John: The Father

John: The Father
A Message on John 12:44-50
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 21, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 12:44-50 (NRSV)

Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”

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Today we are continuing our sermon series exploring the Gospel of John by looking at the 12th chapter and the relationship between Jesus and the Father.

If we back up in the 12 chapter we find Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as well as Jesus talking about his death. So Jesus’ time with the disciples is getting short, and he uses that time to continue to teach the disciples. In the NRSV version there is a subheading for the scripture we read today that describes it as a “Summary of Jesus’ Teaching.”

We’re looking at this today because today is Father’s Day, the holiday where we honor and recognize fathers.

Now I want to be clear that it is important for us to remember that even though Jesus calls God the Father that God is beyond gender assignments. God is neither male or female. God is God, not a particular gender. That being said, however, we also can’t simply ignore the words of Jesus as he describes his relationship with God.

So why does Jesus refer to God as the Father if God is neither male or female?

I think a lot of it goes back to the culture of the time. Throughout the Old Testament and even at the time of Jesus the family structure focused on the father.

In the Epic of Eden bible study that we have been doing (and are still doing) Sandra Richter goes into much detail about the family unit in the Old Testament. She points out that the basic household unit of the Israelites was called the “father’s house(hold),” which in Hebrew is called the bêt ʾāb.

In the bêt ʾāb the father was the head of the family, and not only immediate family but extended family as well. For example, if the father and his wife have sons, it was expected that when the sons married they and their brides would reside in the father’s household. If they had daughters then the daughters, when they married, would become part of their husband’s father’s bêt ʾāb.

These family units were the foundation of Israelite culture and society. The father provided shelter, protection, and sustenance (food). Fathers were very important then, and I contend that fathers are still important now.

So it would make sense for Jesus to refer to God in fatherly terms. God, our father, is our bêt ʾāb, providing us with shelter, protection, sustenance, and most importantly, unconditional love.

In verses 49 and 50 of the scripture we read today, The Message paraphrases it this way: “I’m not making any of this up on my own. The Father who sent me gave me orders, told me what to say and how to say it. And I know exactly what his command produces: real and eternal life. That’s all I have to say. What the Father told me, I tell you.” John 12:49-50

We also have to remember that in Matthew and in Luke, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. And the first words of the Lord’s prayer are, “Our Father…”

And in several places in the New Testament we find Jesus referring to God as “Abba, Father.” This term, “Abba,” does not refer to a Swedish pop music group (that’s a different Abba), but is an Aramaic term of endearment. It would be like the way we use the words “daddy,” or “Poppa,” or as Fernanda pointed out during the children’s message, “Papa” in Spanish.

It is a term used to describe a close, loving relationship. It is, indeed, a term of endearment.

Here are some other things the Bible says about fathers:

“As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.” Psalm 103:13

“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

“Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Psalm 68:5

It’s important for us to remember that for some people Father’s day is not a pleasant day. Some people may have had an abusive father or a father that was absent from their lives. Yet others, including me, may have had fathers who have passed away and are no longer with us, and Father’s Day is a painful reminder of their dad’s passing.

In those cases I pray they find comfort in the Heavenly Father, available to each person, regardless of their circumstances with their earthly father. And even if your earthly father let you down, I can promise you that your heavenly father will not.

One of the biggest challenges our society faces today is the number of fathers being absent from the home. Now there are a number of reasons for fathers being absent in the home, and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad or guilty if that’s the case. However, fathers in homes are important. There are a number of statistics and studies that provide that data, and the results aren’t good. As a matter of fact, they are downright scary.

As a matter of fact, there is a guy who has set up a YouTube channel aimed specifically at those who don’t have a father in their lives. Called, “Dad, How Do I…” a man named Rob Kenney gives video advice on things that many people would ask their dads in their lives. (Now this isn’t to say mom’s don’t know how to do these things, mind you, but these are things traditionally asked of dads.) Topics include how to change a car battery, how to tie a tie, how to iron a shirt, how to unclog a sink, and how to put up a shelf.

There is such a demand for this type of information that the channel has 2.3 million subscribers. That’s not viewers, but people who have subscribed to the channel. Kenney posts a new video every Thursday and teaches about tools on “Tool Tuesday.”

Kenney’s parents went through a messy divorced when he was a child and he and his siblings lived with his dad, who, he said, “didn’t really want us.”

When Kenney was 14 his dad abandoned him and his seven siblings, forcing Kenney to grow up without a dad. He remembered what that was like and pledged that if he ever had kids he would do things differently.

He did have children of his own and raised them into successful adults. Then during the quarantine this past spring he got the idea to make videos of things he wished his father had taught him. And from April to now he had 2.3 million subscribers sign up for his channel.

Fathers are important, both earthly and fatherly.

Our earthly fathers are important for the way they shape our lives.

My father was a great teacher. He wanted us six kids to know as much as possible about everything. And my dad knew a lot! He was Google before there was Google. Not only was he a country doctor, but built his own house and hospital, was a master woodworker, a rancher, a gardener, an avid reader, and had a strong philosophy in being able to repair things that were broken, no matter what they were.

Dad believed in changing the oil in our vehicles ourselves. I still remember the first time I changed the oil in a vehicle. He had me crawl under our car with a crescent wrench and a pan to catch the oil. He pointed out to me the oil drain plug and told me to put the pan under it and loosen the plug (“Lefty loosey, righty tighty.”) I was only about seven or eight at the time and it was hard to loosen the drain plug, but I finally got it to break loose. I used my fingers to finish unscrewing it and then removed it.

What Dad failed to tell me was that as the oil flowed out it wouldn’t go straight down into the pan, but would come out in an arc. And it did. Right onto my face.

I came out from under that car fast as I could, with oil all over my face. My dad laughed so hard I thought he was going to pass out. He apologized for not telling me about the oil coming out in an arc and helped me get cleaned up. And he told me that even though I was embarrassed by what happened to me that I would always remember it and therefore it would never happen to me again. And he was right. I still remember it, and although now I take my vehicles to Westbrook’s Auto Care and let them change the oil for me, I still remember how to do it. And rest assured, if I ever do it again you can bet my face will be far away when I remove the plug.

Dads teach us great life lessons. And they make us laugh. There’s even a genre of humor that is called “Dad Jokes.”

Here are some examples:
“If a child refuses to sleep during nap time, are they guilty of resisting a rest?”

“Don’t trust atoms. They make up everything!”

“What did the pirate say on his 80th birthday? AYE MATEY”

Yes, you may feel free to groan. But that’s what makes a dad joke!

We need dads that make us laugh. We need dads who protect, dads who provide, dads who teach, dads that love. But most of all, we need godly dads.

Let me show you a graph. This is a few years old, back before COVID-19, but still very relevant. This graph shows what influence the father of a family has on his children attending church. When mom and dad both attend church, then 72 percent of their children will remain faithful to God. If only the dad goes, that percentage is 55 percent. If only the mom attends and the dad does not, only 15 percent of children will remain faithful. If neither the mom nor the dad attend church, that number drops to only 6 percent.

