Archive | June 2015

Faith…Believe It or Not

June 28, 2015

Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church

“A shooting in Charlestown, NC”

What does faith look like?

Matthew 17:20New International Version (NIV)

Mark 11:22-23New International Version (NIV)

Romans 1:12New International Version (NIV)

Romans 1:17New International Version (NIV)

2 Corinthians 5:7New International Version (NIV)

Galatians 2:15-16New International Version (NIV)

2 Timothy 4:7-8New International Version (NIV)

Hebrews 11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 

“Faith…Believe It Or Not…”

 

Prayer for God’s word to be heard through me or in spite of me…

“Love is stronger than hate. So if we love the way my mom would, then the hate won’t be anywhere close to where love is.” “We already forgive him for what he’s done, there’s nothing but love from our side of the family.” “I acknowledge I am very angry. But my daughter taught me that we are the family that love built.” “I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Do that and you will be better off than you are now.”

These and many more words like these were spoken to Dylann Roof after he opened fire and killed 9 people who were at a bible study in Charlestown, SC. How in the world to you forgive someone that takes away a life that had so much promise. These people were mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers…they had lives to live and it was taken away from them in a moment. What is the secret of being able to do something like that…to forgive while you have just begun the grieving process?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have talked about being “Fearless” and posed the question, “what would you do if you were not afraid?” and we decided that we didn’t need to be afraid because God was with us always…and that Our Father in heaven knows really does know best…But in order to believe in what I have talked about…in order to live a life with these assurances…you need to have faith…The kind of faith that this church in Charlestown, SC showed and is continuing to show…the kind of faith that moves mountains of pain and suffering…hatred and racism.

To John Wesley, faith was one of the most important theological concepts. At first he thought of it as believing the truth of the Christian revelation. But he also realized that faith also involves trust and confidence. As a matter of fact, having trust in God became so important that he eventually considered faith as the evidence of God’s love that could secure our trust and confidence. He began to talk about faith in degrees to indicate how people grew in faith. As you grew in faith and assurance of God’s love it would show more and more until a person is completely filled with love in return. It seems to me that the people of this Charlestown, SC African Methodist Episcopal Church have reached that point in their faith…

So…what is the meaning of faith? What are some examples in God’s word of faith…the kind of faith that we should have as Christ followers…as Christians? That answer can be found in Hebrews 11. This whole chapter is about faith so we are going to take a look at a few verses…1-3

The Meaning of Faith

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

It is the assurance of things unseen…we have faith that the air we breathe is there even though we cannot see it. We believe that gravity will hold us in place even though it is not seen. We believe and have faith in the Holy Spirit even though it too is unseen… It is all about trusting in the unseen…

So what are some examples of this “faith” thing?

Abraham…8-9, 17-18:

“8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.”

“17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18 of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.”

Moses…23-25:

“23 By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Some others…29-30, 32-34

“29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.”

“32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

There are many more proofs…many more examples within God’s word to give us hope and strength…they help build our faith.

Jesus had a few things to say about faith as well…

Matthew 17:20New International Version (NIV)

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Mark 11:22-23New International Version (NIV)

22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.

Faith had and has everything to do with our relationship with God…as well as with others. Faith is at the ground level of building a life that is pleasing to God.

The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about what faith is and how it looks:

Romans 1:12New International Version (NIV)

12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

Romans 1:17New International Version (NIV)

17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

2 Corinthians 5:7New International Version (NIV)

7 For we live by faith, not by sight.

Galatians 2:15-16New International Version (NIV)

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

2 Timothy 4:7-8New International Version (NIV)

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

We are to help others on their faith walk. We are to keep the faith no matter what…remember faith is about relationship with God and as we build that relationship, our faith will be stronger than anything we could ever imagine. We are to put our faith in Jesus. We are to live by faith in what is unseen not in the world we see around us.

