Three Simple Rules: Stay in Love with God

This morning, we will take a look at the third and final of the three simple rules. These rules are taken from John Wesley’s general rules, which intend to help followers of Jesus Christ live out the life He has called us to. The rules call us to do no harm (in word, thought, or deed), to do good (in word, thought, or deed), and to stay in love with God. While the rules are simple to say and remember, they are difficult to live out.

This morning, we will focus on staying in love with God. Staying in love with God implies that we are in love with God. So, the first step is to confess that we do believe in God, that we believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah who lived and died and now lives again, and that we believe in the Holy Spirit who dwells within each believer and guides, leads, directs, and teaches us. Some here today may be searching, seeking to figure out all this God stuff. The things we’ll be talking about this morning can be applied to help us stay in love with God or help us fall in love with Him again or for the first time.

Our love for God is what makes us different from the rest of the world. There are plenty of people in our world who do no harm and do good outside of a relationship with God. It’s our relationship with God that gives purpose and meaning to living lives of doing no harm and doing good. Some do no harm and do good to make themselves feel better. As Christians, we do no harm and do good in order to honor and glorify God. Good feelings can be a bi-product of faithful living. However, our motivation isn’t feeling good, it’s giving God glory and honor.

Staying in love with God will push us beyond feelings and church attendance. It goes beyond nice thoughts and one hour on Sunday mornings. Staying in love with God requires that we each take intentional steps and time to cultivate our relationship with Jesus Christ. Staying in love with God requires that we “DO” something to stimulate the relationship. We have to actively pursue God on a daily basis. John Wesley believed that staying in love with God could best be accomplished “by attending upon all the ordinances of God…” These “ordinances” may be referred to as spiritual disciplines. They are practices that are crucial to the growth and development of our relationship with God.

There are plenty of passages of Scripture that urge us to invest in our relationship with Christ:

  • Colossians 2:6-7– In order to live in Him, we need to know what that means. For our roots to grow deep, to be built up and strengthened, we need to take steps to grow.
  • Philippians 2:12-15–  Work out your salvation. Our salvation not a wham-bam, thank you mam’ kind of thing. To truly live out our salvation takes work on our part. Our salvation doesn’t depend on our works, but our works are the result of salvation. If we truly love God, we will desire to grow in Him and learn more about Him and become the people He calls us to be.
  • Ephesians 4:1-16– Living out our faith on a daily basis will help us grow in our love. If we live out our faith, we’ll grow, build, and strengthen our relationship with God…producing a stronger relationship where we will stay in love with Him. We’re not meant to sit on our hands. We’re not meant to continue on as immature babies…we’re meant to grow strong and mature. Seeking out Christ in worship, prayer, study, doing no harm, and doing good is meant to be a regular thing…not something we do in little fits…starting and stopping. Are we taking regular and consistent steps to stay in love with God or do we desire to simply be spoon-fed?
  • Philippians 4:8–  We’re called to fill our minds with God things. In order to fill our minds and meditate on the God things, we need to surround ourselves with God things. We need to know what God things are. It’s not going to just magically fall into our laps, it requires that we pull our own weight. Our relationship with Jesus isn’t meant to be one-sided. Our relationship with Jesus isn’t meant to be something where we sit and receive without putting forth any effort.
  • 1 Timothy 4:7-8 – Some of us are so focused on the spirit that we are letting our bodies go. Some are so focused on the body and are letting the spirit go. Some are letting both the body and spirit go. Some are working on both the body and the spirit. What Paul is getting at is that our spiritual workouts are more important than time spent on the treadmill (both are important, but one is of greater importance). How many of us would be willing to admit that 5-6 hours of working out physically each week is a good starting point, but 5-6 hours each week of worship, study, and prayer seems like a bit much to ask? Can you redeem your physical workouts and find ways to focus on God in the midst of your time at the gym?

There are certain practices that I believe are essential to maintaining and growing our relationship with God. You may want to write these down and use them as a guide…The would be some of Wesley’s ordinances, also known as spiritual disciplines.

  • Regular times of prayer (both speaking and listening)
  • Regular times of worship (private and corporate)
  • Regular times of study (private and group Bible study…get a Bible you understand)
  • Regular times of service (lend a helping hand to those in need)
  • Regular times of giving (giving our time, talents, and resources in ways that honor God)
  • Regular times of fellowship (time with other believers – encourage, admonish, laugh, cry, etc…if we don’t spend time with other believers, we set ourselves up for temptation)
  • Regular times of witness (telling people what and why we believe strengthens our relationship with God)

Take steps to protect, nurture, and build your relationship with God

  • an hour (at least) in worship
  • an hour (at least) in Bible study
  • an hour (at least) in service
  • an hour (at least) of prayer
  • and make a commitment to give regularly (4 plus 10 challenge- four hours in worship, study, service, prayer, and tithe)
  • Practice 4 plus 10 for 4 weeks and see what happens. I bet you’ll feel closer to God!