That is a huge difference! If the dad chooses not to attend church, three is only a 15 percent chance that his children will go when they are adults. And if neither parent goes, only 6 percent will attend!

We need more people in church, we need more people following Jeus Christ, but we REALLY need more fathers in church that follow Jesus Christ.

So my challenge to you today, especially for those who are fathers, is to be godly. Believe in Jesus, the light of the world, instead of living in darkness.

And if you want me to teach you how to change the oil in your car, just let me know.

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

John: The Word

John: The Word
A Message on John 1:1-5
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 7, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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Today we are starting a Summer Sermons Series based on the gospel of John. This series will last throughout the summer as travel through the Gospel of John from the beginning to the end. And today we are starting at the beginning.

There is some confusion about who wrote the gospel of John. Some people think that it was John the Baptist, but that can’t be because if you remember John the Baptist was beheaded on the command of Herod Antipas, who had popped off to his step daughter, Salome, in front of a crowd that he would give her whatever she wanted. Salome took the advice of her mother, Herodias, who didn’t like John, and asked for his head on a platter. And that’s what they did, unfortunately.

Is the author of the Gospel of John the John who wrote the book of Revelation, who is sometimes referred to as John of Patmos (which was an island where the author was stranded during persecution). Traditionally it has been thought that they are the same person but there are scholars that disagree. And most scholars agree that a different John wrote the epistles, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John.

Many people believe that John the Apostle wrote the gospel of John. Many also believe that John is the “disciple whom Jesus loved” because it is only in the gospel of John that we find this phrase.

Now the Gospel of John is different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Those three are known as the “synoptic” gospels, meaning from a common view. John is different in several ways and it is believed to have been written later than the three synoptic gospels.

The Gospel of John does not include a lot of the information in the synoptic gospels, things such as the temptation of Jesus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and the Lord’s supper.

It is also believed that John was the last living of the 12 disciples. Tradition has it that he was the only of the original 12 disciples to die of old age. All the others were martyred.

Here’s what I believe: I think John the Apostle wrote the gospel of John, and I think the same person wrote the book of Revelation. And I really don’t know if the same person wrote the epistles of John, and I’m okay with that. And I also reserve the right to be wrong.

Now, just who exactly was John? If we go back to before John met Jesus we find that he is a fisherman. He is one of two sons of a fisherman named Zebedee, the other older brother being James. Jesus calls James and John to stop fishing for fish and to follow him and fish for people, and they do. (I still have to think that ol’ poppa Zebedee couldn’t have been very happy about that.)

Jesus even gives the brothers James and John a nickname, calling them “Sons of Thunder.”

So John knew Jesus well. Very well.

Today we read from the very beginning of the gospel of John, and the author does something very interesting from what the other gospel writers did. Both Matthew and Luke talk about the birth of Jesus (Luke more so than Matthew) and Jesus’ family tree. Matthew’s “begats” go all the way back to Abraham, whereas Luke is the overachiever and traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Adam.

Mark doesn’t include any information about the birth of Jesus for unknown reasons.

But in the beginning of his gospel, John focuses on the divinity of Jesus and how he was present from the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.”

Now let’s first explore the name John gives to Jesus: “the Word.” The greek term is “logos,” which is where we get the word “logo” from. (But not the word “Lego.” No. That comes from the Danish phrase meaning “play well.”)

The Word. Present in the beginning, with God, and was God. That’s a lot to wrap our minds around!

In our first reading today that Bonnie read from the very beginning of the Bible, we notice these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

John uses similar language to begin his gospel, especially the phrase “In the beginning…”

I think he does this purposefully. He is comparing Jesus, the Word, with being a new creation, something created by God, and in the case of Jesus, actually being God.

So John does some neat things in this first paragraph of his gospel. He refers to Jesus as the Word (with a capital W), that the Word is God, that everything that came into being happened because of the Word, and then changes gears.

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

So then he refers to Jesus as being “the life,” which was then “the light” of all people, a light that cannot be overcome by darkness.

So there just in the first paragraph we have Jesus referred to as the Word, God, the life, and the light. That’s quite the literary accomplishment!

But what does that mean to us today? How does the way John begins his gospel have any effect on us today?

I think the most powerful things we can understand about this passage is twofold. The first is that Jesus IS God. The second is that Jesus is the light of the world.

Okay, so why is it important to understand that Jesus IS God? Well, it’s very important for us theologically. If we view Jesus only as God’s son, then Jesus is subordinate to God. In military terms God would be the superior officer and Jesus would be under his command. So it’s a kind of hierarchy thing.

And if Jesus is God’s subordinate then he wouldn’t really be God, would he? He would be a semi-God or a demi-god.

It’s like in the Avengers movie when the Hulk shows up and is mad at Loki (for good reason, mind you.) Loki says, “Enough! …all of you are beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by…” and then the Hulk grabs him and starts smashing him into the floor over and over and over, before looking down at him and saying, “Puny God.”

It is important that Jesus be fully God, not only for our Trinitarian theology but for our salvation. Jesus IS God, and his death and resurrection atones for our sin and gives us a pathway to righteousness that we could not have created on our own.

We find a lot of our support for a trinitarian view of God in John’s gospel, this being one example. Jesus and God are both God but are not two Gods, but one. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are not three gods, but one. And since this is Trinity Sunday this is a good time for us to explore this part of our faith!

There is a pastor and professor up in Woodbridge, Virginia named David Schrock. He has researched John’s gospel and come up with a chart that shows the scriptures in the Gospel of John that support the view of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit three-in-one. Here it is: (show slide).

That’s pretty impressive if you ask me!

We have to remember that this view of the triune God at the time John’s gospel was written was quite the source of debates and even heresies such as Modalism, which stated that God was one person that was expressed in three different modes (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) at different times. And that’s just one heresy. Others were Arianism, Partialism, and several other “isms.” (Here’s a link to a cartoon video that humorously explains all this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw

So John might have chosen to emphasize Jesus’ divinity at the beginning of his gospel to offset the heretical views that some people of the day were embracing. By emphasizing that Jesus IS God he defends the faith against that form of thinking. And although he never used the term “Trinity” (it is actually not found anywhere in the Bible), his gospel provides good evidence of supporting a Trinitarian belief in God.

So John had a very high Christology that Jesus was God. And thank God for that!

Now, let’s explore the second aspect of the scripture we read today: Jesus is the light of the world.

This one is close to my heart because I have a bachelor’s degree in photography, back when everything wasn’t digital and we had to use film and chemicals and paper.

Now I would venture to say when most people think in terms of darkness and light they think about paint or colored pencils or even crayons. If you are creating a painting or artwork and you want something to appear as black, you use black paint, ink, or colors. It’s something physical you can apply to the paper or canvas to create that image.