As I read those responses earlier from the people of the church in Charlestown and their families there are things that stand out about them…

  1. They came from hearts that themselves have felt the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
  2. They loved their enemies as we are called to do.
  3. They overcame evil with good.
  4. They blessed those who cursed them.
  5. They shared the message of repentance and redemption with this young man.

We too are called to do the same by and from Jesus Christ…being His hands, feet and image in the world.

Faith…it is the beginning of a journey into the unseen. Faith…it is the foundation of our relationship with God and Christ. Faith…it can be hard at times but we are called to live radical lives for Christ. Faith…is loving through and in our whole being. Faith…it brings people together for a common purpose. Faith looks evil in the eye and says “death O death where is thy sting”. Faith is seen in a church that forgives even as they are processing their own loss. Faith…it really does a body good… our own physical and the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith…it truly is the tie that binds. Faith…you can believe it or not…it is our choice to make. What will you choose this day?

Amen…

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Father Knows Best

June 21, 2015

Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church

Father’s Day

Baptism of Nolan Howes

Matthew 6:9-13King James Version (KJV)

 

Father Knows Best…

 

Prayer for God’s word to be heard through me or in spite of me…

Good morning and happy Fathers Day. Today is a day that we honor fathers and those who are like fathers to us. It is a day of celebration for all that they have done and are in our lives. I would like all the fathers out there to stand…all of those who are like fathers…all of you men who are mentors or share your wisdom with the younger generation. Today we thank you for all that you are. You help the next generation find their way. You instill values and virtue in the young men, who will at some point would date our daughters, know right from wrong. Thank you, thank you for your love and hope.

Last week, I talked about “Fearless” and posed the question, “what would you do if you were not afraid?” and we decided that we didn’t need to be afraid because God was with us always…guiding us and providing for us as we go out in the world in His name…kind of like…OK exactly like…the fathers we honor today…our earthly fathers. How awesome is it that we have a heavenly Father to watch over us as well. As a matter of fact, He will never leave us. We may lose our earthly father for whatever the reason may be…we may have fathers that have not been there for us…we may have fathers that aren’t very helpful as we try to learn our way in this world but…but…you can rest assured that our Heavenly Father is always there… Our Father in heaven knows best…

You may be saying to yourself…How do I know that my Father in heaven knows best? I think we find our answer to that question is in the prayer we pray every Sunday after we raise up our concerns and celebrations…the one that Jesus taught His first disciples…”The Lord’s Prayer”. Let’s look at that prayer…stanza by stanza…it is found in Matthew 6 verses 9-13…I am reading the scripture from the King James Bible this morning…I love the poetry in the words…

  1. 9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. As we begin this prayer we begin by praising Him for who He is. Now the word “Hallowed” means holy and revered, consecrated and sacred. It is and adjective saying how highly respected He is…sort of like the fathers we honor today but at a whole different level.
  2. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. As we pray this part of the prayer, we are praying His kingdom come here on earth…that He will reign over all the earth…that it is His will…not humanities will…be done. That we will all be in agreement with Him as to who and what we were created to be…His beloved and cherished children wanting to do nothing but what He would have us do…He knows that what is best for us is to be with him…not wandering in the wasteland of humanity…
  3. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. We are asking and knowing He will provide for us…not just as our earthly fathers…not just bread for food to eat. He provides bread for our souls, He provides light for our way, He provides strength for those times we are weak, He provides…fill in the blank… He knows what we need at any given time. He knows what is best for us.
  4. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Our earthly fathers forgive us when we have done something wrong but it maybe be hard…if not impossible…for them to forget. When our heavenly Father forgives us it is blotted out…the slate is whipped clean and never thought of again. He knows that we need forgiveness and “forgetness” in our lives. Oh by the way…He also provided a way for our sins to be forgiven and to have a personal relationship with Him. This Father…our heavenly Father…loved His creation of humanity so much that He sent his own Son, Jesus, to die for us so that we could have that type of relationship with Him.
  5. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: Now…our Father in heaven knows what is best for us…He is the Author that is writing the poetry of our lives… He will never lead us into bad situation…but when we “lead ourselves” into such situations He will lead us out. He knows the best path for our lives and wants us to have the best life we can on this side of heaven.
  6. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. How can we not sing Alleluia and give Him the glory for all that He has done…is doing…or will ever do…in our lives.

