June 30, 2019

This will be the “Back Page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this coming Sunday, June 30th, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C).

This past week has been a week of moving.  Pastors and friends moving to new locations and new assignments; students moving up and graduating from high school and college.  Today we celebrate those in this congregation who graduated from high school and college.

We celebrate this process of moving.  And we morn when our friends move away. 

Normally, we don’t like moving; it disturbs the stability we seek in our lives.

As a student of the history of science, I can only imagine how people felt when they were told that the earth was moving through time and space.  Such information disturbed our understanding of the world around us.  We don’t move through space; all one must do is observe the sun and stars as they move across the sky to know that we don’t move. 

But when we looked beyond the edges of the world, so did our understanding of our world.  And when we discovered that even the stars and galaxies were moving through the universe, our understanding of the universe was challenged.  As our knowledge of the universe expanded, so too did our ability to move into the future and beyond the limits of this planet. 

If we are to move into the future, we must push the boundaries today.  We must cast aside the view of the world we had yesterday.  The young man in the Gospel reading for today did not understand this.  He was unwilling to leave the comfort of the present time to follow Jesus.  And even though it may have been one of the most frightening things in his life, Elisha was willing to see beyond his fears in order to receive Elijah’s mantle and carry on the work that Elijah had begun.

The future can be frightening but it will be decided by what we do today.  We can be like the young man who is locked into the past, unable to move forward.  Or we can follow Christ, picking up His mantle and gaining our freedom. 

~~Tony Mitchell

“Pay Attention to the Details”

This will be the back page for the Sunday, June 03, 2018 (2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year B) bulletin of Fishkill UMC.

For my doctoral work, I needed to synthesize two chemical compounds.  For the first compound, I was going to reproduce some work that had been done a few years before to confirm the structure of the compound.

The interesting thing about this synthesis was that one step in the process had to be done “backwards”.  Instead of adding “A” to “B”, I had to add “B” to “A”.  “A” to “B” was the traditional approach and the one taught to all students.  If you looked at the experimental method, this would have been the method you would have chosen.  But if you did this, all your work would have been destroyed in the process.  That you had to do this step in reverse order was discovered by the first group and their notes, which I had, noted the importance of changing the order.  But had I not had their notes, I would have noted there was a problem in the synthesis and worked out an alternative.  Either way, I had to be aware of what I was doing.

The Pharisees were hung up on the details about the sanctity of the Sabbath and felt that it was more important to uphold the sanctity rather focus on the meaning of the Sabbath.

For many people today, Christianity is superficial.  Some say they are Christian, but it is only on the surface and they lack the depth that shows the presence of Christ.

When we travel out into the world as representatives of Christ, we must be aware that we are showing the fullness and completeness of God’s Love.      ~Tony Mitchell

“A Matter of Priorities”

This will be on the back page of bulletin of the Fishkill United Methodist Church for 25 June 2017, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A).  It is based on the scriptures – Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Romans 6: 1 – 11, Matthew 10: 24 ‑ 39

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, these can be the best times or they can be the worst times.  We live in a world that many people see as devoid of hope or opportunities.

And we wonder how we can change this; how can we bring hope and opportunity to the world?

We can do great things but that it is not possible when we see faith as an individual thing.  When we do that, these times become the worst times.

You see, when we see our faith only in terms of what it means for us, when we hold onto our faith and do not share it, it becomes useless to us.  And such a vision of faith makes it very difficult to understand the faith of others.

When we share our faith with others, it allows others to share their faith with us.  And in this sharing of faith, opportunities arise.


“How Will They Know?”

In a conversation the other day, someone noted that I was a liberal Christian. Now, in one of my earlier posts, I noted that I didn’t think that there was such a thing as a conservative Christian, simply because the demands of Christianity often times, in my view, conflict with conservatism.

I know that there are some who feel that religion and politics should not mix and there are problems with one side dictates to the other.  I also feel that many people today do not have a true understanding of what being a Christian, liberal or otherwise, means and that many people think that feel that the declaration that one is a Christian automatically excludes being a liberal and that the declaration that being a liberal automatically excludes one from being religiously active.

One of my favorite quotes come from the movie “A Man For All Seasons”. I do not recall the setting in which this exchange took place but it speaks to not only the aspect of being a Christian in today’s society but to a lot of what we need to do.

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

The one thing that I think we have had a hard time with in our society today is, first, putting the others on that list, and second, making sure that they have priority. I think sometimes that many conservatives do not think about the others in the equation; it is all about what they do.

The more predominant voices of conservative Christianity tend to expound on what they think you need to do but do, in my mind, very little to do what it is that Jesus Christ wanted us to do when he first walked the back roads of the Galilee.

Many a preacher, in many a denomination, will state that the Great Commission is the sole purpose of Christianity.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 16 – 20 in the New International Version)

But reread this passage as it translated in The Message,

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

Note how Jesus’ command changes from “make” to “train”. To further show this, read how Clarence Jordan translated the same patch in his Cotton Patch Gospel translation of Matthew,

Well, the eleven students traveled to Alabama, to the mountain which Jesus had selected for them. When they saw him they accepted him as their Lord, but some couldn’t make up their minds. James came over to them and said, “Every right to rule in both the spiritual and physical realms has been given to me. As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. And you know, I am right in there with you – all the time – until the last inning.”

I think it is important to notice that the emphasis was on teaching. Teaching cannot be accomplished (as we are finding out) by simply forcing people to learn things. We are finding out that many people who proclaim themselves Christians do not have a firm understanding of the Bible in terms of the words written or the meaning and context of the words. (And study after study show that we are a Biblically illiterate society).

