To Save or Condemn?

This message was shared at Centerville UMC on Sunday, May 31, 2015. John 3:1-17 served as the morning’s Scripture.

Can anyone say that they have lived a life free of conflict? How many of us would love to be able to say that we have lived a life free of conflict? How many of us can say that, while conflict can be difficult, we have grown, matured, and learned as a result of conflict?

The reality is that we all face conflict in some manner. Now, if everyone would just learn to agree with me, we could avoid so much conflict!

We encounter conflict in our homes, within our families and circle of friends, in our workplaces, schools, and even in the church. It seems that just about anywhere people are gathered, there will be conflict.  How we handle conflict has a major impact on our Christian witness.

Where does conflict come from? There are times that conflict stems from some kind of injustice. We see people being treated unfairly and we decide we can no longer stay silent. So, we speak up and there is conflict.

Sometimes conflict stems from having unrealistic expectations. Maybe we set the bar too high and are disappointed when those around us don’t hit the bar. So, conflict comes from disappointment because our expectations (whether realistic or not) were not met.

Sometimes conflict is birthed out of fear. It’s my considered opinion that most conflict grows out of jealousy, envy, bitterness, selfishness, pride, ego, misunderstanding, and judgmental attitudes. James 4:1 would tell us that conflict comes from the selfish desires that are at war within us.

I’m convinced that, at times, we Christians believe it’s our job to judge and condemn. Here, in John 3, Jesus makes it clear that he came to save, not condemn. We, as individuals and as the church, are called to follow Jesus’ example. That means, we are called to save, not condemn. We are called to be His agents of salvation, His agents of hope. Yet, too often, we’re more consumed with the business of judging and condemning others than the loving and saving business. If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we would be willing to admit, that at times, this rings true.

Some of the most loving, kind, caring, compassionate, joyful, peace-filled people I’ve ever met are church folk. Yet, at the same time, some of the grumpiest, most mean-spirited, gossipy, judgmental, combative and downright hateful folks I’ve met are church folk too. Why is that? Human nature? Maybe? But, it might be because we really don’t take Jesus and the Bible seriously.

It’s easy to get caught up in gossip, slander, spreading half-truth and lies. It’s easy to get caught up judging and condemning others because it’s easier to judge and condemn than to offer the saving grace and love of Jesus. Maybe the source of conflict between churched and unchurched folks is that we are more prone to judge and condemn than offer hope and love. At the very least, we have to admit that we are known more outside the church for our judgmental attitudes and hypocritical actions. Too often, we Christians are known more for what we stand against than what we stand for.

So, we often attempt to justify our judging, condemning, gossip, slander, half-truths and lies about others by saying, “Well, I’m just trying to hold so-and-so accountable.”

Listen, there is a huge difference between accountability and judging, condemning, gossip, slander, half-truths and lies. One is motivated by love and sincere concern. The other is motivated by selfishness and pride. We judge, condemn, gossip, and slander others in an attempt to make ourselves feel better or superior to the other. And, when we are judging, condemning, gossiping, slandering, spreading half-truths and lies we are avoiding the very person we are talking about. If we’re holding so-and-so accountable, we would actually go to “so-and-so” instead of everyone else! There are times that, when we finally go to “so-and-so” we’ve done so much damage, reconciliation will be much more difficult.

Our tendency to judge and condemn rather than offer love, grace and mercy might indicate that, as followers of Jesus, we don’t really take the Bible seriously. We like the Bible. We pick and choose the parts we want to follow. But, we don’t really take it seriously.

We avoid Biblical conflict resolution because it’s uncomfortable and difficult. We prefer the road of judging, condemning, gossip, slander, half-truths, and lies. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to talk about someone you are upset or disappointed with than to actually talk to them. How many of you have ever been the last person to find out that someone else is upset with you? Everyone else in town knows, but you!

So, how should we handle conflict? How should we deal with those whom we are upset with, disappointed in or with whom we disagree? Maybe the Bible has something to say about conflict?

Matthew 18:15-17. This passage gives us a great roadmap for dealing with conflict. “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” (MSG)

  1. Go directly to the person
  2. Take 1-2 witnesses
  3. Go to the church
  4. Witness to God’s love and forgiveness – not judging, just offering Jesus

But, that’s not really how we tend to do things, is it? Here’s how we tend to deal with conflict:

  1. Get upset
  2. Talk to anyone who will listen, except the person we have a problem with
  3. Speculate, gossip, judge, condemn
  4. make a mountain out of a molehill
  5. Place more concern on the splinter than the log – and we don’t attempt to take steps to understand the other person.