Today is father’s day when we honor our father’s of this earth. It is a day that we honor our Father in heaven who is the Father of all fathers. What a more perfect day to have a baptism as we dedicate a new life…a day that we put another life into His loving and tender Fatherly hands, know that He knows best.

I would ask that Jessica, Kenyon and Nolan to come forward as we place another life into the loving hands of God our Father…

(Baptism of Nolan)

Our heavenly Father really does know best. All praise and glory to the Father of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ…

Amen!

Fearless

June 14, 2015

Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church

Psalm 27:1-5 NRSV

Psalm 91 The Message Bible

Isaiah 43:1b-3a, 5 NRSV

Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

Fearless…

 

Prayer for God’s word to be heard through me or in spite of me…

 

A reading from the book of Psalms, chapter 27, verses 1-5…listen to and for a word from God to you and me the people of God…

Psalm 27

Triumphant Song of Confidence Of David.

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall.

3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

 

Yesterday, Ray, I and the girls went to the Graduation Ceremony at Katahdin High School. It was a wonderful ceremony with many wise words written and spoken. The class motto was “To anyone who says you can’t…just say watch me.” It is a motto that I have decided to adapt for my own life. The Valedictorian, Mariah Farrington, gave an awesome address to the senior class as well as everyone who was listening. The key phrase in her address was “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” well this really got me thinking. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? We live in a world full of uncertainties and we can’t help but fear the future at times but…what would I do…what would you do…if we weren’t afraid? Why is there so much fear in the world? As a matter of fact…why is there so much fear amongst Christians? As the Psalm I just read tells us…with God on our side…if God is with us…whom or what shall we fear?

Last week, I talked about “Finishing Only To Begin” and how, at times, we finish something only to begin a new thing. That sometimes we need to finish one chapter of our lives to be able to begin the next. I talked about how Jesus had to finish His chapter here on earth in order to begin His reign in heaven and for us to begin a new life with and in God. But finishing in order to begin can be difficult at times. We fear the new and unknown and we become frozen where we are.

Isaiah 43:1b-3a and 5a tells us…gives us a promise of strength and power to help us forge ahead:

Restoration and Protection Promised

43 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

    and the flame shall not consume you.

3 For I am the Lord your God,

    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

5 Do not fear, for I am with you;

This fear thing…this cancer…has taken a toll on Christ’s church. There have been many churches that have closed and are still closing to this day because of the cancer of fear that has infested their lives both personally and corporately. I have been reading a book by Thom S. Rainer called “Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways To Keep Yours Alive” and it has caused me to really contemplate on why faithful Christians allow their church to close. He has looked at 14 churches’ that have closed and sort of “dissected” what happened…what the process was…as they began to deteriorate. The main thing that I have seen…that I have read…is that fear is at the bottom of it all. Fear of the unknown. Fear of doing things different. Fear of change. Fear of stepping out of their comfort zone. Fear of moving on so they live in the past. Now don’t get me wrong, the past can be a wonderful thing. But the past is just that, the past, and there is a time when the past can be so comfortable that even the thought of change can cause fear and trembling. What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?

Now the Church itself will never die but churches have been dying for a long time. There seems to be a slow erosion within the church. It may not be seen until it is too late. The people of the church don’t even see it coming because it is so gradual. But come it does and when the doors are closed for the last time, people are wondering what happened. A decline in ministries that are vibrant and vital, a decline in attendance, a decline in the prayer lives of the congregation, a decline in the outward focus…reaching into the community instead of within itself, a decline in the hopes and dreams of the church and looking at what was instead of what could be, all of these things happen in a gradual rate almost unseen… What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?