If we’re in love with God, we need to live like it. If we’re searching, trying to figure out this God thing, than we can apply these same principles…the only way to figure it out is if we take the time to learn.

Charles Swindoll tells this story, “I read about a young man who was determined to win the affection of a lady who refused to even talk to him anymore. He decided that the way to her heart was through the mail, so he began writing her love letters. He wrote a love letter every day to this lady. Six, seven times a week she got a love letter from him. When she didn’t respond, he increased his output to three notes every twenty-four hours. In all, he wrote her more than seven hundred letters. And she wound up marrying the postman.”

Are we investing our heart, our time, and our energy in things that will draw us near to Christ (the one who loves us), are we giving our time to things that will help us maintain our relationship with him…or are we wasting our time in writing love letters when we really just need to show up?

You won’t grow with someone you don’t spend time with. Sometimes we have to set aside time…guard the time we spend with God…schedule it…don’t leave it to chance (the idea that we’ll get to it when we have the time), if God is truly important to us we will make Him a top priority…put it on the calendar, on your iPhone, or whatever. There are regularly scheduled times on my calendar each day, blocked out for prayer and study, where I will not be available. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that my time with God is that important. Nothing is more important than my relationship with God.

If we act like we’re in love with God, we just might find that we’re really in love with God.

Eugene Peterson once said that, “Discipleship is anything that causes what is believed in the heart to have demonstrable consequences in our daily life.” Does your life suggest that you are in love with God? Are we giving our time, energy, talents, and treasures to things that cause what is believed in our heart to be lived out in our daily lives?

Dallas Willard writes that, “a relationship with God, as with any person, soon requires a contribution from us…” Are we contributing to our relationship with God…or do we simply want to receive without putting in any time?

Our relationship with God is similar our relationship with our spouses, significant others, family, and friends. You have to protect the relationships that are most important to you. You have to make time for the relationship. In marriages, you need to date regularly, talk regularly, and bond regularly. We have to make that person we desire to be with a top priority. There are all kinds of things that can interfere with a relationship and draw us away from the time needed to nurture and build the relationship. Work, hobbies, kids, which are all good things…can get in the way and be used as excuses for avoiding taking time for one another. Then, after the kids move out of the house, you look at the person sitting across the table and you feel like you don’t know who you are with…you feel a cold distance. And, we do the same in our relationship with God. We avoid him and justify it because we’re spending time doing good things. But, in the midst of these good things, we’re avoiding and even losing the most important things.

For some, we have these mountaintop experiences where we truly feel connected and transformed by God. Then, as the days, weeks, months, and years go by…we find ourselves feeling a great distance between God and ourselves…mostly due to our failure to take the appropriate amount of time developing our relationship with God. We convince ourselves that Sunday worship is enough. We convince ourselves that praying before dinner is enough. We convince ourselves that listening to Christian radio every once in a while is enough. I’ll be honest, Christian radio is something that tends to drive me away from God. We convince ourselves that other things are more important, more urgent. We buy into the lies of the evil one and end up finding ourselves separated from the God we claim to love because we’re so busy doing good things.

David Watson, days before he lost his battle with cancer, wrote: “As I spent time chewing over the endless assurances and promises to be found in the Bible, so my faith in the living God grew stronger and held me safe in his hands. God’s word to us, especially his word spoken by His Spirit through the Bible, is the very ingredient that feeds our faith. If we feed our souls regularly on God’s word, several times each day, we should become robust spiritually just as we feed on ordinary food several times each day, and become robust physically. Nothing is more important than hearing and obeying the word of God.”

Are we feeding our souls? Are we becoming robust spiritually? Are we making an effort to grow stronger…or are we hoping that God will just hand it all to us? What would happen if we all committed to read God’s word, even just a small portion, every time we sit down (or stand up) to eat? Challenge= Take some small steps. Pray before each meal & read the Bible for 5 minutes at each meal (instead of gossiping or telling inappropriate stories or jokes in the break room, we read the Bible and pray). Start with the Gospel of John or the Psalms. If you already do these things, set aside more time…4 plus 10! Many of us should already be praying for our church daily, reading a Psalm a day, and inviting others to join us on this journey. So, practicing 4 plus 10 really isn’t that much to ask!

William Barclay wrote that, “It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp follower without being a solider of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, ‘So and so tells me that he was one of your students.’ The teacher answered devastatingly, ‘He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.’ There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.”

Are you a real disciple or a distant follower? Are you a student or an attendee? What steps do you need to take to ensure that you are a real disciple?