Matthew 7:1-5- “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.”

We are called to deal with ourselves first. When we have it altogether, then we can concern ourselves with others. Seriously, who do we think we are? Most of us have enough junk to work on in our personal lives…we have enough logs in our eyes that we’ll be working on ourselves until we meet our Maker. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to work on my own junk, I won’t have any time to deal with some else’s junk. Maybe, just maybe that’s what Jesus was trying to point out!

So, how should we deal with gossip and slander?

  1. Refuse it and call it out- When someone starts going down that road, stop them and politely let them know you don’t want to hear it…and then mean it! Sometimes we don’t refuse it and call it out because we all love some juicy gossip!
  2. Rebuke it and redirect it- Inform the person you will not entertain the conversation. Ask them if they have talked to the offending person about the issue. 9 times out of 10 they have not and most likely won’t. Encourage them to go talk to the person with whom they have an issue or conflict. Tell them you won’t talk about the issue until they have gone directly to the other person.
  3. If and when they have talked to the person, ask if they have resolved the issue. If so, you should encourage them to stop talking about it. If not, you can work through the remaining steps of Biblical conflict resolution. Many times, I’ve found that people continue to talk about situations that have already been resolved. However, the person gossiping and complaining simply did not like the resolution because either they didn’t get their way or they had to compromise. So, they continue to stir up controversy and trouble. In this situation, it might be time to do a little Biblical conflict resolution on the gossip. Now, of course, this kind of stuff would never happen in this church because we’re all good Christian folk, right?

If we would take Jesus and the Bible seriously and practice Biblical conflict resolution, we just might have less conflict. If we would actually talk with those we are in conflict with, we might better understand one another…there might be less jealousy, envy, selfishness, pride, ego trips, and judgmental condemnation. We might stop making mountains out of molehills. When we avoid the person we have a conflict with and talk about it with everyone but the person, all we do is get ourselves more and more worked up about the situation. Then, more often than not, when we finally do talk to the person, we realize we made a big deal out of nothing and wasted a lot of time and energy.

In this morning’s passage of Scripture from John 3, Jesus talked about being born again. He talked about baptism of water and spirit. Water is symbolic of cleansing. The spirit is symbolic of power. In other words, when we are born again, we are powerfully cleansed and made new.

When we have been born again, our desires will change from being hyper-critical, negative, judgmental, and condemning to having a great desire to offer the hope God’s life-transforming salvation with all we come into contact. Because of our baptism by water and spirit, we truly can embrace the ways of Jesus. We don’t have to be bound by the world’s ways of handling conflict. Jesus would not call us to a way of living He did not believe possible. And, so, through this holy mystery of baptism by water and Spirit, we have the ability to live as Jesus calls us to live. May we remember our baptism this day.

Our world and our community need hope. We don’t have to watch the national news to realize that hope is desperately needed, not just outside our doors, but in our midst. Recently in our community, we’ve seen the results of escalating domestic violence, we’ve seen the repercussions of drug and alcohol addiction, we’ve seen the pain and hurt caused by racism and bigotry, we’ve seen increases in crime, we’ve seen a rise in the number of families who are food insecure and families in need of greater amounts of financial assistance (just this morning, before church, 2 different individuals sought assistance from the church). These are no longer things that just happen to “those people” in “those places”. These things happen to these people, our families, our friends, our neighbors, right here in this place.

As the church, we have this great hope in Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t call us to judge or condemn those in our church, community and world who are hurting and struggling or live differently than we live. Jesus called us to love and to go, to meet people where they are, to meet their basic needs in practical and tangible ways, and offer them hope. When we share our hope, our faith in Christ is strengthened.

How will you be an agent of hope in our community today, tomorrow, and in the days to come? Who will you share our Great Hope with today, tomorrow, and in the days to come? Will you practice Biblical conflict resolution? Will you choose to share hope and love, rather than judge others? Will you choose to save or condemn?

