was Jewish. So you have to go by all the holiness code laws that deal with dress and food and worship and then add Jesus to that mix.


Others believe that Jesus’ coming changes everything. This means that you don’t have to be Jewish or circumcised or follow the dietary laws but instead follow the things that Jesus said and did.


Paul considered himself to be the apostle to the Gentiles, which is basically anyone who wasn’t Jewish. And this is ironic given the fact that before Paul experienced the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus he was a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader, who worked hard to persecute those who followed Jesus.


Paul is writing this letter to the church members in Ephesus, although many Biblical scholars believe that the author intended for the letter to be passed among many churches in many cities. As is the case with many of the epistles, or letters, in the New Testament, the purpose is not only to encourage those following Jesus Christ but also to address problems happening in the church.


I believe the scripture we read today does both. I think it gently scolds while it also encourages.


Here’s Doug’s condensed, East Texas vernacular version of what Paul is saying: “Quit your bellyaching and be nice!”


This is a lesson that applies just as much today as it did in the first century. Our world is filled with “bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,” isn’t it? Just look at any social media and you’ll get to see plenty of examples of those negative behaviors.


It’s almost as if whoever screams the loudest wins. But the reality is everyone loses.


Now I’m not saying that we can’t be passionate about issues. I think as Christians we are obligated to speak out against injustice, but I firmly believe we should do so in love, not “bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.”


Think back to the two stories I told earlier. We should be more like Jimmy and less like those that build spite houses. We should be kind.


Here’s the really cool thing about being kind: it’s free. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind. And it can be so, so powerful. I believe kindness introduces people to love. I think Paul things that as well. “…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”


Paul isn’t the only one who is a fan of kindness. Kindness is an important theme throughout the Bible.


Proverbs 11:17 says “Those who are kind reward themselves, but the cruel do themselves harm.”


Proverbs 31:26 says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”


Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?”


And, of course, 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient, love is kind…”


Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, which is what this sermon series is all about. Remember that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.


When we are not kind, it saddens God.


I think it’s important that we make sure what we think is kindness is actually kindness.


Pam showed me kindness this past weekend. On Friday, my sabbath day, Robbie Kettrick took me out fishing on Lake Jacksonville in his really nice bass boat. It was beautiful and we were really enjoying the day.


Unfortunately in the process of fishing my cell phone fell out of my pocket, bounced off the boat, and than plopped in the water and sank to the bottom.


I have had it for about a year and a half, which means that it wasn’t yet paid for. So that afternoon I went to Verizon and paid a financial penance for my sin by paying off my submerged phone and then getting another one.


The worst part was having to tell my wife, Pam. Man, I dreaded that. And she wasn’t happy, to say the least. And she let me know she wasn’t happy, I can assure you.


Yesterday morning Pam was talking to the girls on the phone. She had it on speakerphone and we were all visiting and Sarah mentioned how she was mad at me because of the sermon last week about practicing patience. She said because of that she had the kind of week that gave her lots of opportunities to practice patience.


I pointed out to them that this week the sermon was going to be on “kindness.” Pam said, “I showed you kindness yesterday. I was kind in that I didn’t kill you!”


True kindness, Biblical kindness, is something that is expected of all Christians.


So my challenge to you this week is to offer up the spiritual fruit of kindness to others. Be kind even in situations that are stressful or that even anger you. Be kind not only to fellow church members, but to everyone. For unchurched people the only Jesus they see may be the Jesus they see in you. Show them the kindness that Jesus shows us.


And if you are planning on building a house just to spite your neighbor, please, come talk to me first.


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