“An Invitation To The Table”

This is the message that I am giving on Saturday morning (August 31st) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY this morning. It is based on Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14 but it also considers Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13 and Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16. The doors to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen open at 8 and you are welcome to come. Drop me a note if you are in the area on a Saturday morning and are interested in presenting the message.

I will be at Fort Montgomery United Methodist Church in Fort Montgomery, NY this Sunday, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 1st. For my message, “Guess Who’s Coming For Breakfast?” I will be using Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; and Luke 14: 1, 7 -14 as the scriptures. Services are 9:30 and you are welcome to attend.

This particular Gospel reading is a very interesting one because, if you are not careful, you might think that it is actually another reading that you have heard before. In fact, in Luke, there are two stories about being invited to a banquet and they are back to back. It is this second one that we are perhaps more familiar with, in part because it also is in the Gospel of Matthew. The story in Matthew does have a little bit different ending to the one in Luke though and I think that reflects the audience that Matthew was writing for and the audience to whom Luke was writing.

In today’s Gospel reading, the host is told to open his table to all the people and not just those who will have to some day repay the host for his having invited them to dine at his place.

We can assume that all those who are invited do in fact come to the dinner and there is much made of who will sit where because where you sat at the table was indicative of your status in that society. Jesus basically tells all those who want to sit at the head table that it would be better for them to sit somewhere else and wait to be invited to come to the head table; it would make a better statement, perhaps, about one’s standing.

Keep in mind that two of Jesus’ disciples, the brothers James and John, will come to Jesus shortly before the Last Supper and asked that they be given the seats of honor, only to be rebuked by Jesus.

Now, in the second banquet story, the honored guests offer excuse after excuse as to why they are not able to attend. So the host tells his servants to go out to the streets of the town and get everyone they can find to come and enjoy the banquet. Now, the only difference between the story in Luke and the story in Matthew is that there are a few individuals in Matthew who come to the table ill-prepared for the meal and, in doing so, show a great deal of disrespect for the host inviting them. The host naturally instructs his servants to throw out those who fail to respect the traditions of the meal.

It always seemed to me that Jesus had a difficult time with the social conventions of His day. He was always getting in trouble with the leaders of society because He was with the wrong people; you know, the sinners, the sick, the poor, the prostitutes (there was even a rumor going around that His girl friend was a prostitute), and tax collectors (and one of His disciples was a tax collector). He always seemed to have those who society considered unclean and unworthy following Him and it was an expectation of society that if your friends were “unclean” then you were yourself.

But when you read the Bible and you look at it closely, Jesus put respecting the individual for who he or she was before social norms or traditions, even if it went against the religious laws of that time.

Each of these stories points out one key point – God’s grace is for everyone, no matter who they might be or their own personal station in life. And while God’s grace is for everyone, you have to accept it by following and believing in Jesus; if you don’t, then you don’t get it (in more ways than one).

I am afraid that many people, both those in the church and those outside the church may not be willing to accept that idea. Too often people inside the church are unwilling to open the doors of the church to non-members.

Maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much if the church today was more like the church two thousand years ago, before Jesus began His ministry. Then, no one except the really high up in the church power structure got to enter the sanctuary of the temple. That made God inaccessible to the people, no matter who they might have been in life. Of course, somewhere along the line, the rich and powerful found a way to use their influence to get inside the church and that may have been why Jesus made a point of putting in the comment about where everyone was seated.

But the church today is more like that church than it is the church that began after Easter. But that post-Easter church wasn’t so much a church as it was a gathering of people. And they understood the point about the place of honor and how they should open their doors to all of the community. And this was at a time when to be known publicly that you were a follower of Christ was to risk arrest, trial, and execution.

Now, I do not know how those outside the boundaries of the church two thousand years ago or even those outside the boundaries of the new church felt about all of this. The chances are that they never came close to the one church because too many bad things might happen if they were to try and come in. And in that period where the new church was a gathering in someone’s home, they might not have felt welcome. But I think that those outside who did come in were welcomed and they understood that it was an unconditional welcome and those who welcomed them did so for no other reason than it was the right thing to do.

I wonder what happened to that church and why the church today is so much like the one that existed before Jesus Christ began to walk the roads of the Galilee?

Why is that so many people who call themselves Christian do things with the expectation that this will help them get into Heaven, even when Christ said that it wouldn’t. Remember, in today’s Gospel reading, He said to bring the people to the banquet, even if they could not repay the honor that others could do. But as I have already stated, even those who could not repay needed to show respect.

There are quite a few people today who will tell you that to change the direction of this country that we need to return to a more Judeo-Christian outlook. For me, that would seem to suggest that we look at the post-Easter church, the church of community and gathering and less at the rigid and ritualistic church of two thousand years ago.

Some people when they come into this place see a gym; since they come for the food, they probably don’t even see the altar that we put up every Saturday. And I know that there are quite a few that don’t come until it is “safe”, you know, after the worship is over. I would suspect that when the word got out that there was a meal over at someone’s house back in the early days of the new church, people came at all times and they really didn’t want to hear about this guy Jesus Christ who died on a Roman cross for their sins.

But they probably missed out on a lot, just as those who have come at nine are finding out that they are missing out on the meal as well.

But slowly the world changed. The Roman authorities quit persecuting those early followers of Christ and it became easier to meet in open.

And those who heard the word over the years found ways to bring the hope and promise of the word to all those who came, even when the established church was not necessarily attuned to that way of thinking.

Many people today want that really old church, the one where only a few people can come in. But that’s not what Jesus asked His followers to do. He asked them to open the doors and let all who would follow be able to follow, to show love to all those, even those who might hate Him or ignore Him.

Jesus told everyone that would follow Him to repent and start anew, to rejoice in the fellowship of a community of believers, and to work in such a way that all were fed, all were healed, and all were freed from the slavery to sin and death.

So we have gathered here, a community of believers and friends, seeking the opportunity of worship and a meal. Because we have heard the invitation to join Christ, we need to reach out to others to that they too can receive the invitation to Christ’s Table.

“For What It’s Worth”

What are your favorite Bible verses? When did you learn them?

I learned two of my favorite verses in decidedly non-church settings.

From the Old Testament, I have Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – “To everything there is a season, and time and purpose for everything under heaven”. It is probable that I first heard this verse when I heard the Byrds sing “Turn, turn, turn.” I would find out later that Pete Seeger wrote this song and, of course, it was based on the passage from Ecclesiastes.

