Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Generosity”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Generosity”
A Message on Acts 20:32-35

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 15, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Acts 20:32-35

 

32 And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. 35 In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

 

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Once there was a little boy who attended church with his mother. She gave the boy a dollar bill and instructed him to put it in the offering plate when it came by. Later on in the service the plate came down the aisle and stopped in front of the boy. He was holding the dollar over the plate but the mom could tell that he didn’t want to let go of it. She leaned over to him and said, “Drop that dollar bill. It’s tainted.” The boy reluctantly obeyed and dropped the dollar in the plate.

 

Later the boy asked his mom, “Why was that money tainted? Did you mean it was dirty?”

 

“No,” the mother replied. “I said that because that dollar ‘taint yours and it ‘taint mine, it’s God’s.”

 

Today is commitment Sunday, where we are asked to turn in our pledge cards with an estimate of our giving for the coming year so that we can prepare a budget for the coming year.

 

When it comes to giving to the church we are sometimes like that little boy: we are reluctant to let go of the dollars. We forget to remind ourselves that our money really “‘taint” ours anyway, but God’s.

 

We are concluding our sermon series on Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, written by Adam Hamilton, and today we’re going to look at the subject of generosity.

 

In the scripture from Acts that we read today we find Paul talking to the elders in the city of Ephesus. He is saying his goodbyes to them because he knows that he will never see them again. And as part of his parting speech he gives them some advice: financially support those who are unable to support themselves, the weak in their society.

 

And then he quotes Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than receive.”

 

Now some critics of the Bible will point out that none of the gospels in the Bible quote Jesus as saying that. But we have to remember that the gospel writers didn’t write down every single word that Jesus said, so it is very likely that Jesus did say that but that the gospel writers just failed to write it down. Nonetheless, Paul says Jesus said it, and that’s good enough for me.

 

It really is more blessed to give than receive, isn’t it? Don’t we feel good when we give someone a gift that they appreciate. Sure, it’s great to get gifts, too, but if you really want to warm your heart give someone to someone else.

 

Adam Hamilton points out in his book an experience he had when he and his family celebrated his birthday by going camping in the Teton mountains near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The had arrived at their destination and went into the town of Jackson Hole. He gave each of his daughters $20 to spend and emphasized to them that was all they were going to receive and to spend it wisely.

 

Well it wasn’t long until one of his daughters, Rebecca, found a baseball cap she really liked. She asked her dad what he thought of it, and he said he liked it but tried to talk her into postponing the purchase until they looked in some other shops because she might find something she liked better. She said she didn’t care, that she wanted that cap and that she wouldn’t want anything else.

 

So she bought the cap. They finished their shopping, took a walk around a lake, and then sat down on a picnic bench to watch the sunset. It was at that moment that Rebecca took out the cap she had bought, gave it to her dad, and said, “Daddy, I bought this for you. I love you. Happy birthday.”

 

Rebecca had taken the money that her father had given her and used it not on herself, but to buy her dad a present.

 

That, folks, is generosity.

 

Let me give you another example, one that I know personally. Pat Morchat and her husband Art are friends of ours who live up near Kilgore. We attended church at St. Luke’s in Kilgore together before I went into the ministry.

 

Pat is always a joy. She taught art at the high school (she is retired now) and is quite the artist herself. She has a great sense of humor and is very charming.

 

This past year another member of that church, Wilbur Yates, had some serious health problems. His kidneys weren’t working properly and he became a candidate for a transplant.

 

Pat had heard of Wilbur’s situation during a couple of church services last fall and felt that she needed to do something, but she didn’t. After the second mention she turned to her husband Art and told him, “I KNOW I’m a match for him.” But still she was hesitant to do anything about it

 

After a few weeks the Christmas movies started playing, telling of the life of Jesus Christ. Pat found it very difficult to watch them. This is what she wrote in a letter:

 

“I told Art to turn them off, especially when ‘The Passion’ was played. I remember crying as I watched Jesus being tortured and beaten and just so horribly abused. I asked myself then, crying so hard, if God let this happen to his Son for us, how could I not give a kidney to another child of God who needed help.”

 

Pat started the donor process a few weeks later. It took until June of this year for it to be finalized.

 

Pat was a match. And so the day of surgery was set, and on Wednesday, July 5 of this year the doctors took one of Pat’s perfectly healthy kidneys and surgically implanted it into Wilbur. And it worked.

 

Her friends celebrated by having a “going away” party for her kidney,  complete with a “Hello Kidney” cake and cans of kidney beans.

 

Now I don’t know how much human anatomy you may know but the kidneys are deep in the middle of our bodies. There’s no easy way for doctors to get there. As a result, recovery is painful and takes quite a while.

 

And yet this woman was willing to go through all of that just to give someone else the possibility of leading a normal life. That, friends, is generosity.

 

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, knew about generosity. John made quite a bit of money in his day, often from the sales of his books. (One of his best sellers was Primitive Physic, a guide containing home remedies for physical ailments.)

 

And John gave almost all of it away. Not 10 percent, but almost all of it.

 

In his sermon on “The Use of Money,” he asks Christians to remember that God “placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward.”

Wesley was very frugal. He didn’t believe in having a bunch of fancy furniture. He offered suggestions of how much meat to have a day, about six ounces if I remember correctly. (That’s per day, not per meal!) Simple meats, vegetables, and fruits were his preference for meals, and only water to drink.

 

When he’s talking about clothing, he doesn’t mean a trip to the mall with the charge card. He believed in plain, simple clothing, and later in his life even expressed regrets that he didn’t come up with a dress code for Methodists.

 

Some of you may not know this but Wesley believed it was healthy to take cold baths. Yep. Cold baths. He said it was for health reasons, and that may be true, but I believe that’s only part of the story. I think he took cold baths because by doing so it saved on the purchase of coal, which was burned to heat the water. And by saving money on coal, he had more he could give to the poor. Which he did.

 

The Bible is very clear that we are to generous. Listen to these words from 2 Corinthians: “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us…” (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

 

In Proverbs we read, “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

In our culture we have a problem with possessions. We want them, and when we get them we hang on tightly to them. They are ours. We become like a two-year-old with a toy, gripping it tightly and screaming, “MINE!”

 

We forget that we are only passing through this world. We’re renters in this world. We can’t take it with us.

 

We are reminded of who the ultimate owner really is in this scripture from the Old Testament: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23)

Here are some other scriptures about generosity: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

“…give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)

Even outside the Bible we can find some good theology about generosity. There is even a bumper sticker that says, “Tithe if you love Jesus. Anyone can honk.”

When it comes to giving to God it often feels like we are swimming against the strong current of or society. Society wants us to focus on the “me,” while God wants us to focus on “Thee.” We think about being generous, but then we come up with excuses as to why we can’t just now. And what God gets are then whatever we might have left over, and usually that’s not very much if any at all.

 

In his book Adam Hamilton uses an illustration created by David Slagle, pastor of Veritas Church in Decatur, Georgia, that is a great way to look at this phenomenon.

 

Let’s imagine that God has given us ten apples, which represent our wealth or income. God tells us that nine of these apples are ours to enjoy. We are to use some to care for ourselves and for our families, some to save for retirement, and some to give away to others. But the tenth apple is holy to God. Giving this apple to God first, before we consume the other nine apples, is a way for us to express praise, love, obedience, faithfulness, worship, and devotion to God. This also serves to supply the resources for God’s purposes to be accomplished in the world through God’s church.

 

Slagle then notes that our lifestyles are such that, for many of us, nine apples are not enough anymore. We think, How can I pay the bills and have all the stuff I want with just nine apples? So we decide the Lord will not mind if we take just a little bit of his apple. After all, there’s that trip we want to take, and it’s really important. So we take a bite out of God’s apple—the one that is holy to God and meant to be used for God’s purposes. The Lord will understand, we think. Then Christmas comes and we don’t have enough money for all the presents we want to buy, so we take another bite out of God’s apple. One day a medical emergency catches us by surprise. Because we didn’t set aside money in an emergency fund, we must take another bite from God’s apple. Buying a new car, eating out, spending on this or that—each expense takes a bite out of the apple that belongs to God. Soon all that is left is the core. So we give the core to God and say, “Here’s your portion, Lord.” God receives not our first fruits or our best gifts, but our leftovers.

 

What we give to God should not be leftovers. When we think of God’s generosity toward us, that Jesus Christ, his only son, died on the cross as atonement for our sins and to give us eternity in heaven, then God deserves the best we have to give.

 

God looks at our offerings differently than we do. For God they “are not financial transactions or business deals. Your offerings are a way of saying, ‘God, I’m returning to you a portion of what I have and what I’ve earned to say thank you and I love you. I hope you’ll use this somehow to make a difference in the world.’”

In just a moment we are going to come down to the altar and turn in our pledge cards and ministry menus. My challenge to you this week is to prayerfully search your heart and soul before you place your envelope in the basket. Pledge what God leads you to pledge.

 

God wants you to give “as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

 

Sarah Hugghins, our financial secretary, will probably kill me for this, but I don’t want you to pledge anything that God is not guiding you to give. If you don’t believe Paul’s words that it is more blessed to give than receive then turn in a pledge sheet with $0 written on it. And I’m serious.

 

I am also confident that won’t be the case. Let us be generous givers, and let us receive a blessing for giving.

 

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

 

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Contentment”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Contentment”
A Message on Philippians 4:11-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 15, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Philippians 4:11-13

 

11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


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Years ago when Pam and I were newlyweds we used to go camping. We had a tent and we would go find a state park and camp. It was fun and we enjoyed it.