I Ain’t Drunk

This message was shared at Centerville UMC on Sunday, May 24, 2015. The Scripture reading came from Acts 2:1-12

Before I get too far into this message, I feel like I should set the stage a bit. The Scripture passage we heard focuses on an incredible event that took place on Pentecost. Pentecost was one of the three great Jewish festivals, along with Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost means “the fiftieth”…it’s the 50th day after Passover. Jews from all over would have traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival day. That explains the diversity of the crowd. The Pentecost festival served two purposes: 1) commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses; 2) Two loaves were offered as thanks for the harvest. Due to the events of that particular Pentecost festival we heard about in Acts, Pentecost is celebrated as the birth of the Christian church!

Prior to that moment, things had been pretty crazy for the disciples. Jesus had been crucified, then resurrected and spent some time with them. Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told the disciples to wait for God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Of course, they had no idea what Jesus meant by waiting for the Holy Spirit. But, Jesus said wait. So, that is exactly what the disciples did. They went to Jerusalem to wait. However, they didn’t simply wait. While they were waiting, they studied and prayed. That is where we find the disciples in this Scripture reading…waiting, studying and praying.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for those gathered in the crowd to hear people just sporadically start speaking in their own language?

Talk about a powerful God experience! This was an obvious encounter with the Holy Spirit. This was a miraculous display of the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s miraculous in a number of ways. First, we have the miracle in the disciples speaking in many languages. Then, we have the miracle that the people heard and understood the disciples teaching.

The crowd was amazed and bewildered. They were awed and yet perplexed. Some attempted to explain the situation and dismissively said, “Aw, these guys are just drunk.” Now, listen folks, I don’t know about your life experiences, but, whenever I’ve been around highly intoxicated folks, the only foreign language spoken was gibberish. To me, it seems a bit peculiar to attempt to explain this miraculous phenomenon as the result of overconsumption.  Of course, let’s be honest, there are times that when I get a little excited on Sunday mornings, some of you wonder if there is more than coffee in my mug!

So, Peter stands and gives an explanation of what is taking place. Peter says, “Hey, these guys aren’t drunk…it’s 9am…they haven’t had enough time to get drunk.” Whenever I get to this point in the Pentecost story, I can’t help but think of the old blues legend, Albert Collins song “I Ain’t Drunk, I’m Just Drinkin’” (“I don’t care, what they people are thinking. I ain’t drunk…”).  Peter uses this opportunity to testify, to give a witness, and walks through the whole story of Jesus…and the results were incredible.

Read Acts 2:41-47: 3,000 people were baptized that day. 3,000 lives were changed. The spirit was moving and working in the midst of the people…and they devoted themselves…they began living together in harmony, sharing all they had with one another, worshipping and eating together, and every day, they added more people to the community of believers. The Holy Spirit changed their priorities. The Holy Spirit messed with them. God shook up their ordinary lives!

If the Holy Spirit isn’t changing our priorities, like it did those gathered in Jerusalem, if the Holy Spirit isn’t changing our priorities, the way we live, the way we work, eat, play, spend our time, talents, and money, the way we interact with creation, well, it may indicate that we aren’t following the Holy Spirit. If we harbor hatred towards another, for any reason, we might not be living in the Spirit. Living in the Spirit doesn’t mean we always have to agree, but, we do have to love…even our enemies.

One of my favorite professors at United Theological Seminary, Charles Gutenson, once said, ” If following Jesus ain’t messing with you, well, it ain’t Jesus you are following.”

If we want to encounter the Holy Spirit today, maybe we need to focus on the same things as the disciples. They waited, they studied, and they prayed. When we put ourselves in a position to experience the Holy Spirit, we just might notice it when God’s spirit moves. The spirit is continually at work all around us. Are we in a position to take notice? Are we waiting, studying, and praying?

Some of the most powerful Holy Spirit, God encounters I’ve had lately have taken place in Guatemala. When surrounded by extreme poverty, we take in extreme beauty, and God moves in mysterious ways.