From the New Testament, I have John 8: 32 – “Seek the truth and the truth shall set you free.” The first time that I ever really came across this verse was while I was reading a Tom Clancy novel and he pointed out that this verse happens to be the motto of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Good Shepherd”, the song sung by Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, has its origins in the Gospel of John 21: 1 – 19 and was originally written by a Methodist minister in the 1840’s (see my notes on this song in “A Rock and Roll Revival”).

So what Bible verses did you learn in life and not from the Bible?

“Thinking Outside The Box”

I am at Rowe United Methodist Church in Milan, NY, tomorrow for the Sunday service at 11 am. You are welcome to attend if you are in the area. The message for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost is based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, and Luke 13: 10 – 17.

When I began working on this message, I envisioned the title as “A New Calling”. But my reviewer, after reading it, suggested that a better title was “Thinking Outside The Box.” And who am I to argue with my wife when it comes to such things? And the thinking that I am presenting today also matches some thinking and conversations that we are having at our church.

On a clear and cold January 20, 1961, John Kennedy stood on the steps of the United States Capitol and took the oath of office to become the President of the United States. He then spoke to the people gathered there, to the American people throughout the land, and to millions of people around the world.

He spoke of a torch being passed to a new generation, a generation tempered in the fires of war and guided by the principles set forth in the American Revolution. It was, I believe, a statement to all those who had said that he, John Kennedy, was too young and too inexperienced to be the President.

Let us ignore for the moment that John Kennedy was, at the time, older than many of the leaders of the American Revolution. Let us ignore the fact that John Kennedy was older than Jesus Christ when He began the ministry in the Galilee that would change the world.

John Kennedy’s words that day inspired a new generation to seek public service and to work for the ideals first expressed in the American Revolution. They were words that said that what you could do was determined by your ability, not by your age.

It was a time of inquiry and exploration. If you were in school at that time, you were part of the great changes taking place in the areas of science and mathematics, changes that would help us join those already beginning to explore the world beyond the skies.

It was a time when the promises of this country in terms of equality and opportunity seemed very close to fulfillment. There was a vision that we would reach beyond the stars before the next century began.

But something happened and that journey was never completed.

Today equality is measured by the balance in one’s bank account and opportunities exist for only a chosen few. From a society that saw its future in the stars we have become a society that wonders if there will ever be a future. Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, seem to be the daily litany of the news and far too commonplace.

Our educational system, instead of preparing thinkers and visionaries, produces individuals who can recite myriad reams of facts but have no clue what the facts mean, how they relate to the world, and how to use that information to solve the problems this country faces today and will face tomorrow.

People cling to battered and tired visions of the past, hoping to restore the “good old days”, even if they weren’t really that good. And because we have lost our vision, our ability to solve the problems that we faced today is limited. We seek solutions that based on the old ways and wonder why they don’t work.

The prophet Joel proclaimed,

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

But it seems that the old no longer dream, the young no longer see visions, and our sons and daughters can no longer prophesy. We turn to others to tell us what to say and think, individuals who rely on our fears and our ignorance, our traditions and our bias.

And I think that it is time that we change and do so before it is too late. I am not a believer in the end of the world vision offered by so many people today, in part because such a vision is based on our fears and our ignorance. It is time, I think, that we hear the Call of God and respond to it.

This is about answering the same call that God gave to Jeremiah. I know that Jeremiah says that “he is only a boy” but that doesn’t stop God from calling upon him to take on a task. And if a young boy is to be called to take the call of God, who is to say that anyone of us cannot take the same call?

How many of the prophets willingly and quickly answered God’s call? How many of the prophets offered excuses and reasons why they could not do what God wanted them to do?

This is not about how young or old we are today. The call from God isn’t and never was age-related. How old was Abram when God said to pack everything he had and head to a new land? How old was Sarai when God informed her that she was going to be pregnant? How old was Moses when God came to him somewhere in the Negev Desert and told him to return to Egypt and free God’s people?

How many people do you know whose age has never limited what they can do? In other words, how many people can think “outside the box?”

Back in 1988, I was a young (relatively speaking) college instructor struggling to complete his doctorate and getting those all important research papers published when I met the Nobel Laureate, Dr. Herbert C. Brown. While I was still trying to get that first publication, Dr. Brown was routinely involved in the publication of 100 research papers a year. It was not pro-forma that his name was on the paper; he was in the laboratory, offering advice and suggestions on the conduct of the research involved.

And yet we have all met and know individuals far younger than us who have not had an original thought in years.

Bob Dylan wrote a song in which he noted that times were changing and that we best heed the call. I got the note about the 175th anniversary of Rowe the other day and I liked what it said at the top of the page, “1838 – 2013 . . . and still counting!” It says to the people of this area that this church plans to be here for a long time and to be a part of the community for at least another 175 years or so.

It is important to remember who we are and where we have come from, for it tells us much about where we can go. But we need to rekindle and revive the vision that brought people to this place, to each of the United Methodist Churches in this area and throughout the country. Too many people today focus on issues founded in ignorance and bigotry and that turn our attention away from the Gospel message of hope and deliverance. Too many people wish things were the way they have always been and not the way they could be.

It was a Sabbath morning some two thousand years ago and Jesus was doing what He probably did every Sabbath during His three year ministry and what He had done every Sabbath since he was twelve; He was in the synagogue listening to the rabbi teach a lesson from the Torah or, as was the case in today’s Gospel lesson, teaching the lesson Himself.

But this Sabbath was perhaps just a little bit different. There was a woman, bent over with the pain of arthritis, present in the building, probably over in the women’s section since she wasn’t allowed to be in the same part of the building as the men. And Jesus called her over to Him, laid His hands on her, and healed her.

Think about this very carefully. First, Jesus brought a women into a part of the building where she was not supposed to be. Surely, that upset many of the traditionalists, for whom appearance and tradition counted more than anything else. Second, He touched her. This wasn’t the first time that Jesus had touched a sick person and in the very act of touching that person, Jesus became ritually unclean. In the eyes of the traditionalists, Jesus should have left the building right then and there!

And then, He healed her of an eighteen year ailment. At that point, the leader of the congregation had had enough and denounced Jesus for working on the Sabbath. And all Jesus did was point out the hypocrisy of the law that said it was proper to take care of one’s farm animals but not heal a sick person.

It also says something about the nature of that group of people that day that they were delighted that the Jesus had responded to the leader has He had. It makes you wonder how the leader treated the other members of the congregation.

And how many times have we seen that in our lives? Where tradition and honor take precedence over what is right and proper? How many times have we questioned the right of an individual to be a part of the church because they don’t fit into our preconceived notion of tradition and honor? How many times have we said “that’s just not the way things are done around here”?