Bishop Reuben Job says that the way to stay in love with God is to live, “in the presence of and in harmony with the living God who is made known in Jesus Christ and companions us in the Holy Spirit is to live life from the inside out. It is to find our moral direction, our wisdom, our courage, our strength to live faithfully from the One who authored us, called us, sustains us, and sends us into the world as witnesses who daily practice the way of living with Jesus. Spiritual disciplines (these things we’ve talked about…worship, prayer, study, giving, etc) keep us in that healing, redeeming presence and power of God that forms and transforms each of us more and more into the image of the One we seek to follow.”

The most important thing is that we find the things that will best keep us in love with God…and then do them. Each of us needs to identify the ways we best connect with God and grow in our relationship with God…and then make those things a priority.

What will you do in order to stay in love with God?

Three Simple Rules: Do Good

This message was shared at Centerville United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 19, 2014. The Scripture passage for the morning was 1 John 4:7-21

We’re in the midst of a series called Three Simple Rules. The three simple rules come from John Wesley’s General rules for Christian living. The rules call us to do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.

Last week, we talked about living lives in which we do no harm in word, thought, or deed. If we strive to do no harm, we will put ourselves in the proper position to live out the second rule of doing good. To do good is basically the opposite of doing harm. However, we can do no harm in word, thought, or deeds and still fail to do good.

Doing good is an outward display of our faith. Doing good involves all that we are. Doing good involves our words, thoughts, and deeds. Doing good involves our time, our talents, and our resources. We can use all that we are and all that we possess to bring about a greater good in our world. Our good deeds are a proactive response to God’s great love for us. Our good deeds are the evidence of Christ’s transforming power in our lives. Good deeds are God’s invitation for His people to participate in His work on the earth.

Each day, we are presented with opportunities to do good in the world around us…through our words, deeds, and thoughts…And, it doesn’t have to be something way out there…it could easily just be part of your normal routine. We have to consider how we can redeem and transform our everyday routine patterns to become opportunities to serve God and one another by doing good.

John Wesley wrote that, “There is scarce any possible way of doing good, for which there is not daily occasion…Here are poor families to be relieved: Here are children to be educated: Here are workhouses, wherein both young and old gladly receive the word of exhortation: Here are the prisons, and therein a complication of all human wants.”

In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus gives us a big challenge: “I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Doing good is our faithful action in response to hearing the call of Jesus to love one another…even our enemies!

Bishop Rueben Job, in his book on the Three Simple Rules expands on this thought, “The words of Jesus and of Wesley suggest that doing good is a universal command. That is, doing good is not limited to those like me or those who like me. Doing good is directed at everyone, even those who do not fit my category of ‘worthy’ to receive any good that I or others can direct their way. This command is also universal in that no one is exempt from it.  Doing good, like doing no harm, is a proactive way of living. I do not need to wait to be asked to do some good deed or provide some needed help.”

Beverly Jordan witnessed an extraordinary act of generosity after Hurricane Andrew slammed into South Florida in 1992, leaving a wide path of destruction in its path. Jordan, who is a nurse, volunteered to go door to door in Miami delivering emergency relief. Her relief van pulled up to a house that was nothing but a shell. She asked the young owners if they needed anything. “They said, ‘No, but can you wait a minute here?’ They came back out with a case of diapers and four or five bags of food and said, ‘Would you please give this to somebody who needs it worse than we do?'” Jordan says she never got the couple’s name and wishes that she could thank them for their generosity.

Amy Scharman of Mapleton, Utah, remembered the Christmas after her parents divorced. Her mother was raising 13 kids with no child support. The holiday was looking pretty grim. “It was about dusk on Christmas Eve and we heard a knock on the back door,” Scharman says. When they opened it, no one was there. But someone had left 10 big bags filled with presents for the children, including clothes and toys. “It was such an overwhelming feeling to see such generosity from I don’t even know who it was,” she says. Ten years later, Scharman and her family still don’t know who did that good deed. Amy Scharman ends her note, “If you’re out there, thank you for making that Christmas the most memorable of all.”

Four-year-old Justin Dingman took the hand of a frightened fellow pre-schooler, serving as the welcoming committee on the boy’s first day at school. Liadan Susoeff, 7, took books to a shelter in Pittsburgh at holiday time and read to the children there. Eight-year-old Luke O’Neill took one of his own coats to school so a less fortunate classmate could go outside at recess.