There are people within the community that don’t feel welcomed in the church. Christ’s church seems to be more afraid of changing the way they “do church” than reaching others with the gospel of grace. What do you think would happen if the church opened the doors of their hearts to others who “are not part of them?” But that can be a scary thing…something to cause us fear…what if I did that and my life changed…what if I did that and I had to care more about others than myself…what if they came in and changed everything that I hold from the past that is near and dear to me…Others first=Life. Me first=Death… What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?

Some of these churches close because they have forgotten the Great Commission that Jesus gave all of His disciples…the Great Commission Omission Tom Rainer calls it. Don’t get me wrong, they start out on the right path and the right heart. But somewhere it is set aside for other things to take its place. These church members “remember when…” we have had 25 kids in youth group in the past; we used to have all the pews full, ect. They live and think about the past instead of the here and now. What can we do to improve our numbers? How can we attract more youth? How can we… (fill in the blank). The Great Commission found in Matthew 28 verses 19-20 is full of action words…not just words to be memorized…

19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The members of the church longed for the good old days when… but they have forgotten about the action words needed to make it so. They just wanted it to happen…boom…over night. What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?

Fear…it can be immobilizing. It can take hold and before we know it…all that we have worked for…all that we have strived for…all that we have toiled for…is gone. Just like that. Church can no longer “be done”…church needs to morph into what God’s wants it to be if it is going to continue to be the hands, the feet, the voice of God in the world. What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?

I would like to leave you with one piece of scripture today. It gives hope, it gives promise and it can take away all our fears…remember…perfect love casts out all fear… it is Psalm 91 and I will be reading it from the Message Bible…

Psalm 91 The Message (MSG)

91 1-13 You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow, Say this: “God, you’re my refuge. I trust in you and I’m safe!”

That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps, shields you from deadly hazards.

His huge outstretched arms protect you— under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm. Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night, not flying arrows in the day, Not disease that prowls through the darkness, not disaster that erupts at high noon.

Even though others succumb all around, drop like flies right and left, no harm will even graze you. You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance, watch the wicked turn into corpses.

Yes, because God’s your refuge, the High God your very own home, Evil can’t get close to you, harm can’t get through the door. He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go. If you stumble, they’ll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling.

You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes, and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

14-16 “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble.

I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.

I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!”

What would you do if you weren’t afraid…? Amen!

Finishing Just To Begin

June 7, 2015

Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church

Graduate Sunday

Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV

Romans 5:1-5 NIV

Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

Finishing Just To Begin…

 

Prayer for God’s word to be heard through me or in spite of me…

 

Have you ever played video games or some of those on-line games? One of the games I have played is Candy Crush. In order to go on to the next level, you need to finish with a certain amount of points or collect the right amount of a certain candy. Just when you think you have finished the game…another level pops up. It’s kind of like schooling. You have to complete…to finish…a certain level of education in order to go to the next so that you can acquire a certain degree.

I remember when I was at Boston University. I had finished my course in United Methodist History only to have to take United Methodist Polity. I couldn’t take the Polity class unless I passed the History class. We have some Katahdin High Seniors here with us today and now that they have completed their “studies” they can now begin a new era of schooling. This finishing to begin can be a little daunting at times but the “prize” at the end is worth it…

Jesus Himself had a time of ending to begin. In order to fulfill His purpose, He had to end His life and then rise from the dead, to new life, in order for us to have a new beginning with God. Jesus ended His ministry here on earth in order for us to begin our ministry to the least, lost and forgotten. He had to end His life to begin His new reign over heaven and earth. He had to end His life in order to fulfill the law and become a new life as the spotless “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Hebrews 12:1-3 talks about what happened as He ended to begin… (I am going to ask you to take out your bibles to read along again this week…) It reads:            Hebrews 12:1-3New International Version (NIV)

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

He became and is the “Author and Perfecter” of our faith. As we fix our eyes on Jesus…we too will be able to end…come to the end of ourselves…only to begin…begin our new life in Christ Jesus.