But in the photography world, and yes, even in today’s digital photography world, it is much different. Photography writes with light, the tiny charged particles of energy called photons that bounce around. These photons are focused by the lens of the camera onto a digital photosensitive surface in the cameras (or film in the old days) that is sensitive to the photons and react when they impact it.

Because these photons have different amounts of energy and are traveling at different wavelengths, the sensor (or film, again) detects that and gives us colors. All kinds of colors.

But for the black in a photograph, it is simply a void where no photons hit. Black is not a color, but simply the absence of light. It is not a “something.” It is a lack of something, a void.

I think this works well as a spiritual metaphor for us today. There seems to be a lot of darkness, a lot of voids, in the world today. We have the COVID-19 pandemic, racism resulting in death, peaceful protests as well as rioting and looting, an economic downturn, politics that seem to get nastier and meaner every day, fake news (on each side), and, perhaps worst of all, the cost of brisket has skyrocketed. (Okay, I know that’s not the worst thing but you have to admit it’s pretty bad if you love barbeque as much as I do.)

The world seems to be a dark place. And in all those instances (with perhaps the exception of the brisket) all could be made better by having the light of Christ shined on them.

Our world is in need of a savior. Our world is in need of God whose light can shine into the darkest of places and apply the greatest force in the universe to those situations: love.

I did a wedding yesterday up in Gilmer, TX for a young couple. As part of the wedding liturgy I always read 1 Corinthians 13, also known as the love chapter.

As I was reading those holy words I got to thinking about how they apply not only to weddings, but perhaps even more so to the darkness in our world.

Here is the first part of that chapter: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

“Love never ends.”

John tells us that Jesus is the light of the world, and that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” It is our job as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, to reflect that light.

Now let’s be clear that the source of light doesn’t come from us. We aren’t the source of light, but the reflectors of it.

We are to be like the moon. The moon doesn’t produce any light on it’s own. There is no nuclear fusion going on within it to create photons that escape its gravity. No. The moon reflects the sun, and in doing so provides light in the darkness.

Likewise we are to reflect the light of Christ. In the fifth chapter of Matthew Jesus tells his disciples (and us) “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

My challenge to you today is to understand that Jesus IS God, and that our mission is to reflect the light of Christ to the world. We are to reflect that light into the darkest voids, the darkest places, where hatred and violence and racism exist. And the light we are to reflect is love, the love God has for each person, the love he showed us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He is certainly not a puny god. That is for certain.

In the name of the Holy Trinity on this Trinity Sunday: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Change: The World

Change: The World
A Message on Romans 12:1-2
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 17, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

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As we continue our journey exploring the topic of “Change” in the Bible we come to a topic that we have gained a new perspective on since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Apostle Paul calls it the “world.” “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

What is this “world”? I like to think of it as the things that influence us.

It’s the programs we watch on television. It’s what we do for a living and the people we interact with as we make a living. It’s the conversations and interaction with our family and friends, the content of what we view on our electronic devices, the political beliefs we align our lives to, the books we read, the movies we watch, the way we take care of–or don’t take care of–our physical bodies. It’s how we spend our money and what we do “for fun.” and I contend it even involves the food we eat and the liquids we drink.

It’s all the little things–and probably a few “big” things–that so subtly over time creates in our minds an image of who we are and what our purpose on earth is. And it’s these things that largely shape our sense of self worth. We form a perception of who we are in the larger society and our role in the world.

The world is seductive. It is patient as it slowly, day by day, sends us messages specifically crafted to appeal psychologically to our egos and our sense of competitiveness. The world promises to build us up, make us better than others, to make our lives “complete.”

There’s only one problem: it’s not true.

How do we know it’s not true? The Bible tells us so.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In the world you face persecution [trouble]. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

In 1 John 2:15-17 we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

James is his characteristic blunt self when he writes, “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.” — James 4:4

In John 18:36 Jesus tells us, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

And Paul tells the Christians living in Colossae, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” — Colossians 3:1-3

And listen again to the scripture we read today from Romans 12, this time from The Message paraphrase: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

On the topic of change, most of the time we don’t like it when the world changes, do we? Our world has certainly changed this past few months, hasn’t it? Things we took for granted, even simple things like toilet paper, we no longer take for granted.

There have been some silver linings, though, with this COVID-19 pandemic. One of those silver linings has been the way the phenomenon of celebrity has been stripped of some of its mystique. We have discovered that Hollywood celebrities aren’t really as important as what we make them out to be. We have developed a better appreciation not for celebrities, but for “essential workers” such as health care workers, first responders, peace officers, and even those to deliver and stock groceries and supplies. The soaring meat prices make us more respectful of those who work in meat processing plants.

All this has shown us, if we have eyes to see, the things in our lives that are really important, separated from the things that we thought were important but are discovering really aren’t. We are discovering the difference between being “conformed” and being “transformed.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Have any of you wanted something so bad that you thought you couldn’t live without it? I remember when we got our first cell phone. It was one of these. [Show photo of bag phone.] Oh, I thought we were so awesome when we got that bag phone. Yep! We could call people from anywhere! (Well, anywhere there was service, which wasn’t very many places back in those days.) Yes, it was expensive, but hey, we got 30 free minutes every month! Wow! We were somebody! We were with the “in” crowd that had cell phones, or so we thought.

Looking back I can see that we were being “conformed” to the world, not “transformed.” It seems so ridiculous now.

Fashion is another area where we can see “the world” at work “conforming” us. How many of you were “big hair” people back in the 80s? I’m talking big, big hair. Here let me show you some photos! Remember these hairstyles? What was the saying, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”? And it was both men and women! (And I hear the “mullet” hairstyle is making a comeback. I don’t know about that…)

The world, and it’s persuasion for us to be conformed to it, changes. We are trying to conform to a moving target. But God does not. And it’s only in God that we can find true meaning and truth. A relationship with God through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the only thing that will fill what theologian and mathematician Blaise Pascal described as the God-shaped-hole in each of us. That hole in our soul can only be filled by Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham once said, “Christianity is not a long list of restrictions. It flings open the windows to the real joy of living. The cosmos would have us believe that following Christ is nothing but ‘thou shalt nots.’ The cosmos would have us believe that Christianity is a killjoy, a stolid kind of life, unnatural and abnormal.

“But the evidence in the Bible is to the contrary. Christ said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10). And those who have been truly converted to Jesus Christ know the meaning of abundant living.”

If we are conformed to the world, then we are not transformed by the love of God in Jesus Christ. It’s one or the other.

It’s like having one foot on the dock and the other foot in a boat that is slowly moving away. We have to decide and make a choice. If we try to keep one foot trying to conform to the world and the other foot on trying to be transformed by the love of Jesus Christ, we will end up wet and without either one.

Because we have free will, we have a choice. We choose. God will not force anyone to love him. Love that is forced is not love, after all.

So my challenge to you today is to resist being conformed to the world, but be “transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Remember that the things of this world are temporary, but a relationship with Jesus Christ has eternal rewards. Make that relationship the number one priority of your life. Why walk when you can fly?