John Wesley was not the first person of his time to show concern for the poor and impoverished people of England. In many sermons of that age, there is a real concern for the lower classes; but it is assumed that if they, the poor and working classes are to be saved and to enter into Christ’s purpose for them, they must take on the culture of their betters who stand as a living sign to the Grace of God. In other words, it was assumed (and I think it is still assumed today) that the will of God was to make “them” more like “us.”

The writer of Hebrews points out that those who follow Christ have been given a new way of life. Tradition told the people not to touch, in fact I think in some translations they were to never go near, Mount Sinai. To do so was to die. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are in a new world, working under a new covenant, a fresh charter.

This new covenant, this new charter comes with a thorough house cleaning, a removal of all the historical and religious junk that has gotten in the way of entering God’s Kingdom. God is no longer on some mountain far away and untouchable; He is right here, right now, with us.

Because John Wesley followed the example of Jesus and went to the people, not to make them like their betters but to enable to find the way of Christ in their own world, he was bitterly attacked. The missionary work of John Wesley and all of the early Methodists, including those who founded this church 175 years ago, made a statement about the ideological assumptions of the privileged and threatened the security of their prejudices which they assumed to be the will and purpose of God.

The call that we have is to make sure that all the people have that opportunity. Jeremiah was to pull up and tear down, take apart and demolish, and then start over, building and planting. For me, that means looking at how we do church, where we do church and what church members can offer not only to and for each other but to and for those with whom they come into contact every day.

Will Cotton, the Senior Pastor at St. Barnabas UMC in Arlington, Texas, and the pastor whose words and actions were instrumental in my beginning this part of my own personal journey with Christ, wrote that he sees a different ministry for the church in the coming years.

The 21st century (for at least the rest of our lifetimes) in ministry will not be primarily about the local church. Churches and denominations will be wise to train people for ministry in secular situations. The gospel is returning to the streets, the marketplace, the classrooms, the chat rooms, the homes and even the bars. My job description has shifted in response to the leading of the Spirit. I am not just a performer of ministry; I am a leverage person, equipping people for ministry in places I will never be able to go. I used to lead Bible Studies with up to 80 people in them and they were enjoyed. But two years ago, I moved to more intensive studies that prepare leaders who then start classes, small groups, and even lead “in the marketplace” studies and support groups. My favorite book on this shift is Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. My two CLMs came out of those classes. If I train 15-20 people (which I do at near seminary level with some texts actually from Course of Study for local pastors) and they lead groups of even 10 people, then the yield is three times what I was doing in the large studies before. The Church you and I are a part of will be so different in just 20 years from now, and the truth is, no one knows what it will look like (nearly every Bishop worth his or her consecration will tell you that). But the shift from church-centered ministry to community-centered ministry is part of it.

We must ask ourselves today how we can be witnesses to the crucified servant Lord. Our answer must be rooted in knowing that we are to be with him in the midst of the world’s needs, by His grace seeking to be the signs of his ultimate fulfillment and not the bringers of that fulfillment. In doing so we free ourselves from the conformity of the world’s self-assertive way and transformed into the way and manner Christ assumed in his ministry for us.

The church today, wherever it may be located, on a country road somewhere, in the suburbs of a city, or even on a street corner in the city, can no longer just be a Sunday only operation. It has to be, quite literally, a 24/7 operation. It can no longer be the repository of holy relics; it has to be the source for all who seek answers. It has to be a fulfillment of the Gospel message to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, lift up the downtrodden, and bring hope to the lost and weary.

Some will say that it is not possible for them or their church to answer that call. But the call that God makes is based on the skills and abilities of the people. Moses told God that he was incapable of speaking to the people (tradition says that he was a stutterer) so called Moses’ brother, Aaron, to do the speaking.

It may be that one does not know what can do; but there is a course offered in this district called “Knowing One’s Spiritual Gifts”. It is a very interesting course because it gives one insight into what one’s own gifts are. Knowing what one’s gifts are can tell you how to answer God’s call and to think outside the box.

We have two choices this Sunday morning. Time and time again we have allowed the methods of past generations to dictate what the next generation will do. But we end up finding ourselves asking and thinking that if we can only find the right and relevant method we will be as successful as they were.

It may strike some as quite out-of-place but it is not very important whether the number of Christians at a particular place and time is large or small. What is more important is to ask whether the large or small numbers of Christians know that they are representatives for all and that they are called to participate in the mission of the reconciliation of the universe.

We must leave it to God whether and when He wants to use our worship and witness in order to add to or cut down the number of His militant church on earth. In the end, it is not a question whether the church exists for itself but rather it exists as part of the whole world.

We have a new calling today, one to reach out to the world, first in this corner of the world that we call home and then to the rest of the world. We may say, as so many have done before, that we are small band and that we cannot do anything but God has always shown that He will give those who answer His call the skills, the abilities and the power to do so.

Will you answer the call of God, the New Calling, today? Do you dare to think outside the box?

“Old Dreams, New Visions”

This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY this morning. It is based on the lectionary reading from Hebrews (Hebrews 12: 18 – 29) but also has the thoughts of the Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10) and the Gospel reading (Luke 13: 10 – 17) in it as well.

I will be at Rowe United Methodist Church in Milan, NY, tomorrow for the Sunday service at 11 am. You are welcome to attend if you are in the area. The message, “A New Calling”, is based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, and Luke 13: 10 – 17

A while back I came across a listing of the top ten anti-war songs. Now most of the songs on that list I knew and had sung but there were a couple on the list that I had never heard. One of those was “Fall of the Peacemakers” by Molly Hatchet.

Now, as a Southern boy, I sort of knew about this particular group as it is one of the leaders in the particular brand of rock and roll that has a distinctly Southern twang to it. The group is better known perhaps for “Flirting With Disaster” but I found the “Peacemakers” song very interesting, especially with its reference to the funeral of President John Kennedy. I also came to like a third song by the group, “Dreams I’ll Never See”, which starts off

Just one more morning I had to wake up with the blues.

Pulled myself out of bed yeah, put on my walking shoes.

Climbed up on a hilltop baby, see what I could see.

The whole world was falling down baby, right down in front of me.


‘Cause I’m hung up on dreams I’m never gonna see yeah.

Lord help me babe.

Dreams get the best of me, yeah.

I thought about this song when reading the passage from Hebrews that I read from this morning and because next week we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Washington memorial that became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech.