There are many pieces of scripture that talks about ending in order to begin. As we come to the end of ourselves, Romans 5:1-5 tells us we are given peace, hope and grace…let’s read what it tells us…turn to Romans 5 in your bibles…

Romans 5:1-5New International Version (NIV)

Peace and Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

As we persevere we build the character that we need for our new beginning and as our character builds, so does our hope…we have hope for the future…

The final piece of scripture I want us to look at this morning comes from Galatians. It talks about what happens to us…what our lives will look like…as we come to the end of the old life and into our new life in Christ. There is a change…a renewing of our minds…as we set aside our old ways and pick up new ways in our life…a new character that emerges… please open you bibles to Galatians 5:22-23:

Galatians 5:22-23New International Version (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

There is a change…a shift…a new beginning…that transpires as we emerge from the cocoon of faith and into a vibrant child of God…ready for the road He has set before us.

Finishing to begin…it is how we live our lives. We go from one completed task to another knowing that as we move forward we grow in grace and faith. As we finish to begin, newness is birthed. It is not easy looking at new beginnings in the light of what is old and familiar but two things that will always stay the same…our God goes with us and that Jesus will strengthen us for the journey. I would ask that our Graduates will come forward as we honor them as they finish only to begin a new life…a life that God has put upon their hearts…a life with promise and hope…a life that is enveloped in peace and grace through our Risen Lord Jesus… Graduates come forward

 

Prayer for and over the graduates…

Amen!

Love, Love Me Do

May 31, 2015

Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church

Sermon Last in Sermon Series

“Five Marks of a Christian”

Adapted from: “Five Marks of a Methodist”

By Steve Harper

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV

Matthew 5:44-46 NIV

John 15:12-17 NIV

Romans 13:8-10 NIV

Ephesians 4:1-3, 29-32 NIV

Love, Love Me Do!

 

Prayer for God’s word to be heard through me or in spite of me…

 

Have you ever said anything that you were sorry for? I know I have. After the words get out you sort of go darn it…I did not mean for that to come out…that was supposed to stay in my head. And of course the other person is now mad at us. And try as we might, we may never have the same relationship with that person.

How about when others say something that upsets you? Sometimes on purpose and most times they too have that “should have stayed in my head” experience. It can be hard sometimes to rebuild that relationship that has now been broken… It took God thousands of years and the cost of his Son to rebuild the relationship that was broken in the Garden of Eden… We may not want to ever have anything to do with person ever again. I mean there are even times when someone is mad at you and you don’t have a clue why…How could they treat me like that? Who do they think they are? Well I am done with them and I am going to just ignore them whenever they are around me. That will fix them…

We have come to the end of our journey of looking at the five things…five ways…that we can see that we are “being changed by the story” of Easter. I have adapted this Sermon Series from a book written by Steve Harper that is titled “Five Marks of a Methodist: The Fruit of a Living Faith.” But this book is not just for “Methodist”, it is for all who follow Christ. It gives five distinct ways to tell…to visually see…that you are being “changed by the story”, not just reading it.

The five ways are as follows:

A “Christian” not just Methodist:

  1. Loves God
  2. Rejoices in God
  3. Gives Thanks
  4. Prays Constantly
  5. Loves Others

We have talked about the fact that “we love God” and that it is not just a fleeting love but a love that encompasses all that we have, all that we are, and all that we will be. It is what drives us in our relationship with Him. The more we are in love with Him the more we want to know Him. And the more we know Him the more we want of Him in our lives.

We have discovered that not only do we love God but we rejoice in Him. Not just simply rejoice in Him but rejoice in Him from the bottom of our feet to the tops of our heads. How can we not…look at all that He has given us in our lives…look at all that He has done in our lives and the lives of others. Now that’s reason to truly rejoice.

 

Giving thanks to God is another way to tell we are living the Easter life. Giving thanks is so important because as we do, we don’t forget that it is God who gives us all that we have. It is God who grows us. It is God who has given us our talents so that we can use them to further His kingdom here on earth.