And if this COVID-19 doesn’t let up soon you may see me sporting a mullet.

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

Lent: Prayer

Lent: Prayer
A Message on James 5:13-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 8, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 5:13-18 (NRSV)

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 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. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

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In his book Blueprint for Discipleship Kevin Watson (who spoke at the District Leadership Summit a week ago) tells the story of going to Mexico with a group to do some mission work. They drove down with a trailer full of lumber and construction materials. The trailer also held an old, beat up bicycle. A church member had shown up with the bike right before they left, and although they had been reluctant to take it, they threw it in the trailer anyway, not wanting to hurt the donor’s feelings.

When they got to where they were going in Mexico they put the bicycle in the room they were staying in and then forgot about it as they started working on their mission projects.

As they were nearing the end of their time there they began discussing what to do with the bike. They didn’t want to take it back but didn’t know who would want it in Mexico. Kevin remembered a young boy named Zacharias who had shown up every day at their work site, talking to the Americans, curious about them. One day Kevin noticed that Zacharias was wearing a cross necklace and complimented him on it. Without hesitating the boy took the necklace off and gave it to Kevin. Surprised, Kevin received the gift.

Remembering that exchange, Kevin suggested they offer the bicycle to Zacharias, if he wanted it, of course. After all, it was a beat up ol’ bike. The others agreed and they offered the bike to the young boy. He smiled, didn’t say anything, but then raced off with the bike.

The next morning Zacharias showed up early, begging the Americans to go to his house and talk to his mother. If they didn’t, he explained, he would have to return the bicycle. Curious as to what was going on, the Americans followed Zacharias to his house. There they talked to his mother, who they found out was a widow trying to make ends meet for Zacharias and his siblings.

She explained that Zacharias wanted to get a job in the next town over to help out financially, and had been bugging her to get him a bicycle so that he could ride it back and forth to the job. Not having the money, she had told him to pray for a bicycle.

Her problem, she explained, was that he hadn’t been praying for a bicycle for very long. She was worried that he had stolen it instead of praying and waiting for it. The Americans explained that they had indeed given the bike to Zacharias, that he had not stolen it. Then in talking to the mom they found out that he had started praying for it just the night before they had given the bike to him. And the Americans knew that it wasn’t coincidence that they had given the bike to Zacharias, but the hand of God at work.

Today we are continuing our sermon series on Lent: by looking at an important aspect of Lenten discipleship: prayer.

In the scripture we read today from James, we find Jesus’ brother saying, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

I believe the story I just told you of Zacharias is an example of that.

Now the danger of that story is that we might come away from hearing it thinking that prayer is simply asking God for things that we want and that God will give them to us. Sort of like a spiritual Santa Claus.

No. Prayer is much more than asking God for things. It is much deeper, much more personal, much more… well… holy.

Prayer is conversation with God.

A simple but effective way to pray is to use the acrostic ACTS. A is for adoration, c is for confession, t is for thanksgiving, and s is for supplication. ACTS. This is a great outline to follow during prayer time especially if you find it difficult or uncomfortable to pray.

Start with adoration of God, follow that with a time of confession, where we confess the times and situations where we have sinned. Then a time of thanksgiving, thanking God for who he is and the gifts and graces he offers us. And then finish with supplication, asking God to provide our needs (and not forgetting that our needs and wants are two different things).

Some people don’t pray because they say they don’t know how to pray. I used to believe that. As a teenager in church I can remember listening to the preacher praying. He used such big words and phrases that I didn’t understand but I figured they must be like super holy because he was using them. I remember thinking that I couldn’t pray because I didn’t know the right words.

Max Lucado points out the error in that thinking. “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” – Max Lucado

Lysa TerKeurst points out another fact about prayer: “The reality is, my prayers don’t change God. But, I am convinced prayer changes me. Praying boldly boots me out of that stale place of religious habit into authentic connection with God Himself.” – Lysa TerKeurst

Prayer is an important part of every Christian’s spiritual life. Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

And we pray because Jesus prayed. A lot.

Prayer is emphasized at Lent because the season remembers Jesus 40 days spent in the wilderness where he fasted and was tempted by Satan. And if you go 40 days without food and get tempted by the devil you better know prayer was involved!

But that wasn’t the only time Jesus prayed. He would often go off by himself and pray. A lot. Matthew 14:13 is just one of many examples: “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.”

He taught his disciples to pray by saying the prayer the we call the Lord’s Prayer. And remember that this was at their request. They had observed Jesus praying, and asked that he teach them how to pray as well. Jesus’ response was the Lord’s Prayer.

I want to make a distinction about the scripture we read today from James. He writes, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” Note that he doesn’t say, “All prayers are powerful and effective.” No. He specifically says “The prayer of the righteous…”

Let’s look at another scripture about prayer, this one from 1 John 5:14, “And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” Did you catch that part, “…according to his will…”

I can pray for a bass boat. I can be specific and pray for a 20 foot Skeeter bass boat with dual power poles, a Minn Kota Spot Lock trolling motor, and state of the art fish finders. There is nothing preventing me from praying for that. But if I am not righteous, if it is not “according to his will,” then the odds of me receiving a boat like this are very small.

Prayer is not the currency for a spiritual vending machine, where you look at the broad selection of items, figure out which one you want to pray for, and then expect God to crank the metal spiral rods to have it drop from heaven and into your life. No.

That’s the problem with the prosperity Gospel, which preaches that God will reward you financially for doing certain things. Now don’t get me wrong, God certainly has the power to do whatever he wants, but expecting a financial windfall because you “name it and claim it” negates the “according to his will” part of the scripture we read from 1 John.

In order for prayer to be effective it has to be about the will of God.

Let me give you another example. It’s baseball season soon. Say that a batter gets up to bat with the bases loaded, top of the ninth inning, two outs. What if the pitcher prays to God, saying, “God, just let me get this batter out.” And the batter is praying, “God, just let me get a hit.” Which prayer will God answer? The person who is most righteous? Hmmm.

Now I have heard before that the scripture that we read from James today is not true, that someone prayed for a loved one who was very ill, and instead of God healing them they passed away.

My response is to look at verse 15 again. “The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.”

God heals in many different ways. Sometimes God heals even through death. James’ scripture doesn’t say God will save them from dying, only that the “prayer of faith will save the sick,” and that “the Lord will raise them up.” This can mean resurrection, not necessarily physical healing, although I have seen that happen as well.

God responds to prayers in his own time and in his own way, not ours. For example, praying “God give me patience, and give it to me now!” my not result in instance patience, but opportunities to use and grow that patience in order to deepen your use and understanding of patience.

So my challenge to you this week (and all of Lent, actually) is to pray. Set aside specific times to pray, but also pray while you are driving (but keep your eyes open), pray at work or at play, pray as Paul admonishes us to, “without ceasing.” Have conversations with God regularly throughout your day, knowing that the “prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

We’re going to give you an opportunity for you to put that into practice. The altar is available and we’re going to create some time for you to come forward now and to kneel and pray. Stay as long as you want. If you don’t know what to pray remember ACTS: acclamation, confession, thanks, and supplication.