When Jesus began His mission, he proclaimed that He had come to bring the Good News to the people, to offer food for the hungry (and I think he meant both physical and spiritual hunger), to heal the sick, and relieve the oppression of the people. In the end, that is what one has to do if one says they are a Christian. Because if you are not actively involved in the ministries of Christ, then it becomes very difficult to teach others as Christ taught us.

Now, you may say that you do those things and that you don’t need a church, Jesus Christ, or for that matter, God to do those things. So why are you doing it? For what purpose do you do good?

Do you partake in acts of charity and kindness because it is the right thing to do (what was it that Spock said to Kirk that one time when Kirk asked if it was the logical thing to do? No, it was the human thing to do.) or do you seek justification for your own existence?

I know there are those who feel that to profess a belief in God is at time irrational and perhaps illogical (or even something worse). But I cannot help wondering from where we get our sense of good and evil. In Genesis we read of God commanding Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And you know the rest of the story, which has several versions, depending on your point of view. But if you feel that this knowledge of good and evil does not come from God and our own actions, then where does it come from? And how will you deal with it?

In the end, I will profess to believe that there is a God. I do so, knowing that God created all I see in the physical world in which I live and the universe through which this planet travels. I also believe that my own abilities to think and create, to understand right and wrong, good and evil, come from this same Creator. I have chosen to walk the path that was first walked by Jesus Christ some two thousand years ago over the dusty back roads of the Galilee. I do not think that story is a myth because it is still told today and because of how it was told two thousand years ago (see my notes in “The Other Side Of The Universe” on this).

I do not think that my job is to make you believe as I do. I have come to know that there are many paths to heaven and that my responsibility is to show you the one on which I walk. And to show you is to teach you in the ways of Christ, as He asked me to do some two thousand years ago.

You may disagree with me and I know that many on both sides of the spectrum will. But when someone asks, “How will they know?,” I will reply through my words, thoughts, deeds, and action.

“The Real Final Exam”

Meditation for June 29, 2014, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42

To say that I am not a fan of the present teaching model would be something of an understatement. But, perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

I was not happy with the way that the Common Core Curriculum was “imposed” on the teachers of this country. It seemed to me that very little was done in the way of preparation for teachers, students, and parents alike. That there needs to be a common core should go without saying but you don’t change the curricula model without some sort of warning or preparatory system If there was such a warning or preparation period, I am not aware of it.

Personally, I didn’t have any problems with the curriculum but then again, I was working with my kindergarten age grandson and most of what we did was pretty simple stuff. I think the problem that most people had was simply with the fact that they had to think for themselves and weren’t able to adjust to the change.

Too many people today don’t want to take on new tasks, especially when it comes to learning. They are quite content to do it the way it was done when they were students and that is all they expect. And when a student, especially a college-age student, encounters a new way of learning, there is much rebellion. And that’s what makes it so easy to have a test-oriented curriculum; all you have to do is present some knowledge to the students, have them memorize it, and then test them on it. Once they are tested on it and they achieve a reasonable success level, then we move onto a new topic. That leads to the quote from “Teaching As A Subversive Activity”, written by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner way back in the good old days of 1969,

The Vaccination Theory of Education – English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not Music, and Art and Music are minor subjects and English, History, and Science major subjects, and a subject is something you “take” and, when you have taken it, you have “had” it, and if you have “had” it, you are immune and need not take it again. (This and other sayings I have found interesting are at “A Collection of Sayings”.)

If we simply test our students, we don’t have to get involved in the learning process and that is the problem. Learning is an active and interactive process between people; testing is not.

Some of this saw this coming almost thirty years ago. When I was teaching in Missouri, the State Board of Education, in its infinite wisdom, created the Basic Essential Skills Test or BEST test. Now, the rationale and purpose for this test were valid; every student needs to have a certain basic set of skills for life after school. But the manner in which the BEST test was done required a response.

So we created the Scholastic Education Council on New Directions Basic Essential Skills Test – 1) I will let you figure out the acronym and 2) the actual questions are at “THE BETTER TEST”. Clearly, our response was satire but it went to the point of what students should learn, how they should learn, and how that learning should be measured.

There was an episode in the TV series, “The Paper Chase” that speaks to this point. It was the final exam in Contract Law and Professor Kingsfield had created an exam with 100 questions covering a myriad of law-based topics in areas such as real estate, medicine, theology, and probably a few areas that one would not relate to the study and practice of the law.

To get the answers required the students search not only the law library but practically ever other library on campus. And because the students were competitive to the point of insanity, when they found the answer to one of the questions, they kept the resources for themselves so that other students would not be able to answer the question.

You can imagine the chaos that ensued because students were unable to answer all the questions (certain in their own minds that completion of all the questions was necessary for success). In the end, the students or rather the various study groups began to work how ways to share the work that they had with other groups so that they could get the answers for the questions. In the end, they wrote a series of contracts.

And what you have to remember was this was a course in Contract Law. The purpose of the exam was not to obtain all the answers individually but work together and develop solid and viable contracts, which was the purpose of the course.

A second example occurred while I was a graduate student at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). The Memphis Fire Department had agreed to take away several 55-gallon drums filled with chemical waste that the Chemistry Department had collected over the years. But before they could take them, the contents of each drum had to be identified.

Chemistry graduate students at that time took a series of monthly exams that measured their knowledge and competency. The solution to the problem of identifying the contents of the drums was to give each student a drum and tell them to apply their analytical and organic knowledge to the identification of the contents. (Of course, while this solved the department’s problem, it may have created problems for the individual students.)