  • This simple house made of sticks and mud- cooking on an open fire, built on the dirt floor in the room that served as kitchen, living room, bedroom. Yet, you turn to look out from the house, and you have a million dollar view.
  • Following a local politician, who was moving at breakneck speeds, while I was trying to keep up, carrying a couple of concrete blocks, walking through coffee and avocado trees, almost heavenly. Half way down, I realized the rest of the team was nowhere in sight or sound. And, here I am following this local politician. My Spanish is pretty much limited to “donde esta el bano”. So, we get down to the bottom of this trail and wind up at a house. The politician said something along the lines of, “casa equivocada”. I said, “Que?” He simplified it to “mal casa”, which meant bad house. Oh, wrong house. So, we trekked back up this trail, still carrying the concrete blocks and get to the right house, where I find the rest of my team, praise the Lord, and met this little guy, Juan. Now, Juan tried to convince us that he was 8. In reality, he was three. He was tons of fun. Here he was, living in extreme poverty, yet he was filled with joy and laughter. He didn’t know he was living in extreme poverty. He just smiled and enjoyed life!
  • The next day, we actually went to “casa equivocada”, and met this little girl and her brother. The two of them were using the pits of avocado’s as their toys. I’ll never forget watching one of the guys on our team, Jeff Landis, get into grandpa mode, playing catch with the kids and their avocado pits. An avocado pit. Again, extreme poverty, yet tons of joy, laughter, and love.
  • Then we visited this little stick house, right off the side of the main highway. A steep hill down. This little lady, who looks to be 115 years old, but we were informed she was 60, was thrilled to welcome us into her home. She was extremely grateful. She didn’t act with a sense of entitlement, but rather humbly and graciously accepted the help we could give.
  • These experiences quickly reminded me of how fortunate I am. Yet, at the same time, I was keenly aware of God’s presence in our midst. In the middle of poverty, of struggle, of suffering, God was all around us- in the beauty of creation, in the beauty of the people we encountered, in the work God was doing in our hearts. Being in Guatemala isn’t about helping those people, it’s about God using those people and our work to radically transform our hearts.

This kind of Holy Spirit moment can happen right here. There are young boys and girls, families, and little old ladies right here in our community who are in desperate need for the church to allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us- as individuals and the church. There are people right here in our community and in our midst who need to the church to offer miraculous, life-transforming words, ministries, and actions. It won’t happen if we don’t pray. It won’t happen if we don’t think and look beyond ourselves. It won’t happen if we don’t step up to the plate. It won’t happen if we don’t let go of the “well, we’ve always done it this way” attitude. It won’t happen if we are controlled by words like “can’t”, “don’t”, and “won’t”. These are just fearful and selfish excuses made in an attempt to avoid following the lead of the Spirit. We might fail- that’s okay! Peter got 3,000; in Acts 17, Paul got 2. God doesn’t care about our win/loss record; God wants to know that we were willing to follow the Spirit’s lead and give it our best attempt.

Where have you encountered the power of God? It doesn’t have to be in Guatemala, God is at work right here in our midst. We can learn from the disciples example- if we will slow down enough to wait, to pray, to study, we will position ourselves to be aware to God’s work in our midst. And, guess what? God will show up in powerful ways.

Can I Get a Witness?

This message was shared at Centerville UMC on Sunday, May 17, 2015. Acts 1:1-11 served as the launching pad for this message. 

I love stories. I love reading biographies and watching documentaries. I love listening to Garrison Keillor tell stories on “A Prairie Home Companion.” I love hearing stories from the people I happen happen to meet. I love stories! The good news is, I don’t think we’ll ever run out of stories because everyone has one.

If I asked each person the question, “what’s your story” we would most likely get a different answer for each person. Some might tell us what you’ve been up to lately. Some might tell us what you’ve done in the past. Some might tell us what they do for a living. Some might tell us about their family. Some might tell us where they are from. Some might tell us their entire life story. The point is that we all have some kind of story.

As Christians, we have a common story that brings us hope, life, and unites us. The short story:

  • God created the world & everything in it and it was good
  • God set up an ideal relationship with humans, basically giving them one rule
  • Man and woman settle for something less than ideal. They fall short of the standard God had set. Things are not so good
  • By the 6th chapter of the 1st book of the Bible, God wants a re-do
  • Throughout the Old Testament, we witness a continual pattern of people being in good standing with God, messing up by settling for something less that what God intends, and then God doing something to intervene and restore the relationship into good standing.
  • God sets up a system of law, a list of do’s and don’ts, accompanied with sacrifices to be made to make atonement for ones errors
  • This pattern of people messing up, God intervening goes on and on
  • God sees the need for a new way…He realizes we can’t do it on our own.
  • So, He sends His Son to live – to teach us how to live – to set the target goal – to show us what life with God truly looks like
  • He sent His Son to die – to be the final and ultimate sacrifice for our sins
  • He sets up a system that by believing in Jesus we can have eternal life…the law is no longer the focus…we no longer have to offer up sacrifices
  • The new system is all about believing in Jesus as Lord and repenting of our sins.
  • The idea is that our relationship with Jesus will motivate us, encourage us, strengthen us, and give us the ability to live in a right relationship with God…but we no longer abide by a legalistic system…we now operate on faith.