There was a hope at that time fifty years ago that the vision that Dr. King so proudly proclaimed would become reality, that one would judged by their character and not by the color of their skin. There was a hope some fifty years ago that the dreams and visions of this country would be fulfilled that year. And while the hope is still here today, it is seen in a dimmer light than it was then.

And we must also realize that this coming Thanksgiving we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. It would be safe to say that the dreams and hopes that echoed throughout this land some fifty years ago began to fade when the bullets were fired that fateful day in Dallas, Texas.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews speaks in passing to another death, the death of Christ. If we were to put ourselves in the place of those gathered in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, we might be rejoicing to hear Jesus speak of the hope and promise found in the Gospel message. It offered to the people then the same hope and promise that were given and felt that hot August day in Washington, D. C. fifty years ago.

And surely if we were to have been in Jerusalem on that fateful Friday that we have come to call Good Friday, we would have felt that same way about the death of Christ as we did when the announcement was made that John Kennedy had been killed in Dallas.

But the writer of Hebrews points out that the death of Christ was not a reason for sadness but for rejoicing. Because in Christ’s death on the Cross.we have found freedom.

But this is not a freedom where we can do anything we like and I think that is what too many people do not understand. It means that life as we know it has changed. Before Christ, many people feared God; note the words of Hebrews that said that if an animal so much as touched the ground on Mount Sinai, it was died. Even Moses was terrified.

The death of Abel in Genesis called for vengeance and retribution; Jesus’ death on the Cross was God’s sign of forgiveness and reconciliation. No longer could we not approach God but God was part of our lives.

The whole basis of society has changed. When John Wesley began the movement that was to lead to today’s United Methodist Church, it was assumed the righteousness was found in the good things of life. Only those who lead the “good” life would be able to find Christ; Wesley challenged that view and said that all could find Christ if given the opportunity.

But this view was always one that supported the status quo, that said that unless you were like me, you could never have the peace found in Christ. What John Wesley did was to say that you could have the same peace that anyone found in Christ; that you were not barred from doing so.

No longer was God inaccessible to you; no longer was the rewards of Heaven unattainable.

The challenge that we face today is the same challenge that John Wesley faced some two hundred fifty years ago, to bring Christ to others, how can we be witnesses for Christ? Our task, our challenge is to be with Christ in the midst of world’s needs, by His grace seeking to be the signs of His ultimate fulfillment. This means that we are concerned for mankind’s freedom, we are concerned for the well-being of others, we dream of a “new city”, and long for a life freed from despair.

In Christ comes the freedom, the equality that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed would come. It is a vision that has been a part of our lives for almost two thousand years ago. The dream can be a vision and it can be a reality. It requires that we accept Christ as our Savior, it requires that we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our lives, and it requires that we work to fulfill the Gospel message in this place and in this time today.

“Can You Find Your Church?”

Can You Find Your Church?

Interesting question, don’t you think? And the answer is, of course, I can find my church. Just please don’t tell me it is right where you left it.

But what about the person who has just moved to the area and would like to come to a United Methodist Church? The answer in this case is that they probably could find your church but how will they find it?

At this point, we are a little out of my depth when it comes to mapping programs but hopefully you have friends or know some people who can help in this regard.

They could do as I have done on a number of occassions; wander around the new neighborhood until they find a church. But in today’s technological society, they are just as apt to go to the Internet and do a search there.

Someone searching for a United Methodist Church might try googling for the church but the odds are that they will get lots and lots of church information and it will be very hard to sift through it all to find your church. Think about it, how many churches are there in this country that have the same name as your church? The same could probably be said for searching for the church on Facebook.

Searching on Google and Facebook can be very difficult if you do not have something specific in mind.

But there is one search engine that provides very specific results about churches in one’s area and it is the “Find A Church” function on the UMC.org page.

Did you know that this was there? I have found that many churches are not even aware that this function exists and that their specific church is listed on it.

There are two ways to utilize this function. First, you have to go to UMC.org. On the the top of the page, just off to the left center is a tab marked “Find a church”. You can use this tab to get to the find a church page or update your church’s information.

Clicking on the find-a-church part takes you to a page where you can enter information such as street address, city, state, and zip code information or even a particular church name. This will lead to a results page.

The second way to get to this information from the first page is to enter a zip code over on the right hand side of the first page (in the slot marked “enter zip code”). This will give you all the churches with that particular zip code. There is an option to expand this search in 5-mile increments.

Now, here is the question for you to consider. If the person looking for a church finds your church by either process, what will they find when they click on the church’s name?

If a particular church doesn’t know that this page exists, not much information is going to be available. There might be a street address and perhaps a telephone. If one is lucky, there might even be an e-mail address. With the street address, there is a connection to Google maps so that one can get directions to the church.

This is where the fund begins. For one church in my area, the listed mailing address happens to be the parsonage and not the church which is about five miles away. That is the type of error that each church has to check, to make sure that street address of the church is the street address of the church.

Google maps tend to make errors, such as putting one local church on the other side of the intersection from where it actually is. Or the time that the directions from Google put me in the parking lot of an Assembly of God church one mile from my destination. My favorite one though is the one that put a Connecticut church in the middle of Kentucky.

If you have not looked at this function on the UMC.org web page, you need to do so. Is the information listed correct? (The e-mail address for a church in this area was linked to a church of basically the same name but in Indiana.)

Is the link to the web site correct and active? A person uses technology to find your church who gets wrong e-mail addresses and/or incorrect web sites is not likely to visit your church. We just through a period of many changes in this district and the pastors listed on the Find-a-church page are not entirely correct.

I cannot offer any insight into what it takes to change the information on this page. There are options for changing the information and/or adding new information but we are still doing that at our church so I am not prepared to give clues on that aspect.

But the mantra still remains the same. Once you put your presence on line, you must constantly work to insure that the information is correct and accurate. When one makes a commitment to technology, one is making a long-term and active commitment. You cannot create a web page and expect it to take care of itself. Too many seekers today are attuned to the technological nature of society; they will not consider a church that makes only a partial attempt to be technological oriented.

So can you find your church? And when you find it, what will you find?

Live Churches

This is clearly something that everyone needs to read!

Preachermom41's Blog

Found this as I was perusing for illustrations on spiritual growth. Source is unknown but the words are powerful…Image

Live churches’ expenses are always more than their income; dead churches don’t need much money!

Live churches have parking problems; Dead churches have empty spaces!

Live churches may have some noisy children; Dead churches are quiet as a cemetery.

Live churches keep changing their ways of doing things; Dead churches see no need for change!