After everyone is through we will combine our voices and our souls in the Lord’s prayer, praying the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.

Believe in the power of prayer. Pray regularly. Pray earnestly. Pray. Pray. Pray.

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

Brand New: Children of God

Brand New: Children of God
A Message on Romans 8:12-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 26, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 8:12-17 (NRSV)

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

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Years ago there was a television personality and author named Art Linkletter who hosted a show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” It ran from 1952 to 1970, which is a long time in the television world. Art ended up interviewing more than 20,000 kids!

The show had a very simple format: Art would ask young kids questions and some of their responses ended up being very funny. Sometimes they would just say things that were funny.

For example, Art asked one boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy answered that he wanted to be an actor. So Art said, “Let me give you a little test. Have you ever done any acting?” “Yeah,” the boy replied. Art said, “Well, let me hear you say ‘Art Linkletter’ like you’re mad.” The boy put on an angry face and said, “Art Linkletter like your mad”!

Another time Art asked a young boy named Thomas what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said a bus driver or a pilot. Art said, “Well suppose you are a pilot on a big airplane, and all of a sudden all four engines stopped. What would you say?” The boy thought for a moment, bowed his head, and said, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

He asked a little girl what her favorite Bible story was, and she said the story of Jesus turning the water to wine at a wedding. He asked her what we can learn from that story, and she replied, “The more wine we get, the better the wedding is.”

Children have a way of perceiving things that adults just don’t have. I think we all had childlike characteristics when we ourselves were children, but as we get older and have life experiences those child-like characteristics become fewer and fewer until, sometimes, they go away completely. And that’s a shame.

The scripture we read today from my favorite chapter in the Bible, Romans 8 (you knew that, didn’t you?) reminds us that in terms of our relationship with God, we are all “Children of God,” no matter how old we are.

If we go back to the first part of Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the church members in Rome (and thus the name of the book, “Romans”), we find that Paul is discussing the dichotomy of the flesh and the spirit. He says this, for example: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” — Romans 8:5

Paul is pointing out that because of Jesus Christ, we are no longer just flesh and bone subject to the natural laws of the earth. The things of the earth live, grow old, and die. The things of the earth focus on meeting our physical needs: food, water, shelter, clothing. The things of the spirit, however, see into another dimension, one not limited by time or space, one filled with light and love.

And thus Paul uses the metaphor referring to followers of Jesus Christ as “Children of God.”

Why children?

If you think about it, children are dependent on their parents, especially during the early years of their life. Babies can’t feed themselves. They can’t clean themselves. They aren’t mobile until they learn to walk and then crawl. Communication is pretty much limited to crying when they need something.

Then over time babies become children. Children start doing things by themselves but still need help. They say “I do it by MYself.” They begin to dress themselves, they get to where they can go to the bathroom by themselves. They can feed themselves. But other than simple things they can’t cook for themselves. They depend on parents for transportation. They struggle to understand abstract things.

I can remember when I was a kid thinking that the cost of something was based on the size of the object. I guess I deduced this from spending time at the toy section of the dime store in my home town of Cooper. The larger the toy was, the more expensive it was. Sounded good to me.

Then I learned about things like jewelry and diamonds, which, although small, have much value. My theory was blown to bits.

Another thing I thought was that the sun set somewhere around Commerce, Texas. I new what Commerce was west of where we lived in Klondike, Texas, and as I would watch that big, hot, sphere set on summer evenings I could see it go down in the west. So I figured it set somewhere a little north of Commerce. I thought there was a great big burned spot on the ground where it set. After all, the sun is hot, you know.

As I got older and began to understand the scale of sizes, and as I developed the ability to comprehend abstract concepts, I came to a better understanding of sunsets.

The same kind of thing happens in our spiritual walk. As children we learn Bible stories, we learn about David and Goliath, about the walls of Jericho that come crumbling down, and that Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

But as we grow we learn about the Christian faith with a deeper understanding. We don’t perceive God as being an old man with a long, white beard that lives in the clouds, but, to quote Anselm’s ontological argument, we come to comprehend that God is that which there is nothing greater. (Okay, or maybe somewhere in between.)

We grow in our faith. And sometimes when our faith grows it loses some of its childlike characteristics. I think that it is a shame to lose some of those.

What are some of the characteristics that children have that adults don’t?

Children are curious. They want to know about things, how things work, what things are called.

How many of you parents remember your children going through the “why” stage. This is when they keep asking why over and over.

“Why are tree leaves green?”
“The chemicals in the leaves absorb all the colors of the spectrum except green.”
“Why?”
“Well, that’s just the way it is. The leaves produce the chemicals such as chlorophyll that causes them to appear to us as green.”
“Why”?
“Because that’s the way God made it.”
“Why?”
“Well that’s something you’ll have to take up with God.”

It’s good to be curious as a Christian. For example, when reading the story of David and Goliath, for example, it’s good to be curious why David picked up five smooth stones. Why five? He only needed and used one. Why five?

Why did Jesus have a breakfast of fish roasted over a charcoal fire ready for the disciples when he appeared to them on the seashore after his resurrection?

Curiosity may have killed the cat but some curiousness is good as a Christian.

Children are also trusting. They trust adults. They don’t yet have the emotional scars of being lied to, of being betrayed, of being emotionally hurt.

Instead they trust. What adults tell them is the truth. They may not understand everything (and because they are children, they probably don’t understand everything,) but they’re okay with that.

Children don’t have to know the details of something in order to believe it.

They don’t have to understand the principle of gyroscopic inertia that keeps a bicycle upright when ridden. They just ride it and have fun.

The children who got up here and sang earlier in this service don’t know about music theory and notes. They don’t know about time signatures or the difference between regular and syncopated rhythms. But as you saw that didn’t keep them from bopping up and down to the beat and singing and having fun.

As adult Christians we are reluctant to believe something unless we know all the specific details about the subject. Especially now that we have the Internet we can research topics on our own and have a plethora of information available to us. Now it’s not all true, of course, but we can sift through it to discover the truth. (Although there is a tendency for us to call “truth” that which tells us what we already want to believe.)

So you see there are childlike characteristics that we as Christians need to have. Instead of being weaknesses I think they are strengths that help us to mature in the faith. I also find ironic that childlike characteristics help us mature in our faith. I think it’s just more proof that God has a sense of humor.

Another thing I think is important about being Children of God is the relationship between children and their parents.

In the scripture we read today Paul writes, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”

Now if you were around pop music in the 70s you might think of a Swedish pop group with the name ABBA. (And you might even be singing the song “Dancing Queen” right now…) But that’s not the Abba we are talking about today.

This “Abba” is an Aramaic word for “father,” but it’s more than that. It’s not a stiff, formal term, but more of an intimate, sort-of nickname. I believe it is better translated for our East Texas culture as “Daddy” or “Papa” or other term of endearment.