So, we have this story, this amazing story – we claim and embrace this story – we quote verses like John 3:16 and sing songs like “Blessed Assurance” that remind us of the story – and this story is what this faith is all about! But, it’s not supposed to end with our comprehension and acceptance of the story.

Jesus, in some of His last words to His followers, tried to help get the focus off of self and onto others.

  1. Matthew 28:18-20 – Go and Make Disciples
  2. Acts 1:1-11- Be My Witnesses

These passages imply that we will actively participate in sharing this wonderful, awesome story with the world around us. Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to love God and love one another. If we truly love God and one another, we will be compelled to share His story.

Look at our world: there are people in desperate need of hope – our story is the greatest hope in the world – and we can’t reduce those in need of hope to only those without food, shelter, and clothing or those who are sick and so on. There are people living in mansions, driving Ferrari’s, eating in the finest restaurants, and seemingly living the high life who are in great need of hope.

We can all probably agree that our world needs our story. Yet, in an alarmingly increasing manner, fewer and fewer people are interested in our story.

Bill Maher, host of Real Tim with Bill Maher and maker of the documentary Religulous (which demonstrates the hypocritical nature of some Christians), said, “I’m a big fan of Jesus. I’m not a big fan of those who work for him.”

Movie director Woody Allen once said, “If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he wouldn’t be able to stop throwing up.”

Mahatma Gandhi has been credited with saying, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

The second largest “faith group” in the US, according to the latest Pew Research report released last week, is the “nones”. They have grown to over 56 million Americans who want nothing to do with religion. While the nones are growing, Christians are shrinking. From 2007-2014, the number of Americans professing to be Christians dropped from 78% to 71%. During the same time, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism grew.

Who do you know that needs the story? Every person we come into contact with needs the story. If all of your friends are Christians, you need to make some new friends! With the shifting numbers, certainly we all know someone who needs our story. At the very least, the potential of getting to know someone who needs the story exists for all of us.

Our story, the message of the Gospel is crucial because it offers the greatest hope, joy, love, peace, and life in this world and beyond!

Acts 17:16-34 – This is a great example on how to share our faith. What lengths will we go to in order to share the story?

Paul spoke the language of the people. He didn’t ask about their walk with the Lord. He didn’t ask if they were saved. He didn’t ask if they knew where they would go if they were to die today. He didn’t ask if they had been redeemed. Honestly, these are bad conversation starters because many people immediately get defensive & confused. And, let’s not refer to those outside our faith as lost. I’m one of the biggest offenders of that. It’s easy to do, but that’s one of the most insulting things we could ever say to someone. Most people we would classify as “lost” would probably respond, “Lost from what?” It’s one thing for me to say, “I once was lost, but now am found.” It’s another thing for me to say, “You are lost and need to be found.” Maybe we should refer to folks as unchurched or dechurched instead of lost?

Paul thought before he spoke. We need to do the same. Paul met people where they were. We need to meet people where they are at and speak in ways they will understand.

Paul quoted their poets. In this, we see that Paul did not ignore the culture outside of the “church”. Who are our poets today? Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Wiz Khalifa, Zack Brown, Sam Smith, Bono…

He complimented their “religion” and their devotion. Would we compliment those who don’t believe and live like we do? Let’s be honest, we rarely compliment those who do believe like us!

Paul met them where they were at and revealed the truth to them. He showed up on their turf. He didn’t sit around and wait for them to come. Where are the unchurched and dechurched folks in our community? Are we meeting them on their turf or waiting for them to come to us?

People aren’t necessarily looking for a Biblical fact sheet with a bunch of statements concerning absolute truth that will convince them to believe in Christ. People are looking for an honest and authentic telling of the story. Speak the way you normally do…don’t use Christianese if that’s not how you normally talk…be yourself…be honest. Let people see who you really are…let them see that it’s okay for Christians to have fun, to laugh, even to mess up.