David Hutmacher of Marietta, Ga., wrote of the generosity he received from co-workers when he became seriously ill three years ago. After three hospital stays, including two surgeries, he had used up all of his vacation and sick leave. “It was the end of the year and my last paycheck at the first of December was for approximately 10 percent of its usual amount. I was worried it was fast approaching Christmas and I wouldn’t be going back to work until mid-January at the earliest. I am married and have two daughters who at that time were 8 and 5, respectively. My wife, who is a schoolteacher, was just barely keeping things together. I really didn’t think there would be much if any Christmas that year. So I was very surprised when on the 15th of December I received a paycheck. When I opened it there was not only a full pay period but also the pay I was missing from the previous check. I immediately called our comptroller for an explanation. It seems that all the employees had gotten together and donated any vacation that they had left for the year so I could get paid. I cried. It was truly a Good Deed.”

These are stories of people choosing to do good. None of the stories are extraordinary. These aren’t stories about someone donating millions of dollars. These aren’t stories of someone rescuing a stranger from a burning building. These are simple stories of people who responded in small ways to help others in need.

Each day, we are presented with opportunities, big and small, to help one another. A kind word, a warm meal, a smile, an open door, a small donation all have the potential to let the light of Christ shine in our world.

There is a Thai insurance commercial that demonstrates how small things really can become life-changing. We don’t necessarily have to do huge things to change the world. We simply have to make a decision to do good when opportunities are presented.

In Romans 12:9-20, we are called to overcome evil with good! By living lives that are focused on doing no harm and doing good, we can overcome the evil we encounter in this world.

In Luke 22:27, Jesus says, “I am among you as one who serves.”  Jesus comes as one who serves. We’re called to be like Jesus. We’re called to serve. The only way we can truly do good in this world is if we take on the heart of a servant, the heart of Jesus, where our eyes are continually open to see the needs around us. We aren’t called to serve God when it’s convenient. We’re called to serve God at all times.

Galatians 6:9-10 calls us to do good at all times to all people. Don’t grow weary. That’s why we need one another in the church…to encourage and strengthen one another so we can get out there and do good to all at all times! Do you see opportunities in your daily routine to do good? Can you get creative and turn all that you say, do, and think into good things that honor God?

We have to ask ourselves if we are living for God or ourselves? If we take an honest look at how we use our time, talents, and resources we will get a very clear idea of who we are living for. Are we pursuing God things or worldly things? There is a difference between good things and God things. Sometimes worldly things can be good things, but if they distract us from the God things…are they truly good?

Part of our faith journey is to discover the difference between worldly things, good things, and God things. A life of prayer, worship, service, and study will help reveal the difference. If we are living for God, we will be embracing a life of doing good…at all times.

Bishop Job issues a challenge to see beyond ourselves. He writes, ““I must seek what is best for those whose position and condition may be far different than my vision for them. It will mean that I will seek to heal the wounds of my sisters and brothers, no matter if their social position, economic condition, educational achievement, or lifestyle is radically different from mine. It will mean that the words and acts that wound and divide will be changed to words and acts that heal and bring together. It will mean that movements that seek to divide and conquer will become movements that seek to unite and empower all. It will mean that the common good will be my first thought and what is good for me will become a secondary thought.” ~Bishop Rueben Job

God calls on us to proactively search for and respond to needs around us. He calls us to do good to all people, at all times, in all places. We shouldn’t wait on the world to change, we should be the change we want to see.

Everything we do & say has to potential to be good. Everything we do and say also has the potential to be harmful.

Our desire to “do good” comes from God. If we are truly followers of Jesus, we will have a desire to live like Him…He was one who reached out to the least of these, provided help for the helpless, showed grace and mercy to the worst of all sinners, and demonstrated a life of love.

How do we do good?

  • Do good…with your time (give time to worship, prayer, Bible study, service, fellowship).
  • Do good…with your talents.(find ways to use your work, your skills, your hobbies to praise and glorify God…whatever you do…do it well)
  • Do good…with your resources. “Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”- George Washington. (use your money and possessions in ways that honor God)
  • Do good…with your words.(do your words build up and encourage or tear down and belittle)
  • Do good…in all that you say, do, and think.

Comedian Steven Colbert has spoken about finding joy in our work- He keeps the following saying on his desk to remind him that he should find great joy in his work. It reads, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” The sign reminds him that nothing ever gets better unless you work. His goal is to put joy and work together. Sometimes doing good is as simple as finding ways to bring joy into our daily routines…into our work. If we are filled with joy…we will have the natural inclination, the desire to bring about good rather than harm to the world around us. Doing good is all about doing whatever we do with joy, with integrity, the best we possibly can, while looking for ways to contribute to the well-being of others.

Doing good isn’t simply about being a nice person. It is about responding to the opportunities around us with love, compassion, kindness, and action. We can use our time, our talents, our resources, our possessions, and our prayers to serve those around us.