Live churches grow so fast you can’t keep up with people’s names; In dead churches everybody always knows everybody’s name.

Live churches strongly support world missions; Dead churches keep the money at home!

Live churches are full of regular, cheerful givers; Dead churches are full of grudging tippers!

Live churches move ahead on prayer and faith; Dead churches work only on sight!

Live churches plant daughter churches; Dead churches fear spending the money, time, and talent!

Live churches…

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What Option?

This is the message that I am presenting at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY, this Saturday, August 17th, and at Sunday Vespers in the Garden at Grace UMC. I am using primarily the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 5: 1 – 7) for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost but also make reference to the readings from Hebrews (Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2) and Luke (Luke 12: 49 – 56).

The doors to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen open at 8 and all are welcome to come and be a part of the Saturday morning community. Vespers in the Garden at Grace begin at 7 on Fridays and Sundays and all are welcome to be a part of this worship service.


When I first read the passage from Isaiah I thought of a couple of things. First, I thought about all those who have proclaimed that America is the new Israel, how this land is the new Promised Land.

Even today, there are those who see the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom taking place here in the United States and that the American people, or at least some of them, are the inheritors of the title of God’s chosen ones.

Of course, that sort of runs against Christ speaking of the opportunity for all to know God and it also means that we, the people, need to take the words of God spoken through Isaiah very, very carefully. Isaiah tells the people of Israel two thousand years ago that their choices to go away from God, to ignore their own people through violence, repression, and economic inequality are not the ways of God’s people.

The primary themes of the Bible, our relationship with God and our relationship with the other people who live on this planet, are the same today as they were two thousand years ago. And yet today, it seems as if we have not learned a thing.

There is still violence, repression, and economic inequality today and it seems to be getting worse, not better. There has to be an alternative that we have not considered, an alternative that brings out the best of the human condition, not the worst.

But what or where is that alternative? That is part of my second thought in reading this passage from Isaiah plus the words on faith that the writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote.

Some people will say that there is no God, no Yahweh, no Jehovah, no Allah, no supreme being by any other name. There are argument is that no god would ever allow such destruction, such violence, such indifference to the human plight to ever exist.

But stop and think about that for a moment.

If you say that there is no God or supreme being and you do not offer an alternative for what you believe, then you are essentially offering little to justify your own existence. For me, at least, to deny the existence of God is to deny one own existence and remove all hope from your life and to say that there is nothing in this world for you.

Those who offer this thought say that you have to go it alone, it is by whatever means you can think of that you will succeed. You put walls up around you so that no one can bother you. But what happens is that you limit your vision of the future and you have put yourself in a prison of your own making, a prison from which you cannot be released. And what kind of life is that?

If we understand that humans were created in the image of God, then you also understand that God gave us the ability to think and create as well as destroy. Anger, violence, war, and destruction come from the same source as love and creativity and to limit one is to surely limit the other. Anger, violence, war and destruction come from man, and to paraphrase President John Kennedy, problems created by man can be solved by man. And I do think that we have spent far too much time on the destruction aspect of our lives and too little time on our creativity.

But creativity requires vision, it requires hope and when your life is limited and without hope, such creativity is not possible to find.

The one thing that God offered the people of Israel, the one thing that God offers to each one of us today is hope, the promise that there is a worth to this life and a goal at the end.

That hope is found in Jesus Christ. In sending Jesus Christ to be among us, God said that there was hope, there was a chance for a better life. This is the theme of the book of Hebrews, that there is a hope present in our lives. Now, the writer of Hebrews didn’t say that this was going to be an easy life or that one might find the resolution of hope in their earthly life. But he also pointed out how many people followed through on that hope so that we might have that opportunity today.

On more than one occasion Jesus pointed out that following Him was not an easy path as well. And we know that each day on that three year journey from the River Jordan to Jerusalem, the number of people who followed Jesus became less and less as the reality of the journey became apparent.

I know that many people today don’t want to follow Christ; it is jut too hard to do so, it requires too much from them. They want a world where everything is given to them without question and without effort; they don’t want to have to return the effort.

In the Gospel reading for this weekend, Jesus points out that His coming would even bring division among families and friends. A Lutheran colleague offered the following words,

Similar words (from Matthew’s Gospel) began a section of a recent newsletter from LCMS Missionaries Brad and Genevieve Ermeling. They wrote: “These words of Jesus often strike us as harsh truths that many of us in Christian homes have never had to face.” (“A Warning Label of the Package of Christianity”)

We are often asked to do things that run counter to tradition and practice, things that speak of a new vision of the world and not simply a continuation of the present one. This will cause conflicts, both within families and within society.

But in that division is a sign of things to come. Two thousand years ago, there were those who could not see the signs. Trapped behind the walls of indifference and self-centeredness they could not see what was happening. They could not see the future.

And today, there are those who have built the same sort of walls, who feel that they are safe within those walls, safe from the problems of the world. There are those who have built walls of selfishness and greed, who place their own needs above everyone else, who are not willing to be a part of this world. Each of these individuals, trapped in a prison of their own making, cannot see the future.

But there was also those who saw what Jesus was doing and heard what He was saying, who understood that there was hope, there was a promise in the future. They understood that to follow Him was not an easy thing to do but that in doing so the results would be better, not just for themselves but for everyone. (Keep in mind that the earlier church, the church that Rome prosecuted, opened its doors, its hearts, its mind, its soul to all the people and not just the limited number of early believers.)

They understood that in Jesus there was a future, open and unbounded.

When I was growing up, I saw many a person who profess to believe in Christ but whose actions belied that belief. I saw people who engaged in many acts of selfishness and greed, whose actions and attitudes were devoted to their own self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. And yet, on Sunday, they would stand before God and the people and proclaim their belief in Christ and state how Christ had brought them from the prison of sin and death.

Something inside me said that was wrong. I saw a world of oppression and violence, of greed and inequality, and a church that was blind to the vision that Christ offered. And I knew others then who felt that way and I know many today who feel that way as well. They have left the organized church because they felt that there was no place for them and they have left God because they could not see how God would allow that to happen.

I might have done that as well and left the church, Jesus, and God far behind. But I do not want to imagine what might have happened.

But there were people who showed me that God’s love for each one of us was unlimited and that it overcame what other men might say and do. I was given an opportunity, as we all are, to find Christ, perhaps in a way that I had never thought.

I also knew that John Wesley saw the same church and the same people some two hundred years before. And I knew that he chose not to walk away but rather do something about a church that was indifferent to the world. He chose, as a follower of Christ, to reach out to the world, to the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed.