People want to hear your story. So, how do we tell the story:

  • Share what your life was like before Jesus (example)
  • Tell people about how you met Jesus & why you came to believe in Jesus (example)
  • Tell people about your life with Jesus- what your life is like with Jesus. Don’t candy-coat it…be honest…it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. (example)

A simple way to share is to extend an invitation to church or a church function (Summer Camp Saturdays- invite families/kids- requires everyone to step up to the plate. I’m not worried about getting enough kids to come…I’m worried about getting enough of us to get our back-sides out of the pews to help… or the next pitch-in “free food”)

Some people will say, “Well, I don’t need to vocally share my faith because I live it out.” We definitely need to live out our faith (St. Francis, “preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words). But, there comes a time when we need to speak up (1 Peter 3:15- always be prepared to give an answer when asked about the hope you have)

We have this great story, this great faith If we aren’t sharing it, if we’re just holding onto it for ourselves, we run the risk of being selfish and irresponsible stewards of our faith

Coming to church and being generally good people are nice things…But, church attendance and moral righteousness fall short if we fail to share this story, our story with those around us.

Invite someone to church…share your story…say,”this is important to me, I’d love for you to discover that it’s important for you. I’ll pick you up and treat you to a cup of coffee!”

A Love Supreme, Giant Steps, and Disappointment

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to stroll through the beautiful campus of Ball State University prior to an appointment. It was the perfect day to walk around campus as it wasn’t too hot or too cold. It was a lovely trip down memory lane. Of course, with age, some of the memories are becoming a bit foggy.

The appointment took place at a coffee house in the village. I ordered a mug of coffee and walked over to the air pots to make a selection. They had three offerings:

  • Colombian Decaf
  • A Love Supreme
  • Giant Steps

Now, we all know that I would quickly skip over the decaf because decaf is for sinners. However, naming coffee after John Coltrane albums is a bit vague. So, I asked the friendly baristas, “What’s the story with the John Coltrane coffee?”

This is where the disappointment sets in…Both baristas laughed and one said, “You are like only the second person in two years that has caught on to the whole Coltrane reference.”

Seriously? I’m only the second person who picked up on the Coltrane reference? Certainly not! I’m on the campus of Ball State University which has an incredible School of Music with an amazing jazz program (and, I’m not in the least bit prejudice). Certainly I’m not the second person. This cannot be! Muncie, at least in the area surrounding campus, is a decently cultured area. Certainly the folks who stop by this coffee shop own a Coltrane album or two. And, if they purchased a Coltrane album or two, chances are either “A Love Supreme” or “Giants Steps” would have been one of them. Certainly this reference has not gone unnoticed!

I’m sure BSU School of Music students drop in all the time. I’m sure BSU School of Music faculty and staff drop in all the time. It’s too convenient of a location for this coffee shop to not have high traffic from the School of Music. So, obviously, I’m disappointed that more School of Music folks have not, at the very least, acknowledged the Coltrane reference. Of course, maybe that’s not the case. Maybe School of Music folks skip the coffee shop in the village and settle for the coffee in the Coke lobby or even worse…go to Satan’s den (also known as Starbucks)…which would add to my disappointment.

Okay, I’ll cut them some slack. Maybe they caught the Coltrane reference and giggled a little. However, I remain disappointed because people should interact with their baristas!

In talking with the barista, it became apparent that not only do people not ask about the Coltrane reference, they don’t ask about the coffee itself.

I asked about the Coltrane reference because I wanted to know about the coffee. Is “A Love Supreme” some kind of blend? Is “Giant Steps” some kind of flavored atrocity? What is this John Coltrane inspired coffee I’m about to pour into my cup?

It appears that most folks don’t ask. They just walk up to the air pot and select whichever coffee they think has the most hip name. And, so I’m disappointed that people don’t show more concern about the coffee they are about to consume.

After listening to the description of each coffee, I decided to go with “Giant Steps”. Of course, that decision might have been influenced by the fact that when it comes to Coltrane recordings, I prefer “Giant Steps” over “A Love Supreme”.

So, the next time you find yourself at The Cup, if they have “Giant Steps” or “A Love Supreme”, be sure to bug the barista about John Coltrane. They will appreciate it and I will be less disappointed!