The way we use our time, talents, and resources says a lot about our priorities in life. We can use our time to do good, to serve, to draw near to Christ, or to be busy with other things. We can use our talents to do good, to serve, to worship Christ, or to serve ourselves. We can use our resources and possessions to do good, to serve Christ and the world, to build up the Church, to spread the Gospel, or we can use our resources and possessions to serve ourselves.

Doing good means that we will have a different perspective on how we use our time, talents, and resources. Doing good means that we will begin to ask how we can honor God and show love to the world around us in the way we use our time, talents, and resources. Do we honor, praise, and serve God with our words, thoughts, and deeds?

Do an audit on how you use your time, talents, and resources. What does your calendar say is most important to you? What does your bank statement say is most important to you? If God isn’t in first place…we might need to reconsider some of the things we are giving our time, talents, energy, and resources to.

John Wesley is credited with saying the following about doing good: “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”

The bottom line is that we CAN do good. But that is all up to each and every one of us.

What is God calling you to do today to help bring about a greater good in this world? Maybe he’ll call you to be a missionary overseas. Maybe he’ll call you to be a missionary in your current workplace. Maybe he’ll call you to step up the giving of your time, talents, and resources. Maybe he’ll call you to smile at everyone. Maybe he’ll call you to pray for your church, your neighbors, your family, your co-workers, your nation. Maybe he’ll call you to pick up the phone and call a friend to offer words of encouragement. Maybe he’ll call you to hold someone’s hand as they grieve, mourn, or when they are afraid. Maybe he’ll call you to give some of your stuff to someone else. We all have the capacity to do good. We all have the capacity to do harm. Will you choose to do good in your words, your thoughts, and your deeds?

Here is a simple prayer for the week, “Lord, help me to do no harm today in any way. Lord, help me to do good at all times to all people. “

 

 

 

Three Simple Rules: Do No Harm

This message was shared at Centerville UMC on Sunday, October 12, 2014. The Scripture reading for the day came from Galatians 5:13-15

This morning, we are starting a new worship series based on John Wesley’s general rules of faithfully following Jesus. Wesley’s three simple rules are to “do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.” These rules are simple to say, simple to remember, but hard to live out. I am fully convinced that these three simple rules have the potential to radically transform our lives, our church, our community, and our world.

Today, we’ll explore the first of Wesley’s three simple rules and that is the call to “do no harm.” Doing no harm involves our hearts, our minds, our words, and our actions. Our words and actions are motivated by our hearts and our minds. So, there is a chance that we may need to transform our hearts and our minds in order to do no harm. Often, it is our words that usher in all kinds of harm. Many physical altercations start with words. The passage of Scripture from Galatians 5 we heard this morning reminds us that it is a failure to love our neighbor that leads to doing harm…to biting and devouring one another.

Bishop Rueben Job, in his book “Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living” gives us these words of challenge, “I will guard my lips, my mind and my heart so that my language will not disparage, injure or wound another child of God. I must do no harm, even while I seek a common good.”

Our hearts and minds may need to be transformed in order for our words and actions to be transformed. Conflicts in our homes, our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world often occur because one party has a sense of superiority, a sense of “rightness” over the other…which results in a lack of care and concern for the other…and that results in a great deal of harm.

I don’t know about you, but it’s often my words that cause the greatest deal of harm. James urges us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry.” Easier said than done, right? Last Sunday, I demonstrated that I’m slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to get angry. I heard something that was said in jest and I quickly got on my soap box and let ‘er rip! Emily said she saw fire in my eyes. And, it wasn’t necessarily that what I said was wrong, but the manner in which I said it was. We can say the right things in the wrong ways and do harm. We can do the right things for the wrong reasons and do harm.

So, this week, I came across a Psalm and a Proverb that give some helpful hints on how to curb our harsh words. Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives; those who open wide their lips come to ruin.” Folks, I don’t know about you, but in light of these two verses…I’m in trouble! Of course, I know that I’m not alone. I’m positive I’m not the only one who needs a guard over his mouth!

Our words have a great deal of power. And so, in Colossians 4:6 we are encouraged to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” How many of us can say that our speech is always gracious? My speech often fails to be gracious. I know this will surprise most of you, but I’ve never been accused of being warm and fuzzy!

In fact, just this week someone told me I’m the closest thing to a young curmudgeon they’ve ever met. I was just excited she called me young! However, I am fully aware that my words, that our words have great power…power to do harm or power to do good; power to build up or tear down; power to belittle and abuse or power to encourage and strengthen.

But, it’s not just our words…it’s our actions too. Our words and actions, motivated by our hearts and minds have a great deal of power for good or for harm. Of course, Jesus took it even farther than just our words and actions…he said even our thoughts can get us into trouble. Remember what Jesus said about murder and adultery? The person who has hatred in his heart is just as guilty as the one who commits murder…The one who has lust in his eyes is just as guilty as the one who commits adultery. Doing no harm is not just an issue of what we say or do, it’s an issue of the heart.