I am not entirely certain that our present model of teaching can do that. In the end, our students learn to solve problems that already have solutions but they are not capable of solving problems that haven’t been solved.

And what perhaps bothers me more than anything else is that there will be a point in our own personal lives where we are going to be faced with such a problem. We shall be asked a question for which we may not know the answer and then what will or shall we do?

There really isn’t a question in the Old Testament reading for today but it is quite clear that God is testing Abraham. It is as if God is asking Abraham to prove that he, Abraham, will fulfill his part of the covenant. This covenant is the promise that Abraham’s descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and yet God has directed Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.

What must Abraham have thought? After all, as far as I know, Abraham believes that his oldest son, Ishmael, is dead and now he is about to kill his other son. The promise, the fulfillment of the covenant is clearly at stake at this point.

How would we respond in such a case? How would we respond if we had to put our faith on the line and just hope, without a single piece of evidence that God would fulfill His part of the covenant. And that is the real final exam! It is the one question that we have no way to study for; there is no book in which we can find the answer.

We could, I suppose, not worry about it. As Paul pointed out, you could lead the life we want, do what we want and ignore God. That way you wouldn’t have to worry or bother about right thinking or right living. But what do you get for all of that? Not much and when that moment comes when you have to answer the question you have avoided all your life, you won’t have the time, let alone the ability to think about what to say.

In the end, what you do, what you say, how you think shows where Christ is in your life. Many years ago I taught a course in how to teach science (a methods course). Most of my students expected me to lecture them on the various ways that one could teach science and sometimes I did just that. But a lot of times, I used the method that was the lesson, having the students do what they were going to be doing later on in life. I thought it was more important to do the method than simply speak about it. Not all my students got the message.

I would like to think that this is what Jesus was doing, having his students, his disciples do that which He taught them. It wasn’t easy for them to learn (and we know that many dropped out over the course of the three years). But in the end, enough understood and when the Holy Spirit came to them on that first Pentecost, they understood what they needed to do and then went from there.

Are you prepared today to take all that you have learned and go out into the world to show others who Christ is? The class is dismissed and the course begins.

“Three Impossible Things”

This is the message that I gave at Lake Mahopac UMC Sunday, June 9th, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (C); the Scripture readings for today are 1 Kings 17: 8 – 24, Galatians 1: 11 – 24, and Luke 7: 11 – 17. Services start at 10 and you are welcome to attend.

Updated to correct link on 5 September 2020

This is about stories and change, of what is and what will be, of what we want and what we need. It is about where we have been and where we are going. Sometimes it seems as if the stories are improbable; sometimes it seems if we are asked to do the impossible. But if we understand what has happened, the stories don’t seem so improbable and what we are asked to do doesn’t seem so impossible.

I started planning this message with a thought about impossible things. But I quickly found out that such an idea was probably one of those three impossible things.

This thought about impossible things had its genesis in the knowledge that there are many people today who feel that the miracles described in the Old and New Testament are either impossible, improbable, or hallmarks of superstition and mythology.

Even today, there are those who say that Jesus is and was nothing more than a myth or legend.

But if Jesus is a myth or a legend, how is it that this story still resonates today? Did those who died during the Roman persecution two thousand years ago die for a myth? Have those who have defended the poor, the homeless, the oppressed countless times over the years done so in the name of a legend? I want to make note of a blog that I read the other day about a pastor in North Carolina who felt that his call to the ministry required that he take part in a civil disobidence protest (see my link to the post, “Why I Stayed”). How was it that he could be true to who he was if he did not speak out, in the name of Christ, for those who seem to have been forgotten by the rich and the powerful? How could he not speak out when that is what Christ did two thousand years ago?

I know that there are other myths and legends, every society has them. For the most part, we have identified them as such and they are no longer an integral part of our life. But we cannot for some reason seem to get rid of the notion that there is a God in our lives and He somehow plays a role.

And for all those who say that religion is some form of superstition or nothing more than mythology on a complex scale, what can you offer in return? What can you offer as a rationale for doing good in this world? What causes evil in this world? And be very careful how you answer this because you either have to have a god of some sort or it has to be a part of humankind. And I particularly don’t want to go down the path that says good and evil are integral parts of humankind’s makeup.

But is religion nothing more than some sort of advanced form of superstition? Is it nothing more than mythology on some complex scale?

The noted philosopher Joseph Campbell once pointed out that there is a bit of truth in every myth. Somewhere way back in time, something happened that ultimately lead to the myths and legends we have today. (“Understanding Mythology with Joseph Campbell” – original link no longer works – new link – “Understanding Mythology with Joseph Campbell”)

Christianity still resonates today because there is an element of truth to it and I would like to offer two reasons for why.

The first way that I know that there is an element of truth to the story of Christ and what transpired on those dusty backroads of the Galilee some two thousand years ago and even further back in time with the prophets and the beginnings of the Jewish people is that it was written down.

As some of you know that I am a chemist by training. One thing about chemistry is that you have to spend time in the laboratory, whether it was a teaching lab or a research lab. And that’s where the fun is! The basic rule of lab work is that if you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. One could do world-class, Nobel Prize winning research but if you don’t write it down, it doesn’t mean a thing.

That Elijah’s encounter with the widow is in the 1st Book of Kings means that something happened and it was written as best as the writer could describe it. The same is true for the encounter of Jesus with the funeral process in today’s Gospel reading; someone told Luke about this and he felt it important enough to be included in his writings.

And what were the last words written in the Gospel of John,

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21: 25 – The Message)

So the stories were recorded and we can presume that there is some degree of truth to the stories. And we need to be telling the stories again and again. And therein, as Shakespeare might have written, lies the challenge.