I was given the same opportunity and I have tried to do the same, through my words, my thoughts, and my deeds.

Christ said He came to this world to bring hope to the oppressed, that He came to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and build homes for the homeless. And He called upon us, each one of us, to continue that mission. Followers of Christ are called to make disciples of the people of this world and that means showing them through not only word but action what that means.

You may say that you will go it alone and that is the only way that you can survive. But that traps in you in slavery to sin as sure as anything else you do.

You may feel that Christ is for you and you alone and you have no obligation to share that faith with others. But if you do not share your faith by your thoughts, your words, your deeds, and/or your actions, how will others come to Christ. Can you truly be a follower of Christ when you do not do what you have been asked to do?

The point Wesleyan Christians have made consistently is that we cannot overcome sin, but that Christ can. If we are growing in holiness by working out our salvation, the Holy Spirit does, in fact, have the power to overcome sin. It is a long journey for many, but it is not impossible for God.

Kevin Watson recently wrote, concerning the fullness of the Gospel,

The gospel proclaims that Jesus was the Son of God, he was crucified, died, and raised again on the third day. Jesus faced the very worse that sin and death could do. He entered fully into the reality of death. And he conquered sin, even the grave! (from John Meunier – “He Breaks The Power of Canceled Sin”

The only power to escape that slavery is found in Christ. We cannot overcome sin but Christ can. In one of his hymns, Charles Wesley wrote of the power that Jesus has to cancel sin and set the prisoner free. It is by the Grace of God that we have this opportunity but it is the work of God in our lives that moves us onward to perfection and completion. (adapted from Allan Bevere “Grace Is a Gift From God, Grace Is a Work of God”)

We live in an interesting and challenging world, a world that often times offers little hope or promise for the future. We have been told that the option is that we have no option.

Perhaps that is true. If we do nothing today, then there are no options and there is no future. But God came to us in the form of Jesus Christ and offered an option, a choice, an opportunity for a future of freedom. Yes, it is not an easy option and sometimes what we have right now seems so much better. But a life of slavery to sin and death has no escape and that is hardly the best option.

We are offered the chance today, through God’s Grace and Love, to find our future through Christ. The choice is yours, what option shall you take?

“Why Are We Here?”

This was to be the message that I presented for the Friday Night Vespers in the Garden series at Grace UMC this past Friday. But as I noted in the first line, the weather was pretty bad Friday morning and we had flash food advisories all over the place. In fact, this is what it looked like a little earlier in the day (photo shared by a friend on Facebook:

So, when it was all said and done, we cancelled the Vespers for Friday. But we are planning on having Vespers tonight and then this coming Friday, so if you are in the neighborhood, come on by.

I based this message primarily on the passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 1, 10 – 20) but also used the readings from Hebrews (Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16) and Luke (Luke 12: 32 – 40).

So why are we here this Friday evening in the Grace UMC garden, especially with the weather the way it was this morning (for those reading this, it rained for the better part of the morning and caused the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood advisory for the area)? And why will we gather in our respective churches on Sunday morning or perhaps again here in the garden Sunday evening? Shouldn’t we be home resting from a long work week and preparing for a short but hectic weekend?


Well, first of all, worship isn’t supposed to be an add-on to what we do but rather a moment when we can gather as a group to be with God. It doesn’t matter if it is on a Friday night, a Saturday morning, or sometime on a Sunday; we have gathered to pause and be with God, to refresh our souls as much as we refresh our bodies.

I think sometimes we fail to realize that. We make the argument that we need our rest, that we need to recharge. But recharging our soul doesn’t simply shutting down for a period of time. It means putting back in what has been taken out. Our gathering together for worship should be to provide that opportunity.

But what was it that made God so mad in the passage from Isaiah that we read today. It wasn’t that the people of Israel had gathered together in worship but what they had done to the worship and what they had done to the concept of a society of God’s people.

In one sense, God has called the bluff of the Israelite people and said that He is tired of what they have substituted for true worship. Now, I suppose we could have a rather lengthy and deep discussion on the rituals and practices of religious ceremonies two thousand years ago and why God, through Isaiah, is complaining. It would seem to me that, while based on what God had laid out as the pattern for worship in the early days of the Exodus, worship had begun to borrow more and more from the neighbors and from the secular world. It was no longer what it was meant to be.

There are passages in the Old Testament that lay out what the people are supposed to be doing and when they are supposed to be doing it in terms of worshiping God. God was very specific in what the people were to do because they were just beginning to understand who they were and what their relationship to God was to be and what their relationship with others in their own community and other communities was to be. But, by the time we get to Isaiah, this group of people is no longer wandering through the wilderness, figuratively and physically, but well established as a country and an identity. They should understand the nature of worship and their relationship with God.

But they don’t, as we know from a study of the Old Testament. It isn’t just that the Israelites have this very frightening tendency to forget the who, the why, and the how of worship and would, more often than not, borrow the worship habits of their neighbors; they also forget the relationship with God. It would seem to me that they had allowed a priestly class, designed to assist them in worship, become a ruling class, dictating how to live and think.

No wonder God is so angry. The practice of worship had become something of a routine and when things become a routine, you sometimes have trouble remembering what it is you do.

I was once told that most car accidents occur close to home. I don’t know how true that is today but I think it is very logical. You are comfortable in your home surroundings and you don’t necessarily look for things out of place. When you are in a new area, one that you don’t know, you tend to pay more attention to what you are doing. Accidents occur when you stop paying attention. When we stop paying attention to the simple things, the harder things become that much harder.

The same is true in church today. Often times when I go out to another church to provide pulpit supply I use the order of worship that is in place at that church. That’s fine because I am there to do one thing and that is not to change the ways things are. But I have also been told on more than one occasion that the congregation is not comfortable with changing the order of worship and that is frightening. Are the people so locked into a manner of worship that they can only to do things by the numbers? I have come to believe that the greatest problem in many congregations today is that change is not welcome – “this is they way that it was done when I came here; this is the way that it is done now; and this is the way that it will be tomorrow and for years to come.”

God points out that the Israelites are going through the motions, making notes on what they have done, the meetings they have attended, the grade of meat they provide for the church BBQ, whoops, sacrifices. But after it is all said and done, they go back to the same old lifestyle, one of sin and hatred, violence and greed, oppression and injustice.

There are two constant themes in the Bible and we know them well. Throughout the Old Testament, we are reminded that it is our relationship with God and others and how we react to each that is important. Even Jesus reminded his critics of these two points.