So, how do we do harm? With our words…we gossip, we slander, we manipulate facts, we diminish others. With our actions and inactions…some harm others physically. We do harm when we fail to act when we should…when we remain silent when we should speak up. We do harm when we have a lack of adequate care and concern for the least, the last, the lost, and the poor among us. Philippians 2:3-4 reminds us that we should be humble and consider others as better than ourselves, looking out not for our own interests, but the interests of others. We do harm through sins of commission…doing those things we should not be doing. We do harm through sins of omission…not doing those things we should be doing.

We do harm when we hold racist, sexists, classist, or bigoted thoughts towards any group of people. In the Christian church, there is no room for any of the ism’s and phobia’s that are so prevalent in our world today. Just this week, our District Superintendent alerted me about an article in the paper about the Ku Klux Klan being active in our area. He asked if I had seen it…I hadn’t, but I informed him, in all honesty, I wasn’t surprised. “James Moore, the grand dragon of the Loyal White Knights in Virginia, told The Palladium-Item in Richmond in May that ‘we have a pretty active chapter there in Centerville.’” Yes, right here in our small, safe, conservative, Christian community! How can we claim to be faithfully following Christ and harbor racist attitudes? Our Book of Discipline (Paragraph 162A) says that, “Racism plagues and cripples our growth in Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself…Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons.”

Ultimately, it all boils down to being an issue of the heart. How is your heart today? Does your heart reflect the heart of Jesus? I’m fully convinced that the more our hearts reflect the heart of Jesus – the less harm we will do. When our hearts are “right”, we begin to believe the “right” things. And, when we believe the “right” things, our belief should produce “right” actions.

How do we go about doing no harm? Well, to do no harm requires a “radical trust in Jesus…in God’s power and presence…in God’s wisdom and guidance. And, radical trust has to be accompanied by radical obedience to the way of Jesus.”

Doing no harm means providing safe environments for children in our homes, our church, our community, and our world.

One of the ways our church is attempting to create safe environments for children in our community is through our crossing guard ministry. This week, we started providing crossing guards before and after school. The mornings are usually a bit slower…the afternoons are definitely exciting!

Thursday morning, in the rain, we had around 11 students cross. In the afternoon, it was more like 45! But, it’s not the numbers that matter. It’s keeping the children of our community safe that is most important. So, even if only one kid crosses in the morning and one in the afternoon, we have done a priceless ministry. Listen, people simply aren’t paying attention when they drive. A number of the drivers in our community are more concerned with their cell phones than they are with the stop signs. After helping a couple of students cross this week, I was almost hit by a car rolling through the sign…and I know I was hard to see because I was wearing a bright orange safety vest and holding a big red stop sign…

A mother stopped me to thank me for doing this and mentioned that she feels like her children are safer when they walk to and from school. Our superintendent, Phil Stevenson, shared with me that he received an email from a parent thanking him for providing crossing guards. The parent pointed out that they have observed a number of drivers not paying attention and that they have always felt that intersection is dangerous. He then gave our church credit for providing this service.

This week, I took my normal time for crossing guard duty and filled in some of the holes we have. It gave me the opportunity to interact with some of the students. There is one young boy who pretty much gives me a complete play-by-play of his day and what he plans to do when he gets home. The first day he said, “Hey, there was a lady here earlier today (Marie Elstro). You’ll probably see us a lot. We cross here every day.” Later this week, he gave me a hard time when I asked him which way he was crossing. He said, “You don’t remember? I go over that way and then up that way.” On Wednesday afternoon, an older student approached the crossing and looked like she was pretty unhappy. I asked her how her day was and she said, “Not good.” I said, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope tonight is better and tomorrow is awesome.” She looked at me and kind of smiled and said, “Hey, thanks.” And, I tell you what, the majority of the students are extremely polite saying “thanks” each day…even the kids I was warned about being a bit ornery have been really nice. I’ve actually had a lot of fun!

But, we need more help! We need someone for Thursday morning. We need someone Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday afternoon. We have a sign-up sheet up front here so you can’t miss it…and I fully expect it to be full after the service. Now, don’t sign up if you can’t or shouldn’t do it. But, it’s basically 20-30 minutes once a week to keep kids safe…which is the right thing to do! It’s not about putting more people in the pews (that may end up being a bi-product). It’s about keeping our children safe…which is the Jesus thing to do!