We as a church and a denomination have truly failed to tell the story and when we do tell it, it is often in our own terms and not God’s. Remember what Paul told the Galatians,

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

We tell a very confusing story. We speak certain words that reflect the Bible but actions do not reflect those same words.

We hear that we are a Christian nation but when we look at this nation of ours, we often see a nation devoid of compassion and caring, a nation that divides the people instead of uniting them. We see a nation that pronounces that poverty, homelessness, sickness, and death are products of sin; that riches and wealth, good health and long life are the products of a righteous life. We argue for the order and law found in the Old Testament while claiming to be a New Testament people.

We read of the acceptance of Christ for all people, yet, often behind closed and locked doors, we are unwilling to share the Good News with those who are different in some way from us.

The reading from 1 Kings for today tells us two things. First, God’s grace is for all, not just a select few. The widow whom Elijah came to was a non-Israelite. While the nation of Israel was straying from God and suffering from an intolerable drought, God was supplying the daily necessities to a non-Israelite who gave comfort to one of His prophets.

But she also believed that it was her sins that caused the death of her son. No matter that her flour bin was never empty and her oil supply never ran dry, her belief in God was only confirmed at the time of her greatest despair.

The truth of this story can be found in the fact that it reflects our life in so many ways. We often fail to see God’s hand in what we do each day and only turn to Him in times of our greatest despair. And when someone gives thanks to God for their success, we often ridicule them. We expect God to be there for the bad times so why shouldn’t we expect God to be there in the good times as well.

The importance of the reading from 1 Kings today is to point out the value of personal trust in God, even in the hardest of times, that God will be there and provide. The widow could only see the “value” of God in her anguish but not in her good times.

This is very much what is happening today. As a people and as a society, we are faced first and foremost was a drought of spirit. There is no spirit in our lives, there is no vision of the future. We are unwilling to put our trust in God.

There is, within our modern theology, a notion from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that we have come to call “cheap grace.” It is the grace that we feel is ours but it is not the grace that God offers us. We want God’s grace but are unwilling to pay for it with more than a few moments in church once a week. Others feel that they have a right to ask for anything from a church and it will be given to them (and they often get very angry when we ask that they make a commitment in return).

But the grace that we truly need comes with a price, the price of the cross and that simply is a price we are not often willing to pay. Christ gave His life so that we would be free, so that sin and death could never encumber and entangle us. Our freedom is found not in simply listening to the words of Christ but understanding that what Christ taught is what we must do.

The price that we have to pay is that we are called to follow Christ, to walk with Him to the Cross and go beyond it. Those that saw Jesus bring the young man back to life did not just sit there and say “wow!” They went out and told others. It was what drove Paul to go beyond the boundaries of his life and into new worlds. It was what drove the twelve beyond their homeland and into new and uncharged worlds.

It is what we need to be doing in our churches today. We need to be building the community that our church is a part of, not closing the doors to the church and letting the world go by.

If Jesus had not been a part of the world, at least in the Gospel reading for today, he would not have brought the young man back from the dead. We can do little if we stay inside the walls of the church.

It is, I know, very difficult to put your trust in God that things will work out. It is very difficult to put your trust in God and go into places that you would never have gone before. It is very difficult to take on tasks that others say are impossible. The circuit rider, the Methodist clergy and laity who rode from town to town, often never knew what they might find on the road or in the next town. They hoped that there would be a warm bed and a place out of the rain; they hoped that there would be a gathering of believers eager to hear the Word.

But they still went on trusting in the Lord and empowered by the life-changing nature of the Holy Spirit.

And we must do the same; we must go out into the world and tell the people we meet about the stories. And not just tell the stories but show how those stories are a part of our lives and how our lives have been changed by the stories as well. Words by themselves mean nothing if our actions do not speak the same words.

And that is the second piece of the evidence that there is a truth to the story enters. We know the power of the Holy Spirit, its presence in our lives, and its ability to change lives. Throughout our history, we have recorded instances of the Holy Spirit impacting on the lives of individuals and changing the direction that they were headed. We know of Saul from Tarsus encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus and becoming Paul. We read in the Epistle reading for today Paul’s own words about this tranformation.

We know that John Wesley’s own life and the life of the Methodist Church was turned around when his heart was strangely warmed in the Aldersgate Chapel some two hundred and fifty years ago.

Perhaps you have experienced something similar at some point in your life. Perhaps it was as subtle as the heart-warming experience of John Wesley, perhaps it was as dramatic as Paul’s encounter with Christ. But, most certainly, at sometime in your life, you, as I, have had, experienced the knowledge that Holy Spirit is a part of your life.

Perhaps you are not aware that you have had this experience, perhaps it was not nothing more than a fleeting moment in time but it was there and it was enough to bring you here today, seeking answers to questions deep within your soul.

The answers for those questions that lie deep within your soul can be found if one opens one’s heart and soul to Christ. It need not be as dramatic as Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus, an encounter that left him blind but gave him a new life and a new name. It may very well be a subtle one such as the heart-warming experience that John Wesley had but the impact of that experience was enough to empower the first great Methodist revival.

Part of the story that has been told over the years is that there were those who heard the story and yet did nothing and told no one. But enough people did hear the story and it changed their lives and they told others and the story continued.

I cannot say what will happen to your life if you accept Christ other than to say that it will change. I do not know what world-changing things will happen when you open your heart and soul to Christ and let the Holy Spirit to empower your life.

But I do know that your life will change and you will tell others about the story that changed your life. And that my friends is not an impossible thing!