 

One of the things that amazed me when we got back home from tent camping was how LARGE our house seemed! It was AWESOME! And we had running water… in more than one place! And bathrooms that we didn’t have to walk down a path to! That was great as well! And we had AIR CONDITIONING! Oh man, that was awesome! And a refrigerator instead of an ice chest! How cool was that!

 

I always felt a little guilty during those moments of realization because I knew that most of the time I just took those things for granted. For a few weeks afterward I was very content with our house. But as time passed that feeling of contentment went away, replaced by a desire to have something different than what we had.

 

Contentment. It’s not a characteristic held in esteem by our society. It is overwhelmed by a society that emphases mass consumption of items, a society that tells us our self worth is determined by how many of the latest and greatest “things” we own. We become rats in the rat race, wearing ourselves out and going into debt both financially and spiritually as we compete with others in the never ending pursuit of the ever elusive cheese.

 

In the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the church members at Philippi we find the Apostle talking about contentment.  He writes, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.”

 

If we go back and study the life of Paul this statement increases in significance. We have to remember that Paul was a Pharisee, one of the top people in Jewish society. They were the not only the religious leaders of the day but also the top civil authorities. Now the Romans had military control of the Holy Land but they allowed the Jewish form of government pretty much alone to keep the population under control. As long as the taxes to Caesar kept coming in and there was no uprising, things were good.

 

Paul, being a Pharisee, would have lived in the nicest of houses in the best neighborhood. He would have had the finest clothing to wear, feasted on plenty of the best food, and would be held in such esteem that when he walked down the street people would get out of the way to make a path for him. He was SOMEbody.

 

So he knew what life was like at the top of the social ladder. And it was good!

 

But then he had the “Road to Damascus” experience where Jesus got ahold of him. He went from persecuting the followers of Christ to being one of the leaders of the movement. He gave up everything, literally, in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

He went from the top of the social ladder to the bottom. He went hungry. He was beat up numerous times, thrown in prison and put in chains, and even stoned so severely that the people doing the stoning thought he was dead!

 

So when he says he knows what it is to have little, and knows what it is to have plenty, he knows what he’s talking about because he has experienced both extremes. And he says he has learned how to be content regardless of the situation.

 

Now I don’t know about you, the I think it would be hard to be content when you are physically beaten up and then locked into shackles in a prison without committing a crime. But Paul was. He found contentment.

 

So what is it about human nature that keeps us from being content?

 

I think it’s just part of our sinful nature. The last of the 10 Commandments talks about a cousin of discontent: coveting. Coveting is seeing something that belongs to someone else and wanting it for yourself. The commandment tells us, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

 

But it’s so easy to covet, isn’t it? I know I’m guilty of it. I’ll see a nice, 4-wheel drive pickup and think, “Oh man, I’d like to have that! That would be awesome for carrying my kayak to the lake to go fishing in!”

 

Or a bass boat. Yeah, a nice bass boat, I dunno, maybe say something like a 2018 Skeeter FX 21 foot bass boat with a Yamaha V MAX SHO® VF25O engine with a foot throttle and pro trim as well as tilt hydraulic steering, dual power poles, and a Minn Kota® Fortrex 112 Trolling Motor, and with a Lowrance Carbon 12 Touch-Graph fish finder in the dash as well as a Lowrance Carbon 9 Touch Graph at the bow! Arg, arg, arg…

 

It’s easy to get caught up in that, isn’t it? I think part of the reason is that the world of advertising plays on our emotions to try to get us to purchase things. We participate in the “If only…” game. “If only we had a bigger house.” “If only I looked like ______ (fill in the blank with a movie star or celebrity. By the way, I want to look like J.J. Watt. Just sayin…) my spouse would love me more.” You get the idea.

 

The “If only…” game is the opposite of contentment. You can’t play the game and be content. It’s one or the other.

 

In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (ESV)

 

In his book, Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, Adam Hamilton points out four keys to cultivating contentment based on the scripture we read today.

 

The first is this: “Four Words to Repeat: ‘It Could Be Worse.” I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “Young Frankenstein” where things are going wrong for Dr. Frankenstein (“That’s Fronk-en-steen”) and Igor (“That’s Eye-gore”). Dr. Frankenstein makes a comment on how bad things are. Igor responds with, “It could be worse.” Dr. Frankenstein replies, “How in the world could it be worse,” to which Igor says, “It could be raining.” And of course, immediately after saying those words, it begins to rain.

 

I Timothy 6:6-8 says, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”

 

Food and clothing. Paul is talking about the bare basics. And notice he doesn’t say shelter. Paul suggests that if you only have the basics of physical needs you have enough to be content. And he doesn’t mean designer clothes and gourmet meals, but simple clothes and food, the bottom layer on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

 

“It could be worse.” No matter how bad you think things are for you, there is always someone else that have things worse. The fact that all of us can walk to the sink and get a drink of clean water means that we can do what 783 million people–basically one in every nine people–cannot do because they don’t have access to safe drinking water. (Source: The Water Project)

 

Keeping things in perspective and being aware of those who do not have what we take for granted everyday can help us not only to be content, but to use what we have to improve the lives of others.

 

The second is to ask yourself, “For how long will this make me happy?” How many of you have bought something, thinking it will make you happy, only to realize after a period of time that it doesn’t. I think a good example of this is when we buy little children expensive toys for their birthday or Christmas, and they end up playing with the box it came in more than the toy. Today’s newest smartphone (by the way, Apple is coming out with the iPhone X which costs $1,000) is usually replaced by a newer better model every six months to a year. “Things” don’t make us happy. “Things” CAN’T make us happy.

 

In Matthew 6:20-21 Jesus says, “…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust  consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)

 

Our treasure should be in heaven, not in “things.”

 

The third is an important one: Develop a grateful heart. This is something that is absolutely essential in order to have contentment. Over in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul writes that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” This is easier said than done, but an integral part of contentment.

 

If we are truly thankful for all the things we DO have, we find that we don’t focus on things we DON’T have.

 

In the fall of 1942 World War I pilot and ace Eddie Rickenbacker was sent on a mission to inspect the air force facilities in the Pacific and deliver a secret message to Lt. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Their plane became lost over the Pacific and they had to ditch. The seven men floated in the ocean in three life rafts, dehydrated and starving. Then on the eighth day, about an hour after they had held a prayer meeting in the raft, something really weird happened. Mysteriously a seagull flew down and landed on Eddie’s head. He quickly reached up and grabbed the gull. It was quickly dispatched and the starving and thirsty men ate it and used parts of it for bait to catch fish, which they also ate. They were lost at sea for 24 days before they were rescued. One of their group perished during the ordeal.

Rickenbacker said that after that experience he never again took a glass of water for granted. He was thankful and grateful for drinking water the rest of his life. And, according to some web sites, once a week he would walk down to the beach with a bucket of shrimp and toss them one by one to the seagulls. He had a grateful heart not only to God, but also to seagulls, especially the one that sacrificed its life so he and the others could live.

 

Gratitude leads to contentment.

 

The fourth key to cultivating contentment is what Hamilton refers to as “Where does your soul find true satisfaction?”

 

Blaise Paschal, a theologian and mathematician that lived in the 17th century, described humans as having a God-shaped hole in our souls. We have a yearning to fill that hole and we try to fill it with worldly things, only to find that it doesn’t work. Only in God can we find what our souls long for.

 

Saint Augustine once said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

 

Psalm 42:1-2 reads, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

 

There are many things we try to substitute for God: work, hobbies, money, possessions, alcohol, sex, drugs, the Internet, sports, etc. But they all fall short.

 

When the first priority in our life is God and when we lead active spiritual lives, practicing spiritual disciplines that produce spiritual fruit, we find contentment. We fill that God-shaped hole.

 

Just as Pam and I found contentment in things like running water and air conditioning after tent camping, most people in this world can be divided into two “tents.” One is con-TENT-ment, and the other is “discon-TENT-ment.”

 

Those who live in “discon-TENT-ment” seek to find meaning and significance in the things of the world.

 

Those who live in “con-TENT-ment” know that “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” They look to God as the source of all things in life, they give thanks for the things they do have and fight against coveting things they don’t have. They have a Biblical perspective about money and are generous in giving the first fruits, not the leftovers.

 

So my challenge to you today is to examine which tent you live in. Are you in the tent of “discon-TENT-ment” and seek after worldly things, or are you in the tent of “con-TENT-ment” looking to God as the top of their priority list and seeking treasures in heaven?

 

I don’t think Jesus willingly went to the cross and died for our sins so that we could seek after worldly things. I know what tent he would want us to live in.

 

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

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Treasure”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Treasure”
A Message on Luke 12:22-34

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 8, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 12:22-34

 

22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the  kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


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As a kid growing up I didn’t watch much television. One of the reasons was for for a several year period the TV we had didn’t work and we just didn’t get if fixed. I don’t remember what we did for entertainment during those years but it must have not been too bad because all six of us kids survived.

 

When we did have a television that worked it was sketchy what we could pick up. Delta County is not located real close to a metropolitan area where the tv signals originate. We had to have a tall antenna and a “booster” and even then we could pick up three and maybe four channels. (No satellite tv back in those days, young folks. And no remote controls, either. You had to get up and walk to the tv to change the channel or the volume… or the tint.)