When the church members found out that he had cooked the liberals’ goose, they ganged up on him, and one of their bright boys, trying to get Jesus over a barrel, asked, “Doctor, what is the most important commandment in the Bible?”

Jesus said, “’You shall love your Lord God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and most important commandment. Next to it is this one: ‘You shall love your fellow man as yourself.’ The whole Bible hinges on these two.” (Matthew 34 – 40; The Cotton Patch Gospels by Clarence Jordan

You cannot do either of these if all you do is go through the motions. The key word in what Jesus said, at least to me, is “love”. I am sure that you can take care of the hungry, the needy, the sick, and the oppressed and do it without an ounce of love but what do you get out of it in the end and what do the people get as well.

So why are we here today; why will we be in worship on Sunday? I turn to the first part of the Gospel reading for today

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

In the Cotton Patch Gospels, Clarence Jordan translated the second sentence of that passage as “Your Father has decided to make your responsible of the Movement.” In the verses that follow the passage from Luke, Dr. Jordan pointed out that those who do the work of God will be rewarded and those who don’t do the work that is expected will be in a lot of trouble. And that brings us back to Isaiah.

There is a song that we sing that opens with the following words,

Some come to dance

Some come to play

Some merely come to pass time away

Some come to laugh

Their voices do ring

But as for me

I come here to sing

We have come here to sing and praise, to refresh and renew, to hear the word and live the word. And then when the worship is over, to go out into the world and continue to do what God wants us to do.

Some will come because they are seeking God. If those who have come to this place and this time and come for their own selfish needs, to gather points for some unknown reward card, those who seek God will not find Him. But if those who are here have come to be with God, those who seek God will surely find Him.

The question seems simple but is complex. But the answer is often times very simple. I have come because I seek Christ and I know that in this worship I will find Christ and I will be able to help others to find Christ.

“Continuing Thoughts on Academic Freedom”

I actually started this last month when I saw (and still continue to see) an increase in the number of views of a piece I wrote three years ago, “The Nature of Academic Freedom”.

The statistics package doesn’t give me a break down of where these viewers are coming from or what they are searching for but I suspected that it had a lot to do with the announcement that Ball State University was hiring Guillermo Gonzalez – see “Ball State Hires Key Figure in Intelligent Design” and “Intelligent Hire”.

Then there was the announcement, “Taking a Stand for Science”, by the Ball State President, Jo Ann Gora, that intelligent design was not a viable theory and, therefore, not appropriate or acceptable for science classes. She also stated that the issue was not academic freedom but rather academic integrity.


I really do not know who Dr. Gonzalez is nor am I aware of what his publication record, research interests, or what he teaches or has taught in the classroom That he is identified as one of the prominent figures in the intelligent design debate suggests, at least to me, more about what he believes than anything else.

Still, the public record does tell us something. That he was at Iowa State suggests that he has an acceptable traditional doctorate in his field. He claims that while he was at Iowa State he was punished for his views on the subject. Iowa State has publically stated that his denial of tenure was based on traditional tenure criteria.

Such criteria usually includes publications and research money. The second Inside Higher Ed article notes that Dr. Gonzalez had a reasonable publication record but did not bring much grant money to the university.


The problem for individuals such as Dr. Gonzalez whose research interests lie outside the mainstream of conventional science is that 1) most professional journals will not publish their research and 2) journals that do publish such research not consider mainstream journals (and perhaps not peer-reviewed).

The nature of academic freedom

Now, universities may hire whomever they wish and base their higher criteria on whatever they desire. So I have no problems with the Ball State administration’s decision.

But I have to wonder why Ball State took this step and what will be expected from Dr. Gonzalez during his appointment at Ball State. The second Inside Higher Ed article and the followup announcement probably tell us what is to be expected.

As I mentioned in my first piece on Academic Freedom, instructors should be able to teach what they want how they want provided it falls within the boundaries of the subject area being taught. As noted in the first Inside Higher Ed article, the scientific community has no problem with a discussion of intelligent design in a course provided that the course is either a philosophy or a religion course.

In terms of science, intelligent design fails most of the criteria for an acceptable theory. Every time I hear a discussion about intelligent design, I am reminded of a particular Sidney Harris cartoon.

Now, should Dr. Gonzalez be allowed to present his ideas and thoughts in his classes (let us presume for the moment that these are classes in astronomy or a related topic)? If they are part of the discussion of a topic relevant to the class, yes; that’s the nature of academic freedom.

If the students wish to discuss his ideas outside the constraints of the classroom, that is also acceptable.

No doubt, students will enroll in his courses because they believe that his thoughts will offer justification for their beliefs. But they have to understand that his ideas on the topic of intelligent design do not fall within the parameters of normal science.

But he should also not require that students accept the information that he presents as the only answer possible or one of many possible answers. That is where the issue of academic integrity comes into play.

Some years ago, I had some students whose belief system required the acceptance of a non-standard model of the creation of the universe. Their’s was a genunine belief and one that did not interfere with the major they had chosen or the work that they were going to do. I could have easily said that they had to believe what the evidence presented in the context of the course suggested about the creation of the universe and life on this planet. But that was not the purpose of the course and these students could easily work out the simple problems that I posed that were part of the course without any conflicts.

As to what to do with the discussion and what it meant for their beliefs, I told them that was something that they would have to work out on their own.

Now, if one wanted to teach a course in the philosophy of science and examine how various thoughts become theories, then intelligent design becames an integral part of that discussion. But again, students have to realize that we are examining one theory, not against another theory, but rather against the accepted methods of science and there intelligent design fall short.

I think that it is critical that students taking any science course need to have an understanding of how science operates and this is a topic that I have written on before (see “The Processes of Science” for a discussion of how science operates and “An Assignment on Academic and Scientific Integrity” for questions related to academic integrity.)

Conclusion – 1

I don’t mind that Ball State has hired Dr. Gonzalez or that Dr. Gonzalez has been given a sounding board for his ideas. The role of the university is to provide an arena were ideas can be development, explored, and then either modified or cast aside in lieu of better ideas.

But I hope that Dr. Gonzalez does the same within the framework of his courses and those who seek his support in confirming what they believe is done outside the context of his courses. I also hope that in opening his ideas to the arena of public debate, the weakness of those ideas is exposed and Dr. Gonzalez will recognize this. That is and will also be the nature of academic freedom. It also maintains the integrity of the course.

Conclusion – 2

As I writing this piece I could not help but think those who believe in intelligent design are trying, somehow, to put it within the framework of “normal” science. Somehow they feel that if there are enough proponents for their beliefs that sooner or later it will become part of the dialogue.