Here’s the way I think of it. When our girls were little and I would get home from work, they would yell, “DADDY!!!!” and come running to me, jumping into my arms and giving me a great big hug.

I think that applies well to us as Children of God as well. Our God is one that we can be excited to experience, and we can run and jump into his arms, giving him a big hug and receiving a hug in return.

Now we also need to keep in mind that our Abba is also the God of everything, the creator of the universe, the one who transcends time and space, the one who never had a beginning and never has an end. And yet even though God is that powerful, he loves us as a father loves his children.

He loves us so much that was willing to send his own son to earth, to teach us “children” how to live, how to love each other and God, and allowed that son to be brutally killed on a cross so that all his children’s sins could be forgiven and we could be reconciled to our heavenly father.

So my challenge to you this week is to live as a “Child of God.” Bring out those childlike characteristics that can help us mature spiritually. And renew your relationship with your “Abba” Father. Have frequent conversations with your Abba (known as prayer), read his words with a renewed interest and curiosity, sit in his lap and be comforted, knowing that you are loved. Be a child of God.

After all, kids say the darndest things.

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

Wesley’s Questions: “Do I Disobey God?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Do I Disobey God?”

A Message on Titus 3:1-7

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 24, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Titus 3:1-7 (NRSV)

 

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

 

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Today we continue our sermon series on the questions John and Charles Wesley’s “Holy Club” asked themselves everyday by examining the topic of obedience. The question the Holy Club used was this: “Do I disobey God in anything?”

 

Let’s just start out by talking about the word, “obey.” There are a lot of negative connotations with that word today. It’s the kind of word that make people bristle up and get angry.

 

There’s a story about a salesman that won an award that was a child’s toy. When he got home he gathered his three children and told them them that the one who had been most obedient would get the toy. The children seemed confused by this and one of them asked, “What does it mean to be obedient?”

 

The dad replied, “Well, which one of you talks back to your mother the least.” The kids still seemed confused so the father asked, “Who does everything your mom tells you to do?”

 

The kids looked at each other for a while. Finally the oldest one said, “Okay, dad. You get the toy.”

 

I think part of the reason that joke is funny, and the reason the word “obey” leaves such a bad taste in our mouths, is because our society focuses so much on individuality that the word “obey” is perceived as a threat to that individuality. It is perceived as someone or something trying to utilize power over an individual, and that doesn’t go well. It is looked at as something we teach our dogs to do.

 

But yet, we obey things every day. For example, if you are going to Tyler on 69 North you better set your cruise control on 55 mph until you get out to Love’s Lookout because if you don’t my neighbor, Dina Wilde, who is a City of Jacksonville police officer, WILL write you a ticket for not obeying the speed limit. (I think Dina would write her own mother a ticket.)

 

There are laws, both state laws and federal laws, that we are called to obey. If we don’t obey those laws, and if we get caught, we will be punished and possibly imprisoned.

 

Another example: this is tax season. If you don’t obey the tax laws and refuse to pay your income tax you will be punished. Not only can they give you monetary penalties, but if it’s bad enough you could go to prison.

 

Today in society I see many examples of people to disagree with a law or a rule, and so they purposefully disobey those laws and rules.

 

It really is nothing new. Back in the days of the apostle Paul we find people disobeying as well.

 

In the scripture we read today we find Paul writing to Titus, a leader in the early church, about some difficulties that are happening with the early Christians. Paul offers words of advice and encouragement for the early Christians, not only with regards to their behavior but also as they confront false teachers.

 

He tells Titus, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.” — Titus 3:1-2

 

Just think how much better the world would be today if people did as Paul advises.

 

“…be subject to rulers and authorities…” Now I don’t want to get into politics, but I think we all know people who have fits about this, don’t we? Both with the current administration and the previous administration, the rancor and bitterness and just plain nastiness of what people say and post on social media is embarrassing. It’s bad. And it’s not Christian.

 

“…to be obedient…” Now Paul doesn’t say to what or whom to be obedient, but seeing as it comes right after the statement about rulers and authorities I and thinking it applies to them. I think it also applies to the scriptures as well, to be obedient to God and his Word.

 

“… to be ready for every good work…” Here I think Paul is telling us not to delay doing good work when the opportunities present themselves. I think he is telling us to avoid “paralysis by analysis” by doing good works as soon as you see a need.

 

“…to speak evil of no one…” Boy, would we use this rule on social media! As my mother used to remind us kids, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say nothing at all.”

 

“…to avoid quarreling…” Again social media comes to my mind. But it isn’t limited to that. I am convinced that there are some people on this earth who just enjoy quarreling. It’s like a hobby or pastime with them.

 

“…to be gentle…” This is needed in today’s world as well. This doesn’t mean you let people walk all over you, but it is more about how we respond to other people and how we treat them.

 

“…to show every courtesy to everyone.” I still see courtesy today, especially in East Texas. People still hold doors open for others, skip the close up parking places to leave them for people who might be elderly or have trouble walking, and things like that. Of course there are people who are not courteous, but surely those aren’t Christians, right? And none of them go to this church, right?

 

Let me tell you about something that happened last week that I think incorporates all of these things that Paul writes about.

 

My roommate from seminary, Tommy Earl Burton, is the senior pastor at Tapp United Methodist Church in New Boston, TX. New Boston is just down the road from DeKalb, TX, where I used to pastor, and it was the closest “big town.”

 

There has been a ministry located in New Boston called “Manna Kitchen” that cooks and delivers food to about 80 people in the Bowie County area three times a week. This was a multi-denominational effort and people from the church I served in DeKalb would volunteer regularly to take meals to those who were homebound and/or unable to cook for themselves.

 

Well something happened recently involving Manna Kitchen and local politics and so the pastor of the ministry which has housed Manna Kitchen said he was shutting it down. This meant that 80 people in the area were no longer going to get meals delivered to them.

 

Tommy Earl and the members of his church got together and decided something needed to be done, so they did it. Starting this Wednesday meals will be prepared at Tapp United Methodist Church and then delivered by volunteers to the people in the area that need them.

 

Tommy Earl and I talked about it on the phone this last week and he said it was amazing how the Holy Spirit moved through the people of his church and the volunteers in order to make this happen.

 

Now listen to The Message paraphrase of that verse with respect to what Tapp UMC has done: “Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous.”

 

The people at Tapp are respecting the government, making sure their food preparations are in compliance with city codes and food safety regulations. They have shown they are willing to “lend a helping hand.” They have not, and will not, say bad things about the pastor or the ministry that made the decision to close, they won’t fight about it on social media or in the newspaper. Instead they are “bighearted and courteous.”

 

Most of all they are obedient to God’s word. The great commandment is to love God and love others. They are being obedient and living out Jesus words in the 25th chapter of Matthew, “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.”

