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Festival Gloria

December 3, 2017

We are going to end our worship this morning by singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  The word Hallelujah comes from two Hebrew words.  Hallelu which means praise!  And Jah which is short for Yahweh.  Yahweh being the Hebrew version of Jehovah or God.  It’s an imperative or command.  And it’s plural.  So that Hallelujah translates roughly, praise ye the Lord!  Or praise you the One who is!

As students of the Bible we know that the scriptures are filled with references praising God.  We are to praise Him continually, not just on Sundays (Hebrews 13:15).  We are to praise Him for who He is and for what He has done (1 Peter 2:9).  We are to praise him with song and instruments and dance (Psalm 150:3-4).  It is clear that we are to praise God.  My question this morning is – why?  Why should we praise God?  Are we to praise God simply because He commands us to so?  I was reading the other day about C.S. Lewis’ struggle with the as a young man with all these references to praising God.  He was bothered by the idea of a God who would incessantly demand that His people tell him how great he is.  He wondered – is God so vain?  Surely, God doesn’t need our praise.  So why should he command it?  This morning I suggest two reasons.  Both have to do with OUR well-being.

First, praising God shifts our focus off ourselves and puts it back on God.

Oscar Wilde once told a story in which the devil was crossing the desert and came upon a group of fiends tormenting him. (  As it was obvious that the taunts were just rolling off the holy man, the devil stepped forward to give them a lesson. He said, “What you are doing is too crude.”  And with that he whispered to the holy man, “Your brother has just been made Bishop of Alexandria.”  At once, a scowl of malignant jealousy clouded the serene face of the holy man.

The truth is, pride has a way of placing our attention fully on ourselves.  It seduces us into thinking that we deserve all that we desire.  And at least what others have.  The LATEST version of this in my life came this past week.  We now have three and a half drivers in the family and two cars.  And daddy is tired of giving up his truck.  So, last week we found ourselves on the car lot.  I must confess it didn’t take me very long at all before I had convinced myself that I personally NEEDED a new car.  I DESERVED a new car.  In fact, it was my RIGHT to have that new car – simply because I wanted it.  And not just any new car.  One that would require a small mortgage.  Half my blood.  Which is ridiculous.  Truly not healthy or helpful for me or my family.

But here is the thing.  I have this tendency to fall into the trap of thinking I am a god.  Little g-o-d.  When in reality I am God’s.  Capital G-o-d’s.  Can you relate to that?  Ever been increasingly or over focusing on you?  Ever found yourself acting like you’re a god – little g o d and forgetting that you are God’s? It’s especially in these times that we need to praise ye the Lord! Because it shifts the focus off of us and back on to him.

Second, praising God brings transformation.

In Acts chapter 16 of the Bible it says that while they were in Philippi, Paul and Silas were arrested, stripped and flogged, put into chains and thrown into the deepest part of the jail.  And that despite their suffering they began praising God.  And that it was as they were singing and praying that there was a violent earthquake.  And their chains broke free and the doors opened.  But rather than escape Paul and Silas remained where they were.  And it was because of this witness, that the Philippi jailer and his family committed themselves to Jesus Christ.

Praising God brings revival.  It doesn’t just follow revival, it actually brings us for revival.  Andrew Womak puts it this way.  Praise isn’t like the caboose that just follows what happens, but it’s more like the engine of a train that makes things happen.  Be anxious about nothing, but in everything through prayer and petition with Thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-8.  At the very least, praising God brings peace.  Not as the world defines peace.  Rather the peace of Christ that supersedes our circumstances.

We know that this in not only Biblical.  It’s also biological.  Saw a Ted Talk this week called Singing Together Changes the Brain.  This idea that singing together with hymns and songs makes us happier, healthier, smarter and more creative.  It boosts our immune system and helps us fight illness and depression  You wonder why the choir is continually growing.  They’re in on this.

I ask you this morning.  What troubles you?  Are you anxious?  Are you afraid? Is there an area of your life that needs change?  Do you need to be less self-focused?  Then praise ye the Lord.  Praise Him for who He is and praise Him for what he has done for you.  Praise Him so that you remember that you are God’s and not a god.  Praise Him to bring transformation to your life and those in the lives around you.  This morning I am going to stand here and I am going to listen and I’m even going to sing as we do the Hallelujah chorus.  I am going to praise ye the Lord! How about you?  How about you?


Legacy, Part 3

Nehemiah 2:11-20

November 19, 2017

When I was in the second grade, my teacher Mrs. Jones, taught our class a poem.  In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  He had three ships and left from Spain; He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.  He sailed by night; he sailed by day; He used the stars to find his way.  Mrs. Jones also taught us that Columbus discovered America.  Which isn’t exactly true.  In fact, Columbus ran into the Bahamas.  Which would have been great if he hadn’t been sailing for Japan.  You see, by the late 15th century, Europe had developed a taste for the spices of the East Indies – black pepper, ginger and cloves.  After the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1543, travel to the Far East via the Silk Road had become much more difficult.  Navigators were beginning to explore ways East by sailing West.  What they didn’t know was – how far?  And here Columbus made a series of bad assumptions.

First, he assumed that there was just one ocean – stretching from Europe all the way to Japan.  And that there was no significant land mass between (  I have brought along a map similar to the one Columbus used (slide 1).  On this particular map, the mapmakers have superimposed in light blue an outline of North America to show geography as it actually is.  Land masses Columbus knew about are in yellow.  Spain and Africa on the right.  And Cathay which is China on the left.  And the large Island to the left of center is Japan.  In those days Japan was thought to be located in what we now know as Mexico.

Second, Columbus assumed that Japan was much closer than it actually was.  In 255 B.C. – roughly two hundred years after Nehemiah sat down and wept over the remnant in Jerusalem – the Greek astronomer Eratosthenes had calculated the earth’s circumference to within a few hundred miles.  Columbus combined the work of Eratosthenes along with his own estimation of the breadth of Asia and determined that the Atlantic Ocean was 5000 miles wide.  Subtracting the distance from China to Japan, he then concluded that Japan was 3000 miles away from Spain.  Just by coincidence, 3000 miles was the farthest distance he could travel in his ships.  Today we know that Japan is 12,000 miles from Spain.  Columbus would never have made it.  As it was, he sighted land 29 days into his voyage.  Only instead of the Far East, it was an island in the Bahamas that he named San Salvador.

Now please hear me.  My goal is not to lift up Columbus.  While he did set the stage for discovery of the New World, a lot of his behavior was completely unacceptable.  He committed atrocities against people based on race.  He is credited with founding the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  We need to remember and condemn this part of our history.  My point is not to venerate Columbus.  Rather to point out the power of assumptions, that bad assumptions can cause us to completely miss our intended destination.

So, why is this important?  Well, two weeks ago we started a series on legacy.  And we said that each and every one of us receives a legacy from those who precede us.  And each and every one of us passes a legacy on to those who follow us.  The question is this – what legacy will we leave?  Will it be a legacy of pride and self-focus?  Or will it be a legacy of gratitude and generosity?  How will history remember us?  Last week we talked about significance.  And we said our legacy is made powerful through what we do for others.  That great ambition and conquest without contribution is insignificant.  So, a significant legacy begins with a concern God lays on our heart.  We claim the commands of God.  And we commit to doing something about it.  Today we continue our reflection on two key assumptions of any successful legacy.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the Old Testament Nehemiah chapter 2.  We will be reading verses 11 – 18.  As you are turning there, I need to apologize for something I said last week.  Last week I said that Knee High Miah was the shortest man in the Bible.  Evidently, I was wrong.  After our third service, a member pointed me to Job 8:1. In Job 8:1 there is a reference to Job’s friend, Bildad the Shoe Height.  Well, I couldn’t take that lying down.  So, I decided to do a little research.  And what I found is that neither Knee High Miah nor Bildad the Shoe Height were the shortest men in the Bible.  That honor goes to the Roman centurion guarding Jesus’ tomb ( before Easter. We read in Matthew that he fell asleep on his watch.

Anyway, you will remember that in the year 586 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, pulled down the city walls and carried off its citizens to exile in Babylon.  And how in 539 B.C. the Persians conquered Babylon.  And that King Cyrus was sympathetic toward the Jews.  And gave them permission to return to Jerusalem.  Which they did.  First under Zerubbabel.  And then under Ezra.  And finally, under Nehemiah, cupbearer to the king.  Last week we read how Nehemiah was moved by the situation of those living in Jerusalem.  And he decides to ask for permission to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city.  Today we pick up the story as Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah 2:11-20.