 

One of the shows we could get from time to time and that we watched some was “Let’s Make a Deal” with Monty Hall. The concept was simple, the audience dressed in crazy costumes and then were selected as contestants. Then they would be offered something of value and then would be given the chance to trade in that item for something behind one of three big closed doors without being able to see what was behind each one.

 

It might be a nice trip, or it might be a car, or it might be something worthless, which was called a “zonk.”

 

I remember on one episode someone decided to trade what they had for what was behind a curtain that they had picked. After much fanfare when the curtain was opened there was a donkey wearing a straw hat (with holes cut out for its ears) standing there. The music of the show played that “Woh, Woh, Woh” song and the people were so upset and sad because they won the donkey instead of a car or a trip or something more valuable.

 

Now as a kid I thought a donkey was a great prize! We had cows, we had horses, and we even had a pig for a while (before it ended up in the freezer) but we didn’t have a donkey, especially one with a straw hat! That would be awesome to have!

 

I couldn’t understand why the people weren’t thrilled to have a donkey! Why, having a donkey is a much better prize than a stupid trip to somewhere or even a car, right? Especially a donkey that would wear a hat!

 

For me and my brothers, a donkey was a treasure. A trip or car, not so much.

 

Treasure is in the eye of the beholder, right?

 

Today as we continue through the book Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity by Adam Hamilton, we’re going to talk about treasure.

 

The author of the Gospel of Luke talks about treasure in the scripture we read today. In it Luke quotes Jesus as telling his followers not to spend time and energy worrying about the things of this world, but to instead focus on things of heaven. If we will focus on the things of heaven then God will make sure to take care of the earthly things we need. Our “treasure” should be the things of heaven, not the things of this world.

 

It’s a simple concept but one that is hard to live out. I think part of the struggle comes because our society tries to brainwash us into believing that our value as human beings comes from us being consumers and collectors of “things.”

 

Adam Hamilton talks about this in the second chapter of his book. “What is your life about? Why do you exist? Do you exist simply to consume as much as you can and get as much pleasure as you can while you are here on this earth, or do you have a higher purpose? How do you understand your life purpose—your vision or mission or calling?”

 

We all have a purpose in this world. When we prayerfully discern that purpose we find that it has little to nothing to do with following the ways of the world, but instead true meaning and purpose can only be found in God.

 

Here’s how Hamilton puts it. “We were created to care for God’s creation. We were created to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We were created to care for our families and those in need. We were created to glorify God, to seek justice, and to do mercy. To be a Christian is to follow Jesus Christ and to seek to do his will in our lives. It is to say,’Here I am, all of me! I’m yours. Put me to work, help me serve, use me to accomplish your work.’

 

Hamilton gives an example of this in his book. He talks about a 19-year-old man named Johnny who worked in a grocery store. Johnny also has Down Syndrome.

 

One day a motivational speaker came and spoke to the grocery store employees about how what they did was more than just providing people with groceries. She told them that every person they came into contact with at the store was “an opportunity to bless someone, to live out a higher calling or mission.”

 

Johnny took those words to heart. Each night he would get in the Internet and look for inspirational sayings. He would pick one, copy it many times on a page, and then would print out that page and then cut the paper in strips, each with the saying. He would make 300 of them each night.

 

Then the next day at the grocery store he would place one of those slips of paper in the bag of a customer as he bagged their groceries. Then he would tell them, “I put a saying in your bag. I hope it helps you have a good day. Thanks for coming here.”

 

After a while the management started noticing something. The line at the register where Johnny sacked groceries was longer than the other lines. Sometimes other registers would be wide open with no customers and yet there would be a line at Johnny’s register. The management could come on the PA system and announce that there was no waiting on register so-and-so but people wouldn’t move. They wanted Johnny’s line. They treasured his slips of paper and his interacting with them.

 

Hamilton sums it up this way: “Each of us is called to be a blessing to others. We have a life purpose that is greater than our own self-interests, and how we spend our God-given resources reflects our understanding and commitment to this life purpose or mission.”

 

Here’s how The Message paraphrases Luke 12:26-32, “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.”

 

Now we can say, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. I’m going to do that.” But the probabilities are very high that if you don’t have a plan it won’t happen.

 

Hamilton offers a simple six-step plan designed to change our focus from the treasures of the world to the treasures of heaven. They are six key financial principles. Here they are:

 

  1. Pay your tithes and offering first. Now no, I’m not going to be like some of those televangelists that tell you if you give money to the church you God will bless you with a new car or a bigger house. Hamilton is not saying that, either. He is point out that if God really is the top priority in our lives then we should move or tithes and offering to the top of the list of where our money goes. Tithing and offering shouldn’t be given from whatever is “left over” at the end of the month, but the top item on the “to be paid” list.
  2. Create a budget and track your expenses. Back in the “old days” this took quite a bit of effort to reconcile the checkbook, go through receipts, and calculate what you spent on what. But guess what? Technology today makes it extremely easy to budget. My brother told me about a free software called “Mint” that connects with your bank account electronically and makes it a breeze to not only reconcile your accounts, but also it tracks your spending for you. You can even set it up to send you text and email notifications if you are getting close to going over you budget in a certain category. And when tax time rolls around it’s great at collecting all your expenses you can count as deductions. (Note: I am not a paid spokesperson for Mint, but I do use their product. I’m sure there are others out there that can do the same thing.)
  3. Simplify your lifestyle (Live below your means). This should be a no-brainer but unfortunately the seductiveness of the world can lead us down a path to where before we realize it we are spending more than we earn. We can’t financially support God’s work in this world if we spend more than we earn.
  4. Establish an emergency fund. Hamilton borrowed this (and many of these financial concepts) from Dave Ramsey, who has been extremely successful in introducing people to the financial practices of our grandparents and great grandparents that they learned during the tough times of the depression. (All of you here are much too young to remember the Great Depression, I am sure.) Ramsey says to start an emergency fund that is separate from your checking and savings accounts. Begin with $1,000 (or build up to it) and then keep adding to it until you have three months’ worth of income. Then leave it alone. Only spend it on emergencies. (A vacation trip to Hawaii is not an emergency, by the way.)
  5. Pay off credit cards, use cash/debit cards for purchases, and use credit wisely. Yes, it seem like this is an overwhelming task, depending on how much you owe, but you can do it, and the quicker the better. Hamilton points out in the first chapter of his book that most credit cards require only a minimum payment of 2 percent of the balance. If you think you can pay off the balance by making the minimum payments you are mistaken. He give the example that if you have a credit card balance of $9,000 and if the card requires a 2 percent minimum payment and charges 18 percent interest, that if you don’t add any other charges to that card and make the minimum payments it will take you 240 years to pay it off. Quit using the card, make double or triple the minimum payments, and put any extra money you have toward paying off that credit card debt.
  6. Practice long-term savings and investing habits. Hamilton points out that we should have three types of savings: 1. Emergency savings (see above), 2. Savings for wants and goals; and 3. Retirement savings. He says that saving money is the number-one wise money management principle everyone should practice. He also cautions against saving as a way of “hoarding” money. Don’t become a lover of money and turn into an Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

As we talked about last week, money itself is neither good nor bad. It is our attitude about money that we must be cautious about. Jesus talks about treasure in the scripture we read today from Luke and tells us that our where our treasure is that our hearts will be there as well.

 

Where is your treasure? Where is your heart?

 

As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to remember the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross. Because Jesus, who was/is fully human and fully divine, willingly allowed himself to be beaten and crucified, we are offered the greatest treasure ever: forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. Through our faith we accept this treasure offered to us by God and thus receive the promise of eternal life in a place that is perfect.

 

What a great treasure. How much more valuable is salvation than anything this world can offer?

 

My challenge to you this week is to ask yourself daily where your treasure is? Is it with things of heaven, or with things of earth? Practice these six financial principles in your life that Adam Hamilton recommends, not out of greed but so that you can financially support the things of heaven.

 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

And if you’re on a game show and you win a donkey wearing a hat, and you don’t want it, let me know.

 

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

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Stress”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Stress”
A Message on 1 Timothy 6:2b-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 1, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com


1 Timothy 6:2b-12

 

Teach and urge these duties. 3 Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, 4 is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, 5 and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.


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On July 19, 1986, Pam and I got married at Calvary United Methodist Church in Paris, Texas.   We both lived in apartments and one of the first things we did after we got married was buy a house. It was a nice, simple house but was great for us.

 

But when you buy a house you need appliances, too. So after we closed on our house we bought a refrigerator… and a washer and dryer. Because you have to have those, right?

 

Add to those purchases the fact that two days before we got married the crankshaft broke on Pam’s Pontiac T-1000 car her dad had bought her. So what did we do? We went and bought a new car. And the car I was driving wasn’t paid for yet, so that meant two car payments.

 

Of course we had to have insurance on all those things that we had bought.

 

It didn’t seem like very much when we were buying those things on credit. A payment here, a payment there, sure, we could do that. Right?

 

But then all the bills started rolling in. Oh. My. I can still remember those days. We were deeply in debt, and even though we tried real hard it seemed like we never made any progress. We were stressed. Very stressed.

 

Eventually we did get out of debt, but it wasn’t easy. But we learned some good life lessons that we continue to remember and apply even today.

 

Buying things and being in debt is what many people consider to be the “American Way.” But is it?

 

Every now and then Pam will be watching HGTV and those television shows like “House Hunters”  where people interested in buying a house look at several properties and before choosing one to buy.