 

Now I will admit that it is not easy to be obedient to God. The focus in our culture on individuality makes it difficult, because so many times God’s word tells us to put the interest and needs of others before ourselves. We live in a “me first” world, where it’s okay to do whatever is necessary to move on up the ladder of success.

 

The world tells us to be as Paul describes: “… foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.” — Titus 3:3

 

But that’s not the way Christians should live. Not at all. And Paul tells us why: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” — Titus 3:4-7

 

When we accept Jesus as our savior we say goodby to our former lives, to the ways we used to live. We put off the old self and put on the Holy Spirit self. That is replaced with a Holy Spirit led obedience. And ironically, it is that obedience that gives us freedom.

 

In 2 John we read: “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.” — 2 John 1:6

 

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson quotes Karl Barth about obedience: “Each act of obedience by the Christian is a modest proof, unequivocal for all its imperfection, of the reality of what he attests.”

 

Obedience is an important aspect of the Christian life. It is so important that the Wesleys thought it should be one of the 22 questions to reflect on daily. It is still critically important for us today.

 

So my challenge to you this week is that you will be obedient to God. I know the world will try to convince you that you shouldn’t be obedient to anything but your own desires, but Biblically we are called to just the opposite of that. We are to be obedient to God, to his word, to the life that Jesus Christ showed us how to live.

 

Obedience is a good thing, not a bad thing. Praise be to God.

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Almost Christian”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Almost Christian” #2

A Message on Acts 26:24-29

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 18, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Acts 26:24-29 (NRSV)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That is what “altogether Christians” should look like.

 

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

 

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

Wesleyan Roots: “Temptation”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Temptation”

A Message on 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 7, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Corinthians 10:6-13 (NRSV)

 

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

 

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Today we are continuing our sermon series on “Wesleyan Roots” by exploring 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 and John Wesley’s sermon on that scripture titled simply, “Temptation.”

 

Now I’m sure most of us are aware of what temptation is, right? It’s a desire someone has to do something, usually something that is not good.

 

Now in the scripture we read today the author, the Apostle Paul, is talking about people that caved in to temptation. He’s talking about the Israelites from back in the old Testament.

 

If you remember back in Exodus Moses goes to the Pharaoh of Egypt and says, [sing] “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, ohhhh baby, let my people go. Ugh! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

 

Pharaoh finally lets them go, the people travel to the Red Sea,  Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his army after them to annihilate them, but then God parts the waters and the people walked through the sea to the other side. And when Pharaoh’s army tried to follow them the waters covered them and they drowned.

 

So they go to the base of Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Saini, and the people get freaked out by fire and smoky clouds and trumpet blasts and so Moses goes up on the mountain to speak with God and he gets the 10 commandments.

 

Now prior to this the people say that they will listen to God and do whatever God says. “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do,” they promised. (Exodus 19:8)

 

And yet, when Moses is not as quick about coming back down the mountain as they expected, what do they do? They give in to temptation. They convince Aaron, who is Moses’ brother that he leaves in charge of the people while he’s gone, to make a golden calf for them to worship.

 

And Aaron does.

 

Now here’s what I think is the interesting part. The Israelites demand a golden calf, so where does Aaron get the gold? From the Israelites. He has them give him their earrings that they had. And where did the Israelites get the gold earrings? After all, they were slaves in Egypt, right, and slaves don’t have gold.

 

They got them from the Egyptians as they left. Yep. They plundered the Egyptians for gold and silver and the Egyptians gave it to them because they were happy to see them go. The 10 plagues more than convinced them to let them go.

 

So the Israelites, who finally obtain freedom from the Egyptians, take the gold they had plundered from the Egyptians, made a golden calf like the Egyptians, and worshipped it like the Egyptians.

 

They became like the Egyptians. Even though they had been held as slaves by the Egyptians, even though they had been mistreated by the Egyptians, and even though the Egyptians did things like making a law to kill all male Israelite babies, they still became like the Egyptians.

 

They gave in to temptation and became like the very people that had oppressed them.

 

That’s what Paul is talking about in the scripture today. He is talking about how the Israelites kept giving in to temptation instead of following God’s laws and trusting in God.

 

And then he adds some words of advice: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

 

In other words, don’t get too comfortable thinking you are winning the war against temptation, because when you become complacent and don’t focus on resisting temptation, those are the times that you are most vulnerable.

 

In his sermon on temptation, John Wesley expounds on this: “Do not Satan and his angels continually go about seeking whom they may devour? Who is out of reach of their malice and subtlety? Not the wisest or the best of the children of men.”

 

We all get tempted. It’s just part of human nature. And Satan is very good at tempting us with those things that we are most susceptible to. Whatever happens to be your achilles heel, that’s where Satan will aim his arrows.

 

If you have a weakness for food, that’s where Satan will aim his temptations. If it is an attraction to persons other than your spouse, Satan will put some gorgeous individuals in your path. If it is buying new things, you will find some things on sale that will be extremely hard to resist. If it’s alcohol or drugs, you will find those things popping up and available to you. If it’s money, you will face situations that might be a little shady, illegal, or even maybe immoral but that could earn you some money.

 

You get the idea. And don’t think it doesn’t happen to you. It does, and it will.

 

I gave into temptation this week. Many of you may not know that I used to play trombone. I paid for most of my first two years of college at Henderson County Junior College with a music scholarship playing trombone.

 

Well Mike Kellogg, our music director, found an old trombone at a garage sale. It wasn’t very shiny and pretty but it was a brand-name trombone and it had a trigger, which means you can play notes easier and deeper than a trombone without a trigger.

 

Anyway, Mike and I got to talking about trombones this past week and started talking about this trombone. I was tempted to buy it. Really tempted. We talked some more and ended up agreeing on a deal for me to buy the trombone. I was excited! I got it home, put a mouthpiece on it, and started playing it. Or start trying to play it. It was pretty awful. Well, that’s not exactly true. It was REALLY awful!

 

I couldn’t resist the temptation to buy that trombone. Pam wasn’t too happy when she got home and I had to confess to her what I had done. (She’s STILL not happy…)

 

We will always have temptations. That’s the bad news. The good news is that God gives us the power to overcome those temptations. But there is a catch: you have to work at it. You have to try. You have to consciously decide to resist temptations.

 

Paul writes about this in his letter to the church at Corinth that we read from today.

 

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

 

Here’s how Wesley describes it. “He [God] sees exactly how much we can endure with our present degree of strength. And if this is not sufficient, he can increase it to whatever degree it pleases him. Nothing, therefore, is more certain, than that, in consequence of his wisdom, as well as his justice, mercy, and faithfulness, he never will, he never can, suffer us to be tempted above that we are able: Above the strength which he either hath given already, or will give as soon as we need it.”

 

Now I want to offer something here that I think is important with regard to temptation. I don’t believe God tempts us, but that God allows us to be tempted. For me this is a big differentiation. Now God has the power to cause us to be tempted, that I believe, but I don’t believe it’s in God’s nature to use that power to purposefully tempt us.