The Challenge We Face

This was the message that I gave at Grace UMC (St. Cloud, MN) for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 27 June 1993. This was the fifth message of my lay speaking career and I was using the format that my pastor, John Praetorius used. The Scriptures that I used were Hebrews 11: 33 – 35 and James 1: 5 – 8.    

In May of 1961, President John Kennedy presented to a joint session of Congress what some consider the greatest scientific challenge of this generation’s lifetime:

“First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space. And none will be more difficult or expensive to accomplish.” (We Reach The Moon, John Noble Wilford, Bantam Books, 1969)

This challenge was made as a response to the actions taken by the Soviet Union in successfully orbiting Yuri Gagarin. President Kennedy recognized that a quick and decisive response was needed, even in the face of the difficulties that our space program was undergoing at that time. As those who grew up in the late 50’s and early 60’s might remember, the United States space program seemed more a comedy of errors than a precisely run scientific effort. One cannot forget the number of launches that ended with the rocket exploding on the launch pad rather than sending a satellite into orbit. If we could not launch a relatively simple rocket, how were we going to be able to launch a rocket carrying men?

There were also skeptics who felt it was impossible to land a man on the moon because, as one theory suggested, the surface of the moon was covered by a thick layer of dust. As such, any landing craft attempting to land on the moon would be swallowed up. But nothing had been done to prove or disprove this theory. It was not until the Ranger series of satellites crash landed on the moon and the Surveyor series soft landed on the moon that this theory was shown incorrect. Had we chosen to accept the theory without obtaining the facts, we would have never landed on the moon.

Today this nation faces another challenge. It is a challenge which cannot be resolved through a nationwide commitment of resources, talent, and technology. It must be resolved in our hearts and in our souls. We have forgotten to put God first in our lives and, in doing so, have lost our spiritual direction.

Our society is split by race, creed, and economic status. We see the problems these differences cause but we want others to solve them. We willingly let others tell us how we should act, what we should wear, how we should think.

Because we have no commitment to God, because we receive so many conflicting directions, our lives are in constant turmoil. And this is because we do not have faith that God will provide us with the direction we should take and the protection we need, despite the fact that He has repeatedly promised to do so. If our faith in God is strong, our accomplishments will reflect the Glory of God. If our faith is weak, then we will struggle. As James wrote

“If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way, and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer.” (James 1: 5 – 8)

Peter Jenkins was a college student who questioned the direction his life was taking. His inner turmoil led him on a journey which has been chronicled in his books Walk Across America and The Walk West. His walk from New York to New Orleans was highlighted by his acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. But what impact did this acceptance have on his life?

When he discussed the journey and the resulting story with the editors of National Geographic, they asked him what he felt was the major point of the whole journey. To their amazement, he said that it was his acceptance of Christ as his Savior. It was to the editors’ credit that this part of the story was kept in the article so that others could read about the power of the Lord. Later, during a train ride in China, far from his home and family, and unable to openly worship God, Jenkins became aware of just how dependent his life and the direction it took was upon his relationship with Jesus Christ. He wrote:

“And I wrote down that I really missed God. I didn’t expect Him to come and sit down beside me, but I missed what He was in my life. He was my ultimate security. He was my guide through life and my main source of discipline. He was my friend, more faithful than any person, the most faithful presence on earth. He was profound wisdom and pure love. I yearned for His arms of love to hold me. But He seemed so far away.

I knew He was here, but I felt so lonely just the same. And there was no one around to fellowship with. Lying on that bunk I realized more clearly than ever before how important my relationship with God was.”(The Road Unseen, Peter and Barbara Jenkins, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, page 5)

How important is a strong relationship with God? All we have to do is look at the Israelites as they left Egypt for the Promised Land. Every time the Israelites faced a crisis, they sought a return to the seemingly secure life of slavery in Egypt. What did the Israelites do when they faced the Red Sea with the Egyptian army coming after them? Did they rejoice that God would protect them? In Exodus 14: 10 – 14 we read

“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord; and they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” (Exodus 14: 10 – 14)

Yet, even as they watched God drown the Egyptians in the Red Sea, the Israelites still had a hard time accepting the idea that all they had to do was follow the Lord.

It must have been tough on the Israelites moving from the security of Egypt to the uncertainty of the Promised Land. How did they react as they crossed the wilderness without sufficient provisions? In Exodus 16: 2 – 8 we read

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, ‘At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your murmurings against the Lord. For what are we, that you murmur against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you evening flesh and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your murmurings which you murmur against him – what are we? Your murmurings are not against us but against the Lord.” (Exodus 16: 2 – 8)

Consider their actions while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 32 we read of the people going to Aaron and asking him to make them a false idol. Later, in Numbers 13 and 14, we read of the spies Moses sent into the Promised Land lying about what was there and how the people cried to return to Egypt where they were safe and secure. Time and time again during this journey, we hear the Israelites crying to return to Egypt and the security of their slavery; all because their faith in God was weak. How many times have we encountered this journey from the wilderness to the Promised Land? How many times have we doubted our own faith? Don’t we feel lost and without direction when we have ignored God’s presence in our lives?

Even our own John Wesley struggled with the idea of what God wanted him to do. Sent to Georgia as a missionary along with his brother Charles, he returned to England in 1738 feeling that he had failed. Prepared as he and his brother were with the understanding that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither man felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their background, neither Wesley was willing to say they trusted the Lord.