Motherly Love

This message was shared at Centerville UMC on Sunday, May 10, 2015. The Scripture used to launch this message came from 2 Timothy 1:1-5. The message began with a short video by the Skit Guys called “I’m Sorry, Mom”. You can view a preview of the video on their website. 

After that video, I hope all of us will take the time today to give thanks for our mothers. And, if your mother is still with us, be sure to let her know you love her. So, make that sweet little vegetarian mommy of yours the best salad she’s ever had!

The thing with Mother’s Day is that it can be a joyous celebration. But, for some it can be a painful reminder…a reminder that your mother is no longer with us; a reminder of a painful relationship; another reminder that though you may desperately desire to be, you are not a mother; a reminder of loneliness, hurt, and pain. So, while we celebrate Mother’s Day, we also need to be mindful of the fact that Mother’s Day isn’t all flowers, fancy brunches, and dressed up kids for everyone.

Now, I’m about to make a statement that will blow your mind. What I’m about to say just might knock you out of your pews. What I’m about to say is so deep, so profound, so heavy…I’m not sure if we can handle it.. But, it has to be said. Are you ready to hear it? Okay, here it is:

None of us would be here today if it weren’t for our mothers!

I know, that’s a shocking statement. It just might have made some of you uncomfortable. Of course we all know that we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our mothers (or our fathers for that matter, but they get their own day next month, so that’s enough about fathers). You see, our parents played a pretty big part in our creation. No matter how great or how lousy your relationship with your mother may be (or may have been), you wouldn’t be here without her.

But beyond that, there are some of us here this day that wouldn’t be in worship this morning if it weren’t for our mothers. Whether we were willing participants or dragged kicking and screaming, some of us learned the importance of faith and church from the leading, example, and sometimes the pushing, shoving, and dragging of a faithful mother. Some of us may still be learning from that example too.

So, what’s the underlying theme and motivation for these faithful mothers? One word…LOVE. This morning, we will look at motherly love through the power and example of Gods great love.

We heard a short passage from 2 Timothy that tells the story of how Timothy’s faith was passed down…from his grandmother to his mother, and from the mother to the son. This passage sets a great example.

One of the best things we can do is pray for the children in our families, church, and community. How many mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles are constantly remembering their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews in prayers? Our prayers for the members of our families are incredibly powerful. We need to be praying for our children. If you don’t have any children, you can be praying for the children you know. (Story of returning to Center Chapel and having people say, “A lot of us were praying for you when you were in high school and college.”)

Timothy’s faith was handed down from his grandmother to his mother and from the mother to the son. The way we live out our faith and the priority we give to it speaks loudly to our children and others around us.

The importance we give to drawing near to God through passionate worship, intentional faith development, extravagant generosity, radical hospitality and risk-taking mission and service communicates so much to those in our lives.

For the adults in the room, we have a great responsibility to live our lives in such a way that others will be drawn to Christ. Our lives should be lived in a way that they add to and enrich the faith of those around us. If participation in church, Sunday school, Bible study isn’t a priority for us, we shouldn’t be surprised when our kids don’t make it a priority.

For the young people in the room, you have a responsibility to live your lives in such a way that others will be drawn to Christ too! In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul encouraged Timothy and said, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” So, young people, you’re not off the hook.

So, we need to ask ourselves, are the people in our lives developing a sincere faith because of our example? What are we handing down to younger generations? What are we passing on to the people around us?

In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

“Love one another as I have loved you.” That’s a great description of motherly love. Some of us have had the great pleasure of having mothers that have lavishly poured out their love on us throughout all the various stages of our lives. I’m positive that our mothers desire is that we would then share and give that same kind of love to those around us. It’s that unconditional love…the kind of love that is love for love’s sake…not a give and take kind of love (I’ll share my love with you if you do “this” for me). It’s the unselfish giving of ourselves for others.

But yet, the love that a mother has for her children doesn’t even begin to measure up to the kind of love that God has for each of us. His love goes above and beyond. And yet, this is the love that Jesus calls us to…a love marked by sacrifice, humility, service, peace, mercy, forgiveness, joy, the list could go on and on and would still fall short in trying to describe the kind of love that Jesus has for us and calls us to have for one another.