 

In our house those shows are known as “interactive TV” because we interact with the show. The way that happens is that we find ourselves screaming at the TV screen things like, “ARE YOU CRAZY?” Or “WHY YOU SPOILED ROTTEN LITTLE…” well, I better not finish that sentence. But it frustrates us to the point of vocal outcry when the couple is looking at a spectacularly beautiful house but then they complain about the color of the countertops or some other nit-picky thing.

 

We are also are dumbfounded that so many very young couples (I’m talking 20s and 30s) have budgets in the upper hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions! For many it will be their first house, and it’s a mansion!

 

Newlyweds are now buying houses bigger and nicer (and more expensive) than their parents and grandparents!

 

We live in an instant gratification society. What used to take couples decades to save and pay for they now have as soon as they get married.

 

I often wonder aloud how they afford to do it. And often the answer I hear back is: “credit.”

 

Credit is big in our culture. Here are some stats I looked up on the Internet:

 

The average credit card debt per family in 2016 per family was $8,377, which is a 6 percent increase over 2015. Americans owe more than $1 trillion in credit card debt.

 

According to debt.com the average interest rates on credit cards nationally was 15.59%, and credit cards for bad credit scores was 23.04%

 

“Payday” and “Title” loans have an annual percentage rate of 300% to 700%! [Source: http://www.texasfairlending.org/resources/faqs/]

 

All of this causes stress, particularly financial stress.

 

How did we get here? How did we get to this point?

 

For many people in our country the “American Dream” has become the “American Nightmare.”

 

Adam Hamilton, in the first chapter of his book, credits two “illnesses” that affects us both socially and spiritually.

 

The first he calls “Affluenza.” which he defines as “the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff.” He points out that the size of the average American home went from about 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,400 square feet in 2004. He also points out that Americans today use an estimated 1.9 billion (with a “b”) square feet of self storage space for all our “stuff” that doesn’t fit in our homes.

 

The second illness he labels as “Credit-itis.”  He defines this illness as “the opportunity to buy now and pay later, and it feeds on our desire for instant gratification.” The spread of this “illness” is exhibited in Americans borrowing more for longer periods while at the same time saving less.

 

Both these illnesses are symptoms of a deeper, spiritual problem, according to Hamilton. Instead of desiring God, we desire possessions. Instead of finding security in God, we find it in amassing wealth. Instead of loving people, we compete with them in our efforts to “get ahead.” Instead of being generous and sharing with those in need we selfishly hoard our resources for ourselves.

 

All of this is sin.

 

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:24 that we can’t love money and God both. Each is exclusive to the other, “No one 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.” (Matthew 6:24)

 

Jesus also says in the parable of the seeds (or soils), “As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14)

 

Musician Toby Mac has a song in which the chorus is based on Mark 8:36, “I don’t want to gain the whole world but lose my soul.”

 

And then Paul writes to Timothy what we read in verse 10 today: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

 

Here’s how Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message: “Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.”

 

So what is the solution?

 

Adam Hamilton says it requires two things.

 

The first is a change of heart. If you think about it, everything that motivates us comes from the heart. Now physiologically speaking we know this isn’t so, but emotionally and spiritually it is. Our hearts undergo a change when we accept Christ as our savior, but over time the worldly things, such as the love of money, tug at our hearts and try to reverse that change.

 

The way to keep that from happening is to remember every morning of that change. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…”

 

Hamilton suggests getting on our knees every morning and praying something like this: “Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be today. Take away the desires that shouldn’t be there and help me be single-minded in my focus and pursuit of you.”

 

Besides a change of heart Hamilton says we must allow Christ to work in us. He points out that when we seek God’s kingdom and seek to do his will then Christ works in us. We experience a sense of a higher calling, one of simplicity and faithfulness and generosity. We rearrange our priorities so that we can make a difference with our time and talents and resources.

 

When we pursue good financial practices, we free ourselves from debt which then enables us to be in mission to the world.

 

So here’s my challenge to you this week, which is what Adam Hamilton suggests:

 

With the help of God we can:

 

  1. Simplify our lives and silence the voices constantly telling us we need more
  2. Live counter-culturally by living below, not above, our means
  3. Build into our budgets the money to buy with cash instead of credit
  4. Build into our budgets what we need to be able to live generously and faithfully

 

In the words of the Apostle Paul, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

 

Let us live with Enough. Let us discover joy through simplicity and generosity.

 

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

 

Book of James: “The Power of Prayer”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “The Power of Prayer”
A Message on James 5:13-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 24, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com


James 5:13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

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Today we’re going to talk about prayer and more specifically explore what James has to say about prayer.

 

There are a lot of misconceptions about prayer.

 

I used to say there is no wrong way to pray. But then a friend pointed out a country song by the group known as Jaron and the Long Road to Love and I realized that there IS a wrong way to pray. Here are some of the lyrics:

 

I haven’t been to church since I don’t remember when
Things were going great ’til they fell apart again
So I listened to the preacher as he told me what to do
He said you can’t go hating others who have done wrong to you
Sometimes we get angry, but we must not condemn
Let the good Lord do His job and you just pray for them

I pray your brakes go out running down a hill
I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill and knocks you in the head like I’d like to
I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls
I pray you’re flying high when your engine stalls
I pray all your dreams never come true
Just know wherever you are honey, I pray for you

Just to be clear, now, that’s not praying, that’s cursing. “A pox upon you!” If you pray for something bad to happen to someone, we need to talk. Seriously. We need to.

 

So, now that we learned how NOT to pray, let’s look at some of the other misconceptions about prayer. One of them is that you have to use fancy theological language in order for God to hear your prayer.

 

Not so. Prayer is conversing with God. It can be aloud or silent, with a group or all by yourself. And you don’t need to use a bunch of polysyllabic theological words or a generous use of “thees” or “thous” (although that is fine if you want to).

 

In the 6th chapter of Matthew Jesus says, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

 

Just pray to God from your heart. Oh, and It’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be mad, it’s okay to scream if you need to. God’s big enough. He can take it.

 

Another misconception is about what I call the “name it and claim it” prayers. In Mark 11:24 we read “ So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

 

Unfortunately that verse has been absconded by those who want to use it for material gain. We are probably all aware that there are certain pastors, especially some television preachers, who urge to you name what you want (notice I didn’t say “need”) and claim it in the name of Jesus and poof, you will get it.

 

How many remember this song from Janice Joplin?

 

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”

 

Yeah. Uh, no. (By the way, I think Janis sang this as a satire, poking fun at the prosperity gospel way back when.)

 

Another misconception is that God doesn’t answer prayers. I believe that he does, but often it is not in the way or the timing that we are wanting. Here’s an example. Say there is a baseball game and the score is tied in the bottom of the ninth inning and the bases are loaded. The pitcher is praying, “Lord, just let me strike him out.” And the batter is praying, “Lord, just let me hit the ball.” Which prayer is God going to answer? Will he answer the person who is “holier?” Maybe, but maybe not. We have to remember Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

 

I am convinced that not only does God hear every prayer but that he answers every one, too. Sometimes the answer may be “yes.” Other times it might be “no.” (We usually don’t like that one.) Or he may answer “Not yet.” (We don’t like that one very much either, do we?) Just because God answers in a way that we don’t want him to doesn’t mean he isn’t answering our prayers.

 

Another reason many people don’t pray more, one that I hear quite often, is “Well I just don’t know what to pray for.” When are in crisis we often turn to God as our last hope. We don’t pray much (or any at all) prior to the crisis, but when everything else fails then we turn to God.

 

We even use our prayers to try to barter with God. “Dear God, if you will just get me out of this I promise I will ___________.” There’s even the story about the man that’s stranded by himself in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. He cries out to God, “If you will save me then I will tithe 50 percent of my income, gross, not net!” After a while he sees an island and starts trying to paddle toward it using his hands. “God, if you will just get me to that island, I swear I will tithe 35 percent of everything I make.” After the boat beaches he says, “Thank you, God, and I intend to tithe 20 percent every Sunday.”

 

If the amount of time we spend in prayer is proportional only to how deep our crisis is, then there is a problem.

 

The scriptures give us a solution to those times when we don’t know how or what to pray for. We find it in Paul’s writings to the followers of Christ in Rome. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

 

In the scripture we read in James today he talks about the power of prayer. In verses 13-18 he mentions prayer seven times. He tell us that if someone is suffering they should pray. He says that those who are sick should call the elders of the church and have them pray over them and anoint them with oil, saying that “the prayer of faith will save the sick.” He then tells the early church member that they are to pray for each other after confessing their sins to one another.

 

He then writes this sentence: “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

 

Now I want to pause here and examine this sentence a little closer. Notice that he does NOT say simply, “Prayer is powerful and effective.” No. He specifically says, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

 

So, who are the righteous? What does it mean to be righteous?

 

One way of thinking about righteousness is that of “right-living.” In the Old Testament it was mainly considered following all the religious laws. That meant not only the 10 Commandments but all of the 600 or so other laws as well.

 

In the New Testament things are a little different. The way I read it, and this is just my opinion of it, Jesus fulfills the law and by taking our place on the cross makes us righteous, something we couldn’t do on our own because of sin. So righteousness is more about the heart than in following a bunch of laws about clean and unclean.

 

Now that doesn’t mean that we can purposely go on sinning and say, “It’s okay. Jesus makes me righteous.” Uh, no.

 

To live a righteous life means to make God and following Jesus your number one priority. It means thinking of others before your own. It means making your decisions based on kingdom priorities, not worldly priorities.

 

So, if James says that the “prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective,” then does that also mean that the prayers of those who aren’t righteous are less powerful or less effective.

 

Hmmmm. Good question. Welcome to the deep end of the theological pool.