I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.  13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal[a] Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.  17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.  They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So, they began this good work.  But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”  20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”  Nehemiah 2:11-20

So, two important and key assumptions from this passage and they are clarity of goal is essential to success. We must have clarity of goal.  Verse 17 – ‘Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.’

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the VP’s at Disney.  And I was peppering him with questions about the keys to their success.  He shared that one of the most important things that they do is to focus on the goal instead of the task.  For example, he said that at Disney they don’t employ maids.  They hire people who like to make guests comfortable.  It’s critical, he said, to focus your energy on the end objective.  To which I said – a huh.  Got it.  Focus on the goal.  Check.  What else?  Because it sounds so obvious.  But the truth is – we often focus on the task to the expense of the goal.

Take for example, Thanksgiving dinner coming up in a few days.  Anybody have a Thanksgiving that looks like this (pic 2)?  This is Norman Rockwell’s well-known painting – Freedom from Need.  This was the Thanksgiving I grew up with.  Only my mother would have been distracted by the wrinkled tablecloth.  Her goal at Thanksgiving was perfection.  In the way it looked.  And in the way it was experienced!  So, Thanksgiving was really a time of anxiety and rush.  Now that I am an adult and have my own family, my Thanksgiving’s look more like this (pic 3).  Complete with toast, popcorn, pretzels and jelly beans.  But that’s okay!  Because my goal isn’t perfection.  It’s spending time with family and being grateful.  That and watching football.  This puts the tasks in a different light.

Or how about parenting?  I don’t know about you, but life in the Miller house these days, looks a lot like an episode of Survivor.  Robyn and I are doing our best to Outlast, Outwit and Outplay our three teenagers.  Afternoons and evenings are filled with picking this one up from school.  Taking that one to soccer practice.  Dropping the third one off at scouts.  Circling back to the first one again.  Then sprinting to pick up the third.  While dropping by the grocery store.  And securing more poster board for the latest school project.  All I can say is thank God for Uber! I don’t know how my parents were able to make it without such a tool as that.  To tell you the truth, it is so easy in the midst of the scramble to forget that there is a higher goal than surviving – which is to raise our children to be self-sufficient adults.  That’s what we are working towards.  Robyn may be willing to drive them around after they graduate from college.  Personally, I plan to change the locks.  That’s the goal.

Clarity of the goal is also imperative for church.  From time to time I catch turning church into a task list.  Get people to attend worship – check.  Offer the next Bible study – check.  Raise a certain amount of money – check.  Going on mission trips – check.  But here’s the thing.  To focus overtly on the tasks is to risk losing sight of the purpose our church exists.  In Ephesians 4:11 it says –  So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Paul says the purpose of the church is to collectively grow up in the faith and knowledge of God’s Son and attain the very image of Christ.  Or to put it another way – our reason for existence at First United Methodist Church is to help us and others become like Christ.  The question is – How are we doing?  Is it evident that this is our mission?  Do the things we do and the things we say as a church reflect this purpose?  If not, we are going to miss the goal.  We are going to set sail for Japan but wind up in the Bahamas.

Second, we must include others.  Verse 17 – ‘Come, let US rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.’

When Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, he carefully investigates the situation.  He makes sure to assess the need.  And when he is clear about the preferred objective, he starts inviting others into the work.  Rebuilding the wall is too much for one person alone.  The resources needed are too great for a single individual.  The opposition he will encounter is too strong to handle by himself.  To persevere, he will need to draw on others. The resistance he is going to get from others he cannot handle alone. In the Book of Ecclesiastes chapter 4, it says – “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

Do you want to have a legacy that lasts longer than you do? Do you want to have a legacy that is broader than you? Anything that you can bring to the table, you must involve others.

That’s one of the reasons I am eager to start sharing our church’s new vision in January.  For the past 12 years, we have been on the move, as a church, to make a difference.  We have worked hard to bring the grace of Christ to those in Kenya, Costa Rica, Louisiana and here in Orlando.  Now, after 12 years, it’s time to clarify our objective and move into the next part of our legacy.  To create new wineskins for new wine.  And so, for the past 9 months a team of leaders in our church have been meeting and praying and reflecting upon the next stage in God’s dream for us as a church.  Together we have discerned 4 movements of that new vision.  Last week I shared that one of our main objectives will be to be a vital family.  A community that includes, that cares for, that equips and guides each other.  Something that is easier said than done.  That is easier said than done in a world that is increasingly isolated and increasing focused on self-sufficiency.   A second objective is to become Christ-like servants.  Jesus said he came to serve and not be served.  He said that his mission was to give his life away as a ransom for many.  He said that if anyone wants to follow him they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.  For if anyone wishes to save his life will lose it.  But if one loses their life for him and for the sake of the gospel – they will find it.

I am very clear that I cannot become a Christ like servant on my own. I am going to need others. To faithfully walk in the footsteps of Christ I need the help of men and women who will listen to me, encourage me, reflect my behavior and actions back to me, as well as hold me accountable.  Because people are people.  And serving people requires greater resources and skill and perseverance than I have alone.  To paraphrase Robert Owen – all the world is squirrely but me and thee, even thee art a little bit squirrely.  I need clarity about my goal.  And I must involve others.  (

So, my challenge this week is to have a conversation about legacy.  It can be with a spouse or a child or co-worker or a fellow church member.  Identify one person that you know will lovingly listen and encourage and even question your motives in a loving manner.  Spend some time thinking about significance and what God’s dream is for you individually and what God’s dream for us as a church.  If you are willing, talk about the significance that you are called to leave.  And the significance that you feel you are leaving as God wants you to have in this world.

I ask you this morning – are you clear about your purpose as an individual?  How about our purpose as a church?  Are you clear about the goal?  What is our legacy to be?  Are you apart of into Christ-likeness?  If not, are you ready to be?

When Christopher Columbus returned to Spain in March of 1493, he still carried around some poor assumptions.  He remained convinced that he had sailed among islands off the east coast of Japan.  It wasn’t until his third voyage along the northern coast of South America that he came to the conclusion that he had encountered a land mass greater than an island.  The truth is, our assumptions can make all the difference.  They can lead us home and to the fulfillment of God’s dream.  Or they can cause us to run into something half way around the world.  So, I am going to ask for God’s blessing and God’s clarity about his goal for us as a church.   And I am going to invite others to join me.  How about you?  How about you?


Legacy, Part 2

1 Timothy 6: 11-16

November 12, 2017

So, as I was preparing this week, I came across a movie I had never seen before called The Emperor’s Club.  It’s about how our actions affect our future in ways we cannot foresee.  It stars Kevin Kline as Mr. Hundert, a passionate teacher of the classics at St Benedict’s prep school.  Who, in order to help one of his favorite students, get ahead, adjusts the student’s grades.  Only to have the consequences ripple down through the years from one generation to the next.  In our scene this morning, Mr. Hundert asks one of his students to read from a plaque on the back wall of the classroom.  Take a look:


Last week we started a new sermon series on Legacy.  And we said that each and every one of us receives a legacy from those who precede us.  And each and every one of us passes a legacy on to those who follow us.  The question is – what legacy will we leave?  How ill history remember us?  Will it be a legacy of pride or self-interest?  Or will it be a legacy of gratitude and generosity? How will history remember us?  This morning we continue our theme.  And reflect on how our legacy is made powerful through what we do for others.  For great ambition and conquest without contribution is insignificant.

Take your Bibles, it’s a little bit of a change from what is in the bulletin. We are going to read this story of the shortest man in the Bible.  Knee High Miah.  My Grandfather used to tell me that joke – every single time he came to visit.  That and the one about the greatest banker in the Bible.  Which was Pharaoh’s daughter.  Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the bank of the Nile and drew out a little prophet.  This morning we are going to read from Nehemiah chapter 1 – verses 1 – 4.

In the year 586 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and pulled down the city walls.  This latter was especially significant.  A good wall could slow down the enemy for three to six months.  Make it very inconvenient for him to attack.  Nebuchadnezzar wanted the inhabitants of Jerusalem humiliated and vulnerable.  To reinforce his point, Nebuchadnezzar rounded up many of the Jews living there and marched them eight hundred miles through the desert to Babylon.  Where they spent the next 70 years as slaves.