We are told in this passage that people will know we are with Jesus by our….bumper stickers? Listen, if you are going to put Christian bumper stickers on your car, make sure that you drive the speed limit and don’t cut people off!

One of our local police officers shared a story with me earlier in the week. He said he noticed a female driver tailgating another vehicle on 40 near Round Barn Road. Suddenly, the light turned yellow. The first did the right thing, stopping at the light, even though he probably could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman slammed on the brakes, and the horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection.  As she was still in mid-rant, the police officer went and tapped on her window. She looked up with surprise and concern. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, finger-printed, photographed, and then placed in a holding cell.  After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal possessions.  He said, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car!”

So, Jesus didn’t say they will know us by our bumper stickers. Oh, I know, Jesus said they will know us by our t-shirts! That’s it, right? No! Many of the Christian t-shirts in the Christian bookstores are most likely violating all kinds of trademarks and copyright laws.

Did Jesus say they will know us by our words? No. Think about some of our Christian words and how they don’t make sense to those outside the church. Not only do we have words like chancel, narthex, substitutionary atonement, hermeneutics and exegesis, we love to use “code words” for various rooms and classes. When I was growing up, I used to hear announcements like “MYF will meet in the JOY room”. What the heck does that even mean? You want to know why new people don’t participate in MYF in the JOY room? They have no clue what that means! Why can’t we just have classroom numbers and say “The high school youth will meet in room 4, also known as the old folk’s room”? People who haven’t been around for 5, 10, 20, 50 years won’t understand our code words!

Oh, I know, Jesus said they will know us by our songs? No! Let’s be honest, many of our Christian songs leave something to be desired…lyrically, musically. Some of our Christian music is the worst music ever. And, it should be the best. Christian music and art should be the best. Yet, we often settle for mediocre or worse.

It’s not by our bumper stickers, t-shirts, words or songs. It’s by our love.

If you couldn’t speak, if there weren’t t-shirts that said “Jesus Freak” or “Come at me, bro”, how would people know that you’re with Jesus? Do people see God because of the way you love?

If we Christians took seriously the call of Jesus to love one another, this world might be a lot different from what it looks like today. Can you imagine what a world led by and focused on love rather than greed, lust, power, and money would be like? It’s hard to imagine a world free of war, free of hunger, free of pollution, free of injustice, free of hatred, free of judgment…Maybe that’s why love is so important. Maybe love, real love, gives us a glimpse of what God originally intended for us. Maybe love gives us a glimpse of what the Kingdom will be like. Maybe love is the basis to make the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven a reality.

John 14:23-29- This passage starts off with a call to obedience. If we truly love God…If we truly desire to follow Him we will obey His teachings. As children, we’re called to honor and obey our parents. Why? Because they just might have our best interest in mind. As followers of Christ, we’re called to honor and obey Him. Why? Because He does have our best interest in mind. His ways our better than our ways. If we would only be obedient…

It also tells us in this passage that if we are obedient as His followers that He will dwell within us. We’re not on our own here. God’s not only with us, He is making His home deep within us. Why does God give us the Spirit? To teach us. To guide us. To lead us. To remind us.

God’s desire is that we would show our love for Him by following His ways. We have a call from Jesus to love and to obey his ways. We do this by leading lives of passionate worship, intentional faith development, extravagant generosity, radical hospitality, and risk-taking mission and service. We love and obey by making a commitment to grow, give, and go together.

But we’re not out on our own. The Spirit is with us to develop our strength, to lead us to faith, to bring us peace and to help us find freedom from fear.

If people will know that we are Christians by our love, then we have a responsibility to live out lives of love. Are you doing all you can to show love? What are people learning from the way we live? Do people see Jesus in and through us as a result of the way we live, work, play, talk, and set our priorities? What are our lives communicating to the world around us? Love, faith, peace, freedom, or something else?

Max Lucado in his book “Come Thirsty” took some passages of Scripture to put together some thoughts on what it might look like if God wrote us a letter. This is one I really enjoyed: “I throw my arms around you, lavish attention on you, and guard you as the apple of my eye. I rejoice over you with great gladness. My thoughts of you cannot be counted; they outnumber the grains of sand! Nothing can ever separate you from my love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Your fears for today, your worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep my love away.”

This is the kind of love the Father has for us and calls for us to have for one another. Are you living out a life of love?