 

One of the reasons I believe this is because of what is written in the first chapter of James: “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.”

 

So God doesn’t do the tempting. No. But, God does provide us with the strength to overcome those temptations.

 

Wesley summarizes it this way: “Let us then receive every trial with calm resignation, and with humble confidence that He who hath all power, all wisdom, all mercy, and all faithfulness, will first support us in every temptation, and then deliver us out of all: So that in the end all things shall work together for good, and we shall happily experience, that all these things were for our profit, that we ‘might be partakers of his holiness.’”

 

It is important for us to remember that Jesus was tempted. Prior to beginning his ministry, right after he was baptized, he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness where Satan appears and tempts him three times. He tempts Jesus with food, with ego, and with power. Each time Jesus responds with quotes from Deuteronomy, successfully resisting the temptations.

 

Why does it matter than Jesus was tempted? Because Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine. Jesus experienced everything that we experience as humans. That includes temptations.

 

Jesus resisted temptation, and so can we. It’s not easy, and it requires us to lean upon the power of God to be successful, but it can be done. And it should be done.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to resist temptation. Acknowledge that you don’t have the power to be successful resisting temptation by yourself, but utilize the power God provides to overcome temptation.

 

And if you want to get together to help me practice my trombone, let me know. (But don’t tell Pam.)

 

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

 

Faithbook: “Comments”

 

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Comments”
A Message on James 3:2-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 16, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 3:2-12 (NRSV)

 

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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One of the great things about Facebook is the ability to comment on the posts that other people make. It’s a great way to be able to participate in someone’s life without actually being there physically.

 

But comments are a double-edged sword. While comments can celebrate an accomplishment or comfort someone who is hurting, comments can also be used negatively and can cause pain and harm others.

 

We talked earlier in this series on “Messages” how cyber-bullying has become so common and is having devastating consequences. Cyber-bullying is common among the “comments” made on social media.

 

In the modern technological nomenclature we find the term “troll” being used to describe people who leave particular kinds of comments. Now when I was growing up a “troll” was a mythical fairy-tale-type person who lived under bridge. And then there came along some little doll things with long hair and even cartoons. But nowadays it’s a lot different. The word has new meaning.

 

Here’s a definition I found on the Internet by a guy at the University of Nebraska that apparently studies social media: “Trolling is defined as creating discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people by posting inflammatory or off-topic messages in an online community. Basically, a social media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users.” [https://unlcms.unl.edu/engineering/james-hanson/trolls-and-their-impact-social-media]

 

Unfortunately there are a lot of “trolls” out there in social media land. There are a lot of very inflammatory comments made about just about everything. Some of them are mean. And some of them are just downright evil. It’s sad. Very sad.

 

I think one of the reason there are so many negative messages on social media is because we can respond instantaneously. If someone posts something that you disagree with or that angers you, the technology allows us to respond immediately from the emotional part of our brains, not the logical and contemplative part of our brains. We don’t think before we write.

 

Can you imagine if we commented on posts with handwritten letters that went through the mail instead of through the instantaneous aether of the Internet? I think the time it would take to write it down on a piece of paper, find an envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail it would give us time to cool off and not be so reactionary.

 

I think another reason things have gotten so bad is that people can hide behind a cloak of anonymity when they post comments. Some of the worst “trolls” have fake accounts or accounts with very limited information about the person writing it. Technology allows us to fudge the truth about ourselves and to be able to write things without having to stand up to the consequences of and be responsible for saying them. It gives us the ability to write things that we would never say to a person if we were standing face to face with them.

 

Years ago Brad Paisley wrote a cute song called “Online” that is about a guy that lives a double life. In real life he’s 5’3”, overweight, works at a pizza place, lives with his parents, and drives an old, beat up Hyundai. But the image he presents on the Internet is much different. Here are some of the lyrics:

 

‘Cause online I’m down in Hollywood
I’m 6’5 and I look real good [Note: Yes, I know he uses a word other than “real,” but hey, we’re in church…]
I drive a Maserati
I’m a black belt in Karate
And I love a good glass of wine”

 

The end of the chorus is:

 

“I’m so much cooler online
So much cooler online”

 

Like we discussed last week, social media is a very powerful communication tool. How we behave “online” can make it good, or it can make it bad.

 

The book of James in the New Testament is direct and straightforward. Written by the half brother of Jesus, one of the early church leaders, James tells truths that were perhaps uncomfortable for the early church members to hear, just as they can be uncomfortable for us to hear as well.

 

In the scripture we read today, James talks about the power of the tongue. Now when we think about the tongue we think about speaking, but James is using the tongue as a metaphor for our words.

 

While in Jesus time in the first century most communication was by the spoken word, James’ scriptures still apply to us today when technology provides us with a wide variety of almost instantaneous communications. Some of it is still speaking words, but a lot of it is by, to paraphrase an old Yellow Pages ad, letting our fingers do the talking through the keyboards of our phones and computers.

 

Listen to verse 6 again: “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.”

 

Gee, James. Why don’t you tell us what you think?

 

Words matter. Comments matter.

 

I am amazed by some of the comments I read on social media. And I am even more amazed by some of the comments I read on social media posted by fellow clergy members.

 

We have forgotten James’ advice on how we use words and the power those words have.

 

James points out that with the same tongue we bless God and curse others. And he also points out that it shouldn’t be that way.

 

As I have said before, one of the reasons the “unchurched” say they don’t want anything to do with church (or religion, for that matter) is because of what they perceive as hypocrisy. The people that attend church act one way on Sundays and then act the complete opposite the rest of the days of the week. They praise God with their comments on Sunday and then treat others in ways that are anything but godly the rest of the week.

 

Their “comments” keep the Kingdom of God from growing. Instead of using words to bring others to Christ, they drive them away. Instead of planting good seeds that will grow and bear fruit they are planting weed seeds that will grow and choke out the good seeds.

 

Technology today gives us great power to communicate with others. But with great power comes great responsibility. We may want to be “cooler online,” but what the world really craves is authentic and truthful “comments” spoken in love.

 

I use a modified version of Psalm 19:14 before I begin the message every Sunday. The un-modified version is this:

 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
   be acceptable to you,
   O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

 

The words of our mouths, the “comments” we make, both verbally and on social media, should be acceptable to God.

 

There is a song by a group called Hawk Nelson titled, “Words.” The song was written based primarily on the scripture we read today from James. The words of the chorus are:

 

Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or
Put it out

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

 

My challenge to you this week is to remember those words as we “comment” both verbally, in writing, and on social media. Let our comments be life, let our comments be truth, let us not post a comment unless it points the world back to God.

 

Instead of singing “I’m so much cooler online,” let us sing, “I want to be like Jesus online.” I don’t think Brad Paisley will mind.

 

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

 

,

Fruit of the Spirit: “Gentleness”

 

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

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 15, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

2 Timothy 2:22-26 (NRSV)

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

 

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

 

Yep, silk.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Walk away,” was his reply.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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