Then in 539 B.C. King Cyrus, the Persians conquered Babylon.  King Cyrus was sympathetic toward the Jews.  He gave them permission to return home to Jerusalem.   And a lot of them did.  The first wave of 40,000 was led by a guy named Zerubbabel.  Immediately, they began re-building the Temple.  Starting with the altar.  And then the foundation.  But the returning Jews were continually harassed by the surrounding nations who weren’t interested in a restored Jerusalem.  And eventually the work ground to halt.  Some 80 years later – in 458 B.C., the second wave of returnees took place – led by the descendant of a priest.  Under Ezra’s leadership the Temple was rebuilt.  But it was only a shadow of the original.  According to the ancient lore, the first Temple was so grand and glorious that the birds instinctively stayed off of it.  But with this Temple they had to put up deterrents to keep the birds away.

That left the city walls.  Enter Nehemiah.  Nehemiah is the King’s cupbearer.  In that time and culture the cupbearer was a very important person.  Assassinations were common.  As a measure of protection, someone tasted the food and wine before the King.  If the cupbearer sampled the food and lived the king could eat it in safety.  But if the cupbearer drank the wine and keeled over, then the king knew it was a bad year for that wine.  With this background in mind, let’s read Nehemiah 1:1-11.

The words of Nehemiah (Nechemiah) son of Hakaliah (a kal yah):  In the month of Kislev (k slev) in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.  They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”  When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days, I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.  “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.  “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’  10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”  I was cupbearer to the king.

I believe it was the poet David Whyte who wrote: “When finally, people struggle through the weeds, pull back the moss, and read the inscription on my tombstone, I don’t want it to say: ‘He made his car payments.’”  If Nehemiah had an epitaph on his tombstone it would say something like – he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.   Which is a significant legacy for a Jewish slave born in exile some 800 miles from home.  How did he do it?  This morning our text suggest three keys.

First, Nehemiah had a concern of the heart.   Verse 4 – When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days, I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

One day Nehemiah’s brother pays him a visit.  He has recently come from Jerusalem.  And Nehemiah wants to know about the remnant living there.  There is some debate as to whether Nehemiah was concerned about those who were left behind in Jerusalem while the others were deported.  Life in the aftermath of the Babylonian invasion was extremely difficult.  Or if Nehemiah wants to know about those who were exiled to Babylon and returned to Jerusalem.  They had not exactly been welcomed with open arms.  Either way, Nehemiah’s heart breaks when he hears about the conditions they are enduring.  And this motivates him.  He has a concern of the heart.

In his book “Visioneering”, Andy Stanley writes that God’s purpose for us always begins with something that sticks with us.  He says:  You will hear or see something that gets your attention.  A thought related to the future will generate an emotion.  Something will bother you about the way things are or the way things are headed.  Unlike many passing concerns, these will stick with you.  You will find yourself thinking about them in your free time.  You may lose sleep over them.  You won’t be able to let them go because they won’t let you go.

Long to pass on a great legacy?  Do you want to be about significance?  Start with that thought, emotion, idea or tenderness that just can’t shake.  It starts with a concern of the heart.

Second, Nehemiah claimed God’s promises.  Verse 8 – “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses.”

One day, God comes to the prophet Jeremiah and says.  Is anything too hard for me?  I will surely gather my people from the lands I have banished them to.  And I will bring them back to Jerusalem and let them live in safety.  I will make an everlasting covenant with them and will never stop doing good to them.  And will plant them in this land with all my heart and soul (Jeremiah 32:26).  As students of the Bible we know that Jeremiah lived and prophesied during the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem.  In other words, the prophesy of God to return His people to their land was given 130 years before Nehemiah wept over its remnant.  Nehemiah knew this.  He knew the promises of God and it made him bold.

Do you wish to step out beyond your own ability?  Do you desire strength to move forward and to take the next step?  Learn the promises of God.  This is why we are constantly talking about bible study, constantly inviting you into small groups, encouraging you to read the scriptures.  If we’re not reading the scriptures, we are short changing ourselves of the power of God.  The scripture says:  thy word have you hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.  We hide God’s word in our hearts so we can call up and it makes us bold to live out a significant legacy.

Finally, Nehemiah commits to doing something about it.  He decides to ask the king permission to go and re-build the walls of Jerusalem.  He doesn’t just seek to return.  He wasn’t interested in just helping. He wants to re-establish the city and live in the legacy promised by God’s people.  Verse 11 –  Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.

Nehemiah could have shrugged it off and remained in Babylon. He could have just focused on where we was at. It would have been easy.  After all, he had a cushy job complete with corporate perks.  Corner office, chariot phone, company camels at his disposal.  He could have decided it wasn’t his problem.  Nehemiah was probably more Persian than Jew anyway.  Born in Babylon most likely.  He really had nothing in common with the remnant in Jerusalem and those that were struggling.  He could have pointed fingers.  Played the blame game.  Wondered who was in charge over there?  And what were they doing all this time anyway?   Instead Nehemiah takes action.  And it makes all the difference.  Within days he has secured permission to rebuild as well as the authority and supplies needed to re-establish the city of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah has a concern of the heart.  He claims the promises of God.  And he commits to acting.

Now for the past twelve years, First United Methodist Church has been on the move to make a difference.  That’s our vision.  It’s been a good vision because we know that we are not supposed to just stay here. We knew that we couldn’t just sit on this block and wait for people to come to us to find Christ.  We understood that if we entrenched ourselves within these walls we would wind up focused on ourselves.  And so, as a church we have worked to get out and rub elbows with those who need of God’s grace.  In Costa Rica.  In Kenya.  In Georgia.  In our own city of Orlando.  That’s been our legacy.

And now, the time was come for a new vision. Our next part of our legacy.  New wineskins for new wine, as Jesus says.  For the past 9 months, the leadership of our church has been meeting, praying, and discerning the legacy God is calling us to be as a church and what legacy he is calling us to leave.  Starting this January, I will be preaching and others will be teaching and we will be reflecting on God’s dream for us.  There will be lots of material on that.  I am really excited to talk to you about it.  One of the things you are going to learn is that it grows from a concern of the heart.  A concern for authentic community.

I don’t know about you, but I watch the reports of the horrific massacre in Texas last Sunday.  And I think of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the racial unrest in Charlottesville, and the natural disasters in Texas, here in Florida and in Puerto Rico. I have the sense that we are not to isolate ourselves even more.  I’m sure that the answer is not to become even more separated from each other.  Or to become even more isolated and guarded against each other.  I believe that the time has come to be the light in the darkness, to set an example for our world – an example of what it is to be a community of Jesus followers who love one another.  To go retro if you will.  Back to the early church.  When God added to its number daily because of its radical care for one another.

That’s why the first of four movements in our new vision is to be a vibrant family.  One that cares for, includes, equips and guides each other.  This will be our legacy.  Take a look at this video of a couple in our church as they talk about what this kind of legacy means to them.  VIDEO.

I ask you this morning, what legacy are we supposed to leave as a church?  How is history to remember us?  What will our contribution be?  Because great ambition and conquest without contribution is insignificant.

The good news is God is with us.  As we continue to live into His will, God will continue to bless us and allow us to participate in His vision and His significance.  The bible says that one day God will establish his reign on earth as it is in heaven.  That he’s going to use the church to accomplish that.  We know that.  We claim that.  We not only have the concern, we have the claim of the of the promises.  So, let’s do something.  Let’s commit to doing something.

Today let’s do a little practice.  We brought along a little exercise.  In a few minutes, you are going to receive a brown paper bag. On the bags, you will find a list of grocery items that you can purchase to help those who are hungry in our community.  This year our food collections will be given to the hungry in Reeves Terrace.  Like last year, I challenge you to go and shop right after church.  To not wait until it is convenient.  Go and bring it back before you eat.  Use it as a way to challenge yourself to open yourself to a tenderness of heart and to live into the promises of God.  That when we care for others, he will bless us.  To work on the significance of your legacy.

The truth is, we’ve all received from those who have gone before.  And we are all passing on to those who will follow.  I want my passing on to be significant.  So, I am going to claim the promises as I work into God’s concern.

How about you?  How about you?