One of the things that got me excited to come to Centerville is that you all said you wanted to discover ways to be in fewer meetings and “do more ministry”. This was coupled with a statement that this church is basically a blank canvas, open for anything…that nothing’s sacred…so we’re willing to try some new and different things and let go of some old things. Now, let me be clear, most pastors know that when we hear these things what’s really meant is that, “as long as the new things are things we agree with or that the old things you want us to let go of are things we’re willing to let go of, we’re a blank canvas and nothing is sacred…except for all the things that are sacred.” I didn’t even get out of the building on the evening of my “take-in” before I was told that, “while we said nothing is sacred…there are a couple of things that really are and you might not want to mess with too soon.” Well, here’s just about the easiest thing I can give you to make a positive difference and impact in our community. And, with the formation of the Leadership Team, we’ll be having fewer meetings. We’re giving you what you asked for, now step up to the plate!

It will break my heart if I have to go to other churches to fill up our crossing guard positions. This is our opportunity to have an obvious presence in our biggest mission field in Centerville…our schools. Crossing Guards, Bulldog Buddies…these are ministry opportunities…these are opportunities to do no harm by providing safe environments and positive relationships for the young people in our community. This could be one of our unique ministries, along with our food pantry and preschool, that makes a positive difference in our community!

When Emily taught at Sutton Elementary in Muncie, Glad Tidings church basically adopted the school. At first, they did some simple things…providing donuts and lunches for the teachers to say “thank you” (which will be a next step for us). Then, they began to provide volunteers and launched a Kids Hope Program where church members volunteer an hour a week as a mentor (Bulldog Buddies only asks you to give 30 minutes!). They started small, but then as the relationship grew, so did the ministry. In addition to meals for teachers, volunteering around the school and serving as mentors, the church has been providing tennis shoes, school supplies, backpacks, food assistance, and vision screenings for over 350 students each year. Let me tell you, when it comes to the children on the southeast side of Muncie, Glad Tidings church is making sure they “do no harm”.

We are called to provide care and practical ministry, relief from pain, suffering, hunger, and poverty for the least, the last, the lost, and the poor among us. Our call as those who would do no harm is to become “agents of healing and vessels of compassion.”

To do no harm, we should listen more and be careful with our words. To do no harm, we should make sure our actions line up with our words…that we don’t just talk the talk, but that we walk the walk. To do no harm, we need to take intentional steps to make sure our hearts reflect the heart of God. It’s about finding the appropriate balance of believing and doing the right things!

Jesus could have come into our world and demanded that people bow down and serve him. He could have used his power to forcefully overthrow the oppressive powers of his day. Instead, he chose humble service…he chose the subversive practice of peace, compassion, mercy, sacrifice…

Bishop Rueben Job says that, “To do no harm means that I will be on guard so that all my actions and even my silence will not add injury to another of God’s children or to any part of God’s creation. As did John Wesley and those in the early Methodist movement before me, I too will determine every day that my life will always be invested in the effort to bring healing instead of hurt; wholeness instead of division; and harmony with the ways of Jesus rather than with the ways of the world. When I commit myself to this way, I must see each person as a child of God – a recipient of love unearned, unlimited, and undeserved – just like myself. And it is this vision of every other person as the object of God’s love and deep awareness that I too live in that loving Presence that can hold me accountable to my commitment to do no harm.”

Every single person we encounter every single day is a person created in God’s image and deeply loved by Him. So, how could we cause harm through our words and deeds, or lack thereof, to anyone Jesus deeply loves?

May we go from this place and do no harm as we shine the light of Christ, as we grow, give, and go…together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

 

This One Thing

This message was shared at Centerville United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 5th, 2014. The Scripture passage for the morning was Philippians 3:4-14.

This morning, we will welcome in some new members and celebrate World Communion Sunday. Both of these elements this morning remind us of what is ultimately important in life…knowing Christ as Lord of all! Our passage of Scripture from Philippians also reminds us of the priority of Christ in our lives.

So, in this passage, Paul lays out his resume…and, it’s impressive! If anyone has reason to boast in their earthly and religious pursuits, it’s Paul. Paul has street cred, but it’s rubbish compared to knowing Christ. It’s all rubbish compared to this one thing…Jesus!

In light of this passage, we have to ask ourselves, do we consider all of our accolades and successes rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ? Would we throw it all away for Jesus?

Let’s think about that for a moment…our individualistic, consumeristic society tells us to look out for ourselves, to take great pride in our accomplishments, and so, too often we find our worth, our value in our stuff, our resume, our experiences, our past, our glory days, rather than in this one thing that matters more than anything else. So, let’s ask ourselves once again, do we consider all of our accolades and success rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ? Would we throw it all away for Jesus? Or are we content to hold on to our stuff…to live in the rear view mirror of our glory days?