 

On the one hand it appears that is the case. But there is danger in that approach because of works/righteousness, the belief that we earn special favors from God–or even our salvation–by things that we do. It’s a slippery slope that can lead to us believing, “Well, my prayers are more important to God because I am righteousness than those poor sinning heathens’ prayers.”

 

If we get to thinking like that we need to read Jesus parable of the Publican and the Tax Collector found in the 18th chapter of Luke:

 

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

 

Ouch!

 

I think it boils down to a matter of the heart.

 

Let me give you an example.

 

Our Bishop, Rev. Scott J. Jones, spoke at “The Gathering” at Lakeview this past week. This is an event for all the pastors in the Texas Annual Conference . Afterwards he met with a group of us preachers from “County Seat” churches (I know Jacksonville isn’t the county seat of Cherokee County but we were invited anyway, probably because we are the largest United Methodist Church in the county).

 

With the County Seat pastors he talked to us about 20 components of an evangelistically effective congregation.

 

One of the top items he talked about to was “create and sustain a spiritual culture.” Integral to this is prayer.

 

He pointed out that as churches, and as clergy, we don’t do enough praying. And when we pray we need to be careful not to pray “God bless what I’m doing,” but instead pray “God show me where I can bless you.”

 

He said that one of the reasons churches don’t grow is because the people of the church don’t pray for growth.

 

He told us about an experience he had early in his ministry when he was serving a small town church. He made it a point to visit the members who were in nursing homes once a month. He had a schedule he followed and on a particular day of the month he visited those members in nursing homes.

 

Well he was visiting with Miss Smith (not her real name, of course), and elderly woman who had been a very active member of the church. She told him that she was frustrated because her health prevented her from serving in the church like she used to. She asked him, “Is there something I can do?”

 

He replied, “Sure, you can pray.”

 

She got excited. “Sure, I can do that. What do you want me to pray for?”

 

Well he hadn’t really expected that so he just said the first thing that came to his mind. “Pray for our church to get new members.”

 

“Okay,” she replied. “I’ll do that!”

 

Well the weeks went by and he got distracted by the other demands of being a pastor, but on his scheduled monthly day he once again visited Miss Smith. As soon as he walked in the room she said to him excitedly, “Did it work?”

 

Well, he had forgotten all about it, so he asked, “Did what work?”

 

“Did you get any new members? I’ve been praying all month that our church would get new members.”

 

And then he realized and it hit him. Hard. “Well, come to think of it, yes, as a matter of fact, we had two families that joined two Sundays ago.”

 

The prayer of the righteousness is powerful and effective.

 

Here’s my challenge for you today, although it’s not just for a week, but a month. And it is going to require you to do some homework.

 

If you look in your bulletin you will see a note card. At the top of that card you’ll see the word “Prayer” with the numerals 1, 2, and 3 under it. Take that card out and get a pen or pencil to write with.

 

Here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to pray for new members. We are going to do like that elderly lady in that nursing home in Prosper, Texas that the future bishop visited.

 

I want each of you to write down three names of people you know in our community who are unchurched or who don’t go to church. Not a relative that lives in another state, but someone you know in our community who is unchurched. Don’t write down the name of a person who goes to another church. (Although according to Mike Slaughter, the pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, who also spoke at the preachers’ meeting, if a person claims they are a member of a church but hasn’t set foot in it in 5 years, they are unchurched.)

 

Write down three names of unchurched individuals. Now hang on to those cards. We are NOT going to take them up, but instead I want you to take them with you. I want you to tape them to your bathroom mirror, or put them on the dash of your car (not obstructing your view, of course), or on your dining table, or on your refrigerator. Place it somewhere you will see it every day, and maybe even several times a day.

 

Now I want you to pray for those three people every day or even several times a day. Pray that they come to realize they need a relationship with Jesus Christ. Pray that they will take that first step and attend church, whether it’s our church (which would be nice, of course) or even another church or another denomination. (This is kingdom work we are doing, not playing favorites.) Pray that they may come to understand the great love that God has for us, that his son, Jesus Christ, sacrificed himself on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven and that we could be reconciled with God, something we simply cannot do ourselves.

 

I want you to make a commitment to do this for a month. Pray daily for those three people. Pray fervently. Not with lots of big fancy words, but from the heart with sincerity. And at the same time draw closer to God. Read the Bible or a devotional before or after you pray. Seek to become righteous.

 

By the way, this is the Bishop’s idea, not mine. But I think it’s a great one. Let us see for ourselves the power of prayer.

 

“The prayer of the righteous are powerful and effective.” Let us name THAT and claim THAT.

 

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

 

Book of James: “Loving Money”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Loving Money”
A Message on James 5:1-6

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept.10, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 5:1-6

 

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

 

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Today we’re continuing our sermon series through the book of James by exploring attitudes about money.

 

I know, I know, your eyes are probably rolling back in your head and you’re thinking, “Oh man, we should have stayed at home today…”

 

Look, I get it. When it comes to money us pastors are just as uncomfortable about the topic as you are, and maybe more.

 

We can stand up here and preach about what the scriptures say about money. We can tell you how 1 Timothy 6:10 says that the love of money is the root of all evil. We can tell you that loving money makes it an idol and that idol worship is one of God’s big “no-nos” in the 10 Commandments.

 

But then come stewardship time we ask you to to pledge money to fund the church.

 

Money is a difficult subject theologically. It seems like it always has been. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we don’t need to talk about it.

 

James writes about it because it was a problem in the first century. We have to remember that what we call the “book” of James is actually an epistle, a letter, written by the brother of Jesus to the churches in existence at the time. James is encouraging the early Christians to mature in their faith, to avoid the hypocrisy of their actions conflicting with their beliefs, and to focus on the things of heaven instead of the things of the earth.

 

Now it is important to differentiate between money itself and the love of money. As I have said before, money is neither good or bad. Money is inert. It has no ability to do anything on its own. Money can be used for bad, and it can be used for good, but by itself it is neither evil or holy.

 

It’s the “love of money” where we get into trouble. It’s our attitudes about money, not money itself, that can create difficulties.

 

Here are a couple of photos of something that happened yesterday. The youth of our church, as well as several adults, gave up their time on a Saturday to wash cars at the Christus Mother Francis hospital here in town yesterday. They didn’t do it to raise money so they could go to Six Flags, and they didn’t do it even to raise money for the youth program or for camp scholarships. They did it to raise money to send to the people whose homes and churches were flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Between washing cars and donations for free concessions (donated by our own Allen Ross, by the way), they raised more than $500 in about four hours.

 

They had the right attitude about money. They knew that money can be used for good, and they raised it to help those in need. They didn’t do it for themselves. They did it to help others.

 

We have seen that a lot the past few weeks, and it has been refreshing.

 

I have quite a few pastor friends in the areas affected by the flooding and even in the areas affected by the winds of the hurricane as it came ashore. They have been working unbelievably hard to help those affected, even when their own parsonages or houses were flooded. They are truly heroes, although they would never tell you that themselves.

 

In the midst of trying to coordinate relief efforts and literally tons of supplies coming into the area, they also have been trying to deal with things that frustrate their efforts.

 

This is Beth Tatum. She is a friend of mine from seminary. She is the pastor at First United Methodist Church down in Sinton, Texas, located west of Rockport and north of Corpus Christi. Her community took quite a wallop from Harvey and she was, and still is, on the front line of relief efforts happening there.

 

Here is a photo she took in Woodsboro, a small town just northeast of Sinton, and which she posted on Facebook. Here is what she wrote to go along with the photo:

 

“Donations just dumped in the Square in Woodsboro. Friends, please stop sending stuff of any sort to the Coastal Bend of Texas. We appreciate your generosity but it’s creating mountains of stuff that will eventually go to waste and cost us to dispose of.”

 

Another article I read by Angelia Griffin (I don’t know her, but another friend shared her post) who talked about the problems with people sending the wrong things to the flooded areas. Here is part of what she wrote:

 

“So here’s where I get to say the really hard thing. Some of the items you are sending are the wrong donations. Just hear me out. I sorted and bagged (and bagged and bagged) hoards of ‘ugly’ Christmas sweaters…heavy winter coats…lingerie…stained undergarments…prom dresses…

“I know your hearts are in the right place and you are rightfully imagining that we have lost everything because many have, but frankly these things do not help us in our current situation. In fact, they hinder our efforts more than a little bit.” [Source: https://angeliagriffin.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/the-wrong-donations-some-tough-words-on-disaster-relief/]

 

Let’s think about that list she provided. Christmas sweaters (even forgetting the “ugly” part). Heavy winter coats. (For the Gulf Coast, where they may get a day and a half of winter a year.) Lingerie. Stained undergarments. Prom dresses.

 

I think this is an example of where attitude matters. Angelia is very diplomatic and points out over and over how people’s hearts are in the right place in spite of what they send, but I really struggle with that. Is a person’s heart in the right place if they are sending stained undergarments to flood victims? Let us just speak the truth that they are just finding a way of getting rid of their junk while at the same time making themselves feel good thinking they are helping people out.

 

I think the apostle James may have been facing a somewhat similar situation when he wrote his letter. Instead of a natural disaster, however, it was people who called themselves Christians but who used the power of money over their fellow humans. Listen to The Message paraphrase of verses 4-6:

 

“All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it.”

 

James is talking about how those with money use their wealth to have power over others. They have cheated and exploited people for monetary gain, which gives them more power, and the cycle repeats itself.