Only after that moment in his life, which we call the Aldersgate moment, could Wesley write

“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Only by accepting Christ as his personal Savior was John Wesley able to understand what direction his life was to take. It was only through trusting Christ that Wesley gained the confidence needed to make the Methodist revival possible. The writer of Hebrews 11: 33 – 35 also points out that every great leader of our Christian heritage also trusted in God completely and followed Him faithfully:

“These people all trusted God and as a result won battles, overthrew kingdoms, ruled their people well, and received what God had promised them; they were kept from harm in a den of lions, and in a fiery furnace. Some, through their faith, escaped death by the sword. Some were made strong again after they had been weak or sick. Others were given great power in battle; they made whole armies turn and run away. And some women, through faith, received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were beaten to death, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free – trusting that they would rise to a better life afterwards.” (Hebrews 11: 33 – 35)

Our challenge today is the single most difficult task we will ever face. Yet it is the easiest to accomplish. It is difficult because it forces us away from the comfort zone our life in sin has created. However, while we may feel free, a life in the slavery of sin is not freedom. The direction our life takes, the choices we make, the things we want to do, all are chosen by others. Had the Israelites chosen slavery in Egypt rather than to follow God, they would have never reached the Promised Land.

John Kennedy concluded his challenge to make the trip to the moon by saying that the mission would require a complete commitment of the nation’s resources and by us. He knew that was the only way the challenge would be met.

So it is for us. By making a complete and total acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior, we too can forsake a life in the slavery of sin and make that trip to the Promised Land.

Society’s Goals

According to my records, this was actually the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.

This was the message that I gave at Alexander Chapel UMC (Mason, TN) for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (8 June 1997). The Scriptures for this Sunday were 1 Samuel 8: 4 – 20 (11: 14 – 15), 2 Corinthians 4: 13 – 5: 1, and Mark 3: 20 – 35.

Society today presents us with two contradictory goals. First, we are told that we are better off waniting what others have. But, second, we are also told that we are better off staying with what we already have. These contradictory goals come about because we, as a society, have forgotten where we have come from and how our goals should be set.

We are encouraged through the advertisements we see on television, hear on the radio, and read in the newspaper to seek what others have, no matter if what they have is what is best for us. These ads often imply that our lives will be better with these particular products. There is even a company that tries to determine what is “cool” so advertisers and manufacturers will know what to make and sell in the coming day.

On the other hand,, while we want what others have, we are not willing to let go of what we already have. Change comes difficult to society today. No matter the time or place, people get set in their ways. You should see the look on people’s faces when they find out that I hold a Ph. D. and have taught college but now want to be a preacher. To these people, I cannot be a preacher because my training and background are not of the church. Once you have set your career, you are not supposedly allowed to change.

Even Jesus’ own family had a problem with his ministry. As noted in the Gospel reading, Jesus’ mother and brothers came to take him home, convinced that he was crazy.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

I won’t tell you what my brothers and sister said.

The reading from the Old Testament today shows us that the desire to have what others have is not a new phenomenon but one that has been with us for a long time. The elders of Israel come before Samuel and ask him to appoint a king to lead them. As stated in the commentary accompanying the scripture, this request is made in part because Samuel’s sons, who were the judges of that time, were corrupt and inept. Were that the only reason, then I think Samuel would have obliged and appointed a new king. But, the Israelites wanted a king so that they could be like the other nations in that area.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

The conversation between Samuel and God at that time tells us a great deal about how we live our lives today.

And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as the their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.

As God told him to do, Samuel told the Israelites what God had said and what this new king would do.

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maid servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

You can almost hear the Israelites crying like little children, “But Daddy! Everyone else has one. Why can’t we?” Are we not like that today? Do we not seek something that we believe will make us better but, in the long run, will lead us to ruin? Do we remember from where all our riches come from? Why do we seek in the material world around us that which we actually get from God?

Now it should also be pointed out that “going with the flow” as its own problems as well. Those in the “cool” business are quick to point out that what is “cool” today may not be so tomorrow so that it is possible that what you bought to be part of the “in crowd” today will make you part of the “out” crowd tomorrow.

There is the desire to make sure that we are comfortable with our lives. Anything which disturbs that comfort will always be met with resistance.

That was the case with the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel reading today. They knew of all the miracles that Jesus was doing, healing the sick, curing the lame, helping the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, but they were not will to believe that such things could occur. After all, Jesus was doing things that they had been telling the people were impossible. So, instead of believing, they choose to defame Jesus’ character.

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub. By the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.”

In response to his acts, the scribes and Pharisees attributed his power to Satan. But Jesus, speaking in parables, asked the Pharisees and scribes how he could be an agent of the devil if he were casting out the same agents.

“How can Satan drive Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”

In his parable about someone breaking into the strong man’s house, Jesus pointed out that you must tie up the strong man first. And the only one with the power to overcome Satan was the Holy Spirit, so how could Jesus be of Satan?

The problem for the scribes and Pharisees was that they had forgotten what God had promised. The scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus as a danger to them because they were not willing to see Jesus as a fulfillment of the law.

That is the same for us today. The contradiction of today’s society, the demands society puts on us each day come from our viewing society from within. The one thing that Jesus did was to change that viewpoint, to view life and society from a totally different viewpoint.

So what should our goals for living in today’s society be? The contradictions in society’s goals come because we view society from within. Jesus asked us to change that viewpoint. Remember that His mother and brothers came looking for him.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

Some say that Jesus’ response to their search was a rejection

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

But what Jesus was doing was expanding the definition of a family.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and my sister and mother.”