In some ways, I think that they are trying to emulate the discussions around the challenges to the geocentric solar system model, the phlogiston theory, and the caloric theory of heat.

But in each of those examples, the discussion involved the transformation and modification of existing ideas in terms of existing evidence. There is no comparable evidence for intelligent design.

In addition, while the discussion in those areas moved towards a better understanding of the available evidence and moved science forward, acceptance of intelligent design is move or step backwards.

Proponents of intelligent design want to offer a competing theory to the theory of evolution and to the development of the universe. But to offer a competing theory implies and suggests there will be a winner and a loser.

When Albert Einstein first began to postulate his gravitational theory (The Theory of General Relativity), others also attempted to create a theory as well. However, only Einstein’s work was experimentally proved to work. (see http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/General_relativity.html)

While multiple theories may develop as ideas are gathered, the best theory is the one that uses the available evidence and does not resort to outside or mystical influences when seeking proof.

And in the end, intelligent design looses that argument (again).

It seems to me, as we begin this new academic year, that there are several struggles going on. Too many people are afraid of education for they keep trying to limit or curtail the idea of free thought. Others are afraid that their own personal ideas are under attack and that the best defense against those attacks is to prevent others from attacking them. But if their ideas cannot stand up to a logical examination, then are they worthy of defending? And what happens to this country, this society and/or this world when there is no one capable of independent and free thought? What will we do then?

Academic freedom is the freedom to express your own thoughts, to push the boundaries so that we can find more and more about the world around us. Academic integrity demands that we do it in such a manner that makes sense.

That is where we are at today. Where will we be tomorrow?

“This New Life”

As noted in the piece I put up earlier (“My schedule for the next few weeks”), this is the message that I am giving for the Friday Vespers in the Garden at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY, this evening. The message tonight is based Colossians 3: 1 – 11 with references to Hosea 11: 1 – 12 and Luke 12: 13 – 21.

While I was preparing this message, I was looking ahead and thinking about the messages that I have to prepare for the next five weeks as well. On a couple of occasions the messages will essentially be the same though the venues will change (a listing of these messages follows this message).

But no matter what the venue or where the path that the Scriptures for each week lead me, the goal is, was, and will always be threefold:

  1. What does it mean to be a Christian?

  2. What does it mean to say that one is a Methodist?

  3. What do these statements mean for your life today and tomorrow?

When I looked at what Paul wrote to the Colossians, I thought about the commercial that often ran right after the World Series or Super Bowl was completed.

One of the players for the winning team had been selected as the Most Valuable Player and, during the post-game interview, was asked, “Now that you are the MVP, what are you going to do?”

And the reply was, “I’m going to Disney World!”

Now, I don’t mean to equate Heaven with Disney World but I sometimes think that is the way that many Christians think about Heaven when they accept Christ as their personal Savior.

Now, I have been to Disney World and I don’t think that Heaven is anything like that. I also remember the scene from “Field of Dreams” where one of the ball players (Shoeless Joe Jackson, I think) asks the Kevin Costner character, “Is this heaven?” And Costner replies, “No, this is Iowa.”

I don’t doubt that pain and suffering will be non-existent in Heaven but I am not totally sure what type of life it will be. Heaven may very well be what we want it to be. I hope that when the time comes I will be able to enter Heaven but I also know that if I focus on that life, the life that comes after this one here on earth, then I miss the point about being a Christian.

I may have said or written this before but there was a time when I almost left the church. It still vexes me today when someone tells me, in no uncertain terms, that they are one of the chosen ones and will be in Heaven and that I, because I did not come to Christ as they did nor do I believe as they do, will not.

But doesn’t God tell Hosea, in the Old Testament reading, that He knew each and everyone as an individual? Does that say that our path can be different because we are each an individual?

What I fear is happening today is that same attitude, that a specific attitude and specific knowledge about Christ and Heaven, is the primary force driving people away from the church. More importantly, it is the hypocrisy of those who tell you what to believe and how to believe but whose lives are counter to the Gospel message that keep people away. You cannot say to a person “love your neighbor” when you yourself do not.

Paul’s words to the Colossians speak of a new life, one in which you have cast off all the old ways and begin a new life in and for Christ.

Now, I thought about those words and words that Paul has written to others before and how this type of life puts us outside the box. Our old life, trapped in the ways of society, limits our thinking. We do the same things each day because 1) we don’t know anything new and 2) we are afraid to try new things.

The parable that Jesus told the people in the New Testament reading for today speaks of how we measure our life. In today’s society, despite all the signs that massing immense wealth does little to insure the future, we still seek immense wealth. We fail to realize that 1) it does little good and 2) in doing so, we hurt others.

And we are so afraid of failure that we are unwilling to try new things. But consider this; in societal terms, Jesus’ mission was a total and complete failure. But that was because the people who persecuted Jesus could not see or understand what it was that He came to do.

Christ’s death on the Cross was the ultimate victory over sin and death. Death does not win nor does sin enslave us.

In Christ’s death we find a new life, one that frees us to do creative and wonderful things.

We have a choice today; stay in the present life, knowing that it only keeps us in slavery to sin and leads to death or choose a new life in Christ that frees us and let’s us find ourselves.

My schedule for the next four weeks looks like this:

August 9thGrace United Methodist Church – Friday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20; Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16; and Luke 12: 32 – 40

August 17thGrace United Methodist Church – Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (doors open at 8 am) – Message based in part on Isaiah 5: 1 – 7, Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2 and Luke 12: 49 – 56

August 18thGrace United Methodist Church – Sunday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Isaiah 5: 1 – 7, Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2 and Luke 12: 49 – 56

August 23rdGrace United Methodist Church – Friday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Psalm 71: 1 – 6; Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, Luke 13: 10 – 17

August 24thGrace United Methodist Church – Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (doors open at 8 am) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Psalm 71: 1 – 6; Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, Luke 13: 10 – 17

August 25thRowe United Methodist Church (Sunday service at 11 am) – “A New Calling” – Message based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Psalm 71: 1 – 6; Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, Luke 13: 10 – 17

August 31stGrace United Methodist Church – Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (doors open at 8 am) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16 and Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14

September 1stFort Montgomery United Methodist Church (Sunday service at 9:30 am) – “Guess Who’s Coming For Breakfast” – Message based in part on Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Psalm 81: 1, 10 – 16; Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14

September 1stGrace United Methodist Church – Sunday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Psalm 81: 1, 10 – 16; Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14