 

It was a very serious problem in Biblical times. Here are a few scriptures that address it:

 

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)

 

“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.” (Proverbs 14:31)

 

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages…” (Jeremiah 22:13)

 

“If you take your neighbor’s coat as security, give it back before nightfall; it may be your neighbor’s only covering—what else does the person have to sleep in?” (Exodus 22:26, The Message)

 

“You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.”  (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

 

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9)

 

Do you see the point? It’s not money, it’s the power money gives people over other people that is the issue. And the scriptures make it very clear where God stands on the issue.

 

On January 1, 2013, my wife Pam’s mom and dad lost pretty much everything as a wildfire swept across their land, burning their house to the ground. They escaped with their vehicles, Pam’s mom’s wedding rings, and some medicines. Everything else burned to the ground.

 

The next day they went into the town of Eastland where a Red Cross office had been set up. The Red Cross gave them a pre-loaded credit card with several hundred dollars on it. I can remember going with them to Walmart and helping them buy clothes, shoes, food, and essentials that we take for granted everyday.

 

If they had been given bags of used clothes that included some of the things the people in Houston received (Stained undergarments? Really?) instead of helping it would have added insult to injury. It would not have helped them. It would have helped them at all.

 

I used to be envious of very wealthy people, even to the point of coveting their wealth. (And you know what God thinks about coveting, right?) But the deeper I go into the scriptures and the further I go on my spiritual journey the less I think that. Instead of being envious of them, now I pray for them. And no, I don’t pray that they will give me some of that wealth so that I, too, can be wealthy. I pray for them because I know that wealth can easily develop into an spiritually unhealthy love of money. I pray they can keep a good heart and mind when it comes to money, and that they may discern the best use of it.

 

I keep remembering Luke 12:48 which says “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

 

I find it somewhat ironic that there is a heavy responsibility that comes with wealth. You can be like J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans who has raised $30 million for the victims of the Houston flooding, or you can be an Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickins’ A Christmas Carol who is so greedy he takes the coins off his dead partner’s eyes as he says, “Tuppence is tuppence.”

 

Oh, and if you are thinking that this doesn’t involve you because you aren’t wealthy, think again. By the standards of many places in this world every person in here is wealthy. The average annual wage in Ethiopia is $660. That’s annually, not monthly. Monthly it is about $55. In Madagascar it’s even worse, with annual wages averaging $400 per year, or $33 per month. [https://www.worlddata.info/average-income.php]

 

And we can’t forget the story of the Widow’s mite from the gospels of both Mark and Luke.

 

James reminds us that it’s not about money, what counts are our attitudes are about money and where our hearts are in regards to love of money.

 

Jesus didn’t die just for those who are wealthy. Jesus didn’t shed his blood on the cruel cross at Calvary for only those who had money. He also didn’t shed it exclusively for the poor, either. Love is more powerful than money, big time, and he proved that on the cross.

 

So, my challenge for you this week, is to remember James’ words cautioning us about loving money. Let us remember that it is about attitude and heart more than how big your bank account is. Let us be cautious of using donations as ways of getting rid of our “trash” in order for us to feel good about ourselves. Let us be aware of how as humans we use money as power, especially when we use that power to oppress others.

 

Let us be more like the youth of our church, and J.J. Watt, and less like Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

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

 

Book of James: “Disagreements”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Disagreements”
A Message on James 4:1-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 3, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 4:1-12 (NRSV)

 

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,
“God opposes the proud,
   but gives grace to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Warning against Judging Another
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

 

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Have you ever had a disagreement with someone? Who hasn’t, right? Having disagreements is a part of being human.

 

Emo Phillips is a comedian and told about being in San Francisco on the Golden Gate Bridge and coming across a despondent man who looked like he was going to jump.

 

I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”
I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

Now the point of that joke was that as humans in spite of all the things we have in common, it is usually the little things we disagree on that we get all bent out of shape about.

 

Today we are going to talk about disagreements as we explore the epistle of James.

 

What I like about James is that he looks beyond the surface of disagreements to get to the root of the problem, the core cause. And he finds it in selfishness.

 

Psychologically speaking, I think he is right. Disagreements have their birth in us believing that we are right and someone else, or others, are wrong. Selfishness is at the core. We want our way, and we are willing to argue, yell, and even resort to violence if we don’t get our way.

 

Satan loves disagreements. They are one of the best and most effective tools he has in his toolbox. I am convinced he dances for joy when the disagreements happen in our world, and he kicks it up a notch when they happen within the church.

 

Our world is full of disagreements.

 

We see it in wars. When I was sick this past week I got on Netflix and watched a whole lot of World War II documentaries. Disagreements were the cause of World War II, and so many millions of people lost their lives because of them.

 

We see it in the news today. We have one hate group, who thinks they are right, who “protests” (and I use that term loosely) and is met by another hate group, who think they are right. It doesn’t take long before fists start flying and rocks start getting thrown and people start getting hurt or even dying. Disagreement gets turned into murder.

 

The church is not immune to disagreements. James’ letter is specifically written about disagreements in the early church. They still happen today.

 

Sometimes the disagreement is over some pretty serious theological issues. There is disagreement right now in the United Methodist Church over sexuality issues. There is even a called General Conference, which is very rare, that will be meeting in 2019 to try to resolve the issue.

 

More often, though, the disagreements in the church are over small, simple, even petty things. Many churches have had big fights and even splits over the color of the carpet, the times of services, the type of music, or even the shade of white paint used to paint the inside of the sanctuary.

 

Most of the time those disagreements are fueled by selfishness. Listen to how Eugene Peterson paraphrases James 4:1-3:

 

“Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.”

 

“You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.”

 

Ouch!

 

But he is right. The truth hurts, sometimes.

 

So what do we do about it. How do we keep from being that way?

 

James gives us the answer in verses 7-10:

 

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

 

I think the key is changing our focus from the world to God. We will reflect what we focus on.

 

When God is at the center of everything we do our perspectives change. We are able to separate worldly issues, like what shade of white to paint the sanctuary, with kingdom issues, like how to express the love of God and Jesus Christ to those in our community and world.

 

The flooding this past week in Houston and Beaumont and points in between is just devastating. There was just so much water destroying homes and property, and even taking lives. It was heart wrenching to watch. And it was even more frustrating for me knowing that I have two kayaks and a canoe in the garage but was too sick to go anywhere.

 

The flooding is a worldly problem. But for the most part the reactions to it were kingdom oriented.

 

I didn’t see any White Supremacy groups down there rescuing people. I didn’t see Antifa groups up to their waist in water helping people get out.

 

What I saw were people putting aside disagreements and helping those in need. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, it didn’t matter. I don’t know of one instance where someone in a Jon boat said, “I don’t like your skin color, so I’m not going to rescue you.” Or, “tell me who you voted for in the last presidential election, and if it’s the same person I voted for then I will rescue you.”

 

The only negative I heard were the looters who were shooting at the Cajun Navy. I really struggle with that. It’s hard for me to forgive the people that did that.

 

My challenge to you this week is to closely examine what is at the core of the disagreements in your life. Are they selfish and worldly, or are they Kingdom issues?

 

Don’t give the devil reason to dance for joy. When you disagree with someone approach it from a Kingdom of God perspective. How does it affect the Kingdom of God?

 

Now we’re not supposed to just roll over and acquiesce to anything we disagree with. We are to stand firm on the Word of God. As James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

 

And how do we do that? By drawing close to God. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

 

Remember that the devil divides, but the blood of Jesus Christ unites. Praise be to God!

 

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

 

Book of James: “Taming the Tongue”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “The Tongue”
A Message on James 3:1-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 20, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 3:1-12 (NRSV)

 

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

 

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I thought about changing the scripture for today. I seriously gave consideration to changing it to something… Well… More gentle, kind, and not as much “hit-you-over-the-head.” Something that might have more to do with back-to-school.

 

But the more I thought about it the more I decided that this was indeed a good scripture to explore for the beginning of the school year.

 

This was the deciding factor for me: For those of us who no longer attend school, think about a negative memory you have about school. Think about something that happened to you that caused you pain or anguish.

 

The odds are that words were involved in that memory.

 

If you think about it, most fights, including fist fights, first start with words. Someone will say something, and then the other person will say something back, and the choice of words and the volume at which they are spoken get louder and louder. Then punches are thrown and it becomes physical.

 

So I think talking about words, talking about the power of the tongue, is an appropriate subject for the beginning of the school year.

 

Most of you are probably familiar with the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”

 

Well, that’s a lie. I think this saying is more factual: “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words can do permanent damage.” Broken bones heal, but words have the potential to damage the heart and soul so severely that the person never heals from the wounds.

 

James refers to the tongue as a fire. I think that’s an appropriate analogy.

 

Fire can be good. There’s nothing like a really nice steak that has been cooked over a good, hot fire, preferably charcoal with a little birth of fruit wood, like plum or peach or apple, added for a little extra flavor. Yum!

 

But fire can be bad as well. Fire can destroy homes, kill wildlife and humans, and leave a path of destruction.

 

Words are the same way. They can encourage and build up, or they can tear down and destroy. And both come from our mouths. Both come from our tongues.

 

Back when I was in high school I didn’t have a healthy self image. I was short, small, a “late bloomer” (I thought for a long time I was going to be a “no-bloomer.”), and a weird geeky kind of kid. I had friends, but not any very close friends.

 

There were several teachers that had a profound positive impact on my life. Why? Because of their words.