Legacy, Part 1

November 5, 2017

Deuteronomy 8: 12-18

There is an old Rabbinic story about a group of mountain climbers who dreamed of reaching the peak of a very tall mountain.  For years they trained, practicing in harsh conditions, scaling smaller mountains.  Until the day finally came and they were ready.  Supplied with essentials and filled with excitement, they set out for the long climb.  And after many difficult days, the group finally reached the summit!  They were so excited!  They had reached their goal!  They had fulfilled their dreams!  They had just begun congratulating one another when, to their surprise, they saw a young boy sitting nearby on a rock.  Shocked, they demanded to know how HE got there?  They had trained for years to scale the mountain.  They wanted to know – how was it possible for HIM?  To which the boy said – I was born on the mountain!

According to Rabbi Mendy Wolf, the point of the story is this.  Each of us has been born on the top of a mountain.  We have each been given unique talents and capabilities.  Each of us has been enabled to reach heights that others have to work hard to attain – if they can attain them at all.  And it would be easy for us to pat ourselves on the back for our achievements.  To take pride in a job well done.  And say it’s well deserved.  But we need to remember we have been given a head start.  We have each received a lead.  And that our efforts are really built upon the gifts we have already been given.

It’s All Saints’ Sunday.  Today we acknowledge and celebrate those whose faith have given us a head start so to speak.  Men and women who have blessed us in Christ and enabled us to reach heights that we would not reach on our own.  The Sunday School teacher that introduced us to Jesus.  The family member who loved us in such a way that God’s love became real to us.  The friend who shared their wisdom and their strength.  The colleague that encouraged us so that we were able to persevere through the difficulties of life.  My brothers and sisters our presence this morning is not entirely of our own doing.  So, this morning we’re going to begin a new series on Legacy.

And better yet – what legacy are you leaving?  According to the second source of all knowledge – Google – legacy isn’t just about money or property.  Legacy can be any number of things transmitted from an ancestor or predecessor.  Like the legacy of wisdom from ancient philosophers.  Or the legacy of pain and suffering from a war.  What legacy are you passing on to your family?  Is it a legacy of faith?  Is it a legacy of generosity?  Or is it a legacy of self-sufficiency?  Or a legacy of pride?  Each and every one of us is leaving a legacy.  What will yours be?

This morning we are going to begin a new series on Legacy.  By legacy, I don’t mean money or property.  The source of all knowledge, Google, says, “Legacy can be any number of things that are passed down from our predecessors or ancestors.  Think of the legacy of wisdom of the great philosophers.  Think of the legacy of suffering from a previous war.  The truth is, we’ve all received a legacy from our ancestors.  And we are all passing on a legacy to those who follow us.  The real question is what kind of legacy will it be?  Will it be a legacy of faith or a legacy of pride?  Will it be a legacy of self-interest or a legacy of generosity?

I am going to Take your Bibles and turn with me to the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.  Chapter 8.  We will start reading in verse 10.  Moses and the Israelites have come to the end of their 40-year camping trip.  For the second time, they stand on the edge of the Promised Land.  And Moses calls the people together with some last-minute instructions.  He says – for forty years we ate manna in the wilderness.  Forty years of manna morning, noon and night.  Day after day, manna cakes for breakfast and manicotti for dinner.  But now you are entering a land flowing with milk and honey.  You will have figs and pomegranates and wheat and barley.  And when you are filled, there is something you will need to remember.  Something you must not forget!

Let’s see what it is as we read Deuteronomy 8:10 – 16.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

My great Uncle Cecil was the youngest of 6 children.  He had a very difficult childhood.  My great grandfather was an alcoholic.  And while he doted on his eldest three children, he neglected and beat his youngest three.  Turns out, it was good to fall early in the birth order in our family.  Though I am not even sure how great that was.  Uncle Cecil’s oldest brother Roy ran away from home at 16 and was never heard from again.  When he became old enough, Uncle Cecil joined the army.  And as World War Two progressed he shipped out to Africa (pic 1).  He wasn’t there very long before he was severely wounded.  He would suffer from those wounds until the day he died.  This left him with a hatred for anyone who wasn’t American and a deep disdain for God.  After the war, he and his wife Laura settled in East St. Louis where they ran a liquor store – working long hours 7 days a week until they amassed a small fortune and retired to Vermont.

We went to visit them one winter.  Don’t get me wrong.  Vermont in winter is a beautiful place.  But it’s a bit on the cold side.  The Vermont winters are so cold that when someone spills hot coffee on you, you thank them.  It gets so cold that when you milk the cows – you get ice cream!  To make matters worse, Uncle Cecil didn’t heat his house.  He was that cheap.  He wouldn’t even tip his hat.  He and Aunt Laura had one fireplace in the living room that they lit during the day.  I spent the entire visit shivering.

One morning, Uncle Cecil pulled out an envelope and waved it at my dad.  He said – this is a check for half a million dollars.  If I were to give it to you, what would you do with it?  I was thinking – buy a furnace!  Hello!  But my father said that first, he would pay taxes on it.  This was a big no-no with Uncle Cecil.  Unreported income was yours to keep.  And second dad said he would tithe on it.  Which lit my uncle up!  Why in the world would dad do that when God had let Uncle Cecil get shot in Africa?  I don’t know how the conversation ended.  I just remember that the visit to Vermont didn’t last long after that.  I later found out that Uncle Cecil wasn’t really going to give that check to my father.  He was interviewing his relatives one by one to see if they were worthy of being the recipient of his will.  In the end Uncle Cecil died a very lonely man with very large bank account.  He never was able to figure out that the accumulation of much does not mean much happiness.

Two legacies.  One of bitterness and loneliness.  And another of generosity and honesty.  It made a huge impression on me as a child.  And it continues to inform the legacy I am leaving today.  What about you?  Whose legacy has shaped your values?  Whose legacy has influenced your life? How are you passing it on to others?  What will your legacy be?

In our passage today, Moses says to the Israelites – when you have eaten and are satisfied.  Kneel as an act of adoration and praise to God.  Giving thanks for the good things He has bestowed on you.  Do this as a way of guarding yourself.  Of taking care of yourself.  Because if you don’t you will wind up elevating your heart.  You will take credit for the wealth and the prosperity you have.  And you will become proud.  And you will forget the source of your deliverance.

In other words, we must remember that we are building upon gifts we have been given.  Moses goes so far as to say our very well being depends on it.  He even suggests that the reason God blesses us in the first place is to help us remember.  It’s so important to remember. It’s not the prosperity that lies at the heart of the matter, it’s the perspective on the prosperity.  It’s not the blessing that’s the center of the matter, it’s the remembering of the source of the blessing.  If we want to leave behind us life and help and gratitude and generosity we’ve got to remember the source of our blessing.

By the way, how do God blessings make us humble?  Did you see that in the text?  They make us humble by creating awareness of our needs.  And how we are dependent upon another who is greater than we are.  John Wesley put it this way.  The mercies of God, if duly considered, are as powerful a mean to humble us as the greatest afflictions, because they increase our debts to God, and manifest our dependence upon him, and by making God great, they make us little in our own eyes.  (

So how do we maintain this attitude of gratefulness?  How do we sustain this legacy of gratefulness?  How do we keep from losing sight of the one true source?  How do we perpetuate that legacy of gratitude?   The answer, I think, lies in the little things.

I saw an article this week by a former Navy commander of Seal Team 3.  His name is Jocko Willink (pic 2).  He is a tough looking dude, isn’t he?  He’s a corporate lecturer and he has just written a new book called – Discipline Equals Freedom (pic 3).  He shares five simple habits that everyone can engage in in the next 24 hours to the benefit of their well-being, their health, and their career.  Specifically, he shares five simple habits anyone can adopt in the next 24 hours for the benefit of their well-being, health, and career.  Things like getting up early.  And laying out your gym clothes the night before.  Not exactly profound – right.  Here I was expecting some nugget of wisdom from one of our nation’s top warriors.  And Instead I got take power naps.  Not exactly profound, right?

But on the other hand, the little things can make a difference.  Not just in our career.  But also in our faith.  Things like regularly taking communion.  There is something powerful about coming to the table and receive the grace of God, the one who created the universe. There is something intriguing about a love that is so sacrificial in seeking, that he would give up his only son.  It reminds us that we stand in need of the power and the wisdom and the healing that come with God’s presence.  The means of grace or the ways of grace of communion.  Or taking three minutes each morning before you get out of bed to give thanks to God for all His goodness that awaits.  Start the day with gratitude.  It lays the table, it sets the foundation. It sets the perspective. It gets the subconscious going to be able to see God’s hand even in the most difficult circumstances. Or the practice of generosity.  Paying it forward out of the prosperity that we’ve received.  Sharing a meal with someone who’s hungry or supporting the training of a young adult half way around the world so they can sustain their family.  Or participating in the financial need of a neighbor.  There is something about being generous that helps us remember to hold on to it loosely and that when we participate in it we literally take on the characteristic of God who is generous.