We have talked about how a Christian prays continually. There are many ways to pray. We pray by words. We pray by actions. We pray by dance. Some pray with beads while others may walk around their community praying. I don’t think it matters how you pray. The important thing is to pray…

We have now come to the last of the five ways of knowing you are being changed by the story. Now this one is a hard one at times. The last is a Christian loves others. Now there are those time when we really don’t feel so loving towards certain people but we are called to love others…What Pastor Ruth…you mean I have to love others even if they don’t love me…Yup!

 

In the bible, especially in the New Testament, there are many pieces of scripture that tells us that we are relational people and we are to love others. Ok…to prove my point, I want us to look at some of them this morning. I invite you to take out you bibles and take a tour with me through some of these scriptures so that you can read them for yourself and know where they are. Sometimes seeing is believing…

Let’s begin with John 15:12-17.

“12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

We are commanded to love one another not as ourselves but as Jesus loved and still loves us. Jesus loved humanity so much that He came from heaven and died so that we could have life. We were chosen from the foundation of the earth by God. We are friends of God and Jesus as we love one another…even with our flaws…even with our mistakes…even with our addictions…even with…you fill in the blank.

Next, let’s go to Matthew 5:44-46 to see what else Jesus said about loving others.

“44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

It is so easy to love others when they love us. The difficult part is loving others when they don’t love us…when they may have done something that has upset us… God is love and He loves even those who are “unlovable” around us. The One thing we need to remember is that we too were unlovable until through Jesus we were made righteous before God…

 

Our next stop on the tour is one of our favorite places, 1 Corinthians 13. We will be looking at verses 4 through 8a. Let’s see what Paul had to say about what love is and is not.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a New International Version (NIV)

“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.8 Love never fails.”

In this scripture we see true love…not just a superficial love but a deep down in your soul love of others. As we love others with this type of love, how can we not want to pray for them…how could we not want to reach out to them…how could we not be the love of God to and for them. See…I wasn’t kidding about that whole love others no matter what thing.

The next piece is found in a letter to the Romans. Romans 13 verses 8 through 10.

“Love Fulfills the Law

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

As we love others we will not do anything against them. As we love others we fulfill all the commandments. It is kind of hard to covet or steal from someone that we love with all that we are…all that we have…all that we can give…

 

And the final place on our tour is the letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians 4 verses 1 through 3 and 29 through 32. This has to do with the body of Christ the church and how we are to act towards each other…

“Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ

4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

This may be one of the hardest things to do…to love no matter what. There are so many churches that just don’t get this right. They have become a social club for the elite instead of a hospital for sinners. There are some Christians who are awesome on Sunday with all their Churchliness and on Monday they are gossiping about this one and that one. Can you believe what Betty was wearing at church yesterday? I can’t believe that Janet was sitting next to that homeless guy…how could she stand the smell…?  There are some who cause strife in the church to just watch the fireworks. We really do need to get this one right. The state of the church is relying on it. How will someone come to know the saving grace of God unless they are allowed to come…unless they see it in the ambassadors of Christ?

 

Loving others is not easy. We are all human and we hurt other and others hurt us. It is what we do with that hurt that matters. We all want to belong but it can be hard sometimes to want to include those who we may not know or who are different than who we are. But… we are called to… (Everyone…)

 

OK this is how I look at it:

  1. If we love God we have the love of God in us…remember it’s relational…
  2. As we love God we rejoice in Him…we see Him everywhere and in everything. It is truly an amazing thing when we see God in and through everything!
  3. As we rejoice in God we will give thanks to God for all He has done and is doing.
  4. As we give thanks to God and we have a relationship with Him we will be in constant conversation with Him through prayer…however that may look for us.
  5. As we are in constant conversation through prayer we will have that relationship with God and we begin to open our hearts with the love of God to others as that relationship grows…

It really is that simple…

Amen!