 

I remember one of them,  my high school English teacher, Ellene Oliver, who used to compliment me on my writing. She said I was good at it and offered me many words of encouragement to keep writing.

 

I can’t tell you how important that was to me at the time. I grabbed onto those words and held on to them the way a drowning person hangs on to a life jacket. Those words gave me purpose, they gave me confidence, they gave me hope.

 

So teachers, as you begin the school year remember not to undervalue the power of your words.

 

Blaise Paschal, the 17th century French mathematician, inventor, and theologian, once said “Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” That was certainly the case for me.

 

Here’s another example. Benjamin West was a famous American painter in the 1700s. Here’s one of his paintings you might remember from school. This is “Treaty of Penn with Indians,” painted in 1772.

 

When West was a young boy he wanted to draw a picture of his sister. Back at that time they used quills and liquid ink so West got all those things out. Well, as kids often do, he made a mess. The ink was everywhere. When his mom got home and saw the mess she didn’t jump on him about it. Instead she looked at the drawing and said, “What a beautiful picture.” Then she kissed him. When he was older, he said this about that moment: “That kiss made me a painter.” [Source: http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/the-power-of-a-mothers-praise]

 

The book of Proverbs in the Bible has a lot to say about words. Here are some examples:

 

“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:24)

 

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

 

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.” (Proverbs 10:19)

 

Okay, since it’s back-to-school Sunday, here’s an example from US History that backs up that last proverb.

 

The date was March 4, 1841. William Harrison had been elected as the 9th President of the US and that day was Inauguration Day. President Harrison had prepared an inauguration speech that had lots of words in it. Lots of words. Like almost 9,000 words. (This sermon has about 1,800 words, as a comparison.)

 

It was rainy and cold on that day, but President Harrison was unfazed. He insisted on giving the entire speech, and he did.

 

Unfortunately he got pneumonia and then died one month later on April 4, 1841. He didn’t have much of an impact on history.

 

By comparison, Jesus only spoke 45 words on the cross, and yet look at the impact he had on history.

 

[Source: http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/the-length-of-a-speech-does-not-indicate-its-results]

 

The apostle Paul gives good advice on the use of words. “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.” (Ephesians 4:29)

 

Jesus himself speaks directly about the power of words. In the 12th chapter of Matthew, he says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)

 

Ouch.

 

I’ve said before the popular adage that words are kind of like toothpaste: once they are out you can’t get them back in.

 

There’s another adage to think before speaking. Or as I like to think of it, put your brain in gear before you let off the clutch with your mouth.

 

Okay, confession time. Raise your hand if you have ever said something to someone that you regret ever saying. I know I have.

 

Emotion usually plays a role in those situations. Sometimes we say those things because you have been hurt, and your response to that hurt is to try to verbally hurt the other person.

 

And it is amazing how much power those words have, and how much pain they can inflict.

 

Sometimes we say things just to go along with the crowd, succumbing to peer pressure.

 

Back when I was in Junior High School my dad wouldn’t let me play football. As a doctor he had seen so many young people injured while playing football, especially severe knee injuries. He didn’t want that to happen to me, so he told me I couldn’t play football.

 

As a parent now I can understand why, but at the time it was devastating on my life. Cooper was like many small Texas towns in that football was king. It was the biggest most important thing in town. It was almost a religion (but that’s another sermon for another day).

 

Almost everyone played football. It was a really big deal. If you didn’t, well, there was something wrong with you.

 

I got called lots of names because of that. Friends that I had been friends with for life said things to me that really hurt. Those words made me feel worthless.

 

That’s the power of words.

 

Now it took quite a while but I got over that and learned some good life lessons from those experiences. And experience, while being a great teacher, is often a painful one.

 

So my challenge to you this week, and especially for the students who are beginning a new school year, is to think about your words before you use them. Remember what James says about how powerful the tongue is and how our words make a difference.

 

Remember not to bless God and Jesus with your tongue and then say mean and hurtful words to a fellow student, who is made in the image of God, regardless of what they look like or what they do. And that includes teachers and administrators as well.

 

Let us use our words to lift up and build. It all starts in our hearts. Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

 

Therefore, let us change our hearts, remembering the love Jesus had for us on the cross, and that he has that same love for every single person on earth. We are all equal in the eyes of God.

 

We have given each student a tag to put on their backpack. I hope that in looking at that tag they will remember the love Jesus has for them, and for everyone.

 

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

Book of James: “Faith and Works”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Faith and Works”
A Message on James 2:14-26

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 20, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 2:14-26 (NRSV)

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

 

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Today we continue our sermon series on the epistle of James by looking at one of its more controversial parts, the section that deals with faith and works.

 

James, written by the brother of Jesus if you recall, believes that if one is a follower of Jesus Christ, then that person will perform works that are evidence of their faith. He sums it up well: “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

 

So, what’s the big deal about that?

 

Well, some people think that what James is saying implies what is called “works righteousness.” This is the thought that doing works, doing good things for others, gains points with God, and that when  you get enough points then you get to go to heaven.

 

How many of you remember S&H Green Stamps? It was an early forerunner of today’s “Plenti” program or credit card points or miles that can be redeemed for things.

 

The way it worked was that when you made purchases at stores that participated, they gave you these little green stamps. You collected those stamps, pasted them into little books, and then when to a S&H Green Stamps store or ordered from their catalog and used those stamps to pay for your purchase. Their catalogs and stores priced items by how many “books” they cost, and each book contained 1,200 “points.” There were even different denominations of stamps, worth one, ten, or 50 points.

 

I can remember when I was about 10 my mom bought me a sleeping bag with S&H Green Stamps. Man, I was so proud of that sleeping bag!

 

There are some folks who believe that salvation is like a loyalty program, a spiritual equivalent of S&H Green Stamps. If you did good and followed the 10 commandments, if you went to church and prayed before meals, and didn’t talk back to your parents, and washed behind your ears, then God would keep a record and if your get enough “points” then you could redeem them for a trip to heaven.

 

I thought that was as a kid. I had this image of God as a bookkeeper of my life and when I did something good I got a mark in my “good” column, and when I did something bad I got a mark in my “bad” column, and then whenever I died the column that had the most points determined whether I went to heaven or “h-e-double hockey sticks.” (I got in trouble if I said “Hell.”)\

 

As I got older and my faith started maturing spiritually my perception of God changed away from such a “works-righteousness” process to one based on faith and grace. We are saved by God’s grace, freely offered to us which we accept by faith.

 

Our works do not save us, our faith does. We cannot work our way to heaven.

 

James emphasizing works so much really raised the dander of the protestant reformer Martin Luther back in Germany in the early to mid 1500s.

 

Luther called James “an epistle of straw” and expressed his dislike for it by saying “…for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.”

 

Now he does have a point. Even though James is Jesus’ brother, Jesus is mentioned only twice in the whole letter. It has nothing about Jesus being crucified on the cross, about his resurrection from the dead, his ascension to heaven, or anything like what we find in the gospels.

 

But the main reason Luther didn’t like it was because he believed that one is saved by faith alone, and that James’ emphasis on works implied a works righteousness that conflicted with the teachings of the Apostle Paul.

 

Here are a couple of scriptures from Paul that talk about faith alone:

 

“…yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” (Galatians 2:16)

 

Here’s another:

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22)

 

And yet another:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—  not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

Now if you read those you can see where Luther might see how James could conflict with Paul’s writings.

 

Here’s how I resolve it.

 

I believe that it is by faith we are saved. Salvation is offered to us by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is offered free of charge, the very definition of grace, and all we have to do is accept that gift through faith. We believe Jesus is the Christ, that he died for our sins, and accept him as our savior.

 

That being said, the result of our salvation should be works. If we comprehend even just a small part of how great a gift God’s grace is then our hearts will burst at the seams with a way to respond. To not have works after experiencing God’s grace is, well, it just ain’t right.

 

We should be kind of be like Snoopy in the Peanuts cartoon in that we will want to do the “Happy Dance” to express our joy, and in that joy perform works.

 

The group MercyMe has a song on their new album (or whatever you call them now) that is actually named “Happy Dance.” It’s a catchy tune with some great rhythms. The bridge of the song is:

 

We’ve got reason to get up
Reason to get down
He done traded our sin for joy
And now, that joy wants out
Happy dance

 

Our joy does want out. And I think the best way to express those is with our works, the things we do as an expression of our love for God and love for others.

 

As one author puts it, “Works are not the cause of salvation, but rather works are the evidence of salvation.” [Source: https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-15-salvation-and-good-works-ephesians-210]

 

Now a note of caution: our attitude about these works is very important. We live in a quid pro quo type of world where we are willing to scratch someone’s back only if they in turn will scratch ours. We give only to expect something in return.

 

That’s worldly thinking, and that’s a sin. We should have good works with no expectation of getting anything in return. We should give them as a gift, freely and with no strings attached, the way God has given grace to us..

 

So what exactly are “good works?” Here’s a good definition: “loving acts of service to others.” It’s not just feeling love for others, but actually doing something. [Source: https://cccb.edu/blog/tag/good-works/]

 

Another article I read said that good works are things we do “…not to please ourselves, but to please Christ.”  [Source: http://www.teachingtheword.org/apps/articles/default.asp?blogid=6432&articleid=71821]

I like to think of it as using love as a verb and not as a noun. Verbs are action words, and our good deeds are actions as well. If we say we love God and love others, but our actions don’t back that up, then we’re talking the talk without walking the walk.

 

So my challenge for you this week is to “do something.” Consciously engage in good works as a response to God’s love for you.