This week I challenge you, in some tangible way, to demonstrate your recognition you’re building upon the gifts you’ve already been given.  To worship, or through prayer or through generosity, to remember the source of your gifts.  To not wait for gratitude to come and find you but to change your approach.

There is a quote from St John of the Cross that comes to mind.  He said – to come to the possession of what you have not.  You must go by in a way that you possess not.  I wish Uncle Cecil had recognized that.  He probably wouldn’t have died so alone.  He may have even heated his house.  Truth is, we have all received from those who have gone before.  Each one of us is passing on to those a legacy to those who come.  The key to a legacy of gratitude, of generosity of life is to recognize we were born on a mountain.  We were given gifts which we have built.  The key is to remember the source.  So, I am going to remember.

How about you?  How about you?

Grateful, Part 1

October 8, 2017

Exodus 17:1-7

So, this past June, I took some time away from the office to do some planning and to map out my sermon topics for the rest of 2017.  So, I rented a room at the Life Enrichment Center which is across the street from the Warren Willis youth camp in Leesburg, FL. During the day, I would study and I would plan.  And at night I walk over and enjoy the worship at the youth camp.  One night, the praise band there, sang a contemporary version of the hymn we just sang, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.  I think it was by Mumford and Sons.  “Come Thou Fount of every blessing, tune thy heart to sing thy grace.  Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.”

The hymn was originally written in 1757 by Robert Robinson.  Robert’s father died when he was 8.  His mother indentured him off to a barber in London when he was 14.  Within a year, he had become a member of notorious gang, feared for its violence.  And then one evening, he and his friends decided to go to a meeting of Methodists and make fun of them.  The preacher that night was George Whitfield.  And in like many of the preachers of that era, Whitfield was preaching on the Wrath to Come.  Through the message the Holy Spirit convicted Robert.  For three years he wrestled with God’s call.  Until at the age of 20, he professed faith in Christ and was appointed by John Wesley as the lay preacher at the Methodist chapel in Suffolk.  Two years later, he wrote Come Thou Fount out of gratitude for his salvation in Christ. (

So, I heard the hymn at the worship service.  I knew that I wanted to preach a sermon series on gratitude and being grateful to God for the blessings in our lives.  According to a recent article in Psychology Today, studies show that gratitude improves our physical and mental health, it helps us sleep better, improves our self-esteem and opens the door to new relationships.  Furthermore, gratitude makes us more optimistic, reduces materialism and makes us more likeable.  (

The Bible, as we know, is full of verses about giving thanks.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances.  This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and give thanks in it – Psalm 118:24.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him – Colossians 3:17.  Clearly, gratitude is good for us.  And gratitude is to be a part of our lives as a follower of Jesus.

So, I had this idea that I would preach this series on gratitude and I would use the hymn as the framework for the series.  It’s a powerful hymn.  And it has some unique phrases that we don’t hear very often.  Phrases like, goodness like a fetter.  Praise the mount.  And raise my Ebenezer. What’s an Ebenezer?  My thought was to take a different one each week and unpack its meaning.  And in doing so create an association that would trigger gratitude each time we sing the song.  Sort of like a modern-day way of hiding God’s word in our heart.  My plan was to start with the title itself – “Come thou fount of every blessing”.  Thou being God.  And fount being a spring or fountain.

But then there was this storm called Harvey that left tens of thousands of victims suffering in his wake. Two weeks later Hurricane Irma, now considered to be the costliest hurricane in US history.  That’s not even talking about the islands like Barbuda which were destroyed.  Nine days later, hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rica.  Our brothers and sisters are still fighting for survival there.  And then just last week the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.  All in six weeks.  It’s overwhelming to think about.  I confess that I struggle to not feel numb towards it all.

So here is the challenge.  How do we find gratitude in a season of devastation?  How do as followers of Jesus practice gratitude in light of the pain and suffering of the last six weeks?  That’s our challenge today.  So, take your Bibles and turn with me to the Old Testament book of Exodus.  Chapter 17.  We will be reading verses 1 – 7.

This is one of those passages of scripture where knowing its context is particularly important for understanding its message.  In this case, the Israelites are 38 days into their wilderness camping trip.  Just 5 weeks before, God’s Spirit had passed over the land of Egypt and claimed the life of every firstborn who was not protected by the blood of a lamb on the doorpost.  Pharaoh had changed his mind.  And as they left, their former neighbors had filled the Israelites’ pockets with their gold and their jewelry.  When Pharaoh came after his former slaves with chariots, God parted the seas and allowed his people to escape on dry ground.  When they were hungry, God provided bread like dew every morning.  And when they tired of manna, God rained down quail for them.  All this happens 5 weeks before our passage this morning.  This is the context.  With that in mind, let’s read Exodus 17:1-17.

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”  Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”  But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”  Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”  The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb.  Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So, Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah[a] and Meribah[b] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  Exodus 17:1-7

So, scholars are not exactly sure where the desert of sin is.  Its name doesn’t provide any clues.  Sin does not refer to sinfulness.  Rather it is a Hebrew word that translates something like moon.  Most bible scholars suspect that was located in the along the Red Sea in the southwest corner of the Sinai Peninsula.  But all they really know is that it was in the vicinity of Mount Sinai.

Regardless of its exact location, the thirst of the Israelites is understandable.  There is limited water in the desert.  Put 2.4 million men, women and children in a desert and there are going to be some very thirsty people.  Consequently, their fear is understandable.  In the harsh conditions of the desert, it only takes hours to die not weeks.  In their fear, they begin to grumble.  And then to argue.  And blame.  And finally, they wonder if God even cares at all or even with them.  All those mighty acts of deliverance is a distant memory.  The Passover, the plundering of Egypt, the parting of the sea, the manna and the quail – forgotten.  Two days is forever when you have nothing to drink, let alone 5 weeks.

Which makes Israel’s presence in the wilderness all that more poignant.  They are not there by chance.  They are there because they have been led there.  They have literally followed God into the desert. Verse 1 says – the whole community of Israel left the desert of sin, moved from place to place as the Lord commanded it.  Turns out, that wandering in the desert is a part of God’s plan all along.

As students of the Bible we know that the desert is one of those places where the children of God wind up sooner or later.  Abraham spent time in the desert.  God called him to pack up the tent, load up the camel and leave for a land God would show him.  That land God would show him was on the other side of the desert.  And Elijah spent time in the desert.  Running for his life he hides in a cave in the face of cliff.  Only to encounter God in the quietness after a storm.  We read in Galatians that after his encounter with Christ, Paul goes into the desert of Arabia for three years.  We don’t know why.  We are just told he does.  Of course, Jesus spent time in the desert.  It was the very first place he went after being baptized, he was led into the wilderness to be tempted. Evidently, the desert is one of those places where the children of God find themselves sooner or later.

And that means we will spend time in the desert too. By that I don’t mean the sand and the sun kind of desert.  But a place where you begin to wonder if God has left you.  Or if God has forgotten you.  It could be a time in your life when you are really afraid.  Or a time of resounding anger.  Or time when you get really sad.  Or time when you worry.  Maybe your friend will be hurtful to you.  Or your partner will want a divorce.  Or you or someone you love will become very ill.  Or you will lose your job.  These are all places where we all wind up.  Each and every one of us goes through difficult things in life – sooner or later we all find ourselves in the desert.  I ask you this morning – when was the last time you wondered if God was with you?  When was the last time you worried that God had forgotten you?

My first take away from our passage is that we all spend time in the desert.  My second is that God does some of His best work in the desert. In the desert, God restores. In the desert God redeems.  Verse 6,  I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb.  Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.”

When Joni Eareckson Tada was 17, she severed her spine in a diving accident.  She misjudged the shallowness of the water in Chesapeake Bay and consequently was paralyzed from the shoulders down.  In the years that followed she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and questions about God.  But then she learned to paint with a brush between her teeth.  And she began selling her artwork.  Then she learned to write.  And to date she has written over 50 books.  She has been inducted into the Christian Bookseller’s hall of honor.  She has recorded several albums, given inspirational talks, starred in a movie and advocated for the disabled.