If we come to Jesus in body and spirit, if we do God’s will as Jesus asks us to do, then we become a part of the heavenly family. We know that Jesus’ mother was present at his crucifixion and that his brother James, the author of the Letter of James, became a leader in the latter church so we know that they did understand what Jesus was doing.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians of the difficulty in keeping the Christian life. Yes, the road is tough, the life is hard but the rewards can be worth the struggle.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building form God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Paul told the Corinthians; Paul is telling us today that the struggles that we encounter today are worth it if our goal goes beyond the limits of today’s society. Our frustrations in life today will never go away when all we try to do is hold on tightly to that which we have now or if we try to achieve things that cannot be ours anyway. But, if we accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior; if we understand that Jesus died to save us from our sins, then we understand, as Paul did, that nothing on this earth can ever be worthy of what we will gain in heaven.

Nothing we have will ever match that which Jesus did for us. The hymn “Just As I Am” tells us that we are accepted into heaven as we are, not as we would like to be. Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins so that we could be accepted into heaven.

All that He asks is that we accept Him into our hearts fully and without condition.

This Thing Called Freedom

This Sunday was at the New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church (Location of Church).  Summer services start at 9:30 and you are always welcome there.  The Scriptures for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost are Genesis 24: 34 – 38, 42 – 49, 58 – 67; Romans 7: 15 – 25; and Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25 – 30.


This has always been an interesting Sunday for me. Growing up as I did, a 2nd generation military brat, living much of my early life on Air Force Bases, I have one sense of what this day means. But, over the years, as I have looked at this day/weekend from the standpoint of the Scriptures and a conscious and public acceptance of Jesus Christ, I have come to appreciate a different, perhaps deeper meaning for today.

Clearly, this is a weekend to discuss freedom and what it means. But I think that we have to do so with an understanding that there is more to it than the public discussion. We understand and we appreciate those words that Thomas Jefferson wrote, “that all men are created equal”, yet we fail to understand that when Jefferson wrote those words in 1776 it applied to only men, and only men, who owned property. If you were a man but did not own property, a woman, or a minority, then the words of the Declaration of Independence were simply words on a piece of parchment, words without meaning to you. It may have been that this was how Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers were able to justify the contradictions in their own personal and public lives.

Over the course of history we have heeded the words of Jesus when he spoke to the Pharisees in John 8:31 – 32, “seek the truth and the truth will set you free.” When we speak of all men being equal we mean everyone and not a select few.

It has always struck me that most of the discussions Jesus had with the Pharisees and the other establishment figures was how freedom transcended the law. For the Pharisees, the law was the limit; it was what defined a person and determined what they could and could not do. Jesus was always pushing the limit of the law, going beyond the law to the spirit of the law and its true meaning.

It is the establishment that criticized John the Baptizer for his words and his actions; it was the establishment that Jesus pointed out criticized Him when He ate with sinners. The establishment viewed such engagements as outside the boundaries of the law and, thus, actions that needed to be limited. Yet, the intent of the very laws that the establishment used to justify such limitations were never meant to do that. God’s kingdom was never meant to be exclusive; it was meant to be inclusive. The laws that God gave to the Israelites were to define the relationships in the kingdom. But the Ten Commandments quickly became some 600 laws with over ½ of them telling people what they could not do.

And we know from our own experience that the moment someone tells us that we cannot do something that is the very thing we want to do. We tell our children not to do this or not to do that and then we have to spend all of our time making sure that they don’t do it. But sooner or later a child finds out what hot or sharp means and we have to do something different.

We understand that there are things that we need to do and must do but we are so tempted by the “freedom” that sin offers, we turn away from God. We really would like to do those things that we know we shouldn’t, even if it is something trivial like have a second helping of pie for dessert, if for no other reason than there is that momentary satisfaction of feeling good.

I sense this struggle in what Paul is writing. He recognizes that there is a “freedom” outside the law, a “freedom” that we all at one time or another seek to enjoy. What was it that Paul said in the passage from Romans for today, “part of me wants to rebel?” But Paul goes one step further. This lure of “freedom” is nothing more than sin trying to steal us away from God and what God would have us do.

It is very hard for us sometimes to know what God would have us do in terms of freedom. We still see God in a strict, legalistic sense. We see God as deterministic, deciding the outcome of all decisions long before we enter into the picture. This is not the picture of freedom that we would like to see.

When I first read the Old Testament passage for today, I wondered how it would fit into any discussion of freedom. Let’s face it; the story doesn’t have much in the way of freedom in it for either Isaac or Rebekah. Did Isaac have any say in the sending of the servant to his ancient homeland? Did Isaac even know that his father was getting him a wife? Did Rebekah have any say in the decisions of her father and relatives when it came to the discussion between Abraham’s servant and them regarding the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah? Maybe Isaac wanted to marry a local girl? Maybe Rebekah wanted to marry a local boy? When you read the story, you get the impression that neither Isaac nor Rebekah was given much in the way of a choice. And Isaac doesn’t even get to meet Rebekah face to face.

On the face of things, this story goes against everything that one can say about freedom. But does it? By this point in his life, Isaac had to have known the story of his parents traveling from the ancient homeland to what will become Israel. Isaac clearly knew the story behind his trip to Mount Moriah. And though I am not aware of any passages in the Bible, surely Isaac and Abraham talked about God’s plan and how they fit within it.

Understanding God’s plan and where anyone fits in it is not a simple thing to do. It requires far more than maintaining a certain collection of laws. It requires understanding what we are being asked to do in this world. It is not something that is automatic or complete in one step; what did Jesus say in the second part of the Gospel reading for today – “I am willing to go over it line by line to whomever is willing to listen.”