 

Help out a neighbor by mowing their lawn.

 

Bring a smile to someone’s day by baking them a cake or cupcakes or cookies.

 

Volunteer to work in our mini-Methodist program which will be starting soon.

 

Call the elementary schools and spend some time each week with a child to help them learn how to read, or do basic math, or just have lunch with them to let them know that someone cares about them.

 

Help Juliana Travis out with her fundraiser for The Water Project by helping deliver whales to people’s yards.

 

Volunteer to help with our food pantry.

 

If your health limits your physical activity, find other ways to do something. Write notes of thank you and encouragement to people going through a difficult time. Call some shut ins (even those who aren’t church members here) and visit with them.

 

There are many, many good works to do. Prayerfully ask God to help you discern how and where to serve but be ready for the results, because they will probably move you out of your comfort zone. That’s okay. Step out on faith. Don’t be an angel of apathy. Do something.

 

I want to end today with a music video by Matthew West that emphasizes James’ words that faith without works is dead. It’s a song called, “Do Something.”

 

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now, thought
How’d we ever get so far down, and
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, yeah, I created you”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something, yeah
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
Oh, it’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

I’m so tired of talking about
How we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire and
I wanna be the one who stands up and says
“I’m gonna do something”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something, yes it is, come on
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
Oh oh, it’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

We are the salt of the earth
We are a city on a hill
We’re never gonna change the world
By standing still
No, we won’t stand still
No, we won’t stand still
No, we won’t stand still
No

 

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

 

Book of James: “Favorites”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Favorites”
A Message on James 2:1-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 13, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 2:1-12 (NRSV)

 

1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.

 

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This past Friday our oldest daughter, Sarah, graduated from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galeston with her doctorate in physical therapy.  It took three years full time of hard work but she did it, and we are very proud of her.

 

To celebrate this accomplishment Sarah had made reservations at a nice restaurant in Galveston for all the family members who attended her graduation ceremony. She called the place a couple of times to confirm everything and updated them on the number of people in our party.

 

Well we get to the restaurant right on time and it’s a nice restaurant.  I walk up to the the maitre’d stand and tell them our name and that we have reservations. He looks up at me kind of funny and said, “Oh, Wintermute? We’ve been trying to get in touch with you. There was some question as to whether your party would have 8 or 10 people.”

 

I replied, “We were at a graduation service so our phones were off. But, there are nine of us.”

 

I look across and I see a table set for about that many people. It’s really nice looking with cloth napkins and fancy glasses, the kind of setting that I don’t frequent very often.

 

He then looks at me and says, “Well because we didn’t know we might be able to seat your party outside on the patio. Would that be okay?”

 

“My daughter specifically requested inside seating. Her grandfather just had a pacemaker implanted and we want to keep him cool and comfortable.”

 

“I’m sorry, but we can’t seat you inside.”

 

“What about that table?” I ask him, pointing to the fancy lay-tee-dah table.

 

“I”m sorry, but that’s reserved for another party. We can seat you outside on the patio, though. And we have some fans…”

 

Sarah was very upset about the situation, and frankly I wasn’t too happy about it, either. And I thought we might have to physically restrain Pam.

 

The patio had shades, and it did have fans, and there was a nice breeze blowing, but there was also a excessive heat advisory in effect from the National Weather Service.

 

We ended up going out to the patio, but on one side of the long table there was a metal bench, not chairs. Pam told the hostess, “Uh-uh, we’re not sitting on a French bench. (She didn’t say “French,” but something I can’t repeat here in the pulpit that kind of sounded like it might be French.). So we moved the bench out of the way and the staff found us some chairs.

 

We ended up have a very good dinner and the temperature wasn’t intolerable as the sun went down.

 

We got the check, which, by the way, had no discounts for being moved outside, we paid and left.

 

As we were leaving Pam’s sister, Chris, asked our waiter who owned the restaurant. He pointed out a guy inside (in the air condition) who was sitting at a table with about 8 or 9 people around it. There was food on the table, drinks in the glasses, and they were laughing and having a great time. The manager, we were informed, was sitting there with them.

 

Now I have to tell you, I don’t think I will ever eat at that restaurant again. The food was great, mind you. It was really delicious. The service was good as well. But I couldn’t help but feel that we had gotten bumped outside so the owner and his friends could have the table originally reserved for us. It left a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended). I felt as if we were second class people.

 

I think there is a lesson that we, as the church, can  learn from this experience and from the scripture we read from the epistle of James today.

 

Do we show partiality in regards to who we want to attend our church? Do we view some people as second-class citizens? Do we play “favorites” when it comes to the work of God and making disciples of Jesus Christ?

 

James, in the second chapter of his power-packed, toe-bruising letter, warns the churches of his day to be careful of showing favoritism.

 

Here is The Message paraphrase of verses 1-4: “My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted.”

 

Ouch!

 

Part of our challenge of treating everyone equally and viewing them through God’s eyes (instead of the world’s) is that it runs counter to our culture.

 

Our culture segregates and puts people in boxes and categories. It happens everyday in front of our eyes.

 

We flew to Florida for our vacation a few weeks ago. It was the first time that all four of us flew on a plane together. We flew on a particular airline whose name will not be uttered [cough while saying “American”] and I was surprised by all the ways they kept trying to get me to “upgrade.” (I got the feeling that the word comes from the Latin root which means, “spend more money.”) If I would get their credit card then my first bag would fly for free, instead of charging me $25. While looking at the seating arrangement online I could select seats more toward the front of the plane, but of course it would cost additional fees.

 

When it came time to board they called for all the first class passengers first, then business class, then by boarding group numbers. We were group 6, by the way. When they finally call us peasants to board we get the honor of walking through the first class cabin with the privileged ones enjoying their complimentary drinks, larger chairs, and lots of legroom. We go through business class, whose chairs are not as big and which don’t have as much legroom. The further back in the plane we go, the smaller the seats get and the less legroom there is.

 

I barely fit in the seat, and my knees were up against the seat in front of me.

 

I know the airline is in the business of making money. I know they want me to upgrade and spend a lot more money for the nicer seats.

 

But what they ended up doing is to make me feel that I wasn’t as important as those in first or business class. I was a lower class, therefore I had to ride in the back of the plane where the ride is bumpier and where it takes longer to get off of the plane after we land.

 

God doesn’t view people through the world’s eyes, though. To God, everyone is precious, everyone is valuable. What the world labels and categorizes and separates into groups God unites and loves.

 

The scripture from James is evidence that even the early church had problems in terms of who should be members and who shouldn’t. It isn’t anything new.

 

But James’ response also provides guidance for us today as we seek to fulfill the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to show favorites.

 

A few years ago there was a story of a successful church that was located in an urban area. One Sunday as people began to arrive there was a homeless man asleep on the porch of the main entrance. He was dirty, his clothing was tattered, and he smelled of alcohol.

 

Most people avoided the man. Some ignored him completely and wouldn’t even look at him. Others started whispering to each other as they went inside after passing him. A few people actually talked to the man, some compassionately, but others telling him “You shouldn’t be here,” or worse.

 

When the worship service began the homeless man appeared at the front of the congregation. The homeless man had actually been the pastor of the church in disguise, and he had a few things he wanted to preach about.

 

It reminds me of a story about a man who showed up to a small church in a rural area for the first time. The man was wearing worn overalls and work boots and took a seat toward the back of the church. Nobody knew who he was, and prior to the service beginning he got more than a few looks. A murmur went through the congregation as collective whispers talked about the new visitor.

 

After the service one congregation member came up to the man, looked him up and down, and said, “Sir, before you attend here again I suggest you read the Bible and listen to what God says about how a person should dress to attend this church.”

 

The man, somewhat taken aback, said, “Oh. Well, okay, I’ll do that.”

 

The next week the man shows up again, again wearing overalls and work boots.

 

After the service, the same congregation member comes up to him and says, “I thought I told you to read the Bible and listen to what God says about how a person should dress to attend this church.”

 

“I did,” replied the stranger.

 

“Well what did God say, because you obviously did’t get the message,” said the congregation member very condescendingly.

 

“No, I got the message alright,” said the stranger. “I did what you asked me to and read my Bible and asked God how I should dress to attend this church. His reply was that he didn’t know because he hadn’t been here.”

 

Folks, don’t believe the lies the world, through the work of the deceiver, wants us to believe. Don’t place value on people the way the world does, but instead the way God does.

 

Here are a few scriptures about this subject:

 

“What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:12-14)

 

In Matthew 25, toward the end, we find Jesus talking about the Judgement of the Nations and separating sheep from goats. He tells the disciples, and us, this:

 

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

 

In the second chapter of Mark the Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating and hanging out with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus’ response?  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

 

Get the picture? Jesus tells us to shine the light of love on everyone, not just those we like or that look like us or that are in our social sphere.

 

I have a flashlight that has I can focus into a narrow beam. Being a follower of Jesus Christ means broadening that beam out all the way, not shining it like a spotlight on only those we like.

 

We are not to play favorites. We are not to treat people differently the way society does but to extend the love of Christ to everyone equally.

 

That is my challenge to you this week. I want you to meet someone beyond your normal social sphere, someone who is beyond your comfort zone, and invite them to church. And if they come, I want you to be a gracious host and invite them to attend Sunday School with you, to have coffee and donuts with you, to sit with you in worship, and maybe even take them to lunch.

 

And do it with an attitude of equality, not condescension. Remember that God loves them just as much as he loves you.

 

And tell them if that it’s even okay if they want to wear overalls.

 

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