, Joni Erickson Tada reflects on how we tend to worry that the cares, troubles, and afflictions of life will wear us down, dulling our joy, diluting our hope, and robbing us of the radiance we once experienced as believers.  Instead she said she found the opposite to be true.  That it is the careless ease, empty pride and earthly preoccupations that put layers of film over our souls.  And not the trials and tribulations.

In one of those books, A Place of Healing, she shares about a visit she made to Notre Dame Cathedral while in Paris. It was a place she always wanted to go.  A place she always dreamed of.  She found a way to get to the Cathedral and she was surprised to find it so dirty.  Hundreds of years of soot, dust and smoke had covered it in a layer of black grime.  She could barely make out the carvings and details on the outside and she was so disappointed.  But then the cathedral underwent a year-long renovation.  During which the entire exterior was sandblasted.  When it was finished the ancient stones gleamed.  Carving details that hadn’t been seen for decades were now visible.  It was like a new cathedral.

She goes on to draw a comparison of the Cathedral’s renovation to God’s renovation of our lives in the desert.  How God uses our troubles to sandblast away the layers of veneer that we cover ourselves in.  She says that there is nothing like real hardships to strip off the veneer we cloak ourselves in.  Heartache has a way of stripping away years of accumulated indifference and neglect.  Affliction has a way of loosening our grip on everything we hold tightly.  And stripping us down to the basics. So, God can fill us up again.  This is the work that God does in the desert.  This is what he’s doing in those dry places.   Joni Eareckson Tada, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty (David Cook, 2010), pp. 86-87; submitted by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky

Maybe you are new to this faith thing.   Maybe you are just learning about what it means to follow Christ.  And it surprises you to learn that God’s people can wind up in the desert even when they are doing what God says.  Don’t be put off from your quest.  Remember that God never abandons His children.  Especially in the wilderness.  God is right there with them.  In the case of the Israelites, He sets up a portable camper, a tabernacle, and lives right there in the middle of God’s people.  So, he loves there among the people where he guides and directs and heals and provides.  So that they are able to overcome anything that they encounter.  Or perhaps you are fairly new in your commitment to Jesus.  At first it was exciting.  At first there was this energy and it was awesome.  But lately, if you tell the truth, it’s been kind of dry. You’re in a spiritually dry place and you’re discouraged.  Take courage. Do not give up. Do not give up because God does his very best work in the desert.  As Christians, we don’t always want to hear that.  We tend to focus on the scriptures about freedom and rest for our souls and green pastures (The Dusty Ones, Swoboda, p. 70).  We are very interested in following Christ to an upgraded version of our current life.  One that is smoother, easier and improved.  But that is not God’s plan.  He doesn’t want to just tinker with our old lives.  He doesn’t want to keep us in our situation in Egypt.  He calls us to a completely new life.  You were taught, in regards to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on your new self, created to be like Him in true righteousness and holiness Ephesians 4:22-23.

We all spend time in the desert.  God does some of His best work there.  Look for God’s grace at work.

In our passage this morning, God shows up in a comical way.  He has Moses tap a rock.  And somehow, Moses just happens to hit it at the right spot.  Where water is just beneath the surface.  And up comes the bubbling liquid.  Like Moses is some sort of ancient Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies.  Oil that is.  Black gold.  Texas tea.  You know that when water comes out of a rock in the dry desert that God is at work.

With storms, it’s different.  Of course, God doesn’t cause hurricanes.  But He isn’t absent from them either.  You can look for his work of grace. You see it in the courage of the first responders in the rescue of the trapped.  In the sharing of resources between neighbors.  In the shelter and food and water given to its victims.  You see it in the sharing of resources among neighbors.  And certainly, God is not the source of mass shootings.  But God is in the midst of the chaos and destruction.  You see his grace in the comfort shown to a stranger.  In the hands of the doctors and nurses who repair the broken bodies.  In the outpouring of blood donations for those who need it.  God is in the storm! The key is to look for it.  You want to know how we hold gratitude and suffering together?  We intentionally and persistently look for the grace of God at work.

I saw a story this week about Bert and John Jacobs – the two brothers who cofounded the Life is Good t-shirt company.  They grew up the youngest of six children in a lower middle-class family in Boston.  When they were in elementary school, their parents were nearly killed in a car accident.  Their mother fully recovered.  Their father lost the use of his right hand.  And the stress and frustration caused him to develop a harsh temper.  John writes, that after that, there were difficult things happening around the house.  But their mom still believed life was good.  So, every night as they sat around the dinner table, she would ask her six kids to tell her something good that happened that day.  And as simple as that was, it changed the energy in the room.  The boys said that before they knew it, they were all riffing on the best, funniest and most bizarre part of their day.


This week I challenge you to identify two things each day where you see God’s grace at work.  And then to give thanks for it.  It might involve sharing around the dinner table about the best part of your day like the Jacobs family.  Or write in a journal all the good things that come across your life.  I read one story about a guy who said a prayer of thanks for God’s blessing every time he came across a wayward penny on the ground.  Over 40 years he wound up collecting $5,136.14.  The point is to develop a trigger that will bring about an awareness of God’s grace.  To put in place a system that prod you to look around for God’s presence.  To have this way of remembering and giving thanks to God who is the fount of every blessing.

It will improve your health.  It will help you sleep better.  It will make you more likeable.  Gratitude is a critical part of the life of a disciple.  This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. So, I am going to look for God’s grace at work and I’m going to give him thanks even in the desert.

How about you?  How about you?

Come to the Table

Panua Sunday

October 1, 2017

Matthew 26: 17-30

When I traveled to Kenya this summer, I had the opportunity to take along several of my colleagues in ministry so that their churches could also see and experience this wonderful ministry of hope. As well as to go with several members of this church, particularly Carol Smith and Larry Brown who have been instrumental in the development of this. Even a bigger treat is we were able to take several young ladies from our church family.  One of these ladies was Katie Cornelius.  I was quickly impressed with her love for the people, her gentle spirit, and her strength in leading others.  I am very excited that she is coming today to share with you her perspective of Panua.  (Katie speaks)

 (Back to David):  So, on my trip to England last year, to learn more about the history of our denomination, while I was there, I was able to do something pretty cool!  I got to drink out of a 300-year-old cup!  Well, it was at least 300 years old.  For all I know, it’s been around even longer.  Which means it was actually in use before the Revolutionary War!  How many things do we have in America that are still in use from 30 years ago, much less 300 years ago?  A few churches, a couple of hospitals and universities have been around since the Revolutionary War.  But not much else.

Would it sound more exciting if I told you that the 300-year-old cup was a chalice?  And that I got to drink out of it for Holy Communion?  Drinking the blood of Christ from a 300-year-old chalice takes on a whole new level of profound that you just can’t get from those little plastic cups!  Even better, the chalice was the chalice Samuel Wesley used as a pastor in his church in Epworth, England (pic 1).  Samuel Wesley was John Wesley’s father.  And John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement.  He was born in Epworth.  Called it his favorite place in the world.  In other words, I drank out of the same communion cup as John Wesley!  That’s like a hockey player hoisting the Stanley cup!  Or a NASCAR fan driving Jimmy Johnson’s race car!  We are talking Methodist pastor holy grail!

When you drink out of Samuel Wesley’s 300-year-old chalice, you can’t help but reflect on the thousands of Christian brothers and sisters who have done that very same thing with that very same cup on that very same spot.  The tens of thousands of Jesus followers who used a similar cup to take the same meal through the ages. There is something profound about it. To take the same cup as Peter and Andrew, James and John, Paul and Augustine, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa.  To participate in the same meal as a great cloud of witnesses was both humbling and moving.  Like I said, I got to do something really cool when I went to England last summer.

Now, even though we don’t have Wesley’s chalice with us today, they wouldn’t let me keep it, that won’t keep us from participating in the profound.  We can still experience the significance and the anticipation.  Because today is World Communion Sunday.  Today we come to the table with millions upon millions of brothers and sisters in Christ.  Today we share in the same meal as the great saints that have gone before and the great saints that are to come.