In the end, what we might call freedom may very well be nothing more that slavery with fancy trimmings. We get trapped by laws or our desire to not be trapped by laws. We seek to achieve something that we cannot achieve because we are so certain that we must do it in one way and one way only.

The invitation today comes from Jesus Himself – are you tired, worn out, burned out with religion. Do you seek a new life, one that is free? Perhaps the solution is Christ because Christ sets us free from the slavery found in a life of laws and regulations. We are invited to follow Christ and find true freedom. You know, the interesting thing is that we don’t have to follow Christ. That freedom was also given to us.

But the freedom not to follow leaves us where we are now and that does not appear to be a good alternative. In following Christ, we find a freedom that allows us to expand our boundaries and find ourselves.

This thing called freedom is an elusive thing. Some will search and never find it; others will see it in front of them and never know it. You are given the invitation to find freedom through Christ today. It is yours for the asking. What will you do?

Hide And Seek

As I noted last week when I posted "Are You Working For God?”, this series of sermons that I preached at the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches were the first that I ever preached outside my home church.

This was the first in a five-week assignment while the conference sought to find a pastor for the churches.  One of the things that I did in this message/sermon was try and relate what was happening in the world today to what I found in the Scripture readings that I was using for that particular Sunday.

Scott O’Grady was the Air Force pilot that was shot done over Bosnia on June 2, 1995.  As I mentioned last week in my message “The Problem With Change”, if we do not find ways to make the passages of the Bible relevant to today’s world, then the Bible becomes a fixed document trapped in history.

So, here is the first message I gave in the role of long-term pulpit supply at the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 18 June 1995.  The Scriptures from the New Common Lectionary are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 8, Galatians 2: 15 – 21, and Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3.


I am sure that as a child or even perhaps as a parent playing with children, you have played hide and seek. For us, it is a pleasant game by which we can pass the time. For Captain Scott O’Grady, the game of hide and seek took on a little more serious meaning this last week. Shot down over Bosnia, he had to play hide and seek with the Bosnian Serbs who shot him down until such time that he could communicate with members of his combat air wing and arrange for his rescue. As has been noted by others all ready, the story of his rescue would make a very good movie-of-the-week.

What I found interesting about this rescue story was who Captain O’Grady thanked first when he came back to his airbase at Aviano, Italy. While he did thank the men and women of his wing for looking for him and to the Marines who went in to get him, the first person that he thanked was God, for giving him the strength to persevere.

The last point made at the Escape and Evasion school is that one should always keep the faith that he or she will be picked up. Captain O’Grady’s training provided him with the skills to survive but only through his faith were those skills of any use. For Captain O’Grady that faith was more than just a faith in the system but the knowledge that God would protect him, which is what he did. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, success comes not by living the law but by our faith in Jesus Christ. Only by our faith does following the law make living possible.

The passage from the Old Testament gives us another example of escape and evasion. In the passage from 1 Kings that we read, Elijah is fleeing from the queen Jezebel for having shown the prophets of Baal to be powerless against God and having killed them all. And now, as one might expect, Elijah is running for his life. But, as he seeks solace and security, Elijah also feels that he is not ready to be the servant of the Lord "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." (1 Kings 19: 4)

For a moment, his faith in God has lapsed and he is ready to die. But an angel of the Lord comes to him and provides him with enough food and water so that Elijah can travel to Horeb. In making this journey, Elijah retraces the path of the Israelites through the wilderness and comes to the place where Israel’s covenant with God was first made.

In effect God said to Elijah, "I am not done with you yet. You may feel that you are alone and helpless but I am still here and I will provide and protect you." That is the challenge that we face today. Do we have the faith that God will protect and provide for us? We need not be shot down behind enemy lines for this faith to be tested. How different would our lives be if we did not have faith in Jesus Christ?

Faith simply means trust. It begins with a conviction, knowledge that our righteous does not meet God’s standard. The law, as Paul tells us, helps us to discover this reality. Faith is not blind. It builds on authentic biblical facts, so it is not mere speculation. We stake our lives on the outcome. Faith is trusting Christ to prove his promise.

Look at verse 16 in Galatians again.

"Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

That is a personal commitment to Jesus. We can actually run to Him for refuge and to seek mercy.

It took a great deal of courage for that woman in the passage from Luke to come to Jesus and even more courage for her to wash his feet. In society at that time, a woman with her reputation had no chance of being seen in the Pharisee’s house; but her love of Jesus and her understanding of what he could offer her overcame any resistance she might have had.

As was noted in one of the books which I used to prepare for this sermon, just as the people at the Pharisee’s house were watching that woman, other people are watching us as we go through our daily lives. Do we show our loving worship of Christ? Have we given our reputation to Him? Do our actions each day show that we love Christ, just as He loved us?

We see — and who does not? — the numberless follies and miseries of our fellow creatures. We see on every side either men of no religion at all or men of a lifeless, formal religion. We are grieved at the sight, and should greatly rejoice if, by any means, we might convince some that there is a better religion to be attained, a religion worthy of God that gave it. And this we conceived to be no other than love: the love of God and of all mankind; the loving God with all our heart and soul and strength, as having first loved us, as the fountain of all the good we have received and of all we ever hope to enjoy; and the loving every soul which God hath made, every man on earth, as our own soul.

Those comments come not from me, but from John Wesley some two hundred and fifty years ago. But those words still hold true today. For if we do not love God first and show this love in our actions each day, how will we ever change the world in which we live?

Where would Elijah have been if he had refused the offer of food and drink from the angel? Where would we be if we refused to acknowledge the presence of Christ in today’s world and the love that He has for us. Will we continue to play hide-and-seek with the Lord?