This reminds me of the story of the rich young ruler from Mark 10. We find this very successful young man. He is speaking with Jesus and it’s discovered that he really is a great young man…he follows the commandments to a “t”. Then Jesus says, “This one thing you lack…Go, sell your possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow me.” Now, it tells us this was hard for the young man…But, we don’t really know how he responded. Did he go and sell his stuff? Who knows? However, I can imagine that he thought, “But, Jesus, I worked hard for all of that stuff. And, you just want me to get rid of it all?” What would this action have communicated? The priority of Jesus in this young man’s life. So, again, let’s ask ourselves, do we consider all of our accolades and successes rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ?

Paul urges us to have a forward, Christ-centered perspective. He essentially challenges us to not let the past control us…our past successes or our past failures…but look towards our future in Christ.

This is a great church filled with awesome people. Look at your neighbor and say “You’re awesome.” One of the best things this church has going for it is all of you. You all have a way of making this feel like one big family gathering. It’s like a family reunion from week to week. There’s a unique, obvious, genuine care, concern, and love for one another.

Yet, even though this is an awesome, loving church…we’re not perfect…we’re not done…in light of Christ, we shouldn’t just settle for what is or has been…we should press on towards the goal.

This week, Emily spoke with a guy at the Toyota dealership, asked what brought us to the area so Emily explained. Now, this guy is from Centerville, grew up in Centerville, drives by every day, didn’t know which church was the Methodist church…our work is not complete…When folks who live in our community and drive by our church everyday have no clue who we are, which church we are, I’m afraid we’re dangerously close to being isolated from and irrelevant to our community (which is our greatest mission field).

What are we known for? Our preschool and our food pantry. These are great and awesome ministries with great potential for a powerful impact in our community. However, if we’re being honest, I think we would have to admit that, for the most part, we’re only known for these things by those who utilize them.

It’s not fun to burst our bubble. But, at the same time, I wasn’t sent here to pat you on the back and make you comfortable. So, we have to be honest. We have to be realistic. We have to understand where we are…yet see our potential for where God desires us to be. We have to capture a contagious sense of urgency. We have this one great thing, Jesus. And, we shouldn’t be able to hold it in. We have to break out of the isolated world of the church and be salt and light…be the hands and feet of Jesus…

So, we’re not done…our work is not complete…we need to strive towards Christ…to live out our call as individuals and the church…to be known in our community as a church that loves God and loves our neighbors in practical and tangible ways…a contagious church filled with hope, love, and joy as we grow, give, and go to make disciples of Jesus Christ!

Yesterday, Operation Serve was an excellent reminder that Jesus is Lord of all and is the driving force that unites us…denominations? Rubbish! Church size? Rubbish! Christ? Top priority…Lord of all!

Our desire should be to grow in our relationship with Christ, to give our very best to Him, and go into the world to share Christ! Paul understood that Jesus is of ultimate authority and took top priority…to the point that everything else, even all the good he had done, was rubbish compared to Christ.

How do we know if Christ is lord of all, most, some, or not at all? If Christ is Lord of all, and all else is rubbish…sewer trash…is God lord of our calendars, our checkbooks, our stuff, is God top at work, in our homes,  wherever we find ourselves. Is Jesus Lord of our prayer life?

Christian Century[1] ran an article with some statistics on what Americans pray for:

  • 82% pray for family and friends
  • 48% pray everyday
  • 40% pray for enemies
  • 26% pray for sports team
  • 21% pray to win the lottery
  • 12% pray for government leaders
  • 7% pray for good parking and no tickets
  • 5% pray for relationships to end or someone to lose jobs

This week, I read a devotion from Ron Hembree’s “Draw Near” series. In it he writes, “Jesus told about a very foolish and proud Pharisee. He had the crown of religion on his head and was bragging to God (Luke 18:10-12). He told God he was glad he was not as other men. In essence he said, “God, you really ought to be very proud of me. There are so many things I don’t do.” Jesus said that God did not even listen to this man’s praying.  We must learn quickly there is no good in us. We are only righteous as Christ makes us righteous. The moments we spend in prayer bragging about what we are or what we have done are just as worthless as speaking the words into midair. We must remember we do not have our crowns yet.”

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.” Listen, no matter how awesome and impressive our resume and accomplishments may be…we should see it all as rubbish, as sewer trash compared to Christ.

I hate to break it to you, although each and every one of  you are awesome, none of us are perfect. We’re all sinners saved by the grace of God. We do not have our crowns yet. We still have work to do.

Are we so sold out to this one thing, Jesus, that we would give up everything else for life with Him? Is Christ Lord of all, Lord of some, or Lord for an hour on Sunday? Let’s ask ourselves, do we consider all of our accolades and successes rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ?

[1] http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-10/what-do-americans-pray-themselves-and-maybe-sports-team