But before we do, I want to look at the very first communion.  So, if you’ll take your Bibles and turn to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26.  We will start reading at verse 17.  Jesus has gathered his disciples for the Passover Seder.  If you have ever had the opportunity to participate in a Passover Seder – you know that it is basically a meal arranged around the story of God delivering His people from slavery in Egypt.  And in particular, that first Passover when the Spirt of God passed over the land and claimed the lives of every first-born son – except for those who had put the blood of a lamb upon the doorposts of their home.  At the Passover Seder, among other things, participants drink wine and eat unleavened bread and reflect upon the lamb that was slain that that they may live.  In the same way, as we partake in Holy Communion we eat the bread and we drink the cup in recognition that we have been set free because of the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross.  In 1 Corinthians 5:7 it says – Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.  With that in mind, let’s read Matthew 26:17-30.

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

So, two words that really jump out at me from our passage this morning.  And the first is that word TAKE.  26 …and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “TAKE and eat; this is my body.” 

When we TAKE something, we lay hold of it.  We grab it.  We don’t give it.  We receive it.  TAKE means that God is the giver and we are the recipients.  So that the focus at the Table of Christ is not on what we bring.  And it is not upon what we do.  Likewise, the heart of communion does not lie within our worthiness or how prepared we are.  Or how worthy we are.  Or even how well we understand or our faithfulness. The heart of communion lies on what God gives.  And what God gives is the very presence of Christ.  He re-presents the presence of Christ.  Now the bread and the cup represent Christ but they re-present His grace.  His love, healing and power to us.  That is why we as United Methodists we talk about communion to be a means of grace!  We say that the Lord’s Supper is a vehicle that God uses to impart His grace to us!  So that this morning as we take the bread and dip it into the cup we will remember the amazing love of God that led His Son to the cross and beyond the grave.  And we anticipate the future of Christ and when we’ll break bread with him in the future kingdom and most of all, we’ll take into ourselves, we’ll receive into ourselves God’s grace.  The very thing that saves us, the very thing that sustains us, the love, the power, the healing that comes from His presence.  I ask you this morning, when you come to the communion table, what do you expect to receive?  Will you take what God gives?  Are you hungry for his saving grace?

In 1997, journalist Jon Krakauer released his best-selling book, “Into Thin Air” (pic 2).  In it he documented his climb to the summit of Mt Everest on May 10th, 1996.  And how, on that fateful day, eight people died from a blizzard that moved in and brought 70 mile-an hour winds and blinding snow to the highest place on earth.  Jon was one of 34 climbers.  Because of the large number, they needed to head down off the mountain by 2 pm in order to make it safely down to base camp.    They had been delayed for hours as the Sherpa’s fixed the ropes.  And the sheer number of climbers had slowed everything down to a crawl, creating something of a traffic jam at 29,000 feet.  So, at 3 pm, there were still two dozen climbers waiting to reach the summit.  As a result, many of them stayed too long and were caught by the storm.  One of them was a climbing guide by the name of Andy Harris.  He remained behind to help other climbers down off the summit and he stayed too long.  Finally, as he began to descend he ran out of oxygen. Disoriented and confused, he became convinced that portable oxygen canisters left by other climbers were empty.  When in fact they were not.  Consequently, he walked away from the very thing that would save his life.  He was last seen heading back towards the summit.

So, I reread the article and it occurred to me that God’s grace is like oxygen to our souls.  Without it, we cannot sustain ourselves spiritually.  Without it we grow dazed and confused about the reality of God’s presence in our lives and we turn away from the very thing that saves us.  What I am trying to say is, Come to the Table today.  Take what God gives you as if your very faith depends on it.

The second word that stands out is ALL.   27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, ALL of you. 28 This is my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Some churches have what is called a closed communion table.  That means that only members of that church can participate.  Others have what is known as a close communion table.  Meaning other members of the denomination may participate.  Both churches that have a closed and a close communion table are focused upon the status of the one that takes communion making sure the person at the altar rail understands and embraces the significance of what they are doing.  God is holy.  It’s not in God’s nature to be in unholy. So, the one who comes must be joined to Christ and made holy, in the sight of God, through Christ’s sacrifice.  Some churches limit those they invite, those they believe are in Christ.

Other churches have an open communion table.  That means they invite all Christians to participate.  In the United Methodist Church, we have open communion table.  In fact, we go even farther and say that you don’t have to be a Christian to come to the communion table. That all are welcome.  We say that in part because we know salvation is a gift and not something we earn or deserve.  Not by works of righteousness by what we have done, but in according to his mercy he saved us, Romans 6:23.  In part because we know God wants all people to come to him.  1 Peter 3:9 says that God is not slow as some say, but is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to return to repentance.  But most of all, we have this open table where all are welcome because we know the point of communion is receiving the gift of God’s grace.  It doesn’t matter your gender.  It doesn’t matter your age.  It doesn’t matter your sexuality.  It doesn’t matter your religion.  It doesn’t matter your nationality.  It doesn’t matter your economic status.  It’s not how worth you are.  It’s not how much you understand of it.  It’s not even how faithful you are.  You are welcome, there are no barriers between you and God’s grace.  To paraphrase the author Jan Richardson, a friend of ours who lives here:  The table is wide.  The welcome is wide, and open wide are the arms that will gather us in.

Perhaps the symbol that sticks out the most, the image that speaks to me this morning is this cup (show cup).  This cup is less than three years old.  Not three hundred years old like Wesley’s chalice. It’s not made out of medal but made out of wood.  But it’s just as significant.  Like the cup I drank out of in England, it’s not from around here.  You have to take a 17-hour plane ride to find one of these.  It’s made of mahogany wood and carved with beautiful images of God’s creation.  It was given to us by our brothers and sisters at Trinity United Methodist Church in Naivasha, Kenya (pic 3).  They wanted to express their love and appreciation for us.  And to acknowledge the common bond we have in Christ Jesus.  I can hardly think of a more powerful way to do it.  Today as we come to the table, they too will be coming to the very same table – just way down towards the other end.  Our communion table is wide.  It has seats for all the saints who have gone before.  And its long – more than 8000 miles long!

I don’t know about you, but that gives me hope in a world that is increasingly fragmented.  In a world that is increasingly focused on self-interests and self-fulfillment.  I am encouraged to be a part of something greater, bigger, and more profound than just me.  To have very grace of God as close as a communion table gives me strength.  So I am going to come and I am going to take.  How about you?  How about you?

Being a People of The Book, Part 5

Teaching the Bible to Children

September 24, 2017

Deuteronomy 11:  18-21

In 2009 Ugly Kid Joe released his remake of the hit song “Cats in the Cradle”.  In case you are not a fan, Ugly Kid Joe is a heavy metal band from California (Pic 1).  It has toured with Ozzy Osbourne and Def Leppard.  Not the first band that comes to mind when remaking folk rock.  The original “Cats in the Cradle” was written in 1974 by Harry Chapin (Pic 2).   It’s a song about a father who is too busy with work to spend time with his son.  And though the son keeps asking his dad to spend time together, the father always responds with a vague promise of doing something later.  Chapin said the song was about his relationship with his own son Josh at that frankly, it scared him to death.  Recognize this (play the chorus)?  And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon.  Little boy blue and the man in the moon!  When you coming home, dad don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son – you know we’ll have a good time then.  Do you remember how the song ends?  The son grows up and moves away.  And the father calls him and says I’d love to see you.  And the son says – I’d love to dad if I could find the time.  The new job’s a hassle and the kids got the flu.  But it sure nice talking to you.  And as the father hangs up the phone it occurs to him that his son has grown up just like him.

I share that with you because today we are going to talk about one of those areas in life where we can have a profound influence on our children and grandchildren.  Whether we do it intentionally or not, the way we value and approach the Word of God deeply affects the way our children and grandchildren value and approach the Word of God.  Several weeks ago, we started this series on being a people of the book.  We had a little interruption for Irma.  But today we are going to return to the series for one last time and look at the Bible and children.

But before we begin – two things.  First, I offer these comments with a good bit of trepidation.  There’s an old story about an expert in child psychology who traveled around giving a lecture called “Ten Commandments for Parents.”  Then he got married and became a father.  And he changed the title of the lecture to “Ten Suggestions for Parents.”  When a second child arrived, the lecture became ‘Some Hints for Parents.”  After the third child was born, the man stopped lecturing altogether.  Clearly, I am not an expert.  Just ask my children.

Second, my message isn’t just for parents, or for grandparents.  It’s for everyone.  We all have children and young people in our lives.  They are members of our family and our extended family.  They live in our neighborhoods.  We coach them in sports, lead them in scouts, teach them in school and serve them in community organizations.  We’ve all been given children in our lives.  And that’s ESPECIALLY true if you are a part of the church!  There will be hundreds of children and youth on our campus today.  Between 9 and 11 you will see them in the breezeway, in the courtyard, in the parking lot and in the Wesley Sunday school building.  As followers of Jesus we have been charged by God to care for hundreds of spiritual children and grandchildren – physically, emotionally and spiritually!

So, take your Bibles and turn with me to the old testament book of Deuteronomy chapter 11.  We will begin reading in verse 18.  Charlton Heston and the Israelites have come to the end of their 40-year camping trip.  They have crossed the Wilderness and gathered to the edge of the Promised Land.  And Moses stands to address the people.   He recognizes that most of those before him were born after they left Egypt.  Most of them did not know what it was like to be a slave.  Very few had witnessed God’s deliverance through the Sea.  And he knows he is not going with them.  So, he wants to impart some hard-earned advice.  And in some of the last words he is to share, he reminds them to be faithful to God.  He calls on them to obey God’s commands.  And to follow other gods.  He wants them to experience the fullness of God’s blessing.  This is the context for what we are going to read.  Deuteronomy 11:18-21.

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

So, as I was preparing this week, I learned about mezuzahs.  Anybody here know what a mezuzah is?  A mezuzah is basically a little box of scripture (Pic 3).  There is a piece of parchment with a Bible verse on it – usually the Great Shema or prayer from Deuteronomy 11:13. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”  And there is its decorative case which is nailed to the doorpost of your home.  Evidently, mezuzahs developed out of the exodus – when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt.  And in particular, from the 10th plague, when the angel of the Lord passed over the land of Egypt and claimed the life every firstborn son.  Except for those families who had marked their doorposts or mezuzahs with the blood of a lamb (

Because of their history, devout Jews believe that mezuzahs bring protection to those who touch them as they enter and leave their home (Pic 4).  For them, God’s Word is life.  God’s word is power.  God’s Word is healing.  So, to keep God’s Word before you is to be connected to God’s life and power and healing.  In addition, Orthodox Jews have Mezuzahs attached to their doorpost to remind them that Judaism is not confined to the synagogue.  True faith is portable.  So, Jews use the mezuzah on the doorpost to remind them that God’s Word goes with them wherever they go.  This is an important opportunity to reflect, and think, and remember.

As Christians, we have similar practices we wear bracelets on our wrists with the initials WWJD.  “What Would Jesus Do.”  Others wear a cross on a chain around their neck.  Still others put up a Scripture verse in their home.  I heard a story this week Garrison Keillor tells the story about the time when he first received permission to take his date in the family car, alone!  He discovered (upon parking) that his mother had taped Bible verses at key places throughout the car, including Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death”!  (

Now I am guessing that most of us don’t put a Mezuzah outside our door and I haven’t seen a lot of WWJD bracelets lately. But that’s okay.  Because there are other ways we hold up God’s Scripture in front of us.  Other ways we show God is a priority in our life.  For example, we demonstrate the importance of God’s Word in the amount of time and energy we spend in it individually and in community.  When I was growing up, my father spent hours each week teaching me how to play soccer.  In the beginning, it was rolling the ball to me over and over until I learned to kick it with strength and accuracy.  Then it was tossing the ball high up in the air – again and again.  So, I that I learned to direct the ball.  First with my feet.  And then with my chest.  And then with my head.  In the early years, we would head to back yard every night after dinner to play.  As I got older, he became one of the coaches of my soccer team.  If we weren’t going to practice or a game, we would watch a match on TV or take in a game at Soldier Field.  By the time high school rolled around he became my personal chauffer and drove me all over creation and back so I could play soccer.  Just from the time and energy he invested it was pretty clear that soccer was important to him and a priority.

Since, then I have come to appreciate what my father did.  I’ve repeated some of that history.  It’s a rite of passage for us as parents or grandparents to pass down a love of sport or of music or of art to our children.  We want them to experience the joy and experience and comradery, the confidence we were able to enjoy.  Which begs the question – how are we passing on a passion for God’s Word?

When I was growing up, each morning I would come down the stairs and find my father in his living room chair reading his Bible.  He wasn’t flashy about it.  He didn’t do it to be noticed.  It was the way he began his day.  It was clearly a priority for him.  I knew it was important to him.  My parents were always in a small group that studied the Bible and prayed together.  Bible study night became a part of our family calendar.  It was a greater priority for my parents than almost anything else.  They wanted us to know that.  One of the reasons we at FUMC are continually inviting you to become a part of a small community group is we want our children to be blessed.  Certainly, it is one of the best tools to help us grow in the likeness of Christ.  Absolutely, it is invaluable in finding others to share the journey with.  But being in a small community group is also speaks volumes of the value of God’s Word to children.  There will be spiritual children and grandchildren you will interact with through your small community group.  The children and grandchildren of friends and neighbors that you will pray for.  Children and young people who will see that the word of God is a priority.

I ask you this morning – How important is God’s Word to you?  How frequently do people see it in your life? How much of it do your children or grandchildren see in your life?  If others were asked about your priorities – would it be included?  Where does it rank compared to sports, entertainment or hobbies?

My challenge this week is to identify your mezuzah.  By that I don’t mean something to hang on your wall.  Picking that practice, that will make scripture more of a priority.  It might be committing to going to Sunday school as a family.  It could be watching through the Bible series together and discussing it.  It might be memorizing a Bible verse a week and sharing it.  And rewarding children who also memorize it.  It might be reading the Bible together several nights a week.  It might be volunteering to help teach a children’s or youth small community group or helping out at the preschool or helping out at VBS.  The truth is we all have one or two adults that introduced the Scriptures to us.  Or frankly we wouldn’t be here.  I would guess that most of us could point out one or two adults outside of our immediate family who influenced us Spiritually.  One or two adults who brought the scripture alive to us or we wouldn’t be here.  A teacher, a youth worker, a coach, a pastor, a baby-sitter, a neighbor, a family friend who demonstrated the importance of God’s Word to them.  Are you passing it on?  Are you continuing the chain, helping others realize the beauty of God’s word?

How will you show the importance of Scripture to children?  What will be your mezuzah?  The Bible says that when we put God’s Word on our doorposts so to speak, where we put it out and touch it – we will be blessed!  20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 SO THAT your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the of heavens are above the earth.  18:52

Unfortunately, many of us are afraid to ever take that step.  Many of us are afraid to put scripture out here in our lives. Usually because we don’t want to be asked something we can’t answer.  In our culture, we have this thing about being an expert.  Which is great in business but is a terrible thing to model when it comes to God’s Word.  Because if I have to have a handle on things and be a master of the scripture before I talk about the Bible.  Either I am more concerned with my comfort level than I am about my own learning.  Or that God can’t work in spite of me.  Frankly, my God is way too small if He can’t handle a little confusion and questioning.

The good news is that there are a lot of helpful tools out there.  There are more web sites than ever.  There are multiple groups to participate in.  One I want to mention is a four-week class in January on Learning to Read the Bible.  It’s a great opportunity to not only learn but to bring someone with you.  It will create multiple opportunities for you to have conversation and talk about the importance of God’s word to you.  And there are more translations of the Bible than ever before.  Find one that you find readable.  One that paid huge dividends for our children was the Lego Bible.  Sounds funny but my boys know more Bible stories because they read and re-read them in a format they were interested in.  Find a bible that is readable to you.  The point is to take some concrete steps to put the scripture here at the door post of your life.  Do it for your own life.  Do it for the life of your children or your grandchildren.  Because as wise Ugly Kidd Joe said in the cats in the cradle – our children grow up to be just like us.

The truth is, God has no grandchildren.  He only has children.  Each one of us has to decide for ourselves to welcome His love and grace into our lives.  Each and every one of us must decide if we’re going to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Each and every one of us must decide how valuable the scripture is to us.  Even our children.  But here’s the thing – our children – and by that, I mean the children and youth of our community – won’t know unless someone shows them.  So, I am going to put the scripture here in my life. I’m going to post it on the door posts and the gates of my world.  So, that my days and the days of our children will be many in the life that God has promised for us.

How about you?  How about you?